Thirty years after Lyme disease was first reported in Minnesota, the tick-borne disease is becoming more prevalent in the Midwest.
Much of northern Minnesota, where many of us spend our summer weekends, is square in the middle of the high-risk area for the potentially serious bacterial infection.
Central Minnesotans should also take note: That area includes Benton and Sherburne counties, and Stearns County is considered at moderate risk. Humans can get Lyme disease from a deer tick, which is smaller than a wood tick. The risk is greatest from May to July and again in the fall.
One St. Cloud woman recounts her experience with the disease, and she now hopes to spend time educating people about prevention, early detection and treatment. She wants everyone to know there are ways to protect your family.
Twenty-one-year-old Christin Chandler has had her future put on hold, as she tries to combat pain and other symptoms she associates with chronic Lyme disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refer to symptoms lingering after initial treatment for Lyme disease as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome. The exact cause of the symptoms is unknown, and recommended treatment is in question. Much surrounding the condition remains controversial in the medical establishment.
Last April, as Chandler was preparing for Grandma’s Marathon, she began to feel tingling in her limbs and her feet were numb. She sought relief from various chiropractors, but nothing helped. She pushed through and ran the marathon anyway.
But her symptoms got worse. At her then-job at a movie theater, her hands began to shake as she was handing out popcorn.
So she went to the doctor, who initially thought it may be chronic fatigue syndrome or mononucleosis. She was tested for Lyme disease, but the results were contradictory — one negative and one positive.
“At that time I had no idea what Lyme was, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just brush it off,’ because some days I felt perfectly fine.”
But her symptoms progressed.
“For about four months I was bedridden and couldn’t do anything,” she said.
It took six months to get a diagnosis. She says she also developed allergies to many ingredients in food because of the Lyme disease, and had a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. That can occur when toxins are released from bacteria killed by antibiotics.
Eventually, she found herself on a pharmacy of drugs and supplements, including vitamins, pain medications, nutrition supplements, antibiotics, antifungals, anti-parasitics and more.
She also sought help from some alternative practitioners, including one that practices an allergy elimination technique.
The disease has greatly affected her life. She dropped out of college after one month — after returning from a one-year hiatus —because she was too sick.
Chandler was going to be a group fitness and personal trainer before she discovered the Lyme disease. She still wants to do that despite her physical limitations, because she’s learned so much during this period.
She’s trying to figure out what her next step is. She wants to go back to school, but she knows her symptoms can change.
“I’ll just try to live in the present. … Sometimes I feel like I’m faking it. I’ll go to the gym and I’ll work out. But I always push myself no matter what,” she said. “It’s hard to explain. People don’t understand.”
She feels people didn’t believe her, a not uncommon occurrence for Lyme patients.
“The night I was in the emergency room … the doctor was like, it’s all in your head. You need to see a psychologist or something,” she said. “Maybe he thought I was having a panic attack or something.”
“You just don’t feel normal, because it’s an invisible disease,” she said.
Her faith has been very important to her.
“It’s become a lot more important. And I’ve been noticing a lot more things that God can do,” she said.
She connected with a Christian support group online for people with Lyme disease. In the group, they share what they’re going through, their symptoms, if they’re depressed, different doctors to go to and ideas on treatment and testing. A lot of times they ask for prayers and share devotionals.
Lately, she’s been trying to spread awareness by talking to people about her experience. She hopes to organize a Lyme disease awareness run.
She has talked to a health class at St. Cloud State University and a class at Technical High School. Next year, she’s planning on doing a presentation at St. Cloud State.
She spends time researching health and wellness and is trying to put a website together. She knows prevention is better than the treatment, and the earlier Lyme disease is treated, the better the outcome usually is.
Her advice: Avoid brushy areas. If you’re going out in the woods or yard, check yourself.
If you take a tick off your skin, put it in a bag, label it with the date and store it in the freezer if you don’t get it to your doctor right away. They can test them for Lyme disease.
For Chandler, at least, the “tick-paranoia” is worth the effort.