May is Lyme Disease Awareness month, a serious and often undetected illness

(Flickr/Mihály Radványi/Claudia Culley)

(Flickr/Mihály Radványi/Claudia Culley)

It was spring 2008, and my mom, Angela Culley, took my younger brother and me to a local fair in Surrey. It featured a barn with different animals such as horses, cows, pigs, and baby chickens, and so we spent lots of time petting and feeding them. 

The next day, my mom developed a red circular splotch on her forearm. She went to our family doctor at the time where she was told she had ringworm, which was most-likely caught from petting the barn animals. She was prescribed a topical ointment and the mark quickly vanished. Little did we know my mom had just embarked on a draining and frustrating health struggle, unknowingly battling Lyme Disease for 13 years. 

Lyme Disease is a serious illness caused by the bite of a blacklegged tick carrying a bacterium called spirochete, or borrelia burgdorferi. The disease can be very challenging for physicians to detect and diagnose as symptoms look different in everyone. 

Ticks carrying borrelia burgdorferi live in the western and south-eastern parts of Canada and the United States. In Canada specifically, reported cases of Lyme Disease have been increasing drastically from 144 cases country wide in 2009, to 3,147 in 2021. Scientists say this increase is linked to climate change as blacklegged ticks are now able to survive and thrive in more areas of North America due to the warming temperatures. 

When caught early on, common symptoms of Lyme Disease include flu-like symptoms and rashes, and can be treated with antibiotics. 

When left untreated, Lyme Disease can lead to neurological or heart problems amongst other serious health issues. This happened to be the case with my mom. 

In the years following our visit to the local fair, my mom suddenly developed arthritis in her hips and fingers. Her inflamed and swollen joints caused debilitating pain that was challenging to treat and made it difficult to sleep at night, nevermind raising two young children. 

This became a continuous trend as within the next year, my mom developed asthma, a chronic illness affecting the airways in the lungs that makes it hard to breathe and catch your breath. Asthma usually develops during one’s childhood, making it unusual for my mom to develop the disease much later in life. However, our doctors rubbed that factor off and focused on ways to treat the condition.

Soon after, my mom was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disorder affecting the stomach and intestines that can cause cramping, abdominal pain, and bowel issues. 

At this point, my mom felt lost and desperate for answers. She went to multiple doctors, specialists, and naturopaths to find some kind of relief, yet no one could figure out what was wrong with her. 

It wasn’t until 2019 that my mom reached her breaking point. She started to feel daily, persistent nausea, deep body aches, latharga, inflammation throughout her body, and brain fog on top of her pre-existing illnesses. She began conducting her own research to try and figure out what was wrong with her to which she came across Lyme Disease. 

She brought her concerns about Lyme up to several doctors, however they all doubted she actually had the disease. After being persistent and advocating for her own health, my mom’s neurologist found borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in her blood, amongst other fungal infections.  

It was then arranged for my mom to see a Lyme specialist to discuss her long list of symptoms. 

When waiting in the specialist’s office, a poster on the wall illustrated the different marks tick bites can leave. My mom instantly recognized one mark, it was the same mark she had developed on her forearm the day after visiting the local fair 13 years ago. She realized she had been misdiagnosed with ringworm that day and had instead been bitten by a tick. 

For the past year and a half, she’s been seeing a naturopath who is providing her with treatment. She’s currently on two antibiotics and has been taking an average of 60 pills a day, consisting of different vitamins and supplements in addition to various powders and tinctures to keep her in good health. While my mom is feeling better, she still has a long road ahead of her till she can fully heal from Lyme. 

As our planet continues to warm, tick populations and Lyme Disease cases will only continue to increase. Seeing how the disease can be hard for physicians to detect, there needs to be more education about this illness, how and where you can catch it, and the steps that can be taken to prevent it. 

May is Lyme Disease Awareness month, and this is my message to start conversations about the illness. The implications Lyme Disease can have on your health are serious, and so it’s important to stay educated, pay attention to if you feel any common symptoms in yourself, and remember to always advocate for your health and well-being.