I’m sitting at O’hare International Airport in Chicago. Fresh off taking the stage in Des Moines for a patient symposium. And an image of a young couple in the crowd keeps popping into my head. As I spoke, I noticed. I noticed how he squeezed her hand when I talked about love and inflammatory bowel disease. I recognized how he touched her shoulders when I reminisced about how it feels when friends turn their back on you, as you grapple with a chronic illness. As I stood on that stage, witnessing their not-so-subtle interactions, I knew that girl had found someone special.
Each time I speak, and in many of my articles, I refer to my husband, Bobby. Since the moment we met in 2013, and through all the ups and downs my Crohn’s disease has caused in our lives, he’s been my safe place and my protector. During my speech, I talked about how everybody needs “a Bobby.” A person who sees you for more than your disease. A person who doesn’t shudder at the thought of seeing you at your lowest for days on end in a hospital bed. A person who gets the day to day management and emotional toll chronic illness takes on not only the patient, but the couple and the family.
After my speech, this same couple who stood out to me in the crowd approached me. I immediately told them they had grabbed my attention. I said let me guess—I pointed to the young girl and said, “you have IBD.” Then I turned to her boyfriend and said, “and you are her rock and her caretaker.” They laughed and told me I guessed right. Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to spot this type of support? I was a complete stranger, once in her shoes. Young. Dating. Wondering about my future. Their names are Emily and Kellen.
Ironically, Emily and I both underwent bowel resection surgery days apart in the summer of 2015. Her boyfriend at the time, decided it was too much—and left her. Then she met Kellen. As we joked, “her Bobby.” IBD throws us curve balls, it challenges us in unimaginable ways, but it teaches us, too. One may think of surgery and setbacks as the lowest of the low during the patient journey, but often those moments bring about the greatest highs and crystal-clear clarity. Both about ourselves—what we’re capable of…and about others.
As I was talking to Emily and Kellen it brought tears to my eyes, because I felt so happy for her. Only 22 years old, so much of her life ahead of her. And she’s found the person who looks at her, despite her illness, and loves her for it. The Bobbys and the Kellens of the world are the real deal. If you haven’t found yours yet, trust me…they exist and they are out there.
It was my husband Bobby’s birthday yesterday. The special milestone days always bring out the mushy side in me. I can’t help it. So, as I sit in this airport, and think about how lucky Emily is, I’m also reflecting on how lucky I am to have found my ride or die, who will be with me all the days of my life, just like my illness.