health crisis

Happy Birthday To Me--Part 2

Although I cannot be certain what caused my abrupt decline during the first week of June, I have my suspicions. I blame it mostly on my being an insufferable rule follower. While this quality made me a model student in school, it has proven to be a problem in other areas of my life. Model students don't make many friends, but they do draw negativity in the forms of disdain and jealousy with impeccable magnetism. Excellence to the letter can be crippling for the Christian, making one highly susceptible to legalism. Fortunately for my soul, the Lord showed me a long time ago that being a goody-two-shoes doesn't earn me any marks in His Book. Where my health is concerned, rule following hasn't done me many favors either.

I have followed every doctor's protocol with precision. Each time, I have suffered for doing so. I can trace this pattern back to the spring of 2006 when I first began seeking relief from my allergies. I never missed my allergy shots. I hated needles, but I was there each week believing, hoping I would get better. I got worse. A lot worse. When I would develop the inevitable sinus infection during stressful times in college, I took the medications and steroid shots prescribed by my primary physician. Which also made me worse. I did everything my OBGYN suggested without question. Bad idea. After my health collapse in 2012, I followed the advice of the immunologist, gastroenterologist, and rheumatologist, undergoing their tests, taking their medications and paying their outrageous bills. To my detriment, of course.  When Dr. Cave sent me home with an overwhelming amount of drugs, supplements and homeopathics in November, I made a chart, methodically taking the right thing at the right time. One by one, I grew intolerant to them all until I had a severe reaction to the methylation supplements in early March. And then there is the incident involving the Cipro. My BioSet practitioner was helpful overall, but I responded poorly to several of her suggestions as well. Dr. Yakaboski has been the exception. She alone has done no harm. While her treatments cannot heal me, they make my life liveable and grant me much relief.

In addition to seeing doctors, I have remade myself time and again in a desperate search for safe nutrition. After attempting several difficult diets and being met with failure upon failure, I finally stumbled upon the GAPS diet, which I began last September. I followed the diet and lifestyle protocol as rigidly as my resources would allow. GAPS was instrumental in improving my health knowledge and practices, but because I am an extreme case, several of the diet's major tenets not only failed to help me but have caused more problems. I do not tolerate bone broths, and I have recently learned the probiotics and ferments which are so wonderful for everyone else have actually increased my hyper-immunity. In the past few months, I have altered my diet several more times, trying out juicing, raw greens, a low-sulfur diet, a vegetarian diet and others. Nothing has helped. Upon another doctor's recommendation, I added ground flax and chia seeds to my diet to help build a mucous layer in my gut. Flax and chia are great for most people. Though I knew deep down they would not be good for me, I followed the instructions with perfect obedience anyway because I simply cannot help myself. It took about two weeks for my body to rebel. And I am here to tell you, I am full of sass, even at the cellular level.

God allowed me to enjoy my birthday party on June 1, a kindness for which I am very grateful. On the night of June 2, I had an allergic reaction to Brandon's toothpaste....from kissing him.....after he had swished and gargled water to protect me from the smell. On the morning of June 3 (my birthday), I forgot to check my tolerance to my daily dose of ground flax seeds, and had a severe reaction to them. I was teeter-tottering by Tuesday morning when I reacted to the ghee I had come to enjoy in my rice cereal. After that, I couldn't eat anything at all without extreme nausea, gastrointestinal pain, systemic inflammation and swelling in my throat. I was struck with a strong sense of déjà vu when it became impossible to sip water without burning and nausea. I sipped anyway, but without food it just wasn't enough. We began working on getting home health out to the house on Wednesday in order to avoid the hospital. By Thursday afternoon, it was obvious that home health services were not going to work out, and I was too dehydrated to go any longer without fluids. Without any remaining options, we headed to the ER.

Hospital emergency rooms are full of dangers for people like me, which is why people like me tend to avoid them. The combination of people, chemicals and medical professionals who just don't understand make for a highly unstable and unsafe environment. The evening was difficult, but God manifested Himself in several different ways. He blessed my double mask. I reacted to several environmental triggers, but none of the reactions were severe. One of mom's former laboratory students popped in, and spoke an encouraging word from the Lord. A very nice, conscientious male nurse took charge, and started my IV. Without him, I'm not sure I would have been given any care at all. Overall, I was neglected by the on-duty nurse practitioner (who I apparently offended when I declined x-rays), and left the hospital still dehydrated because I was cut off after only half a bag of fluids. (Dude--that was an expensive--not to mention risky--half bag of saline.) Thanks to a passionate, hard-working doctor and an extraordinary, dear friend who also happens to be a nurse practitioner, I was set up with another IV Friday night (June 7)--this time at home. 

Upon returning from the ER Thursday night (not desiring to repeat the experience any time soon), I began trying to take some food. I remembered reading in Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride that raw eggs are well-rounded, easily absorbed nutrition which put little to no stress on the digestive system. I was feeling too nauseated to attempt cold, raw eggs, so I scrambled, salted and warmed them in a pan before drinking them. They were a bit slimy going down, but they settled perfectly.

If you are unfamiliar with food allergies, you may not know what a miracle it is that I could eat eggs when I could eat nothing else. My tolerance to them is actually quite shocking as eggs are extremely allergenic. I have come to think of eggs as my "manna"--a provision no less miraculous than wafers falling from the heavens.

The ways of God are ever beyond me. 

The Saturday following my birthday (June 8), another small group gathered in my parents' home on my behalf. We left the guest list in the Lord's hands this time, and He put together a small, fascinatingly eclectic group to pray together. I sat in a chair, double masked and hooked up to an IV, as people asked the Lord to heal me and grant me clear direction on my healing journey. The men blessed me by praying with authority and power. The women plead my case before the Lord. An elder and dear friend from my church anointed me with oil. The meeting was both remarkable and not. Clouds did not part, I was not made well with a sudden touch, nor did we hear a distinct, booming voice telling us that everything was going to be okay, but God was present. He honored the gathering He had ordained, and He has answered the prayers of His people. 

Following the prayer meeting, I had some decisions to make about new doctors and treatments. I decided against them for two reasons--

1) A lack of clarity. I just wasn't sure. At the meeting, we all asked the Lord for clear direction. I felt confused, not certain at all, so I chose not to move forward. That being said, if I receive clear direction at any time regarding any doctor or treatment, I will do exactly as God suggests.

2) The story of the woman with the bleeding issue (Mark 5).  God kept bringing her story to my attention because it contained a message for me--"No more doctors." Like the woman in the story, I have suffered much in the hands of physicians, and funds are running low. In the end, the woman wasn't healed until she ran to Jesus, all out of alternate options. God wants to work a miracle here, and I aim to let Him.

And God has worked a miracle already. Within three weeks, I went from being unable to drink water, to eating raw eggs and boiled squash, to pureed vegetables and soups, to well-cooked and carefully prepared meat and vegetables, to things I have been allergic to for months....and in some cases, years.

Boiled zucchini and ground beef purée. I ate baby food for a little over a week.

Broccoli and squash purée (it tasted a lot better than it looks) with lightly cooked scrambled eggs.

Eggplant lasagna made on 6/22 with fried eggplant, fresh tomatoes, bell pepper and fresh herbs from the garden with homemade juice from beets (also from the garden), carrots and apples. In my opinion, this is the best meal I've made in the last year. I'm not only saying that because I have been deprived.

After reading that jalapeños help to reduce inflammation of the GI tract, I decided to make poppers on 6/23. These are fresh Jubilee Farm peppers, sliced in half, seeded, stuffed with fresh goat cheese, wrapped in Applegate bacon (to which I had been allergic since January) and drizzled with raw, local honey. They were heavenly, and I felt great after eating them.

On Sunday night, I made and enjoyed fried green tomatoes. Yesterday, I ate fresh watermelon for the first time in years without Benadryl!!!

Something has changed. I have changed. I have been remade. And truly, it cannot be explained apart from Jesus Christ. 

I am not supposed to be able to eat bacon and chicken and peppers and goat cheese and watermelon.

I should be having allergic reactions every day, as I have for about as long as I can remember, but I'm not.

I eat the food grown from the earth of Jubilee Farm, and I feel good. I get a little burst of energy after each meal, which may not seem like a big deal to you, but I cannot recall a time in my entire life when I felt good after eating. I think what I am feeling is....healing. I still occasionally have pain after I eat, but the pain is nothing compared to what I was experiencing before. (TMI warning!) I have also been to the bathroom twice without the assistance of an enema in the last two weeks, an event that had not occurred since April.

Granted, I have a long way to go without any idea of how long full recovery will take. I have completely released my healing timeline to the Lord. He can and will (with or without my permission) do whatever He wants. And whatever it is He wants, He is doing it now.

Things feel different upon this restart. My journey for the past seven years has been two steps forward, three steps back. Today, I feel like an infant taking slow, faltering steps, but I believe that those steps will grow steadier. Rather than regressing, I will gain momentum. I will eventually run, leap, skip, play and all the things that someone as sick as I have been should never be able to do again.

I will.....because though I am not yet well, I am already healed. It's already been done. Remember, God isn't bound by human limitations. He works outside of time. From His perspective, His work is complete. The promise has been made, the fulfillment set in motion. My job is to believe my God, to think and act as though my healing is as good as accomplished. Of course I must continue to accept my current limitations. I will do all I can to avoid environmental triggers, take naps, guard against overexertion, eat good food, take detox baths, and give myself enemas as necessary, but now I possess the freedom to do these things with the end in mind, something I find to be equally terrifying and beautiful.

In the end, being good at following the rules failed me. Miserably. God has none too gently pried my fingers loose from my beloved little book of shalls and shall nots, completely bankrupt of power to save--another kind of healing entirely. Today, I watch that book smoke in a fire I lit. And I know: I will never be the same again.

To all who have prayed anywhere at any time---thank you. God has heard your prayers! He is answering them at this very moment.

"In fact, [I] expected to die. But as a result, [I] stopped relying on [myself] and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And He did rescue [me] from mortal danger, and He will rescue [me] again. We have placed our confidence in Him, and He will continue to rescue [me]. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for [my] safety." (2 Corinthians 1:9-11 NLT)

Let us praise Him for what He is already doing!

My birthday week may have been slightly disappointing, but the month of June has proven to be one of the most exceptional months of my life.

I may just take up the habit of having a birthday month after all.

S.O.S Prayer Requests

 Dear Friends, Family Members and Readers I may never have the privilege of meeting,

A post with honesty more brutal than anything previously stated is forthcoming, but for now, our little family needs some intense prayer. Whether you would like to take a moment to bring our needs before the Father as you read, upon remembrance of someone in our family, or every day for the next two weeks is up to you. Brandon and I agree--we are both completely overwhelmed, and we need your help!

If I could paint a picture symbolizing how we feel, it would resemble Brandon and I on a beach during a hurricane, being tossed and torn by harsh and heavy winds, pelting rain, raging surge and flying debris. We are in trouble. We need a rescue of supernatural proportions. Fortunately, that is one of our God's areas of expertise. Would you pray with us?  I have listed our needs below:

1) I am having an incredibly difficult time coming off of Cymbalta. I was only on the medication for two weeks, but coming off of it has been a nightmare. I have experienced horrible, uncontrollable nausea, dizziness, headache, blood pressure problems, and depression. My depression is severe. I will offer details at a later time, but for now simply ask that Satan will not be allowed to take advantage of my weakness.

2) My pain has returned, which worsens my depression. Today was especially bad pain-wise.

3) We begin moving one week from today. We will be moving September 21-23, and I have not been well enough to pack boxes, much less do the de-cluttering, downsizing work that must be done. I'm running out of time, I'm hurting, I'm hungry, I'm sleep-deprived, and I am depressed. Do you see how this poses a problem?

4) Brandon and I are horribly sleep-deprived. Sara wakes every night, usually more than once, and sometimes stays awake for hours at a time. My children do not often nap, much less at the same time. My mom stayed last night, and Sara magically slept through the night as she usually does when we call in reinforcements. I fully expect to get up with her at least once tonight, and I will be up for at least half an hour if the current trend continues.

5) Sara has been incredibly fussy. She may be teething. She may be sick. And even at 10 months old, she may still have colic. We don't know what's up, but her sleep has been more disturbed than usual, she isn't eating as well and she is terribly fussy in the evenings. She basically cries from the time she wakes from her afternoon nap until we put her to bed. Her cry is loud and angry, and it completely stresses me out while I'm trying to prepare dinner and tend to Micah, who is always revved up by dinnertime.

6) Brandon is stretched to the max, which stretches me to the max. In addition to his incredibly long hours at work, he has spent every day he has off working at the property, getting the land and trailer ready for our move. It has been a LOT of VERY. HARD. LABOR. Imagine working a high-stress job in which you hold the lives of patients in your hands for 10 hours a day, several days a week, then spending all of your "off" time bush-hogging land, digging holes and trenches, building porches, laying flooring, painting rooms, etc. And that's just half of it. Then imagine having a sick wife, an ornery infant, financial concerns and health concerns of your own to worry about. Yeah, the man has a lot on him.

7) I am lonely and exhausted with Brandon being away so much. I have difficulty getting out of the house because if you don't have the energy to pack boxes, chances are you don't have energy to pack children and their necessary paraphernalia to go anywhere.

8) I have become photosensitive. We believe this is a side-effect of the Cymbalta, which is why I have discontinued using it. I am PRAYING that it's a side-effect of the Cymbalta because if it's an allergy, I think I may literally fall apart. Please pray that the photosensitivity disappears as the medication passes from my system. If it is unrelated to the Cymbalta, I will begin to seek a referral to John Hopkins or some other out of state facility that can help me.

9) Please pray that our house sells quickly. We are under a bit of financial strain. We aren't going to starve, but we need the house to sell before I begin my diet. My diet is going to cost more money than we currently have to spend on groceries. I need to begin the diet as soon as possible. 

10) Micah is feeling the effects of not being as high on the priority list as he once was. Pray that the Lord will provide me with creative ways to make him feel special. He also continues to struggle with anxiety. While his anxiety has improved recently, we expect him to experience some with the move.

12) Brandon and I desperately need the Lord to fortify and grow our faith. We believe. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. We don't doubt God's love or kindness. However, this season has been unbelievably long and arduous, and it seems to be getting harder without the end anywhere in sight. We are human and frail. Our faith needs prayer.

So, here I am, attempting to rally the troops. YOU are the troops! We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to engage in battle with us. The enemy is real and powerful, and the stakes are high . . . . . higher than they've ever been. The good news is that our God is as powerful as He's ever been, and He is ready and able to do what needs doing! Thank you in advance for your love and prayers. We NEED you, and we appreciate your part in our story! I can't WAIT to tell you what God does in response to your prayers!

The Keaster Family

The Journey and A Rough Landing

Once upon a time, I was as normal as an introverted, nerdy, book-loving, Jesus-following, formerly homeschooled, unpopular, unfashionable, walk-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum kind of girl can be. I may have been a bit punier than other kids my age, but I would get sick and get well again. My habits and patterns were at least similar to those of everyone else I knew. I liked fun. I had a place in which I felt I fit somehow. I had dreams and hopes and no reason at all to think they may not come true.

Between Christmas and the New Year in 2004, I had my first immediate allergic reaction to a food. I had been allergic to dairy all my life, but not allergic enough to quit enjoying it. As I popped pistachios in my mouth while my family and I enjoyed a quiet evening on vacation in Branson, MO, my lips, mouth and Eustachian tubes began itching. I took some Benadryl and didn't think about this event again until 6 months later.

During the spring season of 2005, I was on a health kick, trying to eat sprouted grains, nuts, veggies, fruits and limit my sugar intake to a little honey and an occasional dessert (aka, I was eating healthier than I had ever eaten). Sitting in a night class at Louisiana Tech that met once a week through dinner time, I was eating a favorite snack of organic cashews when my tongue started to swell. My mother had been suffering from adult on-set food allergies for about a year at this point, and I had been carrying Benadryl with me as a safety precaution. I took two Benadryl, and was fine. I made a mental note to not eat anymore cashews.

A few months later, I began reacting to other tree nuts, including almonds. I stopped eating them. A few months later, I began reacting to soy products. So I avoided those, which is quite difficult to do if you are used to eating processed food like I was and like most of America is. If you think avoiding soy is as easy as staying out of Asian restaurants, just go read the nutrition facts on the packaging of your favorite snacks. At a friend's wedding in December 2005, I became very sick after her reception. It took me a few more months to realize the cause was the delicious cake I had consumed. By late spring 2006, I had cut almost all wheat out of my diet.

At this time, I also began suffering severely from seasonal allergies. My eyes burned and watered constantly, I couldn't see straight, I was sneezing, coughing and wheezing all the time, my head was swimming, I started having migraines and was depressed. In early June 2006, I made a horrible mistake--I went to an allergist for help. I'm not saying this is a mistake for everyone. It was just a mistake for me. I underwent skin testing for all common allergens. He chose not to test the foods to which I was already reacting to systemically. He discovered that I was allergic to grasses, pollens, molds and dust mites (surprise, surprise), and I began receiving shots weekly. After a couple of months, I began having severe local reactions to the shots. I would receive a shot, my arm would swell and hurt for days, and by the time I was normal again, I would have to get another shot. It didn't take long before I was having systemic reactions to them. I would almost weekly get my allergy shots, then get a follow up steroid shot. I was often put on oral steroids to boot. Twice, I had an anaphylactic reaction to my shots in the office. I once asked if this was normal. I was told that this doctor had patients who had to receive Epi every week with their shots. I didn't like the sound of that, and it wasn't long before I realized that my shots were making me worse. My asthma was worse. I had a new food allergy to corn. My seasonal allergies had not improved. I stopped seeing the doctor, and quit paying the man for making me sicker.

I continued carrying my Epi pen, Benadryl and inhaler. I continued taking my daily antihistamine, Singulair and nasal spray. I avoided wheat, tree nuts, soy, corn, dairy, active lawnmowers and moldy leaf piles. I learned how to eat well in spite of the numerous foods I had to avoid. Sometimes, it seemed that the severity of my allergies would recede, and I might be able to enjoy corn and dairy more often, but they would always advance again.

After Micah was born, I got worse. I had a little brush with death in June 2009, but thanks to 100mg of Benadryl, two Epi Pens, a husband who isn't afraid to drive fast and furiously and the questionable care of a local ER, I survived. If you are my friend on Facebook or if you've been reading for awhile, you know that things got hairy for me in January 2011 when I encountered teff flour, a gluten-free grain that may not have killed me, but made me wish I was dead more than once. Let's just say the encounter was . . . violent. That encounter left me with poor general health for the greater part of 2011. After teff, I swore off all grains minus rice and the occasional bag of popcorn and bowl of oatmeal.

If you read the blog series I posted in February, you know that I am now dangerously allergic to sulfa/sulfur/sulfites. Since then, my other food allergies have worsened drastically. I once could occasionally cheat with a few allergens without reaping any consequences. These days, corn is just as deadly as wheat, and dairy and oats are just not worth the trouble. My seasonal allergies are worse than they have ever been. I am chronically suffering from fatigue, asthma, dry, itchy eyes (I can no longer wear contacts), migraines, skin rashes, and hives.

 I began to suspect that my problems extended beyond mere food allergies well before this last Wednesday, but I received confirmation by Thursday (yesterday) morning. Wednesday night,  I had a severe allergic reaction to coconut, an extremely uncommon allergen. It made me very sick, but I decided not to use my Epi Pen. A breastfed infant makes that action complicated for several reasons. I grieved with real tears that night over my new food allergy. Not that I eat coconut every day, but it was just that one more thing, you know? I went to sleep with the scared little thought of, "Will I just eventually starve to death because I've become allergic to everything?"

Thursday morning began like every other morning, only I knew that I would be taking Sara to the doctor for an ear infection and would subsequently be taking care of a sick infant. I did feel strange and very itchy from my reaction the night before, but it wasn't until I was up walking around that I noticed something different. Pain. Pain in every joint and hot spot in my body. I had a horrible headache, neck pain, shoulder pain, upper back pain, lower back pain, elbow pain, wrist pain, hip pain, knee pain, ankle pain. I could feel pain in every joint in every finger, every toe. It hurt to hold a fork, chew my breakfast, and change Sara's diaper. And suddenly, I knew. For months, I had wondered, but now I was sure. My aunt has rheumatoid arthritis. My husband has Crohn's disease. I have friends with MS, lupus, IBS, etc. I know the common telltale signs.

My name is Melissa Keaster. I am not yet 28 years old, and I have an undiagnosed auto-immune disease that will be less than simple to treat. Until I get treatment, I will likely suffer every time I have an allergic reaction (which is often) and every time the weather changes (it's spring in Louisiana). I have a 21 pound, needy infant who constantly needs comfort from her own pains and illnesses. I have a 3 year old who desperately misses his fun-loving, carefree mommy who was once game for daily adventures. I have a husband who is suffering from food allergies for the first time in his life. He needs me at my best. My kids need me at my best. And I find that I am at my worst.

Yesterday was a day of tears and heartbreak, working through the day and praying it would end. It was a day of facing harsh realities and wondering why it was all necessary. However, I did not despair. My hope is not in my health.

I've just begun processing this new information. I was actually going to wait to post about this new struggle, but I needed to "write it out" to help begin the processing . . . er . . . process. I don't know how I feel about all of this. I know I feel sad. I don't know what I'm going to do yet other than seek a rheumatologist in the Shreveport area. Right now, I'm disoriented, sobered and kind of horrified. Simply put, I'm in shock. I have no arc of thought on the subject. My thoughts are scattered and scrambled, but I keep coming back to these--

"This is the real food I need--Christ's unconditional commitment to me."--Timothy Keller

"And all things work together for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose."--Romans 8:28

"I believe in a blessing I don't understand.
I've seen rain fall on the wicked and the just.
Rain is no measure of His faithfulness.
He withholds no good thing from us . . .
I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain;
that broken find healing in love.
Pain is no measure of His faithfulness.
He withholds no good thing from us . . .
I will open my hands, will open my heart . . .
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes to all that you have for me."
--Sara Groves, "Open My Hands" from her new album, Invisible Empires

"But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
My foot has held fast to His steps;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth
more than my necessary food [emphasis mine]. . .
For He performs what is appointed for me,
and many such things are with Him."
 --Job 23:10-12, 14

"Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon the earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
--Psalm 73:25-26

 I don't know where this road leads, but in my mind, it has already led to some dark and scary places, places I can't bear to look into for long. I don't know the answer to "why me?" And believe me, I've asked it. I have no idea what God is thinking, planning, doing.

Here is what I do know--

God is still in control. Mine is not a situation beyond His reach.

God HAS a plan, and that plan is for my good. (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11)

My purpose in this life has not changed. I exist for the glory of God and to spread the glory of His name in the world. Apparently, He deems that the best way for me to accomplish this purpose is without my health.

God isn't going to throw me out sick and helpless to fend for myself. He loves me. He will strengthen me and help me. He is with me always.

As I process, adapt and seek medical attention, I could really use your prayers, your encouragement, your favorite scriptures, etc. I'm scared, ya'll. I can't even begin to tell you of all the things I fear. I don't even know them myself. So, when you think of me, lift me to the Father, who has given me this illness not in spite of His love for me, but because of it.