For more than 20 years, Savannah Belsher-MacLean lived with a disease she didn’t know she had.
She lived through migraines, painful periods, gastrointestinal issues, severe anxiety, chronic fatigue and more.
Belsher-MacLean always had a feeling the symptoms were connected.
However, for years test after test came up negative for Belsher-MacLean, who had been looking for answers to her mystery illness since she was 10-years-old.
“On the outside I really look fine and I think that made it difficult to detect the severity. Especially when all of the tests were coming back negative,” said the 35-year-old Belsher-MacLean, who is from Guernsey Cove and now lives in Belfast.
Belsher-MacLean's symptoms had gotten worse in the last three years.
She found herself pulling over driving either from extreme fatigue or to use the bathroom.
“That pretty much ended a few of my jobs,” said Belsher-MacLean who is an entrepreneur and professional dancer and makeup artist. “I pretty much was like that for an entire year. There was one month in April 2016 where I literally left the house twice.”
Belsher-MacLean went for an endoscopy of her stomach, which turned up nothing.
“At this point I’m starting to think I’m a crazy person or whining when everybody feels this terrible - or maybe something’s in there,” she said.
Belsher-MacLean wondered if she had Lyme disease.
She called a fellow Islander with the disease to explain her symptoms and was told immediately to get tested off-Island.
Belsher-MacLean got in touch with a Lyme disease specialist in Maine, Dr. Richard Dubocq, who has a medical border license and can practice on Atlantic Canadian patients.
Belsher-MacLean finally got her answer.
Although Dr. Dubocq did not do a blood test to confirm, the more than 20 years of medical documents showing symptoms of Lyme was enough for him to clinically diagnose Belsher-MacLean with the disease.
“It was really devastating but also really vindicating,” said Belsher-MacLean.
She said the doctor told her that since her symptoms were worse in the last three years, it’s possible she got Lyme disease during that time. However, he said it is more likely she got the disease around the age of 10.
“I never remembered a tick bite, a bullseye rash, any type of rash,” said Belsher-MacLean. “I don’t know if I was infected in P.E.I. or if it was a trip in Cape Breton.”
In hopes of spreading awareness about Lyme disease in P.E.I., Belsher-MacLean said she hopes others join a public discussion being held Tuesday at Montague Regional High School. The event will start at 7 p.m. and is being hosted by etymologist Chris Robinson, who is the P.E.I. director of CanLyme.
Robinson will give a free information session titled “The Ticking Lyme Bomb” about the undiagnosed burden of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
The event also coincides with National Tick Awareness Month in Canada, which is March.
Since treatment for Lyme started, Belsher-MacLean said she has felt a difference in her health.
However, she would also like to see improvements in P.E.I.’s health-care system so other Islanders with the disease may have it diagnosed quicker.
“So we’re not wasting time because time is really precious when you’re testing for Lyme disease.”
What is National Tick Awareness Month?
The initiative, led by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) in partnership with Merck Animal Health, helps shed light on tick behavior, risks and the importance of tick seasonality in initiating parasite control for pets.
Ticks, which can transmit illnesses such as Lyme disease, can now be found in many areas throughout Canada. Yet, despite an increase in public awareness, many people don't know one very important fact about ticks: they don't mind cold weather.
Since the best time to start protecting pets against ticks is before exposure, March is the ideal time for National Tick Awareness Month.
Ticks are looking for a blood meal when outdoor temperatures reach 4C. In many parts of Canada, this can occur very early in the spring or even on warmer days during traditionally cold months — well before many pet owners have even started to think about parasite control.
Where can I find the National Tick Awareness Month educational resources?
The Ticktalkcanada.com website has been created to provide pet owners with an online resource to find out more about ticks and to encourage pet owners to continue the tick control conversation with their veterinarian. This website shares facts, a video series addressing 12 common questions regarding ticks in Canada, and links to other resources for additional information.
Source: Canadian Animal Health Institute
If you go:
- WHAT: “The Ticking Lyme Bomb” information session hosted by Chris Robinson, the P.E.I. director of CanLyme
- WHEN: Tuesday, March 12 at 7 p.m.
- WHERE: Montague Regional High School cafeteria
- WHY: To learn about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses in P.E.I.