(Friends: You’ll notice that the byline for this column is different this week. It’s by Carrie Gallagher, our Chief Marketing Officer here at Balancing Life's Issues. She has an amazing story about living with a very serious autoimmune disorder. Carrie’s approach to the challenges she’s been faced with are not only inspiring, they show true resilience and tenacity. I’ll let Carrie take it from here. —Wendy)
About 15 years ago, I looked like your average college student in Philadelphia. I liked partying on the weekends, hanging out with friends — all the usual stuff.
But I knew something was going on inside my body. I was suffering from random rashes and headaches all the time. I started going to doctors, but they couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Despite this, I had an awful, overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right.
Fast forward four years, when my then-boyfriend (now husband) Dan and I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut. I was searching for a job, and Wendy — a friend of my mother’s — needed someone to come in part-time to do some administrative work at Balancing Life’s Issues. After about three weeks, she told me that she needed me full-time.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved being at Balancing Life’s Issues. I believed in the message we were sending out, and I really respected the people that I worked with. So I stopped looking for other jobs and decided to take a leap.
About 10 months later, I remember heading off to work on a Friday morning. At that point the symptoms that I had started noticing in college would come and go. Sometimes they were bad, sometimes barely noticeable. This was one of the bad days. I wasn’t hungry at all, and felt really anxious. I also was experiencing terrible pain in my joints.
When I arrived at the office, the pain was so bad that I could barely walk up the stairs. I tried to power through because we had a big client coming in from New York City for a lunch meeting. I thought I was covering it up pretty well, but Wendy noticed and took me aside to ask what was wrong.
When I got home that day, I collapsed on the couch. Dan had to physically carry me to the bathroom. I don’t know which of us was more scared that day.
Things spiraled downward from there. A few weeks later I had huge red lesions all over my body and I started coughing up blood. At this point, my family rushed me to the hospital, and after a litany of tests they brought in a rheumatologist who was able to figure out what was going on.
I had Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis, a fairly rare disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels in your nose, throat, lungs, and other places. It constricts blood flow and can cause serious damage to your kidneys and other organs. I had a lot of the classic symptoms: coughing (especially coughing up blood), shortness of breath, and agonizing joint pain.
Early diagnosis is the key to successfully treating Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis, so I was lucky. Left untreated, it can cause lung or kidney failure and in some cases can even be fatal.
They kept me in the hospital for a week for a series of blood transfusions. The doctors immediately put me on Rituximab, a type of monoclonal antibody treatment, and a very strong steroid called prednisone.
Wendy came to visit me several times during this period, and I remember thinking how wonderful it was to have such a supportive boss. Actually, she was more than a boss — she was also a mentor and a friend. Having her there in all three roles really helped me get through it.
When they finally released me from the hospital, I was on oxygen. I let Wendy know that I needed to be home for three months, and she didn’t bat an eye. She knew that I needed to stay busy to keep my mind off things, so she helped put together a work schedule that I could handle. I started out slowly — an hour or two each day — until I got my strength back. Within a month and a half I was back to working full-time.
I love what we do so much that it’s hard for me not to be there. My recovery didn’t just help me — I saw that it inspired people that we work with at Balancing Life’s Issues. I knew I could use my experience to help coach others.
When something like this happens to you, there is so much that’s out of your control. You have to figure out the little things you can do to maintain your equilibrium. I decided when I was in the hospital that I didn’t want to live my life on prednisone. I was going to learn what I need to know to live with this disease, including what foods to eat and what kinds of exercises are beneficial. I eventually went back to school and became a certified health coach.
This week is the 10 year anniversary of being hospitalized and diagnosed. At a momentous time like this, I think it’s always important to remember the things we’re grateful for. I have a family that pushed me and supported me (including my grandmother, who sadly is no longer with us) and an amazing team of doctors helped me get well. I also have two kids, a girl and a boy, who are the light of my life.
I’m also so thankful to work for a company that promotes resilience and balance in your life. Even when Wendy wasn’t there, I often thought about what she would say, how she would respond to something. That gave me the strength to make it through the tough times. Luckily, I can still call Wendy to get her perspective on things, and it truly helps me so much.
You grabbed my attention and held it, Carrie.
Nice work -- plus -- I get it.
~ pj Gunter
Well done Carrie. Great story, thanks for sharing. 💜