It’s amazing how life comes full circle. I recently connected with a news anchor in Tampa Bay who battles Crohn’s disease, she randomly works with my friend and former meteorologist. Given my past with the news business and my patient journey–we immediately connected on social media, started emailing and chatted on the phone like we’ve been friends for a decade. I was really happy to see that Hilary Zalla, a traffic anchor and yoga buff, who appears completely healthy on the TV each day, is brave enough to share her personal story to spread awareness. One of my regrets from my decade in the TV business is that I chose to keep my battle private. These next two weeks, I am proud to share two awe-inspiring guest posts from Hilary. I’ll let her take it away…
Hi! My name is Hilary Zalla and I am a news anchor at the CBS affiliate in Tampa Bay, Florida. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease 13 years ago and went public about four years ago.
“How did you get comfortable sharing your disease so publicly? Are you afraid of being labeled ‘the sick news anchor?’”
I get these questions a lot from people. In all honesty, I was very nervous taking off my “perfect TV persona” mask and unveiling my real, raw truths. But it so was necessary for me and for my fellow Crohnies across the globe.
Here’s how it happened. I was only 24 years old and working morning news in Dayton, Ohio. I was just two years out of college and so proud of my career. I had credibility in my market and was known for my bubbly and outgoing on-air personality. I knew the community looked up to me.
Then, I got my worst flare-up since being diagnosed. I had severe pain, bleeding, anemia, and exhaustion. One day I was standing by on camera crouching down in pain. The producer was in my ear saying “Stand by, Hilary…5, 4, 3, 2…”. I stood up fast and started talking, trying to mask the pain on my face. My bubbly and outgoing personality was hanging on by a thread. I had lost 10 pounds and viewers started to notice. My hair started falling out because I was so low on iron and nutrients. I had to cut my hair short, but tried to keep smiling.
I went into the hospital and this is where I had a breakthrough. I asked myself, “Who the heck are you trying to fool, Hilary?” “Why is it so important for you to portray a perfect life?” “Who is that helping?” The answer was simple. I wasn’t helping anyone, least of all me. I realized the energy I was using to hide my disease on and off camera could be used to uplift myself and others. I had to accept that Crohn’s is a part of me, but it doesn’t have to define me. It is the reason I am strong and brave. It is the reason I know my body so well. Then, I realized I was blessed with a massive platform to bring awareness to this disease. What better way to use television news than to change the world one Crohnie at a time? I swallowed my pride, came to peace with my vulnerability, and when I got out of the hospital, I asked my station to sponsor my very first Take Steps Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis. This was the beginning of “Hilary’s Crohnies.”
I exposed my disease to the public for the first time that year and never looked back. Since then, I have become a public spokesperson for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and an advocate for Crohn’s patients. I emcee the yearly Take Steps Walk in Tampa and share my journey on social media and television.
And guess what? The most amazing thing has happened since I came out. My viewers, their family and friends, and people from across the world started coming out, too. They shared their personal stories with me and I realized so many people are affected by IBD. Too many. We just don’t talk about it and that makes us feel alone.
So, for all you Crohnies out there, listen up! I am here to officially say, stamped online forever, I am proud to be The Sick News Anchor!
Next week, Hilary will talk about how yoga has transformed her life and helped silence her symptoms.