I Thought It Was Job Stress: Cheryl Geary-Rothenberg

July 17,2019

My name is Cheryl Geary-Rothenberg and I was born in 1972 in western New York. As a child, I was always the kid who needed stitches, had asthma, broken bones, had mononucleosis more than once. So in a nutshell I was known as the sick kid.

This continued in my adult years with the onset of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Many complications set in with these medical concerns, including kidney stones and salivary stones. My doctors placed a medi-port in my body to receive multiple medications for the many autoimmune diseases.

In late fall in 2018 I started experiencing anxiety with a job I truly did not care for, so my health professional attributed my fatigue, dizziness, and some shortness of breath to job disappointment. Also, I was engaged in classes at Harvard and had a spouse at home with multiple myeloma (cancer in the plasma cells). Therefore, I was now the sole breadwinner, another added stress along with worrying about the strain of his disease. Hence, the term “panic attack” was used to describe my symptoms, and I really did not question it.

In winter of 2019, I was lucky to find a better job and I thought my pains would substantially decrease. The folks I worked for in the Buffalo Public Schools had been so loving. Just a great group of adults ready to laugh with you and help kids. I thought I had it made!

Sadly, I noticed some of the symptoms were getting worse, and I had severe mouth pain and swelling. Thus, I sought out and ENT doctor, and he noticed I had stones in my salivary glands. He truly felt once I had an operation to remove the stones, I’d be able to have more energy and just plain feel better. I was convinced these stones had placed pressure on my medi-port (for RA, Crohn’s and lupus), causing me to feel winded.

Once, the procedure was done and I was in recovery they seemed shocked at my low blood pressure and pulse oxygen. After much back and forth, I could go home, but the very next day I fell and simply felt like I was having a heart attack. My face and neck had swollen so much it panicked my husband. Again, we went to the hospital and this time the pulmonary team was called in to run tests. They did not like what they saw and suggested more testing in the next few days. The testing confirmed pulmonary arterial hypertension. We then went on to do a right heart catheterization and that confirmed I needed specialized care in this disease.

After a bit of time a local PH specialist saw me, and he is able converse regularly with the Cleveland Clinic, as it is my main care center. In a way I am blessed to have two PH specialists. Please note I urge PH patients to seek mental health help as well. We have had a hard time going from two incomes to basically none, plus the day to day stress. Mental health is just as serious and shouldn’t be ignored.

I was in the ICU and spent most of September 2018 in the hospital due to a reaction to Orenitram. Now I am on Tyvaso along with many other drugs. I will say many days have had their ups and downs, and if a drug has a side effect it finds me! Most recently, I have been dealing with blood clots so in the near future I am seeing a hematologist/oncologist.

Each day is so different, and it is hard to plan with two sick spouses, but in the end, we remember this quote, “When I is replaced by WE, illness becomes wellness.”

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