me at an early age, baking at the cabin.
Have you always been sick?
At an early age, I had a lot of stomach problems. My mom was always taking me to the doctor because I had stomach pains. My first GI doctor was at age 14. They all said I had IBS, plus a few random food allergies, the main one being dairy.
In college I got sick again, and back to the doctors I went. I bounced between naturalpathic and traditional doctors. At age 20, I got a colonoscopy AND endoscopy at the same time. Everyone else in there could have been been grandparent. For months, I went through testing, weight loss and a scary misdiagnosis. Still, no answers.
I was sick a lot. On a positive note, I learned how to listen to my body and know what foods worked for me and what didn’t. I also developed a high pain tolerance. Somedays that’s a positive, still. There were several ups & downs over the years, but most the time I just learned to deal with the pain or discomfort.
What were you doing before now, career wise?
About three years ago I was recruited to work at an advertising agency down in San Diego. That was my background, advertising. My husband and I, both born and raised in Seattle decided to take on the adventure and go. I was on the account side and worked loooooong hours, hardly saw my husband, mostly because we worked opposite hours. At that time, I started a blog, different than what it is now. It was basically pretty pictures I found online, anything from fashion to design to food. It was my distraction and took me to a happy place. I even assisted a wedding coordinator, thinking that’s what I wanted to do. It only took me 2 weddings to realize that it wasn’t. <I moved the blog posts over so if you go back in my archived, it’s all still there.>
San Diego. Taken just before I got sick.
When did everything get worse?
April of 2010 I was at an event when my left arm went numb and then started tingling. After a while I finally told someone, fearful that it could be a heart attack. Complete coldness came over my body and I was starting to shake. That was it, time to go home.
A few days later, my arm was still numb and there was tingling in my fingers. It was late at night when my husband and I decided it was probably best to go to urgent care, just in case. Hours of waiting, I finally got in and immediately was sent over for an MRI. It was 3 am when we were told my heart was just fine, but suggested I call my doctor first thing.
What did the Doctors say?
My internal medicine doctor recommended I see a neurologist. The first visit, he determined it was a herniated disk in my neck that is pinching or has damaged the nerves down my left-hand side and prescribed me a few different medications [blog post]. The following week, it spread. My left leg was tingly and then I started getting headaches, but only on the left side. I was misdiagnosed, it was not a herniated disk.
The second visit, I failed one of the physical test, which pointed that there was something going on in my brain. That was really the first time I started to get worried.
For a month, I was in an out of doctors and urgent care. I can’t even begin to count the number of MRI’s I had after that. Then it was EMG’s, EEG’s and countless blood draws – so many I became anemic. Everyone trying to figure out what was going on. At this point, they had me highly medicated for all the pain, mainly in my arm and in my head. We’re talking heavy meds as in morphine and oxycodone, just to name a few.
Throughout everything, I was still optimistic, probably why no one knew just how bad it was. I always trust that everything happens for a reason, always. However, it reached a point for my husband. He made calls to both our parents, asking for help.
I ended up having to go into urgent care late one night and I remember waking up and seeing my mom. It was as if someone wrapped me in a comfort blanket and rocked me like a baby. Mom’s sure have their ways. That night I stayed in her hotel room since it was close to the hospital and I had an appointment for a spinal tap the following day. I almost wish they didn’t tell me what that involved.
Later, Ben’s dad flew down. The plan was for him to take our dog and drive him back to their place in Eastern Washington, that way Ben could care for me.
It had been almost a week, no diagnosis and my mom seconds from taking me back to Seattle to see the doctors back home. She went for it. We were going to fly home, Ben would drive back with his dad & the dog and my sister would fly up from San Francisco.
Then it got worse. I started vomiting 24 hours before we were suppose to leave.
How did you end up in the hospital?
We stuck with the plan. Thankfully, I made it to the airport without any accidents. That was a good sign. We arrived and an airport attendant met us at the car with a wheel chair. I could hardly walk. Mom checked us in and within moments I was throwing up. Thankfully mom was prepared and had a bag already in my lap. Only thing was it broke. In my lap. That was just the beginning.
I proceeded to throw up the entire way to the gate. I don’t even remember the security check.
The breaking point. Sitting at our gate and a woman asked my mom “is she a cancer patient?” I remember in the background my mom calling my doctor crying and saying, “okay, we’ll be right there.”
She grabbed my wheel chair and ran like hell, straight to a taxi. I threw up the entire way and continued in the car ride to the hospital.
I was immediately hooked up to an IV [story of my life at that point] to stop me from throwing up and start to hydrate me. I was miserable. I cried as I continued to throw up, water at that point. We waited for hours. Finally, without going through urgent care, I was immediately submitted into the hospital.
Meanwhile, my mom called the family. Thankfully, Ben and his dad were just outside of San Francisco. He called his sister to look for flights from SF to SD. With an hour before take off, Ben raced through the airport, just barely making the flight. My sister had already arrived in Seattle so her and my dad were on the next flight out the following day. It was all a blessing.
The first few days were rough. They found that fluid was leaking in my brain so they had to put me under to stop it. I don’t really remember much of that.
It was about a week that I spent in the hospital. I remember celebrating Mother’s Day there. Thankfully we were all together, just not in the most ideal place to be celebrating.
One night, Ben laid next to me in that tiny hospital bed and said, “so I got a promotion, but it’s in Cupertino.” I just remember looking at him and saying, “I don’t know where Cupertino is, but I’m in.” I decided I would not be returning to advertising and it was time for a fresh new start.
My saint of a husband never left my side unless my mom reassured him that he’ll feel better after a warm shower. He would get up with me every night when the nurses came in. I wasn’t allowed to sleep through night because my blood pressure and heart rate would drop to scary levels, so he’d get me some crackers and gatorade. He made me smile and sometimes I’d even let out a laugh. Then again, I didn’t have to look at me. He didn’t smile much.
So, after all that the doctors come back with… it’s a virus. and… it’s likely that it lives in your body.
First it was MS and now it’s a virus. Alright then…
I didn’t fight it, but my husband did. I just wanted to go home.
Then what? How did you become gluten-free?
I continued to go in so my doctor could monitor me. There was something off with my blood cell count and somehow led them to find that my intestines were damaged. They tried to test for celiac, but I had been off gluten for a long time that it came back negative. They told me to eliminate all gluten as if I had celiac, that way I didn’t continue to damage my intestines. I was also down to 89 lb’s and what’s interesting, going gluten-free was how I put my weight back on. I say, that’s interesting because that’s a sign of celiac disease.
Since I was still incredibly sick, my mom found a natural path. I didn’t like her. Then we moved onto an acupuncturist, who I ended up seeing 3 times a week for almost 2 hours <a visit> and it was THE ONLY thing that got me back on my feet. I don’t understand it, but I swear he saved me. That and removing gluten.
It was only a month an a half before I was moved and settling into our new home, Cupertino. While we lived at the hotel where my husband worked, I was determined to figure out what I could do without going back to advertising. That’s when I decided to create a food blog.
How was the blog, WITH STYLE & GRACE created?
I have always enjoyed cooking and baking. When I was a kid, I make cake after cake after cake with my easy-bake oven. I was mostly fascinated with baking as a child and it wasn’t until I was older, like college, that I actually got into cooking. I decided my new blog would be about food and it would be all original content. I didn’t want to keep asking permission to use people’s photos or risk getting into trouble. I finally got myself into the kitchen, starting cooking and baking. My mom passed down her old DSLR camera so I could photograph my food. A year and a half ago was the first time I picked up a “big girl” camera. I practiced for months and months. I took workshops. Google became my best friend. I invested in a macro lens and over time I continued to learn, change my style and practice practice practice.
Less than a year ago, I transitioned the blog to be all gluten-free. Originally it wasn’t and was having my husband do all the taste testing. How was I suppose to share recipes without tasting the food? It was’t working for me. Now, it’s all 100% me. If I won’t eat it or serve it to my guests, I wouldn’t post it.
In my photographs, I aim to capture the beauty in gluten-free. There are so many awful photos or recipes without images and when someone is going through a huge lifestyle change, it gets depressing. I speak from experience.
Are you better now?
I’m a whole new person. I occasionally get pains in my left arm, but I take that as a reminder to slow down. Oh and I’m definitely at a healthy weight now. On a serious note, gaining my healthy weight and not being able to fit into my “regular” clothes was challenging. I got help from a professional, and still today I have to work at self love.
What’s your dream?
I want to reach and inspire millions of people. Whether their miserable in their job and need support to leave and follow their passion, those newly diagnosed celiac or someone who’s purely just looking to make changes in their life and food is one of them.
I dream of writing a cookbook and start to bring beauty to that small “specialty diets” section of the bookstore. I want to get people excited to eat gluten-free during that time when they feel like that can’t eat anything. To help support parents with kids who are celiac. Help people throw beautiful parties without their guests knowing the food is gluten-free.
I’ve offered to go into people’s homes, prepare food for <or with> them and help them transition into living a gluten-free life. It’s expensive, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Healthy me. Photographed by Meg Perotti
Thank you to everyone who’s prayed and supported me through those tough times. Neither Ben or I couldn’t have managed it all without you. Thank you.
Life is too short. Stop waiting, go after your passion and live it up!
April 10 2012