Theresa (Paris) Bivens ’86 is beginning to tell her story in hopes that others can learn from her struggles. She spent two years trying to learn the cause of various debilitating physical symptoms before she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. Now she wants to those who may be experiencing similar symptoms but also those interested in a holistic approach to health and wellness.
She has started a Facebook group entitled Inspired Natural Health, where she shares tidbits on herbal remedies and products and invitations to presentations on Nature’s Sunshine products, an e-commerce company offering quality herbal supplements, vitamins, and essential oils. She also shares bits of her journey back to health after two years of “pure hell,” she said.
Bivens was a healthy, active wife, mother of three, and director of the delivery management office at Waystar when two years ago she suddenly began experiencing extreme bouts of vertigo. She was unable to go up and down stairs and would often walk into walls. Her physician recommended she start physical therapy for the vertigo, which helped some but did not alleviate the vertigo.
Then she began experiencing other strange symptoms that led her from one specialist to another with no conclusive diagnosis and little relief. She began experiencing extreme migraines, which led to cervical spine treatments, then inner ear testing, screening for lupus and multiple sclerosis. Extreme fluctuations in her heart rate led to her wearing a heart monitor. And a food allergy test revealed she was allergic to a number of foods as well as gluten intolerant. Each test was by a different specialist who prescribed a new treatment that failed to fully relieve her symptoms, all while she continued to experience additional symptoms, from brain fog to extreme tiredness.
“It’s like I’m a hot potato for these doctors,” she said of her struggle to find the cause of her symptoms. “I just keep going to one doctor after another, and they just keep pushing me to the next one. It was almost ridiculous because they’re supposed to be the smart people here.”
Bivens said she was desperate for answers and began to wonder if her symptoms were psychosomatic. She sought counseling and was assured her symptoms were truly physical and she was not creating them in her own mind.
But she still had no answers and life was becoming more miserable. She had two children still at Providence at the time and one who played college volleyball, plus a full-time job. She had enough energy to go to work but would have to go to bed as soon as she got home. She considered going on disability as she began to wonder if exhaustion, vertigo, and a varying heart rate were going to be lifelong conditions she had to accept.
“You just get to a point where you think, ‘Okay, I guess this is what my life is going to be like for the rest of it, and I’m just going to just survive,’” she said.
But she feared that quitting her job would lead to a worse situation.
“I just felt like if I gave up my job, whether I do it poorly or not, I thought I was just going to give up (on everything),” Bivens said. “I felt like I could at least get to work, I have a good team and if I could give them direction, I could do that. I couldn’t do all the physical work at home, but I could at least do that.”
Looking for her own answers
With no help from the myriad of doctors she visited, Bivens started doing her own research. She discovered that her symptoms were consistent with Lyme disease. But when she broached the topic with her doctors, she felt shut down.
“Regular doctors, when you talk about Lyme, it’s like saying you have the plague,” Bivens said. “They don’t want to talk about it. Insurance doesn’t pay for anything. You have to have the diagnosis to get the medication. I knew I had it by symptoms, but the tests” aren’t reliable and tend to result in false negatives.
As she read, she learned that the Lyme antibodies can mask themselves to look like healthy cells and can regenerate after attempts to kill them.
“I’ve learned so much,” she said. “That’s one of the things of Lyme disease. They’re (the antibodies) so really smart, and they’re little boogers because it’s so hard to find it and so hard to get rid of it. They are smart, and they hide from things that are trying to find that they’re there, and they hide from antibiotics, or get immune to the antibiotics, so they will just restart again. So you’re just in a state.”
Bivens began going to an integrative physician and took diagnostic tests for Lyme disease, but one came back negative. She eliminated gluten from her diet and began to feel slightly better. Then she underwent an ozone treatment, an alternative therapy not approved by the FDA that oxygenates and recirculates the blood. Insurance wouldn’t cover the $300 cost, and the weekly treatment quickly becomes expensive.
Theresa (Paris) Bivens ’86, second from right, is slowly improving after struggling for two years with Lyme disease. Her children, Lillian ’19, Joe ’17, and Maddie 15, and husband Erik celebrate her renewed energy.
She underwent one treatment and felt somewhat better and then quickly deteriorated. Soon after, she attended a family wedding, and her family was shocked by her condition. Bivens said she had hidden her condition from her family partly out of embarrassment and also because she didn’t know the cause. She would sleep as much as possible leading up to family gatherings and leave before she got too exhausted. But her family knew something was wrong. They held a meeting and decided to donate money to help cover costs for whatever treatments she needed.
With their help, Bivens began to undergo more ozone therapy and slowly began to have more energy. In the meantime, she had been considering having a second test for Lyme but was wavering on the $500 cost. Several weeks later and after she resumed the ozone therapy, she found out that the test had been run without her authorization. When she went to the doctor’s office to protest, she was given the results – positive for Lyme.
“All of a sudden I have a clear diagnosis and confirmation that I have Lyme disease,” she said. “I’m a mess, but finally I know what is wrong with me.”
Finally on the road to recovery
Her journey back to health has been slow, but she can feel and celebrate the small progression – like being able to go to the grocery and sweep the floor again. She has taken antibiotics but said she found the most relief from improving her diet and taking herbal supplements.
“Little by little I went from looking like I was grey and about to keel over to I could move around and I could get through a day and just little by little I crawled back out of the hole,” she said. “I’m not at 100 percent, but I’m so much better than I was. And so much different than two years ago.”
The difference is noticeable to others, she said. Friends have complimented her, and when her mother, Mimi (Marguet) Paris ’58, saw her last weekend, she jumped up and down for joy at her improvement.
As Bivens feels better she is looking for ways to share her story and bring some good out of her pain.
“I remember talking to my mom one time,” Bivens said. “I said, ‘God has a plan for me. He’s putting me through all this pain and agony, and I know I’m going to do something good with it after I feel better.’ And I kept promising myself, ‘When I feel better, I’m going to do something good.’ So I’ve been waiting and asking, ‘What is my good, what am I going to be doing?’”
She found fellow Providence parent Beth Michels, a Nature’s Sunshine representative, and after learning about the products, has teamed up with her to start doing in-home presentations. Bivens’ hope is that she can help others reach a quicker diagnosis – or simply help them see how herbal remedies can help in all areas of their lives. Her Facebook group and Nature’s Sunshine business are just the first steps, and she continues to look for ways to find her “good.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to go and do, but I want to start sharing my story,” she said. “When I was going through it, it was so hard to find information, and I just felt like a crazy hot potato (to the doctors), because they literally would say there’s nothing wrong with you. “
She wants to be there for others in the way her family was there for her, from her husband and children picking up the household tasks she was once incapable of doing, to her siblings and parents who pulled together to help. Her mother in particular was a big support.
“I don’t know how I would have made it without her and my husband and my family,” Bivens said. “They’ve been so fantastic.
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