Coping With Worry As A Parent To Children With Complex Needs

One Sunday three months ago things changed in my family. Up until then I always worried about my non verbal severely autistic son but it was mostly around his inability to be understood, his challenging behaviour and what his future might be like. That changed on the 4th of March when I found my son face down on his bed semi conscious. He has just had a seizure.

That day he went on to have three more seizures and he slept on and off all day, not eating but at least having small amounts of fluids. He was referred to neurology though he already attended. An emergency appointment took 8 weeks but finally on 23rd April he saw the neurologist and an epilepsy nurse. She wanted an urgent MRI as Isaac has NF1 which causes tumours to grow on his nerves and a previous scan had shown Isaac had a tumour on his optic nerve.

However before we even had a date for his MRI on the 15th May I had a call from Isaac’s school to say he had arrived sleeping and had been sleeping all day and semi conscious. I immediately knew he had had another seizure. He was not home ten minutes when his eyes began rolling, his arms shaking and his mouth foaming. There’s general vague worrying for your child and then there is urgent medical worry. Once again it was confirmed by a doctor he was having some sort of ‘episodes’.

A week ago today he finally had his MRI under general anaesthetic. It’s his fourth one and I am worried. If his tumour has grown then chemotherapy is an option. If the tumour is stable we could be looking at epileptic medication. The future is unknown.

Yesterday Isaac had another episode in the park. He was violently sick this time. His sister was terrified and it was very challenging getting him safely home.

Things have changed. While I try to stay positive and keep my faith it is hard not to worry. How do you cope with worry when your child has complex needs?

I decided to reach out to some friends to ask how they cope with worry.

Charlie (whose son was having surgery the same day Isaac had his MRI) told me: ‘I try to stay busy when he’s in surgery and I remind myself of the reasons we’re doing this and the benefits rather than what might go wrong. It’s always a tense time and even though I keep my mind busy I’m physically exhausted as soon as he’s back safely with me. (www.ouralteredlife.com)

Steph (who writes at http://www.stephstwogirls.co.uk) had this to say: ‘All I can really relate to for this is when Sasha was in hospital for those 10 days three years ago. She had to have a CT scan rather than an MRI but there was other stuff to worry about, like her leaky valves… I guess I just tried not to think about it but in reality what I did was suppress it all in order to be as matter of fact about it all with her as I could be and prepare her/keep her calm.’

Lisa said ‘I don’t always realise I have been worried until after the event and then it feels like a weight has been lifted. I’m a massive over thinker but tend to have a positive outlook for the most part. Sometimes things haunt me afterwards…post trauma?’ (http://www.alifelessordinarywithautism.wordpress.com)

Cara (http://www.lylasangels.co.uk) told me: ‘I don’t worry, it’s like i go numb and just go through the motions. Before Lyla’s hip reconstruction last year a friend asked me how I felt about it and I went through my spiel about knowing it was going to be a tough recovery etc and he said yes but how do YOU feel? And i didn’t have an answer because I had no idea how I felt, I felt nothing really about her actual operation. She’s been under GA a couple of times before that for mri’s and I wasn’t worried or anxious, just numb.’

Maxine (http://www.downinfrintplease.blogspot.com) told me how running helps her cope: ‘Oh absolutely the running is my saving grace. Especially because I am always trying to fend off injury so there is such total granular focus on posture, cadence, breathing and there is no room for anything else in my thoughts for that blissful time. The outdoor space is open overhead so nothing visually pressing down on my shoulders. I am utterly free from it all when I run, and ever so much more able to cope thereafter. I also don’t pressure myself for times or even to run all the time (I take regular walk breaks) so it is only about the freedom and ‘me time’. If I don’t have it I am a wreck from trying to keep track of everything. I can’t imagine coping without it.’

Gemma (http://www.islasvoice.co.uk) uses humour to cope with her worry. ‘I am mostly numb and I hide everything with humour.Most of the time I try not to think because I know when I do my worrying consumes every bit of me.Luckily we don’t have any health stuff to worry about.Instead I wonder why everyone has discharged a severely autistic child and she has no support. I worry I’m a shit mum. I worry I should be fighting more. I worry she’s not getting everything she needs and should be getting. I worry about what will happen when I’m no longer here. Then I start laughing and joking and in my head it’s all good but I know it’s denial. It’s how I get through each day.’

Sally, who blogs at http://www.hunterslife.co.uk told me how her son helps her with her worries: ‘If I start worrying about all the things that I should be worried about – all the unknowns about the future (or lack of it) – I drown. So I try to take my cue from Pudding more and just live in the moment. Not very good at it but it’s a heck of a lot better than thinking about the alternatives.’

Jeanette finds crochet helps: ‘I use distractions here. My brain over-thinks all the time so I either distract it with a bit of crochet or some music (can’t do the latter if not on my own). The “having to concentrate on stitches or you’ll screw it up” really helps, that and being around others who “get” if you might be quiet. (Www.autismmumma.com)

Julia confessed to how anxious and worried she gets: ‘Noah had 3 anaesthetics in under 7 months. Each time I carried him to the room and held him till he was under. I buried the fear deep. Buried the worry. He needed me to be strong. I focused on him as a patient sometimes, rather than my little boy. I put my nurses head on as such as it was the only way I could cope. As he slept I’d talk to my sister in law about him. She’s also a nurse and it helped me get through it all. I still have nightmares about those months. He only has to cough and burning anxiety starts climbing up my body.’ (Www.bloomingautism.com)

Lucy (http://www.revelationsofaslummymummy.blogspot.com) is much more pragmatic about it all: ‘Bizarrely, I worry about not worrying enough. I’m a very pragmatic person, have had mammoth amounts of trauma previously. Anyway, I just cracked on, partly as a survival mechanism and partly because I knew no different. For me, that works, but I always wonder if my pragmatism perhaps leads to complacency with Brecon. He seizes every day, and it’s just life. He bites, pinches and scratches me everyday, and it’s just life. I really really hope my approach doesn’t lead to him being less efficiently cared for or me being less proactive in terms of getting him what he needs.’

Finally Anne from http://www.fainbowsaretoobeautiful.com told me: ‘I worry all the time. I find the best thing I can do is try and ‘park’ worries for a while. Realise I’m worried about something but let it go with the knowledge I’ll return to it in a while – whether that’s a few hours, days or months.’

So we all worry. My coping mechanisms right now include swimming, praying and of course writing.

One thing I do know though is that worry won’t change anything. Everyday is a fresh day and a chance to start again. And right now everyday Isaac doesn’t have a seizure is a bonus. Thankfully we have many more seizure free days than we do seizure filled ones. As for the MRI…well I will share those results as soon as we know!

And Isaac? Well he is flapping, smiling and laughing through it all. He isn’t worried about anything at all!

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The ‘scaniexty’ I live with when my child has NF1


He was four years, three weeks and five days old when I left the hospital with a piece of paper with the words ‘neurofibromatosis type 1’ scribbled on from a doctor I had only just met.

 
The more I googled the more upset I got.

 
Would you not be anxious if your baby was diagnosed with an incurable progressive genetic condition? 

 
IMG_1043Back then my biggest worry was seizures. The cafe-au-lait marks on his little body had meant nothing at all until that day but now I read that their presence was a key marker for diagnosis. Another one we could tick was developmental delay, another large head, and still another freckles under his arms. It meant the doctor was right and as I read on about complications and tests my mind began to panic. The condition causes benign tumours to grow anywhere on the nerves of the body causing a large variety of difficulties including scoliosis, vision impairment, bone deformities, epilepsy, learning difficulties and facial deformity. 

 
As the tumours can only be seen properly by MRI my first thought was should my little brown haired boy have to have anaesthetic to have a brain and body scan?

 
This was my first taste of the form of anxiety that is common with parents whose children have NF1: SCANIETY, a form of anxiety that is associated with having scans and waiting for results. You won’t find that word in a dictionary but parents of children with NF1 understand it and struggle with it so much.

 
You may never have heard of it but we live with it none the less. 

 
Before our child ever has their first scan we still suffer with it. The ‘what-if’s’ of thinking should he/she have an MRI and if so how do we convince doctors to give them one? In some areas it is standard procedure to scan a child soon after diagnosis to have a ‘base line’ to work from but for so many others this expensive test is only given when there is a clinical need. Parental anxiety is not always recognised as a clinical need so many families find themselves fighting for a scan to find out if their child has any internal tumours and if so where.

 
My son was 7 years, six months, one week and two days old when he finally had his first MRI. From the moment I received the appointment I was anxious. It was going to be the first of many times he would require anaesthetic. How would he cope? How would I arrange care for his sibling? Would be need to stay overnight? What might they find? When will we get the results?

 

Scaniexty is scary.

 

My whole life was suddenly out of control and everything rested on the results of this scan.

 
Two weeks and five days later I had a phone call from the doctor. Could we come to the hospital the following day as a matter of urgency to discuss the results.

 
Scaniexty hit again with a vengeance. They had found something. 

 
They discovered a number of things from that first scan. My son had a serious eye condition unrelated to his NF1 which meant he had no sight in one eye. On the other eye he had something called an optic glioma which so many NF parents dread: a tumour on his optic nerve. A group of oncologists discussed my child’s case and decided, for now, no treatment was needed. We were sent home.

 
Scanxiety never left me though.

 
In six months time we would be back for another scan. My mind could not ignore that. He had a scan, they found a tumour, next time there could be more.

 
What should have been a six month wait until the next one turned into an agonising ten months before we finally had our next scan on 3rd March this year. The scaniexty of waiting for that second scan was awful. The day of the scan was awful. Waiting on the results is awful.

 
When your child has NF1 scaniexty never leaves you. 

 
This time the results showed the original tumour was stable but he also has brain lesions, one of which is large, and these are a direct result of his NF1 too.

 
We live with the constant worry he may one day need chemotherapy. We live with the worry he could go blind due to his optic glioma since he has no sight in his other eye at all. We live with the worry they may one day they could find a tumour that keeps growing.

 
I live with anxiety as a mum to a child with NF1. That anxiety is deeply connected to the fact my son needs ongoing scans for the rest of his life.

 
There is no cure for NF1 and there is no cure for the scaniexty it brings either.

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