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My Island

My Island

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BY Alison Murphy  MY…Hell…opathy Laughing & living with Cervical Myelopathy

Yesterday, my husband dropped me off at the swimming baths.  The large float around my waist and my cycling style of swimming does raise a smile or two. Some call me a ninja turtle, some the barnacle woman.  Today my predicament was in the changing room.  With my combination lock.  I tried it, retried it, again and again to no avail.  It wasn’t the wrong combination; it’s my date of birth but the lock is old and sometimes you have to press it together for it to open.  I could see my issue was attracting the attention of others. So in my swimming costume, dripping, I went to reception.  A female employee, with bolt cutters came to my rescue.  She struggled a little until suddenly the lock exploded apart.I opened the locker.  Opps.  Someone else’s clothes.  I used the ‘f’ word; it was called for.The leisure centre girl was laughing. The audience of women changing was lapping it up.  I said this has probably happened to other people.  No, she said.  What an idiot.

​My locker was only three doors away and I didn’t even think to try it.  I was resolutely sure that the locker was mine.  I felt so sorry for whoever’s locker it was.  They came to the leisure centre to work out and relax.  I had to lock their locker with my lock.  I left an apologetic note on their door telling them the combination was at reception.  Then I went for a cappuccino.  With myelopathy you have to let these things wash over you.

​I’ve been a little Norman Bates lately; stable one day, struggling with my myelopathy persona the next but I’m quite proud of myself.  I’ve reached out to people to try to reconnect and everyone’s been so generous with their time and considerate of my condition. I’ve been going to events and sometimes only staying an hour; but enjoying that hour.I went to a lovely patisserie for coffee and cake this week but told Diane I could only stay an hour because I can’t stand independently, or straighten, if I sit over the hour. Also I’m learning how to be a bit precious. My husband calls me the princess and the pea because everything has to be just so.  If a chair is too soft my back spasms, if my shoe laces are too tight I can’t put shoes on, if my teacup is too full I can’t lift it, if there is spice in my food I get IBS.  I went from being totally laid back, able to eat street food cooked by greasy haired, uncompliant to hygiene standards, cooks to being very needy.  I don’t beat myself up about it.  I’m not elderly or frail or sick but titanium is holding my neck together and if I’m not careful my cervical spine might topple like Jenga bricks again.  So, when I’m chatting I need my friend opposite me, not beside.  I can get in a car, but I can’t get out without help.  I need to be front of the loo queue because I can’t hold it. If we can’t be fussy now, when can we?


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When the kids were little I would make up silly songs randomly about their activities and personalities.  I’d wake them up with a song, tuck them in with a song.  For a couple of years myelopathy stole my voice.  It truly is a challenging condition.  I wake up and feel how I image the wolf did in Red Riding Hood when his stomach was filled with stone.  My body is so uncomfortably heavy, my bones hurt, my head is constantly under a vice like pressure…and that’s at the start of the day!  Understanding cervical myelopathy has been an uphill struggle, health professionals are not up to speed with a condition whose numbers are constantly rising.   When my daughter was little she was given many Barbies and the first thing she’d do is cut Barbie’s hair off. Grace, I’d say, it won’t grow back, once it’s cut, it’s cut and that’s like the spinal cord, damage is unrepairable – for now anyway.  It’s through contact with fellow suffers at www.facebook.com/groups/myelopathy.support that has me bursting into song again.  Knowing that I haven’t got some one-off, obscure condition, that I’m not alone, is a huge deal.

My youngest daughter was eighteen yesterday.  When I think of Caitlan it’s like my heart bursts like a popping champagne bottle.  She was ten when I was first admitted to hospital with what doctors thought was a stroke. We’re throwing her a party.  If I thought too much about the organisation I’d feel overwhelmed.  I’ve called it a casual gathering, that way expectations aren’t so high.  I think if you have alcohol and food a party will run itself.  My brother and his family are over from Kilkenny, Caitlan’s godparents from Dublin, I can’t wait.  Having something to look forward to is paramount.  I look forward to coffee with my husband, I love going to M&S Food Hall, I have book club, I love Grace coming home for the weekend.  My four children are the painkiller that get my weak body out of bed.  They are the smile on my face.  They understand my condition better than neurologists, they live with my highs and lows and they pick me up.

I am happy.   It’s a glorious feeling.  Once I get going I feel my life is full of possibility even though by four I will be totally slayed with pain and tiredness, my limbs will be unresponsive, and I will sway around the house, everything falling from my grip…I’ll end up in bed for a few hours but at nine I will be enjoying Love Island with my family. If I think of 2018 so far I’ve been part of a training video to help doctors diagnose myelopathy earlier, I’ve been skyped (never skyped before) by Dr Nidhi who is gathering info to support early diagnosis.  I’ve enjoyed two book club gatherings.  Met Sharon for a pub lunch.  Gone for innumerable coffees and cake and have the calories to prove it.

Caitlan recently returned from a geography trip to Iceland.  Putting on her crampons, about to step foot on a glacier she thought of me.  My mum will never do this, she’ll never see this powerful landscape with winds that take your breath away.   It’s true.  But it’s ok.  I’ve come a long way since my dramatic arrival at A&E.  I’m walking.  I’m sleeping.  I’m managing my pain.  I’m with my family.  I think of my life like Bear Grylls’ The Island.  Myelopathy is my island.  I’m not a giver upper and I’ve learnt to enjoy simple things.
Right now I’m sitting by the window, the sun is shining, a squirrel has just run the gauntlet across my garden fence while my two dogs are going bonkers.  Spanish rap is playing. I’m glad to be alive; the alternative is an eternity I’d like to avoid.  I’ve come to not expect too much of myself.  Myelopathy is the long game.

You can check out Alison’s blog My Hell opathy here 


Neck Muscles and CSM/DCM

By Timothy Boerger
Reviewed by B.Davies

Neck Muscles and CSM– An Update Part 1 of 2

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​This will be the first of a 2 part mini-series on the properties of muscles in the neck and how they impacts outcomes of surgery. We previously looked at this following an early piece of research from North America.  This series will serve as an update on this research. 


Why was this study conducted?

As outlined previously, the amount of fat found within muscles has been linked to the type of symptoms experienced by patients; including the amount of neck pain and walking ability. This new study was done on a separate cohort of patients than the previous study and included measures of neck strength and other quality of life scales not assessed previously which addresses some weaknesses of the previous study.

How was the study conducted?
This study used MRI imaging to measure the size and the amount of fat in muscles in the neck. Neck strength was measured by clinicians using a hand held force sensor. Several questionnaires were performed to assess function, pain, and quality of life. Importantly, this study used what is called a “cross-sectional’ design meaning it only looks at 1 time point. 

What was discovered?
Larger muscles and larger amounts of lean muscle (i.e. muscle without fat) in the neck were associated with increased strength. (We already knew this in general, but it is good to ensure there isn’t something different about patients with cervical myelopathy). More fat in muscles of the neck was associated with more disability measured by the mJOA. Importantly, neither strength, muscle size, or muscle fat were associated with pain, duration of symptoms, neck disability index, or quality of life in this study.

Why is this important?
Between the previous study linked above and this study, it appears that muscle fat may be a biomarker of disability and function in patients with myelopathy.  Currently there are no biomarkers for myelopathy, which makes it difficult to assess how severe it is or give an idea of how things will develop.  More research will be needed to investigate the usefulness of muscle fat as a biomarker, but given that it can be quantified based on existing widely avaliable imaging techniques, it could enter routine clinical practice quickly.
 

Why could muscle fat relate to the severity of myelopathy?
One reason this is being investigated is that fat infiltrates muscle as a response to nerve injury and disuse. For example, if a nerve is injured the nerve doesn’t tell the muscle to contract as much and it allows more fat to become deposited within the muscle itself. 
    

References

  1. Fortin M et al. Relationship Between Cervical Muscle Morphology Evaluated By MRI, Cervical Muscle Strength And Functional Outcomes In Patients With

Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 38; epub 2018: 1-7 

  1. Fortin M, et al. Association Between Paraspinal Muscle Morphology, Clinical Symptoms and Functional Status in Patients With Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy. Spine (PhilaPa 1976). 2016 May 23

More to Myelopathy than meets the eye

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By O.Mowforth
Edited by B.Davies

We don’t really know what symptoms a “typical” patient with myelopathy has. 
In fact, the huge number of often quite subtle and non-specific symptoms is probably one of the main reasons why early diagnosis is so challenging (Davies et al., 2018).
 
When medical students prepare for exams they tend to learn stereotypical descriptions of conditions. For myelopathy, this might be a patient with walking problems and clumsy hands.

However, increasingly symptoms that one might never consider could be linked with myelopathy are emerging from the shadows.

Depressed or anxious mood is one such symptom (Stoffman et al., 2005). 
In recent years we have realised that myelopathy patients suffer from high levels of depressed or anxious mood and that this often improves after spinal surgery. But we have had little understanding of why this is the case.

A recent study from Japan has provided a little more insight (Sawada et al., 2018). The Japanese team studied the activity levels of various sites in the brain in myelopathy patients before and after surgery. They also studied individuals without myelopathy as a control group for comparison.
To do this, the team asked participants to do a simple finger-tapping exercise whilst they observed activity levels in the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The team found that before surgery individuals in the myelopathy group had a significantly higher activation in an area of the brain called the supplementary motor area compared to individuals in the group without myelopathy.
Next the team found that activation of brain areas, including the anterior cingulate cortex, the supplementary motor area and the thalamus significantly correlated with depression. This meant that the greater a patient’s depression, the greater the activation they had in these brain areas.  
Finally, the team found that both depression and activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and supplementary motor area decreased following surgery for myelopathy. 
Interesting!

The team argue that up to now surgeons have focussed on the “typical” symptoms such as the clumsy hands and walking problems when deciding whether to operate. They believe that their work may lead to future surgical decisions taking more account of the psychological symptoms too!

Davies, B.M., Mowforth, O.D., Smith, E.K., and Kotter, M.R. (2018). Degenerative cervical myelopathy. BMJ 360, k186.
Sawada, M., Nakae, T., Munemitsu, T., and Hojo, M. (2018). Cortical Reorganizations for Recovery from Depressive State After Spinal Decompression Surgery. World Neurosurg. 112, e632–e639.
Stoffman, M.R., Roberts, M.S., and King, J.T. (2005). Cervical spondylotic myelopathy, depression, and anxiety: a cohort analysis of 89 patients. Neurosurgery 57, 307–313; discussion 307-313.


Community Champion Frank Dutton shares his top fundraising tips

As a Myelopathy.org Community Champion, I had the honour of holding the charity’s first fundraiser at my local football club.

PictureCommunity Champion Frank Dutton

Myelopathy.org and Myelopathy Support on Facebook have been a great help for both me and my wife since my diagnosis in 2016. Since then, life has been difficult to say the least. Cervical myelopathy, and the accidents it has caused, have led to me going under the knife for no less than six major surgeries. These have significantly affected my body and its ability to cope with everyday life.

I created a ‘lucky numbers’ board featuring 1-100. I then made a list of those numbers with spaces next to them for people to write down their names and telephone numbers. It cost £1 per number and I decided on a winning pay-out of £25 which, if all the numbers had been taken, would deliver a tidy profit of £75 for Myelopathy.org. 

I set my table up in the club room. I took along some laminated photos of people’s CT scans, including my own, as visual aids. I also made copies of one of the charity’s media releases about the condition and the need for early diagnosis, and the basic facts about myelopathy. These are part of the Myelopathy.org fundraising pack. 

It was very interesting to see how people reacted to the photographs and then responded to the information in the leaflets and that I was able to supply about myelopathy. 

The fundraising experience was a positive one and the fact that I was able to raise £71.10 (no idea where the 10p came from) was a bonus. I am now really looking forward to taking part in the next fundraising event. So, if you have any ideas or want to hold a fundraiser yourself, please let me or one of the Myelopathy.org team know.

My top five tips for fundraising.
1) Plan where you want to hold your fundraiser and contact relevant authority/fête organiser/owner etc for permission

2) Share, share, share. Use social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram etc, to gain maximum promotion and coverage for your fundraising activity.

3) Make it personal. Tell your own story so that people can understand more about your experiences and your reasons for fundraising. Sometimes that personal touch/story can elicit donations.

4) Remember your inspiration. There’s a reason why you are supporting this cause. Hold on to your inspiration and bring all that enthusiasm to your fundraising activities.

5) Have fun. If you are not enjoying yourself, you will give off all the wrong vibes. So, smile and perhaps rope in a friend or two to help so that you can jolly each other along.


    If you would like to organise your own fundraising even then please leave your details below