She’s determined to lead a full life in spite of pain.
For Chloe Vruno, migraine is part of her everyday experience. She’s 18 now and learning to live with the condition, but when the attacks began at age 15, she was thrown for a loop. It took diligence on the part of her parents, Joe and Angie, and herself, to find a way forward.
“I have headaches all day, every day,” she says. “The pain hasn’t gone away since I was 15, and the pain varies between a 4 and a 7 on the pain scale on any normal day.” Four or more days a week, the migraine can go above a 7 and change her whole day. When in “full migraine mode,” Chloe has to retreat to her bed under the covers, with ear plugs and eyes closed. She keeps water and crackers nearby to deal with the nausea.
“My doctors have said I need to push through the pain sometimes, which I do, but when it’s at a 7 or higher, I can’t do anything else that day,” she explains.
The search for relief
While Chloe and her parents have good insurance, it was still a challenge to find a neurologist. Once they did, he had her try medication that didn’t work and could not offer any lifestyle recommendations. They tried again, pushing for more options, and eventually found a neurologist who was willing to try new things. “It was difficult but rewarding to search for the right person,” says Chloe.
Chloe has tried many modalities but none have provided relief from her constant headache: preventative medications, gabapentin, natural medications, opioids, acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, exercise, yoga, and massage. She’s tried going gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan. Last year, she had pineal gland cyst surgery, which required a long recovery but yielded no relief.
Traveling for care
Last winter, Chloe and her parents traveled to the Mayo Clinic from their home in Geneva, Illinois. “We had three different appointments with a neurologist and psychologist, who gave me tons of resources on creating a daily schedule and sticking to it,” she says. “We came up with a sleep routine, and a plan to stick to in the morning even if I have a bad headache. They said I can’t let it stop me all the time, and shared so many things that will help.”
She’s about to try a new device, too—the Cefaly, prescribed by the Mayo Clinic. “Having a new device to try makes me hopeful that there will be more advances and devices for people who need something else to try,” she says.
She’s now working on implementing these plans, but says it can be hard: “I’m a teenager! I text people late at night, and it’s hard to put my phone down, to not stay up late watching Netflix, or not go out late on weekends,” says Chloe. “But if it helps, I’m down for it.” Developing daily routines is now a big part of her self-care plan. “I have been working on this. I put down my phone every night before using my Cefaly, between 10:30 and 11pm on weekdays.”
“Cefaly has been a big help for me in the month I have had it,” says Chloe. “I use it every night for 20 minutes and when I have a bad migraine, I use it for an hour and I notice a difference.
Anxiety looms large
Chloe began to experience anxiety attacks around the same time her migraine showed up. “They’re intertwined. About a year into my migraines, the anxiety got really bad,” says Chloe. Her trip to Mayo Clinic yielded lots of new advice about managing the anxiety. “The neurologists there said if I can reduce my anxiety even the slightest bit, it could improve my everyday life, my outlook, and help me to cope.”
Chloe also works with Melissa Geraghty, Psy.D.—a chronic pain therapist who herself lives with migraine. (Dr. Geraghty was featured in the 2017 Migraine INvisible Project.) “My mom found Melissa, and even though she was completely booked, she brought me on as a patient because our stories are so similar,” Chloe says. Having a psychologist who “gets it” has helped Chloe accept a lot of things about her situation. “She has taught me skills and remedies to continue my life with pain and live my best life, no matter what.”
It’s important to learn how to identify when it’s a good idea (or not) to push through her migraine pain, so Chloe continues to work on that. She says she’s very motivated to find relief. She helps ease her anxiety and pain through distraction, including spending time with her extended family: “I would rather get my mind off things and have fun.”
An impact on schooling
Despite her health issues, Chloe has been able to maintain consistent good grades, except for a slight dip at the end of her junior year when surgery forced her to miss two months. Her migraines are usually worse at night, so she doesn’t often miss a full day of school. Still, she has study hall for first period, so if she is struggling in the morning she can arrive a little late without penalty.
“I wake up with a very bad headache every morning, but normally once I start my day, it will lessen—but I can never tell for sure. Some days, it randomly gets worse,” she explains.
Her teachers, counselor, and administrators have helped adjust things to meet her needs. She has a doctor’s note that allows her to arrive late every day, and the dean and her counselor adjust her schedule and workload.
Sometimes, other students will tease her a little, saying “I wish I could come in late every day!” but Chloe says she knows it’s good-natured. “My friends and classmates get it. I hate being home-bound and they know that if I could, I would never miss school.” She plays lacrosse, but had to pause last year when she had surgery; she’s currently easing back into it with small workouts, learning how to play with migraine.
Chloe plans to attend college to study forensic science and criminology. She applied to three schools, two near her home and one a few states away. “We weren’t sure if, with my migraines and anxiety, I could go farther to Western Carolina, but working with Melissa on sleep hygiene and lifestyle management, we’ve determined that I can manage it all if I get accepted to that school,” says Chloe.
The impact of migraine on relationships
Chloe says the migraine has changed all of her relationships to some degree. “I’ve become closer to my parents because they’re such a strong support system. It’s just as hard on them as it is on me, because they have to watch me in pain and can’t do anything about it,” she says. Her brother J.J. also lives with them but is mostly busy with school and work. Still, when she had her surgery, J.J. was with her in the hospital the whole time. “If I need him, he’s always there,” she says.
Her friendships have changed, too. “A few are stronger, and a few are weaker,” says Chloe. “I realized last year who my true friends are—who came to visit or ask how I was. I have five friends I can always go to if I’m in a pain flare or anxiety attack.”
Never give up
Chloe says one way pain has changed her life is how she views others: “It is impossible for people to see that I live with pain every day, so I would hope people treat me with respect always, and that is how I try to treat others. They could be dealing with daily pain just like me.”
Chloe is fiercely determined: “Life has forced me to learn how to be OK despite the pain, and has formed me into a stronger person. I know that I can face anything no matter the pain I am dealing with,” she says.
“Something I suggest to others living with migraine is to never, ever give up,” says Chloe. “There have been many times on my journey when I wanted to give up, stop looking for cures, stop taking my medicine, and stay in bed the rest of my life and sulk. But that is no way to live. We are still amazing people with the potential to live an amazing life.”
Mayo Clinic: mayoclinic.org
Melissa Geraghty, Psy.D.: invisibleproject.org/dr-melissa-geraghty
Tiny Buddha: tinybuddha.com
Speak Your Migraine: speakyourmigraine.com/migraine-videos