Patient Headlights are a way we here at G-PACT can acknowledge heroes from the Gastroparesis community. Today we’d like you to meet Abigail Miller, a young woman who is learning how to live with her gastroparesis.
Abigail Miller is from Pineville Louisiana and she has had gastroparesis since September of 2010. Well, that’s not quite true. Abigail began experiencing gastroparesis-related problems 6 months before her diagnosis.
Diagnosing gastroparesis can be very challenging. The most common cause of gastroparesis is damage to the vagus nerve, and the most common cause of such damage is diabetes mellitus. Diabetes is common; gastroparesis is not. A doctor is more likely to treat the disease he knows. Additionally, gastroparesis and other forms of Digestive Tract Paralysis (DTP) do not have a common diagnostic test. A gastric emptying study can be done and remains the gold standard for diagnosing DTP, but that is not a common test used to diagnose the most common complaints of patients (nausea and vomiting). This is partly why Abigail and so many others can go so long without a proper diagnosis.
Even once diagnosed, gastroparesis does not have a cure. So after 6 months of tests and doctor’s visits Abigail learned she had a disease that wasn’t going to go away. Two years after being diagnosed, things had gotten difficult enough that she ended up getting a gastric stimulator implanted. It was very helpful at first. Unfortunately, like many who have tried this procedure, it stopped being effective.
Having a chronic disease means learning to live with setbacks, having to explain yourself over and over, and not being properly understood. “Still, the worst part,” says Abigail, “is the friends you lose and the major changes you have to make to your life. I had to learn a completely different lifestyle. I gave up sports, friends, school, all because I have been sick.”
Learning how to live with a chronic illness isn’t easy, but Abigail has come up with some good methods. When she’s feeling ill Abigail says, “I like to paint or draw, and I like to snuggle with my dog.” She also makes sure to not let her disease take over her life. For instance, when she’s able, she likes reading, drawing, “hanging out with friends and volunteering at a local humane society.” These things help her stay positive during the hard times.
When we asked Abigail what advice she would have for others who are experiencing this disease, she had some great wisdom to share. “Draw, read, snuggle a pet, hang out with family or friends, because as soon as you give up, those things will go away, so cherish them now. Try to see the positive side of things.” With good sense like that no one would be surprised if someday she becomes a very important voice for supporting the DTP community.
As for the world at large, Abigail wants everyone to know that “Invisible illnesses are real, and just because I don’t look sick doesn’t mean I’m faking it.” And that is a big part of what Gastroparesis Awareness Month is all about – not just helping the people with the disease, but helping doctors and parents and children understand better what people are experiencing. People don’t always take the time to stop and understand the challenges their fellow humans encounter, but in August, Abigail and G-PACT, and so many others, and YOU, get to take a moment and help others understand.
Thank you Abigail. Keep being awesome!