Spotlight: Valarie Hutchison, Support Group Leader, Green Bay/NE Wisconsin

Recently we interviewed Valarie Hutchison, one of our support group leaders! She talks about the benefits of joining a group, advice for patients and finding inspiration. She invites you to get involved if you are in the Green Bay/NE Wisconsin area. If you are interested in joining this support group or learning more, contact Valarie at hutchresource@gmail.com.

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SF: Why did you decide to lead a support group?

VH: The former leader, who was terrific, had some big changes in her life which included a move so it looked like the group would disband.  Even though I had only been diagnosed with scleroderma for about a year, I couldn’t let that happen.  When this disease was first mentioned to me as a possibility, I began to do my own research and I was terrified.  Like a lot of people, I didn’t find knowledgeable doctors locally. I did find this local support group and reluctantly went to my first meeting. I walked in to find two women who educated me, guided me and gave me their opinion that I had scleroderma (which was later confirmed at the Mayo Clinic).  At last, the chaos in my mind was quieted, and I could move forward to get a diagnosis and start treatment.

SF: When and where does your group meet?

VH: Our group meets in a lovely room with a beautiful view at the Bellin Family Health and Wellness Center at 3263 Eaton Rd. in Bellevue WI, 54311.  We meet the second Wednesday of every month from 1:00PM to 3:00PM.

SF: What do you look forward to the most in being involved with this group?

VH: The most gratifying thing for me is the newcomer to the group who is looking for the understanding that only someone who has scleroderma can give. The emphasis of our group is supporting each other and giving each other what we need. It is very free form.

SF: Aside from the support group, what resources would you recommend for patients and caregivers in your area?

VH: I always recommend the Scleroderma Foundation and Inspire.com for the discussion boards.  Both are good resources. If you don’t have your own computer, you can use one at the library, and they have people who can help you navigate the internet if you’re not a tech geek.

SF: How do you find inspiration?

VH: There are days that the fatigue and pain get the best of me.  I have Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), a primary immune deficiency and, for the last two years, Scleroderma. Brought with the scleroderma was the standard Raynaud’s with the deluxe package: autoimmune thyroiditis, Sjogren’s, and, just recently, Addison’s disease.  I’m fortunate because I live alone (with my dog, Stewie) so there is grass to cut and snow to blow and everything that taking care of a home entails.  If I had someone else to do those things for me, I would not be as well as I am. I would certainly not be as mobile because I have tendon friction rubs in most of my joints.  I can be a whiner at times, but since there’s no one here to listen I have to pull up my socks and do what needs to be done.

SF: Can you tell us a few interesting facts about yourself?

VH: I’m a mother. I have two sons that are the reason I’m in Green Bay, WI.  They’re great people- the kind of people I’d want to know even if we weren’t related- and then two grandsons.  I never feel so un-selfconscious as when I’m with those kids.  They cheer me up, make me feel better no matter what.

I worked in the mortgage industry for 20 years before it became so greedy.  I felt good about helping people by putting them in the loan product back then it was quite gratifying and I miss that.

I learned to surf when I was 55 and sailed the Atlantic as first mate on a 43 ft. catamaran when I was 57.

SF: Do you have any words of advice for other patients and caregivers?

VH: Educate yourself first and foremost.  Understand your disease and your test results.  Always, always get copies of test results, radiologist reports and discs of any MRIs or scans and keep them together for the continuation of your care.  Make sure that you understand them. Go to websites like John Hopkins or the Scleroderma Foundation to learn more.  Seek out a support group in your area so that you can talk to people who really understand.  If your doctor isn’t supportive and knowledgeable go to another.

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Leg “Cramping” Your Style? Ask the Dietician.

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At the Patient Education Conference held at Northwestern University in Chicago on October 15, 2016, Registered Dietitian Beth Doerfler answered patient questions regarding nutrition and scleroderma. If you have any questions, please email us at gcchapter@scleroderma.org.


Q: What are the foot and leg cramps I get every night from and what can I do about them. I have tried using drinks with additional potassium like drip drop but there is a lot of sugar in it and that gives me diarrhea too.

BD: Leg cramps can really interfere with a good night’s rest.  Good sleep is essential to battling fatigue.  To combat leg or muscle cramps, we need to consider both Potassium and Vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps absorb calcium which your muscles use to contract.  Vitamin D deficiency can make muscle cramps worse.  If you have not had your blood levels of vitamin D checked yet do talk with your doctor. Most Americans need approximately 800 IU vitamin D daily and you may need more if your blood levels are very low.  Vitamin D is difficult to get entirely from foods and often we have to rely on some amount of vitamin supplements as well as a diet rich in fortified foods.

If you are looking to eat more potassium I have included a list of potassium rich foods which might be less likely to cause stomach upset.  A typical diet can provide you with approximately 2000 mg of potassium. Aim to boost your diet with potassium rich food by another 500-1000 mg to fight muscle cramps and dehydration.

Spinach (1 cup cooked):                900 mg potassium

Baked potato (1 medium):           920 mg potassium

Dried Apricots (1/2 cup):               755 mg potassium

Acorn Squash (1 cup cooked):    899 mg potassium

Yogurt (1 cup nonfat):                    625 mg potassium

Salmon (3 oz)                                     534 mg potassium

Avocado (1/2 cup mashed):        558 mg potassium

To learn more about topics presented at the Patient Education Conference, visit our YouTube and SlideShare sites for slideshows and videos about managing scleroderma.

 

 

How I Turned My Life Around by Not Letting Scleroderma Define Me

JPP (22 of 61).jpgKelly Kohls has battled scleroderma for the past 13 years and is dedicated to learning how to more effectively deal with the hardships and struggles that accompany the disease. Over the past few years, Kelly has become a mother, a runner, and a fitness coach- constantly pushing herself and achieving new milestones she never thought possible. As a patient who felt she was defined by her disease, learn how her change in mindset and lifestyle has impacted her self confidence, health, and relationships.


Scleroderma, oh scleroderma (GRRR), let’s just say we have an interesting relationship. I can finally say  now, that it is what I WAS. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still carry this disease with me every day but let’s just say I’ve come a LONG way from where I began 13 years ago.

FACING CHALLENGES EARLY ON

When I was diagnosed, I had just married my high school sweetheart and was looking forward to our new life together. All of a sudden our world completely changed; it was seriously like someone had swung up a stop sign and smacked me right in the face with it. For the next SEVEN years of my life I was miserable. I was ill and I lost who I was.

Like any autoimmune disease I was exhausted. Not only was the scleroderma kicking my butt, the medication had me completely turned upside down. By the time I was 25 I’d lost most of my independence. My hands significantly crippled. My entire body was so tight it was hard to just move around doing daily tasks. I remember one Saturday specifically my husband, Mike, left for the races. I was heading out later in the day and it didn’t dawn on me that he had never helped me put my socks and shoes on before he left. So I tried putting my socks on. I sat on the edge of the bed and struggled for what felt like hours, my whole body hurt trying to reach my feet. I cried and sat, then tried again and struggled and sat, then I just sat and sobbed. I couldn’t take care of myself. It was heartbreaking, almost like a part of who I was died. I had to accept this new sick person; I had to accept being dependent on others and to accept the changes it was making to my body; internally & externally.

Every three weeks for several years I spent many long days getting IV infusions and blood transfusions because my body couldn’t keep healthy counts that are vital to live. Now, when I think back it just seems so crazy to me how we take our bodies for granted. We just expect them to do ALL the things they are supposed to do at all the right times. Crazy, isn’t it?

THIRTY rolled around…wow, were did that come from? It was the point in my life that I was told I couldn’t have children because I was too ill. This was TOTAL heartbreak on an entire new level! It completely devastated me. Mike was so supportive through everything – my rock and my one true love. Not only did he take care of me but let’s face it, his future was forever changed too. Although he assured me many times that it was okay, a big part of me always felt guilty for taking that away from him.

Little did I know that 30 was going to be a BIG year for me! It was the year I asked myself just WHAT in the heck is going on here? In the last seven years I had battled this horrible disease, my mom suddenly passed away and I was told my future dreams are no longer possible. To say my life was a hot mess was a total understatement.

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TURNING THE CORNER

You guys, I just wasn’t having it. I HAD to turn my life around. I HAD to live it. I’m ONLY 30!! I want to enjoy life and have all the things I ever wanted.

So, I set some pretty huge goals for myself. I realized that I could never cure myself from scleroderma but I knew deep down that there were things I could do to get as healthy as I could control. So, okay guys, are you ready for it? I bought a treadmill! Yes, me! The one who couldn’t even put her own socks on. My goal was to be a runner someday, so every night I walked on this treadmill. Before I knew it I was jogging-3 miles! By the time I was 32 I was a runner- tada! I was running 4+ miles at a 9-10 minute mile…say what?? I was eating healthy & cut out processed foods. Don’t ask me how or why but I went into a “sort of remission.”

Guess what? You’ll never guess! Shortly after I turned 35 I had a precious baby girl. Gahhh!! I’m tearing up right now! Emily is the name of my little miracle. My pregnancy was closely watched but was healthy, normal and very exciting! She was born healthy and continues to be a healthy sweet little two year old. Although I still have scleroderma and deal with struggles each day, I am counting my blessings by continuing to be healthy. Pushing myself each day to be in a POSITIVE state of mind has allowed me to make amazing strides.

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MY LIFE TODAY

Last year I became a fitness coach and I’m in the best health I’ve EVER been! I continue to eat clean and workout every day; I’d also totally be lying if I didn’t say, heck yes I struggle to workout some days. Heck yes I have to modify moves and take it slower – but becoming active and overall healthy about the things I can control has literally changed my ENTIRE life! Now I’m very passionate about coaching and helping other people change their lives to get healthy too – how amazing is that?! If you want it bad enough, you CAN do it! You really can!

I have everything I ever wanted. Well… I do carry scleroderma with me and I could definitely do without that. The one difference about it now though is I don’t let it define me. Yes, it’s what I have but it’s not WHO I am anymore.

It may sound cliché but life is truly amazing; it really is. Sometimes it’s sucky but it has made me a fighter, a strong person, a better person, an amazing mama and wife and I’ve learned to appreciate every moment.  We are all blessed in our own way; you need to fight to find yourself. Only then will you always see the beauty in everything – good and bad.

-Kelly Kohls

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