October 24, 2014

New Plasma, New Me

It was the Thursday before Columbus Day Weekend. I had an early morning flight to New Jersey the next day to spend the weekend with my family. I hadn’t left Boston in a while so I was really looking forward to a change of scenery. Though eager to get out of town, I’d been experiencing increasing anxiety. I knew something wasn’t right; I was seeing black again. A part of me didn’t want to say anything out of fear I’d be sent back to the hospital. Alas, I spoke up. We ran the tests. It was back. I was relapsing. My heart was pounding with fear. I thought I’d been on the mend – WTF?

I was admitted for the 3rd time in 4 months. A 4th MRI and 2nd lumbar puncture was performed. I endured yet another 5 days of IV steroids. To add to my extensive resume, I underwent 4 days of something called “plasmapharesis”. In layman’s terms, a plasmapharesis is the filtration of one’s blood. A central line catheter was implanted on the right side of my chest for easy access to my veins. Lovenox and insulin shots were injected into my belly sometimes multiple times a day. Finally, I was discharged on October 16th with the central line catheter still intact. The next morning, I had my last plasmapharesis treatment as an outpatient followed by the explant of the catheter.   

That was easily the most stressful week of my life. I didn’t even know what to make of it at the time. I was confused, sad, and frightened. Why was this happening to me? I couldn’t help but feel so much anger towards my own body for hurting itself without any rhyme or reason. I lost sleep. So many questions were running through my head - Am I going to survive? Will I ever get married and/or have children? What if I can’t dance again let alone walk?

I felt like a prisoner. I kept thinking to myself, “If this is how the rest of my life is going to be, then I don’t want to live like this.” I remember looking over at my mother, who was stressed beyond belief yet trying so hard to reassure me that everything would be okay, feeling guilty for considering euthanasia. I had hit an all-time emotional low. I lost faith in my own body and the quality of my future. I had never felt like this before.

But then, something happened…something visceral. From the moment that catheter was removed from my body, it was as if all the stars aligned. I felt a magical sense of liberation. I left every bit of negativity back at the hospital that day. There isn’t an ounce of fear, anger, or sadness left inside of me. I feel “lighter” and the happiest I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m fearless now (actually, that’s a lie – I’m still deathly afraid of mice, rats, and wild turkeys). But that moment was truly miraculous.

Since then, I’ve been on a natural high on life and I’m hoping it lasts. Sure there are going to be challenging days, but I believe that I'll be able to weather through tough times with finesse. Despite everything, I believe now more than ever, that I am blessed. Blessings can arise from unexpected places. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m never going to allow my illness dictate my life. I’m striving to live a happy, fruitful life to the best of my ability. And I will get married and become an amazing mother some day. 

With all the cuts and bruises on my body, I look like a war veteran but I feel like a reincarnated baby. I'm not religious by any standards but I've thanked a higher being every night for making me feel the way I’ve been feeling. I'd rather live a short happy life than a long miserable one. I’m so grateful that happiness was the end product of that nightmarish week. Every day, I’m learning and one thing’s for sure - life can be as beautiful as you allow it to be and I won't have it any other way. xx

PS: Someone passed this quote along to me. The relevancy is so uncanny it gives me the chills!

October 12, 2014

Flower: The Converted Bostonian - 4 Years Later

I may not have children , but I have a blog. This year, my sweet little sunshine turns 4 years old. Damn, we've been through a lot together.

I started my blog in 2010 at Boston University as a senior year project. Never in a million years did I foresee that the role of this blog would evolve in my life the way that it has.

Initially, I started by casually reviewing venues of wining and dining, clubs, and lounges. Then, I upgraded to reviewing places of luxury living (spas &salons), hotels, tales of traveling, uber, you name it. Most recently though, I've found the most satisfaction in writing about life & its many revelations, dating and relationships, and friendships. Oddly enough, I've found myself maturing and learning through my ramblings.

This year in particular, my blog has played a major role in my life both professionally and personally. On the professional front, "Flower..." has opened a blogosphere door to Ms. Taniya Nayak of Restaurant Impossible of HGTV. Additionally, I've been invited to give a lecture to BU public relations students this Fall semester. 

As fruitful as the professional opportunities have been, the personal benefits are beyond priceless. This once silly hobby has turned into a therapeutic and powerful tool in my new initiatives.

Given my recent health occurrences, this blog's given me an outlet to vent and share insights with someone who may benefit from reading it. My blog's presented me with a springboard to make a difference by starting a foundation, developing a meaningful voice, and becoming a symbol of hope regardless of whatever hardship someone is presented with. 

Despite this dismal evening being spent on a hospital bed at MGH feeling like absolute crap, I feel grateful that I have this beautiful channel of communication to unleash information and emotions through. This year, I am not only going to thank my viewers for continuing to support me but I'm specially going to thank my blog for being such a reliable source for me in so many ways over the past few years. I hope to grow with each other even more so and see where life takes us for years to come.

Happy birthday sweet Flower. Xx

October 07, 2014

All Eyes on Beirut Couture

Beirut – the Paris of the Middle East breeding tri-lingual folks, a beachy city only driving distance from ski resorts, and of course, the birthplace of celebrated fashionistas [cough, Mrs. Clooney]. Beirut, for many reasons, is the Middle East’s best kept secret…

I’ve been following designers and their careers ever since I can remember. Though I can’t afford their designs (yet) I love drooling over their collections every season.  As I was Pinterest-ing last night, I came to an interesting conclusion which prompted me to write this post - all three of my favorite designers are from Beirut – giving me one more reason to finally visit this amazing city!

Let’s be real here for a second: generally when people think of Lebanon, I imagine that the first thought isn’t about high fashion. However, this country has given birth to some of the most talented fashion designers of our time - Elie Saab, Reem Acra, and Zuhair Murad.

Elie Saab: Hands down, one of my favorite designers of all time. His designs ooze femininity and sophistication. Oftentimes, Saab seems to remember his roots by adding a hint of the east in his creations. Whether it’s one of his structured taffeta gowns or flowy silhouettes, Saab’s work speaks for itself. Celebrity clients include: Queen Rania of Jordan, Aishwarya Rai, and Halle Berry (styling her for the Academy Awards became a turning point in his career)

Reem Acra is best known for her luxurious line of bridal wear typically ranging anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000+. She expanded her designs to evening gowns in the early 2000’s becoming a regular at the Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes. Acra’s craftsmanship is evident in the meticulous beading and intricate embroidery of her designs. Celebrity clients include Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and Jessica Alba.

Zuhair Murad is on a different level altogether. Every one of his carefully crafted creations is a showstopper. He has a remarkable aptitude for blending elements of eastern and western cultures into his collections. Murad is one of those designers who knows how to keep his admirers on their toes; his collections are simply breathtaking. Celebrity clients include Miley Cyrus, Marion Contilard, and Jennifer Lopez.

While each designer has their unique styles, they share the common denominator of creating universally beautiful pieces with elements of the Middle East. Each designer has a knack for designing gowns tailored to perfection. Saab, Acra, and Murad have established themselves as masters of their craft on an international platform. They’ve been recognized around the world with clients ranging from royalty to Hollywood. Hollywood A listers are continuously sporting all three designers’ gowns on the red carpet and you better believe that I’ll soon be one of them… Until then xx ;)

October 03, 2014

Boston Medical Aesthetics, Downtown Boston

In my opinion, the growing popularity of Groupon/Living Social etc. has led to the devaluation of services frequently featured on the sites. One of the most affected industries is easily the beauty industry. When I worked at a medical spa five years ago, clients didn't flinch once when they learned that a laser hair removal package would cost them well over $6,000. Now, clients don't even want to pay a fraction of that because they can purchase a package for 90% off. This behavior has led businesses to not offer that elevated experience they once used to since most clients are oftentimes "hoppers" and looking for the next best deal. However, this hasn't stopped Boston Medical Aesthetics...

Boston Medical Aesthetics (BMA), located in the heart of Faneuil Hall, is in its own echelon when it comes to service quality and delivery. Owned and operated by nurse practitioner, Jennifer Canesi, BMA offers a wide variety of services from Botox & fillers, laser hair removal, chemical peels/microdermabrasions, Sclerotherapy, and now CoolSculpting.

CoolSculpting is a revolutionary solution that freezes and eliminates unwanted fat cells without surgery or downtime. (Www.coolsculpting.com) BMA is one of the select few practices in the Greater Boston Area offering this state-of-the-art technique of noninvasive weight loss management. Under the direct supervision of esteemed plastic surgeon, Michael Tantillo, Jennifer offers free evaluations to determine whether or not a patient is eligible for CoolSculpting and/or other services.

I highly recommend Boston Medical Aesthetics for many reasons. Jennifer's no-pressure, "non-salesy" approach makes a patient feel comfortable and at ease. She exudes confidence while explaining treatment plans and will never push something on you if she doesn't feel it's necessary. At such a young age, Jennifer has built a loyal clientele who continue to see her because of her expertise, excellent care, and of course her notably kind demeanor. Check out BMA's beautiful new office located at 21 Merchants Row in Faneuil Hall.

September 26, 2014

Zaftigs, Coolidge Corner

I've lived in Boston for 7 years. Every one of those 7 years, I've said to myself “I need to eat at Zaftigs”. There's always a crazy long line even on the coldest of days so naturally I've been intrigued. My curiosity led me to believe that they must have been serving something magical! It was only last weekend when I finally got around to it...

What's my verdict? Well, this joint isn't worth the wait AT ALL! Zaftigs, in my opinion, is a glorified diner and that's being kind. Coming from the divine land of New Jersey, Zaftigs doesn't even come close to some of the diners I grew up around.

Listen, I get the appeal of Zaftigs – it's the only one of its kind in the cute neighborhood of Coolidge Corner where you can munch on potato knishes and omelets all day every day, but it's just not that great. Speaking of potato knishes – actually, I'd rather not go there. Let's just say I'm very disappointed.

All in all, I think Zaftigs is an overpriced, understaffed establishment with an overwhelming menu filled with mediocre food and a ridiculous wait. Would I come here again? Maybe. Would I ever wait 45 minutes to get seated here? Never again. YIKES!

September 14, 2014

Strength in your Tears

This post may have been more difficult to write than the documentation of my sickness. However, I share this because I hope the ultimate message is helpful to anyone struggling with a tragedy or life changing event. [Please don't mistake this as a plea of sympathy as it is far from that.]

Last week, I experienced my first emotional breakdown since "everything". I felt vulnerable, weak, and angry. My life drastically changed before my eyes without any warning, rhyme or reason. I have new limitations and thresholds for what I can physically handle. At that given moment, things couldn't seem more unfair.

At my most emotional state, I confided in my sister, admitting that I felt so ridiculous for crying about what's been happening while so many worse things are going on in the world and to others. I repeatedly told her that
"I'm supposed to be stronger than this".

After literally shedding every tear that was inside of me, I felt pretty damn good to be honest with you. It was almost like I needed to have that meltdown considering everything that's transpired. Then, I wondered ... Why did I let myself believe that crying equated to weakness? Especially if I felt so relieved afterwards?

I think we've been conditioned as a society, especially men, to believe that tears mean you're weak. Crying is cathartic. Expressing your feelings is a release. And sometimes, I hate to say it, self-pity is a necessary evil. Your emotions are your emotions. No one can tell you that they're right or wrong - not even yourself.

I constantly have to remind myself that everyone's problems whether they seem serious to you or not, are their problems and they're entitled to feel how they feel - including my own. That night, I learned that yes - corruption, poverty, cancer, deaths are happening but that doesn't mean that I have to discount my own situation just so I seem strong. That's not fair to me.

Despite everything, I'd estimate that 90% of the time, I'm smiling, trying to stay positive and strong; the other ten, not so much and that's okay. I'm allowed that ten percent. We can't be perfect and happy all the time - it's impossible. If you don't allow yourself moments when you naturally feel like crap, then how can you possibly appreciate the good ones?

With each passing day, I'm learning new things whether it's about my body, feelings, or life in general. I'm realizing that strength doesn't mean harboring feelings, hiding tears, and trivializing my problems. Strength is going through the natural motions of things, fighting to overcome, and of course smiling when you can.

If you're having a "moment of weakness", just have it. When it's passed, shake it off and do something that makes you happy (retail therapy perhaps?). I end this post hoping that someone out there benefits from reading this. xx Sumaira

September 03, 2014

Fall 2014 Fashion Must Haves & Trends

While everyone is moping on social media about summer ending, I couldn't be more excited for the Fall. Let's think positively here for a moment... we are about to enter THE fashion season of the year! The joyous period of chunky sweaters, leggings, boots and scarves is about to arrive. So turn those frowns upside down and rejoice!

I'm no Vogue contributor or fashion expert, but I definitely know what I like. Especially thanks to my recent discovery of Pinterest (I know, I'm so 2000andlate). If your style mantra is anything like mine - simple, neat, and chic (or grandma-like according to my sister) then this list is for you! Incorporate some or all of these and you'll be on the fast track towards becoming a diva on the loose... OW!

1. Plush in Plum
Plum, mulberry, berry - you 3 have captured my heart, What beautiful, rich colors that look good on anyone. Garnish yourselves with pops of these colors. 

2. Mid-Shin Length Pencil Skirts
Something about this length is ultra flattering and classy. Every time I see Kim Kardashian sporting this ensemble, I imagine that a less ostentatious personality would work this look with panache. 

3. Oversized Wrap Coats
Comfy, fashionable, and warm? Sounds like my kind of coat - one of each color please!

4. D'Orsay Heels
Not gonna lie, I find toe cleavage sexy. Is that weird? Maybe. Nude and black pairs are essential! Every other color after that is icing on the cake. 

5. Animal Print
I'm so relieved the whole tribal print movement is now far behind us. Good riddance. Let your wilderness conquer this Fall!

6. Dark Lips & Nails
Purchase "Rebel" from MAC and watch your horizons expand. This gothic color is sheer perfection for this time of year. 

7. Emerald Green
A regal color that makes a statement wherever you go. Not to mention, fun to pair with other bold colors!


Well, there you have it. This pretty much encompasses everything I'll be wearing for the next few months. 

Don't forget to inspire and follow me on Instagram & Pinterest [sumairaflower]

Besos. xx

August 19, 2014

Life As I Now Know It...

I debated for a while about whether or not I wanted to publicly discuss my recent illness. I ultimately decided to in efforts to help patients like myself and build awareness on this terrifying disease that is rarely ever heard of. Brace yourself, this is the abridged version...

June 27, 2014, I woke up noticing a small, oval-shaped figurine in my right eye. I didn't think much of it - summer had just started and maybe I was seeing sunspots from the brightness outside. I traveled that weekend; the spot didn't seem to go away. "Strange," I thought to myself, "I'll deal with it Monday when I get back to the office." [For those of you who don't know, I work in Ophthalmology]

June 30, 2014. The spot increased. I casually told one of the ophthalmologists at work who had me do a "visual field test". This test detects dysfunction in one's central and peripheral vision. This test is also a nightmare if you have A.D.D. The results showed that I suffered some mild field loss nasally in my right eye. Weird, but nothing severe. We would re-evaluate in a couple of days. 

July 3, 2014. It was 4pm. The office was winding down for the long weekend. I remember feeling uneasy that day. I felt fatigued and my arms were tingling. Something felt off balance and I was having trouble seeing my phone and computer. Our cornea fellow had me do another visual field test. Test results for my left eye were perfect, right eye had significantly worsened. Vision was 20/20 in both eyes. We dilated my pupils, checked my retinas, optic nerves, corneas, eye pressure - everything was structurally perfect. Now we have a problem. One of the other MDs immediately got involved as she frantically made calls to her colleagues at the local hospitals asking for opinions. I needed an MRI. I remember her telling me not to Google anything when I went home... to this day, I still haven't Googled anything.

July 4, 2014.  I arrived at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary [MEEI] with hopes of being in and out for the MRI. I brought my weekend bag as I was going to a 4th of July barbecue following the "appointment." I ended up spending 8 hours at MEEI, having seen 3 specialists (Cornea, Retina, Neuro-Ophthalmology) before I was transferred next door to Massachusetts General Hospital [MGH] for an MRI. I remember coming out of the MRI, all loopy from Ativan, having now been at the hospital for 14 hours when I was told I was being admitted into Neurology for inflammation on the right side of my brain. 

July 5 - July 7, 2014. Hospitalization #1. Diagnosis: Optic Neuritis OD. Treatment: 3 doses of 1,000mg of steroids IV. Expectations upon discharge: 2-3 weeks before vision returns back to where it started. I had fallen pretty sick from all of medications that were pumped into me but was happy to be on my way to a full recovery. We continued to do visual field tests in my office twice a week to keep an eye on things. Things were getting better.

August 4, 2014. I went to MEEI for a follow-up appointment with Neuro-Ophthalmology. To my surprise, I learned that the vision in my right eye had regressed to 20/60. The doctor explained that the recovery isn't always perfectly sketched out for some Optic Neuritis patients. While the regression was shocking, he told me not to worry. We would follow up with each other in 2 months when things should almost certainly be back to normal.  

August 5, 2014. I woke up extremely dizzy and nauseous. We repeated the visual field test with the right eye looking significantly affected again. We checked my vision. I will never forget this day - I was officially legally blind being 20/200 in my right eye.

August 6, 2014. I wore an eye patch to work because I couldn't function with the difference in depth perception. I remember walking into a wall, dropping things, tripped over a box. I knew something wasn't right, fear was making me nauseous. My vision had regressed even further to 20/400 in my right eye. My visual field tests depicted defect in both eyes. I called my neurologist who ordered me to come back to the hospital asap. 

August 7 - August 12, 2014. Hospitalization #2. Diagnosis: Sero-Negative Neuromyelatis Optica [NMO] OU. Vision: 20/600 right eye, 20/120 left eye. Symptoms: Vision loss, difficulty walking, sensory loss and numbness in limbs. Procedures: Lumbar puncture, 3 MRIs. Treatments: 5 doses of 1,000mg of steroids IV and Rituximab  infusions [an aggressive treatment used to treat patients with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, etc.] 

Since my discharge, I've been laying low, attempting to recover in the most positive fashion possible. But I'd be lying if I told you things have been easy. Every day brings along new physical challenges. I now take 10 pills a day having formerly been one of those holistic weirdos who never even took Tylenol. Despite everything though, I feel really lucky. As I reflect, I ask myself questions like, "what if I didn't work in Ophthalmology?" and "what if I didn't live in Boston?." I legitimately have a dream team of doctors from the 2nd best institution in the country working with me on a daily basis to ensure that I am on the right track. Most importantly, this entire situation further proved how much love and support I have around me. My family and friends are my rock. They have kept me afloat during the scary times I felt I was sinking. I have received gifts and encouraging words from literally all over the world! I've never felt more loved, special, and cared for in my life. With an unknown road to recovery ahead of me, I'm eagerly looking forward to spreading NMO awareness, raising money for research and development, and to stay in remission once I am fully healed. Life and the quality of it truly are very fickle. Please remember to make every day count and laugh until your stomach hurts. Love you all and thank you for continuing to support me. xx ciao!

Special Thank Yous:
Samir Melki, MD PhD
Maheen Haque, MD
Macie Finkelstein, MD
Kameran Lashkari, MD PhD
John Lee, MD MPH        
Dean Cestari, MD - Neuro-Ophthalmology MEEI
Neuro-Opthalmology Staff at MEEI
Tracey Cho, MD - Neurology MGH
Jennifer Canesi, NP
Ying Fan, NP
Adonis, Laurie and Jen at Lunder 8 MGH
Nicolas Busaba, MD - MEEI
Craig @ Radiology - MGH
My brave mother, sisters who I would be absolutely lost without, extended family, my amazing friends who spent countless hours at the hospital with me, my coworkers, and of course all of my well wishers. 

If you or anyone you know suffers from NMO and would like someone to talk to, please do not hesitate to send me an email me@sumairaflower.com

July 29, 2014

Carrie, You Were Onto Something...


"Maybe our girlfriends are our soul mates and guys are just people to have fun with."
Carrie Bradshaw

As I gracefully age, I'm realizing that Carrie may have been right. Maybe our girlfriends are our soul mates, and guys are supplementary characters. I dedicate this post to my best girlfriends (you know who you are) for sticking by my side through the greatest and worst, loving me unconditionally, and for never judging me. 

2014 has seen some pretty awful situations and intense romantic drama in my friend circle, including my own. While we already know that the ultimate healer of a painful breakup is time [and retail therapy!], having your girlfriends for support is completely priceless. The mere presence of them can be a huge catalyst to recovery. With all the guys that have come and gone, at the end of the day, we've stuck together. Through thick and thin, we're there for each other no matter what. Certain responsibilities need not be vocalized; they are simply understood.  

Back in the day, it used to be about the quantity of friends; now it's only about the quality. Having a core group of girlfriends is essential for survival... even if there are only 2 of you. I believe that every friend in your core serves a different purpose. Each friend is a unique dish in the potluck of friendship. Everyone plays a "role". While some may overlap, each friend has a dominant quality/habit that defines their role. I've come up with roles that I think most groups comprise of.  I'm sure there are variations amongst different people, but this seems like a solid umbrella that encompasses roles within friend circles.

1. The Willow Tree / Mother Goose
This is the friend who's had maternal instincts since she was 5. She's the wise one who everyone goes to for advice. Somehow, she is omniscient. 

2. The Party Animal / Wild Child
This is the friend who you can rely on to always have a great time - she is down to party at any given moment! She's the carefree one who brings out the party girl in you while everyone else lives vicariously through her. 

3. The Skeptic / Realist
Every circle has one of these. This is the friend you dread admitting your mistakes to for fear they'll tell you what you don't want to hear but what you need to hear. This friend can sometimes be mistaken for a pessimist or a straight up "hater" but at the end of the day, she's just trying to be your voice of reason. 

4. The Eternal Optimist / Cheerleader
This is the friend who is always rooting for you no matter what. Her drug is positivity! She is so excited for everything you do and thrives on your happiness and success.

5. The Empathizer / Sensitive One
I hope every girl has one of these in their lives. This is the friend who understands your pain and sympathizes with you. Simply put, she cries with and for you.

True friendships are built with unconditional love, support, and mutual respect. Cherish your girlfriends. Embrace the purpose each of them serve. Amidst major life events, make an effort to maintain your friendships. Hire a babysitter for girl time. And lastly, make sure your best girlfriends are life enhancers, people who improve the quality of your life and bring out the upgraded version of yourself. xx