Navigating IBD & Pregnancy: Difficulty deciphering aches and pains

Pregnancy is a magical miracle. You witness the creation of life within yourself and see your body transform in ways you never knew possible. When you live with a chronic illness like Crohn’s disease and experience a pregnancy, there are added layers. A layer of worry. A layer of concern. A layer of wonder. When you have a chronic illness that can flare up at any given moment—it’s one thing to have the ticking time bomb feeling when it’s just you…it’s entirely different when you have a family to care for and a baby in your belly.

IMG_3453This Friday, I’ll be 27 weeks complete with my baby girl. My January due date is quickly approaching. Time is going both fast and slow. For the most part, my Crohn’s has behaved itself. But, there have been multiple times where I can’t seem to decipher if what I’m feeling is related to pregnancy aches and pains or my IBD. The burning and gnawing feeling in my abdomen often feels so reminiscent of the beginning of a bowel obstruction that I can’t help but fear the worst.

With my son, Reid, I was lucky enough to never have a contraction, never dilate or efface and went into my scheduled c-section without having any pain. This time around, I’m not so sure things will go as smoothly. How are we supposed to determine the difference between round ligament pain and Crohn’s? What about a contraction and Crohn’s? So many IBD mamas who have gone through a flare and labor say the pain is very similar, if not worse than delivering a child. Yeah. Take that in for a second.

Even after more than 13 years of living with Crohn’s, I feel like a fish out of water at times with this pregnancy. It’s as if I’m relearning my body and the relationship I have with IBD all over again. IMG_3451It’s difficult because every single pregnancy is different and so is every single person’s IBD. My OB tells me that with a contraction the pain will come and go, and I’ll be able to see a pattern and time it, whereas Crohn’s pain will be constant.

I’ve noticed a few times in the last week that the pain will exacerbate if I eat something while my abdomen is burning. To me—that would be more Crohn’s, than pregnancy. I know I can’t be the only chronic illness mom who feels challenged by pregnancy symptoms and disease symptoms.

All of this is happening now, then there’s the looming fear of the all too common postpartum flare. I was nervous after my firstborn and have luckily stayed out of the hospital his entire life (he’s 18 months!), but this time could be different. You just never know when the disease is going to rear its ugly head.

IMG_3452My advice to myself and to all of you who may be dealing with these same fears and thoughts is to listen to your body. Be mindful of when you hurt, why you may be in pain and how often it’s taking place. Don’t turn a blind eye to your aches and don’t feel like a bother to your GI or OB. Reach out to your healthcare team and alert them when you have a concern, so they are aware of what’s going on. This is not a time to internalize your pain. This is a time to be vocal, be your own best advocate and start being the strong IBD mama that you are for your unborn child.

Prenatal Yoga and DripDrop: Why both nourish this IBD mom

Feeling comfortable and well during pregnancy is paramount, but not always easy to come by. This time around, I’ve made two changes that have benefited me greatly. One is prenatal yoga. The other—hydrating with DripDrop. Whether pregnant or not, self-care is of the upmost importance when living with a chronic illness like inflammatory bowel disease and creating a life.

natalie yogaWhile yoga and DripDrop are different, I think of them much in the same way. They go hand in hand. While I’m driving to yoga class and sitting on my mat before we start, DripDrop was formulated so water and salt can be absorbed quickly, making recovery as effective as an IV. I can hydrate my body in a matter of minutes.

Both nourish my body. For as long as I can remember, I always shied away from doing yoga because I felt self-conscious and like I would make a fool out of myself as a beginner. I’ve always been the type to enjoy team sports, whether it’s playing soccer or basketball or going for a run. Up until this past summer, I never gave yoga much thought. After my first prenatal yoga class, I was hooked. I felt so much stress lift. As I cleared my mind of the day’s stress, I felt closer to my baby girl, connected on a different level. With each pose and each breathe, I’ve become better aware of what’s going on within my body. When you’re pregnant and doing yoga, it’s important to stay hydrated. It takes me a matter of seconds before I head out the door to class to mix my DripDrop ORS in my water bottle, so I have the peace of mind that I’m getting plenty of fluids for my body during and after class.

Both leave me feeling rejuvenated. Like many moms, I depend on a cup of coffee in the morning to jump start my day. Prenatal yoga and DripDrop make me feel energized in the best way, even with class late into the evening. The exercise and hydration boost my spirits and make me feel refreshed. yoga-mats-1620086Chasing around a toddler all day, while nearly 30 weeks pregnant, while battling Crohn’s disease is taxing. By taking time for myself and slowing down for a couple of hours of week, I’m setting myself up for success and optimal health.

Both make me feel like I am doing what’s best for me and for my baby. Living with chronic illness often comes with guilt for parents and spouses. Even when we’re feeling well and not flaring, we still can feel less than because our health is not up to par. We want to be everything to everyone. It can feel like a constant uphill climb with a ticking time-bomb on your back. Prenatal yoga and DripDrop help me to take a step back and focus on what’s important. It’s a time each week when I can focus solely on the miracle growing inside me. The class brings me comradery among other woman going through similar experiences and allows me to decompress and share my journey with pregnancy and Crohn’s. You quickly come to find out—each woman—no matter what their background has similar fears, concerns and thoughts.

Interested in learning more about DripDrop? Click here. Namaste, friends.

How living with Crohn’s inspires this medical student to make a difference

There’s never a good time to receive a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease. The earth shattering news tends to flip your world upside down. For 27-year-old Alyssa Alda Clements of New Jersey, her Crohn’s disease diagnosis could not have come at a worse time. Alyssa was in her first year of medical school and had recently lost three family members.

“The hardest part about my diagnosis was the time I spent in the hospital or being homebound, because it took me away from my schooling. Having to take medical leaves from my DREAM was so heart breaking. I had wanted to be a doctor since I was three. In time, I started to feel better when we got things under control and was able to go back to medical school and, knock on wood, I am still hanging in here,” Alyssa says.

Being sick never made her want to quit, if anything it made her realize how much we need doctors, especially ones who care. Alyssa says her patient perspective provides her with insight when it comes to the type of doctor she wants to be and the type of care she aspires to provide day in and day out to those who depend on her. alyssa7

“My first trip to the ER nearly killed me because the doctor didn’t believe my pain, told me it was in my head and that I was a crazy medical student, and didn’t even touch or listen to my abdomen. It turned out to be an obstruction and thankfully I listened to my gut and went to a different ER the next day,” Alyssa recalls.

Fast forward a week later, Alyssa woke up from her first colonoscopy to learn she has severe Crohn’s disease in her large intestine, small intestine and rectum. The GI spoke candidly and said her odds of ever becoming a doctor were slim, due to her health. But, Alyssa didn’t let the naysayers stop her from following her dreams.

Becoming a doctor while living with Crohn’s

As many know, working in the medical field is not for the faint of heart. alyssa6The profession entails a great deal of stress, both physically and mentally. Not only are the hours long, but you are exposed to a ton of people who are sick, while you are immunocompromised.

“I have learned so much about empathy and sympathy as a patient, the way some physicians made me feel pushed me to continue in medical school and be a better caregiver than they were to me at my worst moments. I have learned to listen to the patient because I have been ignored. I know just what being a patient feels like, how scary, uncomfortable, painful, that being sick can be, and I want to be there for others who are in that position. When I finally found my amazing care team that I have now, I became hopeful that I could be that person for someone someday,” Alyssa says.

As far as advice for fellow IBD’ers, Alyssa says be honest with yourself and what you can handle. Don’t let your disease limit you, but also know that it’s ok to be kind to your body and slow down when you need to. Alyssa says she’s modified her life so that she’s able to handle medical school and keep her well-being in mind at the same time. She relies heavily on the support of her family and boyfriend and makes self-care a part of her daily life.

Big city, bright lightsalyssa people

Alyssa was recently featured by People Magazine, that’s how her and I connected on Twitter! I saw her inspiring story and immediately wanted to share it with you. She went to New York City and was interviewed as a woman who is overcoming chronic illness. Talk about a great person to represent those of us in the thick of fighting this disease.

Her attitude is admirable, “I want to show anyone that they can be strong and resilient and still achieve their dreams after a diagnosis. I want to show young women and girls with illnesses that they are still beautiful, that their bodies might be constantly changing, but they are still themselves, they are still amazing.”

Bouncing back from difficult days

In her first year of diagnosis, Alyssa was in and out of the hospital. She endured more than 12 bowel obstructions, a PICC line, NG tube and tests galore. While at Disney World that November, Alyssa fell to the floor of her hotel room. She came to find out she had multiple abscesses and fistulas. After four weeks of total bowel rest, she had an ileocecectomy. A total of 13 inches of her intestine was removed. In her eyes, the surgery saved her life. Alyssa has been on Humira for almost five years. She says the new citrate free formula has changed her life (and I must agree!!)

“Days can be hard, filled with pain, fatigue, never ending symptoms, but always know that you are not alone. There is an army of us fighting diseases you can’t see.” You got that right, Alyssa!

When I looked in her eyes, I saw myself

I recently met a 15-year-old girl who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Like many parents of teens newly diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, her mom reached out to me for words of advice and comfort. It’s not too often that upon learning this news and connecting with families that I get to meet both the parent and teen in the same room, at the same time.

Maybe this can be chalked up to pregnancy hormones. Maybe it was because my heart hurt for her. It was probably both. But, I kept getting emotional looking at her and talking to her. My eyes welled up with tears because without her saying a word, I felt and could see her pain. In that moment, I felt like I had time traveled back to the first few months of my diagnosis.

I felt the loneliness and isolation she was feeling, even though she was in a roomful of people. I watched as we ate dinner and she quietly sauntered in the hallway, behind the kitchen table to make her way to the bathroom…more than six times in less than an hour. I listened as people questioned why she wasn’t eating…and told her to get ready for dessert. Her mom telling us as she was in the bathroom that she’d dropped four pounds in the last week and only had an Ensure to drink that day. I told everyone to stop talking about food and allow her to come into the kitchen when she felt ready. I remember all too well how it feels when people are watching you like a hawk, questioning every morsel you put down your throat. Food and the relationship we have with it while taking on IBD and navigating familial relationships and friendships can feel like psychological warfare.

She pulled her mom to the side after she overheard her telling me about her medical issues and told her not to tell anyone. I touched her arm and with tears in my eyes, I quietly told her I’ve had Crohn’s for more than 13 years…and that I understood how she felt. I pointed to my 18-month-old running around and to my baby bump and told her that if she wanted a family in her future, it was still possible, despite her disease.

Oftentimes, it can be difficult to connect with teenagers, because they seem guarded and are private about their disease. For many, it’s still a top-secret part of who they are. I get it. I took me nearly a decade to share that I had Crohn’s disease with the world. There’s no sense in rushing anybody. We all find the time that is right. We all know when we feel strong enough physically, mentally and emotionally to open ourselves up to questions, opinions and thoughts from those around us. It’s completely normal to want to keep others (especially strangers) at arm’s length, because during those impressionable young years, you don’t want to be seen as different. You know the moment you say, “I have IBD.”… it’s truly your reality. Your identity, how people view you…it’s all forever changed.

A message for parents

Parents—I know it must be SO difficult to feel like you’re on the outside looking in at your child in debilitating pain as they deal with the burden of a lifelong disease for which there is no cure. If this is a “new” disease to you and your family, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the information on the internet, what you’re hearing from specialists and what is best for your child. Lean on people like me, who live your child’s reality. Ask us the questions. Talk to us about how it feels. Equip yourself with knowledge and understanding so you can get acclimated to life with chronic disease in your family, just as your child needs to. It’s a learning process for every person in the family. Have patience. I know it sucks. I know there are times you just feel like screaming from the tallest mountain… “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING!!!???” I know you are reminiscing back to when life seemed so simple. When health was never in question. There’s no use in romanticizing the past.

You must embrace your new normal and be a pillar of strength for your child. If they see you waver, if they see you upset and frantic, that will directly impact how they feel. Communicate with your child and see if they’d like to talk with someone else who is living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. If not now, maybe later. The IBD family is strong, resilient and welcoming…and we’re not going anywhere.

 

The Pain Companion: A book review

No matter what chronic illness you battle, chances are your health condition brings you some type of pain throughout your patient journey. As a person with Crohn’s disease, pain can oftentimes be part of daily life…even when you’re in a “remission” state. It can be difficult and overwhelming to try and wrangle the beast that is chronic illness and chronic pain.

I recently came across a new book entitled, 9781608685707_FC“The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain.” The author, Sarah Anne Shockley, lives with chronic pain herself and offers sage advice about how to find compassion within yourself and adjust your mindset. To Sarah, “pain is a necessity, but suffering is an option.” I’ve found personally after living with Crohn’s for more than 13 years, that the way I look at, deal with and handle pain has evolved greatly in that time. It’s not something that happens overnight, but you’ll notice a transformation within yourself as time goes by. You come to find a kind of patience and strength within yourself that you never knew existed.

Sarah recognizes how isolating pain is. She writes, “There is no one inside your world of pain with you; you are utterly alone there. Even others who are also suffering do not share the same pain.” SarahAnneShockley1_cThis excerpt really spoke to me, since no two IBD patients have the same exact journey or disease process or pattern. We’re all unique in how we experience the disease but can find great comfort from leaning on those who “get” the pain on a different level than the average person.

The book touches on the invincibility factor we all feel prior to diagnosis. How the healthy just expect to always feel well and take it for granted.

“When the body is not functioning properly, it brings up a huge amount of fear and anxiety. We can’t wake up in the morning and assume everything is going to be all right.”

The book discusses why pain has a purpose. How it warns us. The way it alerts us when things are awry. How we all can think of our pain as a “sign-post and a guide,” rather than a problem to be overcome.

As a parent myself, I loved an analogy that was shared about pain acting very much like a child pulling on a pant leg and whining. We can ignore the child all we want…but the more we tell the child to stop and be quiet, the more upset they get. After a while, we look down, take a breath, and try to calmly ask what they are trying to tell us, so we can act. _F6B3961The same goes for chronic pain. We all know with IBD that symptoms of a flare start to fester. We know it deep down and may try and keep the worry and stress to ourselves. Until the pain is too much to take on alone. Think of pain as your body communicating with you and giving you a target for healing.

“The Pain Companion” shares several helpful coping strategies and meditative exercises that you can put into play in the comfort of your home. From breathing practices to writing letters, it’s all about changing the relationship you have with your pain and coming to terms with it, rather than thinking of it as such an enemy.

Our stories, our patient journeys and our experiences open our eyes to the importance of slowing down, being present and simply being appreciative of the small things—like a day where you feel healthy and “normal.” This book reminded me and showed me that rather than an enemy, I can use my pain to my advantage—take the time to listen and thrive regardless of what it throws my way.

Click here to purchase “The Pain Companion off Amazon. Click here to learn more about Sarah and her blog and website.

 

Celebrating a major patient victory: Citrate-free Humira

I still remember the first time I felt the pain. Sitting in my GI’s office with the nurse and my mom. Fresh out of the hospital after having an abscess the size of a tennis ball in my small intestine. Knowing I had to inject myself with a painful biologic drug, four times in a row, for the loading dose. The feeling when the medication entered my body was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was an unthinkable amount of pain. It was overwhelming knowing that for the rest of my life, I would endure this same pain, multiple times a month…with no end in sight.

Fast forward more than ten years later. A total of 122 months, hundreds of injections. My reality as a Crohn’s patient just changed. IMG_2966It changed in a way that I never knew was possible. I have so many flashbacks of my journey with Humira. The tears as I felt sickly in my 20s sitting alone in my apartment and wondering why me. The dread, anxiety and anticipation every other Monday and the strength I had to muster up within myself to once again receive my medication. Holding the injection in my hand, getting in the zone and focusing my thoughts on brave family members and friends as I held down the plum colored button and felt the burn. The sad look on my son’s face as he looked in my eyes and witnessed his mama hurting.

Now, all this is a distant memory. Thanks to the Citrate-free formula developed by AbbVie and approved for adults and pediatric patients in the United States, this reality is over. A matter of days ago, I experienced my first pain free Humira injection. I had heard all the hype and excitement around it, but it was so difficult to fathom such a change in my patient experience. Here’s a video of me experiencing my first Citrate-free injection:

I’m here to tell you it’s completely painless. Less pain than a blood draw. Less than a flu shot. You feel nothing. The process, effectiveness and outcome are the same, but you don’t feel anything. It’s emotional and overwhelming in the best way. I cried for a good half hour after my first one, happy tears. Tears of joy from a woman who now knows her children will never see their mom struggle in pain. Tears of joy from someone whose eternally grateful for a medication that keeps a painful and debilitating chronic illness at bay. Tears of joy knowing that I will never have to feel that awful pain again. A pain that’s too much to put into words, that was part of my life for so long.

The sun is shining a bit brighter today. I feel a load has been lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize had been there for more than 10 years. When I heard about the Citrate-free formula being approved and available in the States, I was excited—but, didn’t realize the true extent of what a difference it would make in my life. joy-2483926_1920

If you’re on Humira and living in the States, make sure you talk with your GI and specialty pharmacy to ensure your script is changed to “Citrate-free”. The extra leg work will be so worth it. It brings me so much happiness to know that young children on Humira will never have to feel the pain. It gives me peace of mind as a chronic illness patient to know that developments like this in treatment are possible and happening right now.

My call of action to doctors, specialists, healthcare teams and specialty pharmacies—please communicate this with patients. I’ve heard from countless people around the United States who heard about this for the first time from me. That’s not the way it should be. My GI gave me a heads up three months ago.

Fellow patient advocates, please feel empowered to share what this means to you and reach out to your individual communities and support networks, so people can get the ball rolling and experience this for themselves. Our voices are strong, and word of mouth is powerful.

Humira was approved for Crohn’s in 2006. I started taking the injections in 2008. Now, it’s 2018 and patients in the United States have access to the Citrate-free (pain free) formula. What’s next? Now, we can truly continue to dream.

6 ways to get involved in the IBD community: Advice from a fellow Crohn’s advocate

Social media often gets a bad rap. But, oftentimes in the advocacy and chronic illness space, it’s an incredible connector. A few years back over Facebook, I came to know Linde Parcelslinde Linde graduated from my high school and later moved to St. Louis. She currently resides in Atlanta, where she works for the CDC and does Policy work for the division of lab sciences.

We’re 11 years apart by age, but share many of the same experiences as women who battle Crohn’s disease. We’re both passionate about using our voice to show others they are not alone in their IBD journey. This week—Linde talks about the importance of standing tall, owning your illness and getting involved in your community to make a difference.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of six. Eighteen years ago, diagnosis was difficult for pediatric patients. After more than a year of tests and declining health, my family was given an answer and a lifelong commitment to caring for my Crohn’s Disease.

I’m 24 now. I just moved to a new city for my first full-time job. One of the first things I did when I moved was plug into the regional chapter of The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and see how I could get involved. Linde's story

I wasn’t always an advocate for Crohn’s and Colitis though. In fact, I never attended Camp Oasis because I wanted to go to “normal” camp where I wouldn’t be surrounded by reminders of my disease. I regret not experiencing Camp Oasis and making friends who “got me” when I was that age.

It took years to realize that sharing my story and spending time with people with inflammatory bowel disease (and their caregivers) could bring me so much peace, confidence, and ownership of every part of who I am, including how I was made.

Some people receive their diagnosis and jump into headfirst. They advocate fiercely for a cure any way they can. I’ve seen others resolve to live “normally” and spend many years outside of the IBD community, attempting to absorb the struggle and live their life without leaving a trace of disease.

With over 1.6 million people in the United States with IBD, and as one of the estimated 1 in 200 who have IBD, I would argue that with this diagnosis comes with a responsibility to advocate. For everyone with IBD, and selfishly for myself, I want better research. Better treatments. Better services. Better health.

And it’s not a lost cause.

Here are 6 things I’ve done to get involved that you can do too!

  1. Take Steps

These uplifting Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation charity walks happen throughout the year, all over the country. It’s a great way to rally your friends and family to take steps by your side to raise awareness and drive research.

2. Volunteer for fundraiser events through your regional Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

I helped gather raffle baskets, advertise, and organize volunteers for the themed Trivia Night in St. Louis three years in a row with a great planning committee. I attended with my family and friends for the past three years!

3. Follow influencers on social media and leverage your own profiles to raise awareness!

Here are some of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow:

@CrohnsColitisFoundation (stay in the know)

@rockswithsass (crystals/mental wellness and proceeds go to The Foundation!)

@Natalieannhayden (of course!)–Thanks, Linde! 😉

@CrohnsCooking (recipes for IBD)

@ileostomy_crohn_princess (model and mom with an ileostomy)

4. You can be a listening ear or a venting pal –make your availability known if you’re comfortable with someone sharing your name with others who might want to talk. 

Some parents have referred me to their high school aged children with IBD or a friend of a friend. You can sit with someone during their Remicade treatment or Humira injection. A lot of college students and young professionals may not have family in town and it’s more tolerable with company. Try to be vulnerable. I openly talk about the realities of office life, dating, and farting, (yes, I just said all three of those things in one sentence).

5. Team Challenge! 

linde runI’m training for a half marathon and taking on the biggest fitness and fundraising goal of my life! I run every Saturday with Team Challenge ATL, they are the best!

You don’t have to raise thousands of dollars for research or share your most traumatic digestive adventure on social media…but for the sake of this community and for yourself, please own it. Own your patient journey in a way that furthers science and connects people. Because as much as I want to be your Crohn’s friend, I’d rather just be your friend 10 years from now.

You can connect with Linde on Instagram here: @thelindecity.

Linde is running the 2018 Savannah Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon November 3, for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. She’s looking to raise $2,800. Click here to help her reach her goal!

Taking on IBD, infertility and being a triplet mom: How my college roommate does it all

When it comes to life, I often say I don’t believe in happenstance. Meaning, I believe everything happens for a reason. This rings true with one of my closest friendships. Stephanie and I were random roommates freshman year of college and had an instant connection. photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.comWe ended up living together throughout our entire college experience, stood up in each other’s weddings and have managed to stay very close, despite thousands of miles between us since graduation.

On college graduation day in May 2005, I aspired to be a TV journalist. She had dreams of being a Physician Assistant. Both of us accomplished those goals—what we didn’t see coming was that we would both be diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease in the years ahead (the first and only people in both our families)—me with Crohn’s in July 2005, her with ulcerative colitis in February 2009. She was working as a Physician Assistant in Family Practice when her symptoms developed. She knew the pain and bathroom habits were not normal.

Stephanie recalls, “Once I admitted to myself these symptoms weren’t going to go away, I reached out to the doctor that I was working for at the time. He contacted the GI Doc we referred all of our IBD patients to, and he got the ball rolling toward a diagnosis pretty fast! When the GI walked in the room after my colonoscopy with a solemn look on his face and just shook his head, I was devastated. natandstephI teared up. I was so fearful of the unknown, as far as what this is going to mean for me for the rest of my life.  There is such a variation in the way patients with IBD can experience the disease… my mind immediately went to worst case scenario for myself.”

Stephanie’s journey with IBD and motherhood is one that is sure to inspire and provide hope to many. Along with juggling chronic illness, she also dealt with another devastating hurdle, infertility. Luckily, once she became pregnant through IVF, her ulcerative colitis symptoms were silenced.

“It was never far from my mind that while I was not pregnant, my uc was waiting quietly, like a ticking time bomb ready to go off, and that would then halt all the time, money and effort we were putting into getting pregnant. But, thankfully my uc behaved itself. We got pregnant on our first round of IVF with triplets (identical girls and a boy) who are happy, healthy and my entire world!”

Today, Stephanie and her husband have beautiful triplets who just started kindergarten. To take on IBD is one thing—add triplets to the mix… amazing! IMG_2885

“I’ve had IBD since day one of being a mom, so I don’t know any different! Just like when people ask me “What’s it like to have triplets?” my response is usually “It’s all I know, I didn’t have a singleton before my triplets, so this is the way I know how to be a mom!” For obvious reasons having IBD sometimes makes our mom responsibilities a little bit more challenging, but you have to figure it out and take the good days with the bad, because your kids need you!”

Stephanie says since having her kids, she’s noticed she’s much more willing to “wave the white flag” and reach out to her GI sooner when things start to go south. stephanieShe used to ride out the symptoms much longer before admitting there was a change that needed to be addressed, mostly because she was fearful of having to go back on steroids. I can attest to being the same way. Prior to becoming a mom, I waited until going to the emergency room was the only option. Now, I am more mindful of listening to my body and nipping flares in the bud, because my family needs me.

“Having a chronic disease definitely gives you a new perspective. It makes you appreciate the good days so much more! And when the not so good days creep up on you, having a good support system to help you physically and emotionally is crucial! Thank those in your life who lift you up and let them know you appreciate them! When you overcome each and every not so good day, nat and steph2it makes you feel just a little bit stronger and gives you the confidence that you can handle the curveballs life is bound to throw at you over and over!”

Beyond grateful to call this fellow IBD warrior mama one of my dearest friends. I’m sure after reading about her journey, you can see why.

 

A letter to my 21-year-old, newly diagnosed self: From 13 years in the future

This past week I turned 35. Birthdays for me are always a time of reflection on what was and excitement for what the future holds. Each year is so transformative, especially when it comes to how you handle and deal with chronic illness. natalie35bdayWhen I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 21, a month before my 22nd birthday—life had so many unknowns. I bottled up a lot of fears about how my life story would unfold and if I would be able to accomplish the hopes and dreams I had thought were a given.

This week, a letter to my 21-year-old, newly diagnosed self—from my current 35-year-old self. With time and experience, comes perspective. Perspective that I wish I had back when my world came crashing down upon me after learning I would forever have a disease for which there is no cure.

For those embarking on this journey—whether you’re the patient or the parent—you may feel like you are drowning in worry of what is to come with your lives. I hope my words will bring you comfort and the knowingness that you have a lot of life to live, and you will do just that.

Dear Natalie (age 21),

I can still see you looking at yourself in the mirror—feeling like a skeleton of who you used to be. Cheeks sunken in, eyes tired, arms covered with bright purple bruises from all the IV sticks, pokes and prods. You’re sitting up in bed, popping big bubbles with your chewing gum, trying to deal with the insomnia and ravenous appetite that comes along with taking 60 mg of prednisone. You’re thinking about how easy and simplistic life was a matter of weeks ago, graduating from college—hoping to land your first television gig as a news reporter.

Everything feels like it’s in shambles. You are perplexed about why you were dealt this hand of cards and why the rug was completely pulled out from under you, when just a matter of months ago you had the world by the tail.

Here’s what I want you to know. Nothing comes before your health. No job, no relationship, no friendship. There are going to be difficult times ahead as you figure out which people in your life genuinely want to be by your side, and which are only around for the fun, healthy times. feb13blogmainphotoIt’s a path that will bring you heartache. Significant others will let you down—you’ll be disheartened when they fail to show up when you need them most…but, then it will happen. You will meet the person who was meant to fight this fight beside you. You’ll know. You’ll see how that person loves you unconditionally and even more so, because of your illness. They will see you as so much more—see yourself the way they see you. Not some sick person. A person who has a sickness that is part of them, but far from all of them.

Professionally—you may need to take a different path that better suits your needs. natalienews2Don’t allow this illness to make you think you aren’t capable—because you are. You will surprise yourself, if you continue to be positive and find alternative ways to make your dreams become your reality. I know you’re sitting there with your huge spreadsheet of 200 U.S. cities, wondering which TV station you’ll be able to work at…and if your journalism career will ever happen. Looking back—I’m so proud of you for continuing that job search amidst your very first flare. Looking for jobs across the country, as you swallowed 22 pills a day, grappled with a chronic illness diagnosis and dealt with all the side effects and pain that is Crohn’s. Work ethic and attitude will take you far with this disease. IMG_4248You will shine under those bright studio lights.

Stop with the timelines and deadlines in your mind. You don’t need to be married and have kids by age 30. I know you think you want that, but trust in God’s plan for you and know that your future will fall into place the way it is meant to. Don’t rush yourself. Don’t feel less than just because all your friends seem to be checking off those boxes. Your time will come.

When you attend doctor appointments and when you are hospitalized be vocal. Be your own best advocate. Don’t be intimidated by the people in white coats. You know your body better than anybody else. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to lash out. Have patience with yourself as you navigate your new normal and trust that the temporary hardships and hurt are just that, scary. The first of anything can be scary. FullSizeRenderThat first CT scan, that first colonoscopy, that first surgery, that first injection…it’s a lot to deal with. You’ll shake like a leaf and then as time goes on—you won’t bat an eye. You will find a strength within yourself that you never knew was there. You’ll be a seasoned warrior in no time.

What seems so foreign to you now, will soon be something you understand and can decipher immediately. Those symptoms—the pain, it’s all new now. In the future, you’ll have a good idea of what’s happening. What triggered it. How to help yourself. You won’t be as alarmed. You’ll know exactly what you need to do and when a hospital visit is a must.

I want you to know that everything is going to be alright. It’s going to be more than alright. You will thrive. You’ll beat the odds. You’ll land multiple TV gigs. You’ll fall in love. You’ll meet the one. You’ll be a mommy. IMG_6401You’ll do all these things. All with your sidekick—your enemy, but also your ally, Crohn’s. The one thing that really sets you apart. In the future you won’t keep your disease a secret, rather it will come up in conversations almost immediately, with a sense of confidence. A badge of honor. Yes, I have Crohn’s. Yes, it’s not ideal. But, yes…it’s made me sort of a bad ass. I’ve been through a lot. I haven’t backed down. And there’s so much life left to live.

You are not broken. You are not less than. This disease will take you on a journey you never imagined. Hold on tight, hang in there through all the scares and celebrate all the wonderful feel good days when your quality of life feels untouchable. And smile. Smile on the good days, smile through the bad days. Trust me. You got this. _F6B6137

Love yourself—everything that makes you, you—

Natalie, age 35

5 summer travel packing tips for those battling chronic illness

As summer winds down, many of our travel schedules ramp up. Before heading back to school and before you gear up for that Labor Day barbeque, it’s always fun to get away for a few days with family and friends. Before you take off—whether it’s by plane, train or automobile—here are five summer travel tips.

  1. Medication and vitamins

It’s always smart to be proactive and pack more medication than you will need—you never know what travel snafu’s will come your way. The daily maintenance of your disease doesn’t take a vacation, just because you are—if anything, the change of schedule, different foods and surroundings can make your disease act up. medicine-2994788_1920I like to take 2-3 extra days of daily medications and vitamins. Along with the daily dose, pack pain and allergy medications so you have it on hand and readily available, should you need it. As someone who battles Crohn’s disease, I’ve had to fly out of the country with my biologic injection. Be mindful of how your medication needs to be stored. If it needs to stay cool, keep it within a zipped-up bag with an ice pack and remember to throw in a few alcohol swabs for good measure. Also, keep your medication on you at all times, never in a checked bag!

  1. Sunscreen

For those of us with chronic illness, the sun can be extra dangerous. Many medications put us at greater risk for skin cancer and can cause our skin to be more sensitive. Make sure you lather up and have plenty of SPF on hand.

  1. Your healthcare team’s contact info and a list of medications

luggage-933487_1280Whether it’s a business card or information that’s stored in your phone—make sure you have your doctor’s phone number readily available, should an emergency or flare up arise. It’s also helpful to keep a list of medications in your purse or wallet, so that you don’t have to worry about remembering the dosage you take or what you are on, should an emergency arise.

  1. Healthy snacks that agree with you

It’s so easy to pull over and grab fast food or eat at the airport, but oftentimes we make poor choices when we’re ravenous and desperate to get some sustenance. Pack snacks that energize you and will help sustain you through hours on the road or delays at the airport.

  1. DripDrop packets! 

Staying hydrated will prevent more than just travel headaches, 10g_Watermelon_Berry_Lemonit will help you feel your best and enjoy your trip. Pack a thermos or water bottle, and it’s as easy as using a water fountain or grabbing some bottled water and mixing up DripDrop on the go. This way—you can enjoy the sun and warm temperatures and keep your body on track for feeling its best.