Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Effects of Stress From Grief ...

                                                    picture from here

.... are hell-bent on killing me.
Or .... at least making me miserable till the end of my days.

Before I became a widow (I abhorred that word for at least a year and a half) I was healthy.
Really.  Well, I had high cholesterol, but I'm totally laying that at the feet of my mother, whose genes caused my cholesterol to rise over 100 points.
In less than one year.
Thanks, Mom.

Anyway,  I was perfectly healthy.  I played tennis 3-4 times a week. I worked about 20 hours a week.
I was happy.  In more ways than one.

And then Jim died.
And I grieved.
I grieved hard.

And my body has been paying the price ever since.

First there was the deep, dark, cold cave of depression from which I could not climb out .... on my own.
And I still can't.
So add that med to the cholesterol med.

Next came a UTI.  My first.
And then another.
But not too bad.  Just pop some antibiotics and life moves on.

Then there was the kidney stone.
Don't ask.

Soon after that I started having trouble with my right shoulder.  The pain was 24/7.
I tried injections, physical therapy, not playing tennis .... you name it, I tried it.
I finally had surgery last year to repair and clean out that shoulder.

A year after Jim died I went to visit his family for New Year's.  A couple of days into the visit ... on New Year's Eve day, I thought I had another kidney stone so a lovely doctor told me to come in .... even on that day.
He thought it might be appendicitis, and ordered an MRI (or a CT scan, I can't remember).  It turned out to be a minor problem, which was a relief.  Ever had a kidney stone?  Again ... don't ask.
But as he showed my the scan from the film and said that all was relativity ok, he added, ..... "except for this" and pointed to a mass that they had found deep within my left hip.
He wasn't sure if it was cancer, but told me to see my doctor as soon as I got home.
Great.  Dad dies and one year later Mom MIGHT have cancer?  Think that might have scarred my children much?

My dr. sent me to a specialist at MD Anderson.  He claimed, after doing a botched biopsy (meaning, the IV med they gave to knock me almost unconscious ... did not work.  At all.),  that he didn't think it was anything to worry about, that I could just wait and they'd "keep an eye on it" every 6 months or so, or I could have surgery to remove it if that made me more comfortable.
I chose the surgery.  I've never been very good at waiting.  Especially not with something like this.
So I had surgery a few weeks later.  A surgery after which I thought I'd spend one night in the hospital.
I spent 5.  Or 6.  I can't recall.
The mass had doubled in size in less than 4 weeks and was starting to grow into my hip joint.  He had to file some of the bone away .... trying not to make the decision to break it to remove the invading tumor.
And guess what?
It was cancer.
Thankfully it was a very rare, very "tame" cancer.  It should not appear anywhere else in my body.
I had MRI's done for a year and a half every 3 months.
And the surgery and the results were horrid and painful.  I'd love to say something more than "painful" but I don't know a better word at the moment.
It took over a year for me to fully recover from that surgery.

Next, heart palpitations.  My heart seemed to flip flop every 5-6 beats.
Off to a cardiologist and another med .... but only for a year.

Then I developed something called "pernicious anemia".  Which just means that suddenly my body won't absorb B12 the way the normal person does .... by eating it or taking a supplement, or nose spray.
I found out people used to die from this, not knowing they had it, nor knowing the affects it has on the body.
So I went in for injections .... until I decided to learn how to give them to myself, which I do every 2 weeks now.

Last May I went on a beautiful cruise to Greece and some surrounding countries.  From the first day on I started having excruciating pain in my legs and then it started spreading up my body.
It was a miserable vacation and one I do not have fond memories of.
Which is pretty sad.

I came home to find that I have Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Or so he thought.
I started taking a chemo drug last year.
This past week my dr. decided that it my also be Fibromyalgia.
He thinks.
And he added 2 more meds to the long list I'm already on.

This past December I had sinus surgery.
Not a lot of fun but it could've been worse.

Tonight, I started writing this post after I got home from a trip to an ER .... for another UTI.  My 5th (or 6th, I can't keep up anymore) since January 1st.  Yep,  except for the 3 past weeks, I've had a UTI since the first of the year.
I knew this did not bode well for the coming year.

So now I will go off to see yet another specialist.

I hate my body.
It's trying to kill me.
Or so it seems.

If you look on line for articles of stress and what it does to the human body .... it's astounding.
It can cause your body to change chemically as well as physically.  Some of the things that the stress of grief can bring out?  Cancer, RA, pernicious anemia, heart problems, etc., etc., etc.

I wrote this long, boring post not to make you feel sorry for me, but to let you know that the physical effects of grief are not in your mind.  They are a fact.  A horrible, unwanted fact after the horrible, unwanted loss of your spouse.
You are not crazy, nor are you a hypochondriac.  (Trust me, the last place on earth I want to visit is my dr.'s office.  Or any dr.'s office.  I am fed up with doctors.)
You're not making this up .... you are experiencing the effects of grief.
And they are real.

So hang in there.
And breathe.
You are not crazy.
Just widowed.

Although some days, I do feel a little of both.


  1. Oh Janine I am so sorry you have had so much to deal with. My heart goes out to you and your children.
    It is amazing what grief can do. I never realized how physically painful grief is until I lost my husband. I too have had many physical ailments even though I am usually very fit and healthy (though not as severe as yours).
    The amazing thing that I have found is the fact that apart from a number of physical catastrophes occurring around my home (i.e., burst water pipes, struck by lightening, termites etc ), the two homes I own have developed structurally threatening cracks since my husband died. One is 25 years old and had no previous problems and the other is 300 kms away on entirely different soil and is only 6 years old! I feel the universe is trying to tell me something. Perhaps it's time I started to build my own life foundations instead of relying on my husband??
    I wonder if anyone else has had experiences with these type of problems after losing a loved one.....or am I just going crazy???
    Hang in there Janine. I will be keeping you in my thoughts and sending good energy your way. :)

  2. Dearest Janine, it is okay for me to feel sorry for you but to also relate to your post. I have been very blessed with good health my entire 54 years in this world. When my husband left this world so suddenly two years ago, I did develop some minor physical health issues. My biggest battle thus far has been with depression but the pills help.

    Thank you for helping me to accept the "W" plight and the stress that brings on these other villians.

    Hang in there as well!!!!

  3. Hi Janine, Like you I have had a lot of health problems since my husband died 15 months ago and am still undergoing tests and taking meds for depression, arthritis - damage caused by 25 years of nursing him, and for my blood pressure which has dropped like a stone and causes dizzy spells. Grief does cause a huge amount of real physical problems and they are now testing me for Reactive arthritis after several UTI's and arthritic pains developing in my knees, ankles and hips. Pernicious Anaemia is common in grieving people and also in the elderly. It is also something that my husband had due to stress and age. Many people over the age of 65/70 develop it too. I have been getting a sore mouth, and am going to get the blood tests done next time I visit the Dr. What a run of bad luck for you and for me. It is hard on the ones left behind to grieve and so many Drs put these illnesses down to mental effects of grief and you then have to fight to get the medical tests done. I am one of the lucky ones, my Dr knows from first hand experience how grief can affect the body and is keeping a close eye on my medical needs. He knew because he has walked this road.

    Take care and breathing is good. We are not crazy. Widowhood is a journey and one day we will dance in the sun again. In the meantime we have to take care of ourselves. (((HUGS))) Dawn

  4. 5 days after Dave died I started having uncomfortable chest pains that would last about half an hour. Within a month I ended up in emerg with unbelievable chest pain. Turned out to be 'microscopic' gallstones. Against the advice of a very bullying surgeon, I opted not to have surgery at the time being as I strongly felt it was my body's way of dealing with the grief. (And it was just a few months after Dave's death. Being hospitalized was the last thing I wanted to deal with.) I explained this all to the surgeon, but he smugly assured me that I would be back in less than a year for emergency gallbladder removal.

    Well he was mistaken. It's been almost a year and a half since I saw him and I'm symptom free. I'm not suggesting that people not listen to their doctors, but to realize that the effects of grief are real and ALSO to understand and become more in touch with how their body works.

    Sorry that you've had so much to deal with Janine. :(

    (Also, lately I've been wondering if I might have a B12 deficiency. (I no longer eat meat and this can increase my 'risk' so to speak.) I'll have to look into the possibility that the grieving are more susceptible to pernicious anemia.)

  5. Wow! Janine, I am so sorry that you have had to go through so much on top of your grief and caring for your children. I can relate to some of it.
    While caring for my husband I developed a frozen shoulder from helping to lift him from bed and to his wheel chair. It was agony. Felt like someone shot my shoulder at close range. I couldn't have therapy because I couldn't leave him alone. By the time I could I could barely move it or sleep for more than an hour at a time. It was so painful!
    Since he has passed away. I have so much body pain and have worried that it is fybromyalgia or arthritis.
    Previous to this I was a runner, I have always been fit and in great health. I don't even take vitamins!
    There were days during my husbands illness, near the end. I felt so physically ill I wondered if when he went I would just die. Sometimes< after I was sure I would.
    What has helped?
    Exercise - even when it hurts I work out every single day.
    I walk outside for an hour or go on the treadmill.
    I eat well - breakfast< usually lunch and dinner.
    I have a good friend who is a doc and he says "sleep is the cure". Sleeping well and making a habit of getting to bed on time has made a huge difference for me.
    Connection - seeing my friends, laughter, talking, movies, sharing time with them is great for the soul and feeling blue.
    Gratitude: every day i try to find something to say "thank you" for. I haven't found a day without one - sometimes just "thank you for this bed, thank you for getting through another day".

    And last - I recently read that "rehashing the worst parts of ones trauma around death and the memories of those times can turn normal grief into a type of sickness"
    That blew me away! I can see how this could happen.
    The cure "focusing on the happy memories, talking about the good things, the cherished times, the funny things about our loved ones, the things we adored in them and they in us".

    I don't think any of it is easy but it certainly is worth trying - after all the life we save this time, will be our own.
    Peace to you.

    1. Anon, Thanks for writing. I agree 100% that "rehashing the worst parts of one's trauma around death and the memories of those times can turn normal grief into a type of sickness". There are people who stay "stuck" in their grief, so it become almost impossible for them to move forward. I try to focus on the future, and remember the good .... and the great ..... things about our family and my husband "before". But it's a choice, and sometimes a pretty difficult one .... that choosing to look forward and to choose to try to be happy.
      One day at a time.
      One minute at a tim.

  6. Go to a health food store and buy cranberry concentrate (not the Ocean Spray type cranberry juice which is full of corn syrup and will do no good) put it in distilled water and drink a lot of it. I used to just fill a one-gallon water bottle and drink it all day. It will keep the UTI under control. Also don't drink any citrus juice (orange, grapefruit, etc.). I had chronic UTIs as a child and this cure really works. I've been seeing a Reiki practitioner since my husband's death and it has really helped. I know it's a bit out of some people's comfort zone but after losing your loved one is there really a comfort zone anymore? I hope you try one or both suggestions.

    1. I, too, have found Reiki to be very beneficial, the key is to find someone you feel comfortable with and knows your history. I would much rather use alternative therapies than drugs, my primary physician uses both, and we try everything before resorting to prescription meds.

      Hope your health issues lighten up, Janine, you have had more than your share to deal with.

    2. Anon .... This comes after a full day of drinking as much cranberry juice as I can stand. My eyeballs are floating. And yes, I'm drinking the Ocean Spray kind, but the lite kind. I'll definitely go to our health store as soon as I can and get the concentrate.
      Thanks so much for the info, and thank you to you, Cathy. I so appreciate all of you who've commented and given helpful hints.

  7. Yes. Yes to it all. Only, I have yet to start the grieving process even nearly 6 years after my husband died. I am caught up in court cases over medical accidents etc etc blah blah bl;ah, and so help me, all the suppressed emotion is trying to kill me too. I wrecked my knee teaching (I had to go out to work when he died), and then got CRPS (RSD) and now that dreadful thing has started spreading up my body after a humongous flare a few weeks ago which had me incoherent for hours. And the consultants are all agreed that stress is a major factor. Of course it is. The psychologist I see is seriously concerned about what will happen when I finally allow the grief to happen. So am I. Plod plod. One step, one day at a time, constant pain which tops the McGill Pain scale, inability to work, to focus to read, to do just about everything I love....... welcome to my life.

    1. Linda, I'm so sorry about what you've been "dealt". It sucks. I hope you can keep "plodding" along with the rest of us ..... one hour at a time, I think (some days).
      You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. I am so sorry to read all of these stories and feel very blessed that the health problems that have come since Dave's death almost 4 years ago are self-inflicted, choosing food as my comfort so gaining humongous amount of weight and thus high cholestrol and other health problems obesity causes. My wonderful Dr says 'you have done a great job of handling your mental and emotional health, it is now time to work on your physical health"...easier said than done. There is a part of me that really doesn't care... this journey is no fun....

    1. santadeb, This journey is indeed "no fun", but it will get easier. Keep "plodding along" (as LInda put it above). That's all we can do. One day you'll wake up to find that you are no longer plodding, but walking. It will be a surprise and a very welcomed one.

  9. Janine, you may want to have your doctor check you to see if you have something called Intersticial Cysticic. I have this and it mimics repeated UTI's. All the cranberry juice in the world has no effect on the condition. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease you simply have to modify your diet and yes, is is brought on by extreme stress. Mine started a few weeks after losing 2 homes in a firestorm.

    Also, Valerie, my husband passed away on Christmas day from gallbladder cancer. Not to frighten you but he too had minor gallstones & occasional pain. He would sometimes go 2 or 3 years between pain episodes so he refused to have it removed. We now know that the gallstones were a constant sourse of irritation that eventually developed into cancer. He passed away 10 months after his stage 4 diagnosis. Each of his physicians asked why he hadn't removed the gallbladder & all say he would be alive today if he had. I doubt this is your situation but I felt I had to tell you my story.

  10. I got sick after the loss of my mom...Grief and stress after the loss of any loved one is hard...I was a healthy and active working woman all my life...two and one half years after my mom passed away, I am getting SSDI for physical and emotional problems.