When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis nearly a decade ago, I was told my case was “mild” and I should go on living my life. I had no idea what I was in for at that point. In fact, I was relieved to find out it was ulcerative colitis (which seems laughable at this point) after being told for more than five years that it was “all in my head” and I just needed to relax. I was told to take Asacol and resume my normal activities.
As it turns out (I’m sure you’ll be shocked by this) I couldn’t resume my normal activities. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) turned my life upside down. A few months prior to my college graduation from St. John’s University, I found myself unable to travel to take my finals and instead of jumping into the work force that I had prepared so hard for, I was just trying to get by.
Determined not to be slowed down by my disease, I applied to graduate school and got into my dream program at New York University. If I couldn’t work, I’d advance my career by getting my master’s degree. It was a great goal, but each day I was getting sicker, and I was deteriorating rapidly. I wasn’t eating, with fears of an accident during classes.
Four weeks into my program at NYU, I was waiting for the subway I noticed I could not turn my neck to check if the train was coming. I thought it was strange and mentioned it to my parents when I got home. A few hours later, when I got into bed, I couldn’t breathe. My family rushed me to the emergency room, where we quickly found out I had developed pneumonia from being so run down due to my flare up.
My return home after a week in the hospital was short lived. After a day or two, I couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded. A quick chest x-ray showed pneumonia in both of my lungs, which we later found out was caused by a hospital-acquired staph infection. I was rushed back to the hospital, this time to ICU, and was pumped with the strongest antibiotics available.
If you know anything about IBD, you know that antibiotics and digestive diseases make for a messy combination. In short time, I was diagnosed with C. Diff and I was back to the hospital for a third time. I had to withdraw from my semester at school and it took months to recover. I still have PTSD from this experience.
However, that was my only IBD-related hospital stay in a decade with the disease. I never had to have surgery for my IBD. None of my flare ups required an emergency room visit. That’s not to say I’ve had it easy. For a couple of years, I would flare up every three to four months. I would commute with the worst cramping you could imagine and my fatigue was impossible to overcome. I felt at times like a prisoner in my own home. Inflammation has popped up in my ears and eyes at various points. At the ripe old age of 27, I got shingles on my face.
Right before my wedding in 2011, I seriously considered having my colon removed, but it thankfully never came to that. My doctors found the right combination of Ascaol, Remicade and 6MP to manage my symptoms and I’m living a relatively normal life.
So why do I feel like I’m stuck in the middle? Like many patients, I look to the internet for support and a shoulder to cry on. On the internet I find amazing advocates who are doing so much to spread awareness and fight for patients. There is no price that can be put on the value of what they do. Yet their diseases are often significantly much more progressed than mine. They are in the ER at a blink of an eye. Their chronic pain requires frequent surgeries and hospital stays. Some of the advocates I’ve followed through the years have even died from complications due to IBD.
Every time I go online to vent or complain about my symptoms, I find someone who has symptoms 100x worse than I do. I feel guilty…oh so guilty…for even thinking of complaining. I feel like I should be grateful that my disease hasn’t progressed beyond a certain point, but instead I am depressed that I don’t feel well enough to feel like myself.
I’m here to tell you today that you aren’t alone. Yes, you. You, who is well enough to work but feels exhausted all the time. You, whose IBD is progressed enough to be a pain in the ass (literally) but not enough of a pain to allow you to go on disability. You, who is flaring up and is in the bathroom 15 times a day but is still going to school. You, who is afraid to get in a car for fear of an accident.
You aren’t alone. You’re allowed to be in pain and you’re allowed to be pissed about it. Every day is a struggle for you. You learn to expect the unexpected with IBD. You may not live with a j-pouch or an ostomy, but you’re sick too, and it’s OK to grieve about your disease. CCFA’s “Escape the Stall” campaign wasn’t egregious to you because that’s the life you live every day.
I hope that I could be your voice. Thank you, Rebecca Kaplan, for inviting me to blog about IBD here. I hope that I do this group (that’s stuck in the middle just like me) justice. I invite you to let me know what you think in the comments section below or connect with me on Twitter @RoeMoPR.
Keeping a blog current takes a lot of work and content. As many of you know, I’ve had a lot of trouble writing as often as I should in order to keep the blog up to date. After a lot of thought, I decided that I could use help writing on the blog and interacting with Caring for Crohn’s readers.
So I am incredibly excited to announce that my friend Rosanne will be joining Caring for Crohn’s as a new contributor!
I first met Rosanne in 2013 through the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America’s Greater New York City Chapter’s Communication’s Committee (man that’s a mouthful). Rosanne was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2006. She is very active in the IBD community, not only on the communications committee with me but also as a volunteer with Staten Island support groups and a Take Steps participant. She is a public relations professional, a Disney enthusiast, and a new mom to an adorable five month old baby boy.
Rosanne will be blogging here about her experience with ulcerative colitis and as a new mom with an inflammatory bowel disease as well as general information about IBD. You can follow her on Twitter at @RoeMoPR.
Please join me in welcoming Rosanne to the Caring for Crohn’s family!
Today, May 19, marks the observance of World IBD Day, a day led by patient organizations across four continents to raise awareness and educate the public about inflammatory bowel diseases. Around the world, more than 5 million people live with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two debilitating digestive diseases that have detrimental effects on patients physically, emotionally, financially, and more. I know that my blog has been stagnant for months, but I figured today was a great day to return to it.
On World IBD Day last year, I talked about feeling defeated by the lack of progress being made for IBD patients. I was feeling pessimistic after the passing of a young IBD patient and a segment on a major news station that confused IBD with IBS. After a lot of thinking, I decided this year I wanted to be more optimistic.
I just returned from spending four days in Washington, D.C. as part of the IBD Social Circle, the online movement dedicated to bridging communications gaps and inspiring and educating the IBD community. While there, I got to spend time with some incredible IBD activists, like Ally Bain (the girl behind Ally’s Law/Restroom Access Act), Laura of Mangia Paleo, Brian of the Intense Intestines Foundation, Stephanie of The Stolen Colon, and so many more. I also was provided the opportunity to attend Digestive Disease Week, the world’s largest gathering of physicians and researchers in gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy, and gastrointestinal surgery. After spending a weekend surrounded by strong, passionate advocates and bloggers talking about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, I decided that this year’s post would be dedicated to thanks.
Today is the last day of Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week and, as I look back over all the stories that have been shared over the past seven days, I am in awe of how strong the Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients in my life are. Each story is unique but what they all have in common is that they refuse to let their disease run their life, no matter how difficult living with the diseases can be.
On the last day of this important awareness week, #ThisIsIBD story comes from Craig. Craig’s story is pretty incredible- diagnosed with both Crohn’s disease and Celiac Disease and overcame odds to become a professional arena football kicker and a two-time Guinness World Record holder.
Make sure to check out his full story after the jump!
Today’s #ThisIsIBD stories come from two incredible people- Rosanne and Sean. Rosanne and I met through our volunteer work with the Greater NYC Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. She’s a great advocate and a Disney blogger in her spare time.
Sean is the founder of Crohnology, a social network for patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Through Crohnology, a newly diagnosed patient can find others with the same condition in his/her city, learn about the treatments are working for patients, and record his/her progress as he/she tries new treatments, ultimately to get better and help others.
Today, my friend Ben shares his #ThisIsIBD story. Ben married my good college friend several years ago and this past summer, ran the Jamestown Half Marathon with us, his first race ever. Way to go!
Ben, 29, Crohn’s disease
During the fall semester of my senior year of college, I was studying abroad in South America. After about a month, I started having severe stomach pain and diarrhea. I thought that my body was just getting used to the Chilean food and water. In addition, one of my brothers had been in a severe car accident that caused me to fly home to Maryland for a week, so I thought that stress was a factor as well. However, the symptoms did not abate, and I lost close to 50 pounds. Stubbornly, I did not see a doctor until I returned home for good in the winter, and when I did I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
At first my symptoms were debilitating and I felt very unlike my usual self. However, after several months, I was able to get back to a normal weight and get my symptoms under control. Nevertheless, several of my other friends have not been so lucky. Having friends who have gone through surgery and have to endure monthly infusions of medication shows me how lucky I am compared to others.
For me, my Crohn’s disease has been a great motivator. I take several pills each day to keep my symptoms in check and get a bi-monthly blood test, but as long as I eat healthy foods and exercise regularly, Crohn’s remains a small part of my life. This past summer, I trained for and completed the Jamestown Half Marathon in Rhode Island as part of Team Challenge New England, and raised several thousand dollars for IBD research. This was the culmination of months of training and accomplishing something that I never thought I’d be able to do.
I still have bad days symptom-wise occasionally, but my Crohn’s disease does not define who I am. Crohn’s/IBD means a commitment to staying healthy and showing that life’s challenges can be overcome.