Coping with the fear of loss while living with IBD

It was love at first sight. From the moment he entered the room, I knew there was something special about him. He was shy, yet grabbed the attention of everyone around him. Timid, but gentle. So handsome and regal. His name was Hamilton. He had been sold on the street for $10 by his original owner to little girls in the neighborhood. Their mom brought him into the animal shelter, and he landed a spot on the weekly Humane Society segment on my morning show, desperately looking for a new home. IMG-4343

We went from being strangers to family in a matter of minutes. During that segment, I announced to thousands of viewers tuning in that I was going to adopt this dog. Here I was, 26-years-old, had never owned a dog in my life, but in that split second, he stole my heart and changed my world.

Fast forward nearly 10 years later, and Hamilton James (as I call him), has been my sidekick through the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ve lived in Wausau, WI, Chicago, Springfield, IL and now St. Louis. Whether it was waking up at 2 a.m. with me when I worked morning shows or cuddling me on the couch during break ups, flare ups and post-surgeries, he’s been such a source of unconditional comfort and happiness in my life.

It’s difficult for me to imagine navigating life with Crohn’s and my day-to-day with my family, without him. Obviously, I knew the time would come—but not this soon. Hamilton has recently started having seizures and breathes laboriously at times. After he took a terrible tumble down 13 stairs last weekend, IMG_4315I took him into the vet and a chest x-ray showed he has congestive heart failure. The vet gave him a day to a year to live. When I saw the size of his enlarged heart in his tiny body, my heart sank. My world stopped. The tears flowed. And immediately, I felt my Crohn’s symptoms return.

Since starting his seizure medication and being put on Lasix (oh joy, a chronic illness dog—just what I need!), he seems very much like his old self—but the thought of what’s to come and knowing his health is not what it used to be, cuts me deeply. He’s my first baby. I can’t fathom what it’s going to be like to wake up and not see him. This week I’ve been struggling with anxious thoughts about what his final moments will be like. Those anxious expectations translate into gnawing pains in my abdomen that last for hours.

A6865E4F-A38B-4277-B771-2BA1F5AAC900As a mom of two and a wife, I know I need to reel it in and start coping so I don’t land myself in the hospital. But, the sadness, stress, and worry only feed my illness. What’s a girl to do? Whether you have a chronic illness or not—losing a four-legged family member is devastating and heart-wrenching.

Here’s helpful advice I’ve received from family members and friends about dealing with the pain of having a sick pet and knowing their days are numbered:

 “One day at a time. Don’t think about losing him, only think about how much you love him and how you have both enhanced each other’s lives. Key point—live in the moment, otherwise, you will make yourself sick and drive yourself crazy.”

“He’s been by your side and comforted you when you were sick, and now it’s your turn to be by his side, comfort him, and make sure he’s not suffering.”

“Exercise and focus on your stomach when you breathe, not your chest. Limit caffeine, alcohol and chocolate.”

“Some local shelters have pet loss support groups if that’s something that might help you.”

“Find a healthy outlet in which you can express your emotions, if you do any kind of mindfulness practice, do it. Stay on top of your symptoms and check in with your doctors often.”

When I think of managing my IBD, Hamilton has been and continues to be a big part of my patient journey.

IMG-4462

Post bowel resection snuggles

Calming my anxiety and coping with the pain that is ahead is not going to be easy and something I know I will continue to struggle with—but in a way it helps to know the reason behind my symptoms and why they may be present.

Much like life with Crohn’s, there’s no sense in waiting for a flare up or a hospitalization to happen. Rather, it’s all about celebrating the good times, taking everything a day at a time, and making the most of the calm before the storm. Instead of dwelling on the inevitable and being miserable, I want to soak up the beauty of the right now. Instead of letting the sadness seep into the remaining days we have together, I want to continue to discover the joy he brings to my life. IMG-4460

I plan to use that perspective and that strength to be a rock for Hamilton and bestow upon him the same love and support he’s given me since we crossed paths that unforgettable January morning on Wake Up Wisconsin.

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