One Foot in Front of the Other

We recently had a reader ask how it is possible to maintain hope, faith and optimism, etc. when “everything” is slipping away. She stated she does not want this disease because she had watched it “destroy” others. Her friends do not want to associate with her because of the “doom” she is facing.

Oh, my…where to start. First of all, I guess I need to say “I’m with you! I don’t want the damn thing either.” But wanting it or not wanting it really does not make a bit of difference. We do not get to make decisions like that in our lives. We only get to accept (or reject, but if you fight reality, I can practically guarantee you will waste a whole lot of energy and in the end, still lose. To paraphrase “I fight reality, reality always wins!”). We also can find ways of coping.

That appears to be a magic word: cope. This is not a fatal disease. If you are still breathing and conscious, you are capable of dealing with things and trying to make them better. Your hope is in every breath you take. Breath.

Remember one of my favorite people whom I never met, Viktor Frankl, said “the last freedom left to any man is determining how he will react to his circumstances.” This disease will not destroy us. It may take things from us, but not destroy us. We destroy ourselves through our reactions to it.

Our reader may not realize it, but she IS coping. She reached out to this website. She has sought professional help and she is involved with the state services for the visually handicapped. She is doing what she can do.

We don’t have to like having AMD and losing sight. We don’t have to be happy about it. We just have to keep moving. I mentioned this before but another one of my favorite, never met people, Winston Churchill, said something like “when you are going through Hell, keep going!” It is in pouting and denying reality – in stopping in the middle of Hell – that we are destroyed.

To address the part about being hopeful, optimistic, etc, a bit more, there are times all of those pretty thoughts are going to desert us. Times there seems – as in appearances and impressions – there is no hope. Those are the times we simply put one foot in front of the other. Determine what is next and do it.

I have been told I am “in love” with DBT. I am, for the simple reason it works. Mindfulness and staying in the moment work.

For example, the Beastie Baby has been diagnosed with lung cancer, but right now she is sleeping peacefully on the floor next to me. Right now, life is good. We will take one day at a time, one hour, one moment if need be. We will not grieve (much) and ruin life when things are good. Lesson: stay in the moment. Deal with the now. By dealing with each moment as it comes, we can handle a scary future. Buying future grief and hardship is a bad investment.

I could address the absolutes – always, never, everything – but I won’t. Not much, at any rate. We just need to remember few things in life are truly that black and white, that cut and dry. Every dark cloud has a silver lining and every silver cloud has some dark inside.

This has been a little jumbled, but that, after all, is my mind. I guess in summary, what I want to say is:

Accept this is happening, Recognize you are not powerless, we all have choices we can make.

Understand if we take care of each moment as it comes, the future will take care of itself. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

We don’t need to be hopeful or optimistic all of the time (even though there is reason for hope). If you cannot muster any faith in your future, just put one foot in front of the other and move. You will be surprised where you end up.

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One Good Eye

Just heard from a reader who said family and friends made her feel guilty about making a ‘fuss’ when she lost sight in her first eye. After all, she was older and you need to expect these things. Also it was ‘only’ one eye. She had two; did she not? She should have been happy she had one good one! They did not think she should fear vision loss.

Good grief. Not sure what species these people are from but we humans have a pretty strong fear of vision loss. In fact WebMD published results of a survey that found vision loss is what Americans fear the most.

This is a consistent finding across varying racial and ethnic groups. We ALL fear going blind.

In fact, fear of loss of sight was the same or greater than fear of losing hearing, memory, speech or a limb. And what is so scary about loss of sight? Quality of life and loss of independence, of course. Having good vision can be seen as a key to one’s overall sense of well-being. Good vision is frequently seen as essential to overall health and daily functioning. Good vision is seen as basic to just about everything.

There are five – just five – basic fears according to Psychology Today and I can see sight loss as feeding into three of them. First is the fear of mutilation, the loss of a body part. I took a little poetic license with this one, equating loss of function with loss of the organ itself. Then there is loss of autonomy, pretty self-explanatory, and separation. Sensory loss can certainly lead to a lack of social interaction. Is it any wonder we get so upset about sight loss? It taps into three out of five primal fears!

Fear is not just for weaklings and sissies. Fear is a valuable emotion. It tells us something is wrong and we had better start paying attention. There is something that needs to be dealt with. It is not only necessary but perfectly acceptable to listen to your fears.

To address their first point, vision loss is not an inevitable part of aging. There are a number of vision changes that occur but it seems only one of the common ones is not considered a ‘disease’. This is presbyopia – literally ‘old eyes’ from the Greek – or farsightedness. Presbyopia can be fixed in one of two ways: corrective lenses or grow longer arms!😊

The Washington Post article entitled Vision loss is a part of old age but it’s not inevitable then goes on to list the rest of the causes of vision loss in older folks: cataracts, glaucoma and retinal disease. Please note the word ‘disease’.

Disease is not a normal part of anything and yes, you get concerned, and, yes, you see a doctor.

Our reader still did have one eye left, but would you like a good obsession? Try wondering when you will lose function in the second eye! That should afford you untold hours of uninterrupted worry! Somewhere I read waiting for the second eye to go is one of the most stressful things about progressive eye disease. Don’t know where, though. I read quite a bit on the subject.

Take away points: sight loss is not inevitable. Most causes of sight loss in older folks are considered disease and there are treatments for most of them. Don’t let anyone but a retina expert tell you there is nothing wrong. Most importantly, although I did not say this earlier in this page, if there is a sudden onset of symptoms, act quickly and get to the doctor.

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Will I Go Blind?

“Will I go blind?” is one of the most common and emotionally-charged questions asked when a person gets a diagnosis of many of the retinal diseases such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Stargardt’s Disease (and others) that damage central vision.  I did several searches with different variations of the question and here are some of the the answers I found.

Terminology
  • This is just a partial list of terms, please go to the the complete list – click here:
    • Total blindness refers to an inability to see anything with either eye.
    • Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been legally defined to determine eligibility for benefits. The clinical diagnosis refers to a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, and/or a visual field of 20 degrees or less. Often, people who are diagnosed with legal blindness still have some usable vision.
    • Vision loss refers to individuals who have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who are blind or unable to see at all.
    • Visual impairment is often defined clinically as a visual acuity of 20/70 or worse in the better eye with best correction, or a total field loss of 140 degrees. Additional factors influencing visual impairment might be contrast sensitivity, light sensitivity, glare sensitivity, and light/dark adaptation.
Links & Answers
  •  From http://www.southlandeyeclinic.com/FAQ/macdegen.html
    • “Will I go completely blind from AMD?
      No. You will never go totally blind from AMD. AMD affects only the central vision. Around the macula is the retina responsible for side vision (peripheral vision). The side vision lets you know what is around you. You will be able to walk around, dress yourself and do most daily tasks. Peripheral retina is not affected by AMD and there is no loss of side vision.”
  • From http://www.besteyedoc.com/milford/macular-degeneration-faq.htm
    • “Q.  Will I go blind?  A.  No, patients do not go blind from wet or dry macular degeneration. You can, however, unfortunately become legally blind which means that the central vision is poor enough to result in your better eye seeing no better than 20/200 vision. However, being legally blind is not the same as medically blind.”
  • From https://nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts
    • “AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness, with no ability to see. However, the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple everyday activities, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or do close work, such as cooking or fixing things around the house.”
  • From http://www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk/encyclopaedia/m/article/maculardegeneration/
    • “AMD doesn’t affect your peripheral vision (side vision), which means it will not cause complete blindness.”
  • From http://www.brightfocus.org/macular/chat/what-you-need-know-about-dry-age-related-macular
    • “GUY EAKIN (interviewer): So you say 10 to 15% progress to the wet form, I like to hear 85 to 95—85 to 90 don’t progress to the wet form, but it’s the same message either way. We know that many people out there are fearful that AMD will blind them, it’s described in so many places as a blinding disorder and I understand that has some technical context to it that may, it may not be the complete story just to say that it’s blinding.  So what do you tell patients when they ask you, “Will I go blind?”
    • “GAYATRI REILLY (The Retina Group of Washington, “who has excelled in research, patient care, and educating other eye care professionals about treating diseases such as age-related macular degeneration) : Well, you know, I think it’s a question I get every single day, and it’s extremely important to address.That answer has changed over time, as you know. First of all, with even the most severe form of macular degeneration, this affects the central vision only, which—the difference between that—you use your peripheral vision less often, but when you’re not focused on something, you still see other parts in your vision, and that’s your peripheral vision, and that will always remain intact with even the most severe form of macular degeneration.  And the reason why this answer has changed over time, it was only as little—about 15 years ago, we had no treatments at all for wet macular degeneration, and the central part of the vision was something that we would expect for patients to lose, but now, over the past 10 years with research, and the treatments have changed dramatically, and what we can actually tell patients and have the expectations are that we hope to maintain good vision—and good vision including vision that’s capable for driving, for reading, and that’s the expectations that I would hope with early diagnosis.”
  • From https://www.secondopinion-tv.org/episode/macular-degeneration

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BIG News!

Woke up with a start at 2 am last night. Probably several things.

First thing that happened was a call from one of my contracts. She had called my third place of employment to schedule an evaluation and was told I did not work there anymore!

News to me! Now, I don’t get there a lot but the plan was for me to go and do a case or two when called. Maybe something like once every six weeks or so. I was never told I was being fired!

Of course it turns out someone got something wrong but it did get me to thinking. Once again, how does one graciously bow out or – hopefully equally graciously – be shown the door? Inquiring minds.

The second thing that has me a little anxious is my big ‘field trip’ tomorrow. I am going to do some sightseeing on Manhattan with an acquaintance from school. First time that far away from home without my husband since my sight loss. I know it can be done, but it is still a little scary.

Third thing: I saw Regillo yesterday. My eyes are getting worse slowly. (I am not so sure about the slowly part!) He confirmed scotomata (aka blind spots) get darker but did not necessarily say they go black. He said that he would not expect a central vision loss to cover 60 degrees of arc. That wide a loss would be ‘extreme’. Those two answers at least get us slightly closer to settling two of my burning questions from this Spring.

The big news, though, is he wants to try me on lampalizumab next winter. It appears the phase 3 clinicals are going to wind down by the end of the year and phase 4 trials will be starting.

People, the numbers of subjects in phase 4 trials is BIG. HUGE! Phase 4 trials take place after the FDA approved the marketing of a new drug. The drug is made available to the public through local physicians. They look for effects and side effects in diverse populations.

What this means for you is simply this: the first actual TREATMENT for geographic atrophy may only be six months away! This is the first breakthrough!

Lampalizumab is an injectible drug. It has been proven to slow the progression of geographic atrophy and to “reduce the area of geographic atrophy” by 20%. Dosing occurs monthly or every six weeks.

Will I do it? Probably. I really believe stem cell replacement of RPEs is the way for me to go, but it is taking forever and I don’t have time for forever. Lampalizumab can be administered locally and would avoid lots of trips to Philly. I don’t like the idea of intravenous injections but I don’t like the idea of a vitrectomy either! A 20% decrease in disease progression might win me enough time (and macula!) to have a more successful intervention later.

If you have dry AMD and geographic atrophy, it might be worth your while to broach the subject of lampalizumab with your retinologist. Let him know you are interested. This could just be the start of something big for all of us.😁

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Not Your Parents’ AMD

3 pm Monday and so far it is a good day. The pool guy is working on my new liner. The funny thingee on my tummy is a normal, benign growth and the transportation company got new vans with fancy logos painted on them. No more confusion with two dozen, white vans. Life is looking up!

Lin told me there was a conversation thread in the Facebook group about parents who struggled with AMD. People remember what their mothers and fathers went through and they are determined not to become like them.

I am reasonably sure my father’s vision problems were AMD. The more I think about it his father’s vision problems may have been AMD. I remember both of them using a handheld lens to read the newspaper as well as the really strange interpretations Daddy would have when it came to TV shows. I have no idea what HE was watching but it was not the same thing I was watching!

I have said it a couple of dozen times and I will say it again: this is the best time in the history of the human race to be losing our sight. Absolutely the best. You may not realize it. You may remember what you saw and think we are doomed to go there too but we are not. We really are not.

I tried a handheld magnifier for a couple of weeks. Not doing that again. They are very inefficient. I have my CCTV, my handheld reader and my iPad which can go in the Justand.

[Lin:Linda: To see what Sue uses on a daily basis, check out these pages: A Day in the Life and A Day in the Life:Work Day.]

I can get newspapers on my phone and books from BARD (there are other sources, too, as well as magazines which are available).  I’m able to take a picture of pretty much any text I want and my KNFB Reader will read it to me. The zoom feature on my iPad will allow me to read email and research pretty efficiently. ZoomText allows me to work. (refer to the “Day in the Life” pages above)

If I want to look at something a little distance away I can use my max TV glasses or my monocular. Not too bad.

Depending upon when Lin publishes this page, you either have or will be hearing about audio description services (coming soon!). If my father had had those for the TV we would have been “on the same page” a lot more than we were when we watched programs together. Audio description can also allow you to go to the movies and live theater and actually know what is going on.

Do I want to be losing my sight? Hell, no! This is not a walk in the park but it is not what Daddy endured either. Just the same he made it into his mid 80s and managed to take care of himself until other issues brought him down. If he could do it without all of the toys, I can do it.  [Lin/Linda: My dad had geographic atrophy & took care of my mother who had Alzheimer’s using several different handheld magnifiers & a few other low vision aids.]

Yet another reason to be optimistic is all of the exciting research happening. We are poised for a veritable explosion of treatments. Not cures, mind you, but treatments. Thirty years ago there was nothing.

[Lin/Linda: To see what’s in the research pipeline, click here.]

What can you do? Be willing. Use what has been provided. If you put that iPad your son gave you in the drawer you have absolutely no grounds for complains. Bluntly put? Your extra suffering will be your own damn fault.

What else? Volunteer. Sign up for clinical trials. Join support groups. Share your knowledge and skills.

Life – and this vision loss bit included – is the craziest thing you will ever experience and none of us get out alive. Make the most of it while you can.

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Uneventful Trip

Just came back from Walmart. When I checked the early days page Lin had published for today it was my first trip to Walmart as a visually impaired person. I would say what a coincidence but this girl has been known to ‘live’ at Walmart so it really was not.

Anyway today the trip to Walmart was….totally uneventful. Fine. No issues. I tell you this because in my cockeyed optImist (yes, there’s an upper case “I” in the middle), Pollyanna way I want to reinforce the concept there is hope. Yes, I have geographic atrophy with no scarring – just ‘no’ macular; my ‘divot’ just keeps getting bigger. And yes, I have no clue what it is like to be you in your situation.

However, for the great majority of us things can be OK with adaptations and the learning of skills.

I cannot drive myself to the store. My husband now parks near a cart corral. He makes sure I know we are down the line from the garden center or bank sign or whatever and then he turns me loose. I generally find my way back without incident. Do I wander around lost sometimes? Sure do. It is a matter of my not paying attention in the first place. I did that when I was fully sighted.

Absent mindedness is not a side effect of vision loss!

In the store I am using eccentric viewing…a lot. Although I carry my toys just in case, I seldom get them out. I have learned to use my peripheral vision and I am pretty good at finding things I need…and things I don’t need but really want. Got (another) cute pair of yoga pants and (another) cute scarf today.

There are times I have to be more careful and really LOOK. For example, I almost picked up hot sausage instead of mild today. If there are several varieties of something and the packaging is very similar you need to double-check. When you don’t drive often things don’t get returned. I have a chili potpie in the freezer that I could have sworn was beef. Been there for weeks. (Perhaps this is an opportunity to expand my horizons?)

I use a lot of habit learning. The credit card machine is now easy. That is habit training. I pretty much know what comes up next. Press the same buttons all of the time.

And if I don’t know or cannot see it, I ask. Sometimes I admit I am visually impaired. Those are generally the times when I know a full sighted person would have been able to figure it out and I don’t want to look like an idiot. Other times I just don’t bother to ask.

Nobody thinks the less of you if you cannot find something like the honey. Fully sighted people ask questions like that, too!

So there you go. One more page about my uneventful life. Stay tuned. Next I might write about watching paint dry!

Written May 28th, 2017

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Hindsight is 20/20

Good evening! How are you all?

Lin has noticed I seem to have written soooo many pages they are overwhelming and confusing some people. She feels this is particularly true for some of the newbies who probably feel like they have walked in on the (boring and confusing) middle of a movie. [Lin/Linda: to be clear, those are Sue’s words! ::grin::]

Understood. Some of you are back in the shock and doom phrase and I am talking about getting newspapers on your phones and other trivial matters. Who wants to hear about that sort of thing while your world is unraveling?

In the interest of pointing you towards something that might actually be helpful, Lin is republishing some earlier pages for your attention and discussion. And I – always helpful – am going to add to the confusion by writing another page!😘

This page will have a catchy title thanks to Lin, but right now I am going to call it “What I know now that I wish I had known a year and a half ago”.

First, you are not going everything black and dark blind.

It is not good but neither is it quite that bad. You are losing central vision. Things will not be good for anywhere from about 15 to 60 degrees of arc. Since normal visual fields are 170 or so degrees of arc, you have the potential to lose about a third of your vision. Not anything to cheer about but better than 100%.

You may not be doomed to progress to end stage AMD.

About 15% of patients become ‘wet’. About 15% progress to geographic atrophy. That means you – starting out with drusen and a diagnosis of early AMD – have a 85% chance of dodging the proverbial bullet for end stage AMD. You may very well not get as bad as I am and a year and a half after my second eye went to hell, I am still functional. [Lin/Linda: a person can have both wet AMD and geographic atrophy in the same eye.  I don’t what that does to the %, if anything.]

You did not cause this.

Yes, AMD is caused but it was not caused by anything you did or did not do. The causes are in your genes. This is a heritable disease. There are dozens if not hundreds of genes that are being investigated to try to figure out how AMD is created. It appears AMD may just be the result of a genetic ‘perfect storm’ and there is no one to blame.

There may come a time you are seeing things.

I saw some odd stuff when my brain was working overtime to assign meaning to the faulty images my eyes were sending it. You are not psychotic (I hope you are not psychotic). This is Charles Bonnet Syndrome. When your brain gives up trying to assign meaning to false signals you will stop seeing weird ‘stuff’. In the meantime, enjoy the fantasy.

Point number last: There is an amazing amount of hope for treatment and eventually a cure for AMD.

Research is going on everyday. New discoveries are announced with regularity. The medical community is hot on the trail of something that will arrest the progression and may even reverse this disease. All we have to do is hold on.

OK. Those were my biggie when I first lost my second eye. What are you worried about? Please share and we can discuss it. Continue reading “Hindsight is 20/20”

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