Let’s face it, when you live with IBD, packing for a hospital stay isn’t anything new. We know what we need and what we won’t. We know the necessities and even with a C-section recovery, it’s nice to have a positive and happy reason to be going to the hospital. But this time around, my hospital bag for delivering my son this week has an addition. Since I’m participating in the Pregnancy in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Neonatal Outcomes (PIANO) study, my son and I will be getting our blood drawn the day he’s born and cord blood will also be taken.
The blood sample kit includes an ice pack and vials that are labeled “Mom”, “Cord”, and “Baby”. This will measure the level of biologic drug in our bodies…and the coolest part is, I’ll get to know the results, while also contributing to research for current and future IBD moms on biologics. I can’t wait to find out how much Humira is found in our blood samples. The most ironic part of all? My scheduled C-section just happened to land on the same day as my loading dose anniversary of Humira… 13 years ago! Little did I know when I was injecting myself for the first time how my life would evolve to what it is today.
Background on the PIANO study
PIANO is an observational, multicenter study launched in January 2007 with the main focus to look at whether there is an increased risk for worsened maternal and fetal outcomes when a woman takes a biologic or thiopurine (a type of immunomodulator) therapy during pregnancy. Prior to this, lack of safety data has led many women to discontinue their therapy during pregnancy, which can lead to health repercussions to both mother and child.
On delivery day, it will be a team effort. My OBGYN and the nurses will ensure everything is taken care of and then one of my family members will make a stop at FedEx (within 3 days) to ensure our blood samples make their way safely from Missouri to California.
What else is packed in my bag?
This c-section will be my fourth abdominal surgery in less than 6 years, all on the same incision. Knowing what to pack so I can heal and be comfortable is almost second nature at this point.
Comfy nightgowns with buttons so I can easily breastfeed and keep my incision waistband-free
Frida Mom Boy Short Disposable Postpartum underwear (not a fan of those mesh panties from the hospital!), I’ve also heard Depends are great!
Slip on shoes/flip flops (for the shower and walking the halls)
5 masks (planning to be admitted 4 nights, 5 days) and hand sanitizer
Nipple cream (I prefer the Motherlove brand)
High-waisted joggers and a nursing top
Summer dress for the drive home
Outfits and swaddles for baby boy
The results from the blood draws are expected about a month after delivery. I’ll be sure to share an update on my Instagram page (@natalieannhayden). Interested in enrolling in the PIANO study? Please call 415-885-3734 or email PIANO@ucsf.edu.
Prior to receiving a chronic illness diagnosis, it’s incredibly challenging and nearly impossible to fathom ‘forever sickness’. In Tessa Miller’s book, “What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness–Lessons from a Body in Revolt”, she masterfully articulates the highs and lows of life with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). From navigating the diagnosis, flare ups, the healthcare system, relationships, and the mental health component, she’s created an invaluable resource that I wish every single person with chronic illness could be handed the moment they find out their life story has taken an unforeseen turn.
As someone who was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2005, two months after college graduation, I wish my former self had these powerful words at my fingertips. The overwhelming nature of IBD can be nearly suffocating at times. As I read this page-turner of a book, I felt seen and understood. I found myself nodding my head, because I could relate to so much of her story and so much of her sage advice. I felt like a college student highlighting what felt like the whole page, because it was ALL so important.
Tessa and I are both journalists. We both have Crohn’s. We both randomly grew up in Illinois. I connected with her over social media after reading her New York Times article, “Five Things I Wish I had Known Before My Chronic Illness.” The article had an impact on me, so when I heard she landed a deal with a publisher, I anxiously awaited for this book to drop.
In the beginning of “What Doesn’t Kill You,” Tessa writes, “I became a professional patient, and a good one. I learned that bodies can be inexplicably resilient and curiously fragile. I would never get better, and that would change everything: the way I think about my body, my health, my relationships, my work, and my life. When things get rough, people like to say, “this too shall pass.” But what happens when “this” never goes away?”
Finding the Right Care Team
When you live with a disease like Crohn’s, it’s imperative you trust your gastroenterologist and care team and are confident in how they help you manage your illness. I always tell fellow patients to take a moment and think about who they will feel comfortable with at their bedside in a hospital room when they’re flaring or facing surgery. If it’s not your current doctor, it’s time to look elsewhere. Tessa breaks down the “qualifications” for getting a care team in place. From finding a doctor who explains why they’re doing what they’re doing and why to a doctor who looks at you as a human, not an opportunity.
“Good doctors see their loved ones in their patients; they make choices for their patients that they would make for their own family. Asking a doctor, “Why did you choose this line of medicine?” will reveal a lot about what drives them and how they view their patients.”
The Grieving Process of Chronic Illness
Receiving a chronic illness diagnosis forces us each to go through the grieving process. For many of us, we were naïve and felt invincible before our health wasn’t a given. We’re so used to feeling as though we’re in control of our destiny, that when we lose that control, we spiral, understandably. Tessa interviewed Paul Chafetz, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Dallas. Dr. Chafetz is quoted in the book saying, “We go through life with an illusion of safety, guaranteed health, even immortality. Acquiring a chronic illness pierces that illusion, and this is a loss. Grieving this loss is an integral part of adjusting to the illness.”
Take a moment to stop and think how you coped those first few weeks and months after finding out you had a chronic illness. While acceptance takes time and comes in different stages, Tessa explains how flexibility and willingness to adapt to your new “normal” is even more important.
“Rather than searching for big, sweeping acceptance, then feeling like a failure when it doesn’t come, chronically ill folks can enact small, empowering steps, such as taking required medications, learning everything we can about how our diseases work, seeing doctors regularly and being prepared for appointments with a list of questions, advocating for our needs and wants, figuring out which foods makes us feel good, and going to therapy and/or connecting with a support group.”
In my own patient advocacy and experience living with Crohn’s I can attest to the fact that we all spend a lot of time wishing for our past and worry about what our futures will hold, rather than focusing on the right now. The majority of IBD patients are diagnosed prior to age 35. This leads most of us to experience the big milestones of adulthood (career, finding love, living on our own, family planning, etc.) with a disease in tow and wondering how that disease is going to complicate life or hold us back from accomplishing all we aspire to.
Bringing on the Biologics
Tessa calls herself an “infliximab veteran,” she spends a great deal of time talking with new patients and caretakers, mostly moms of young IBDers, about their fears. Most questions I receive through my blog and social media also revolve around biologics and the worries people have about side effects and whether the drug will fail them or be a success. I feel confident deeming myself an “adalimumab veteran”, as I’ve been giving myself Humira injections since 2008.
As patients we are faced with difficult decisions all the time and must look at the risk versus the benefit. Having health literacy and understanding your actual risk from a biologic is something that should be communicated with you from your physician. Tessa’s doctor explained to her that six in 10,000 people who take anti-TNF agents (Humira and Remicade) get lymphoma. But as patients, all we see on the internet and in the side effect notes are “lymphoma.” Force yourself to dig digger and remind yourself of your alternative—to not feel better.
The Truth Serum of Chronic Illness
One of the superpowers of chronic illness is that we get to see which family members and friends come to the forefront and which fade to the background. Not everyone is cut out to be a caregiver, but you’ll quickly see who has empathy and who genuinely cares. In my own personal experience, it’s helped me get out of relationships with guys who were no where to be seen while I lied in a hospital bed and allowed me to distance myself from friends who couldn’t find the time in their day to check in when they knew I was flaring.
Tessa says that chronic illness forced her to peel back the layers and the isolation wall she put up, too. Chronic illness has shown her that people do more than just hurt each other— “they nurture, they listen, they enrich one another’s lives.” Her IBD also empowered her to be brave enough to put an end to unhealthy relationships that weren’t benefiting her well-being, both with friends and love interests. Her Crohn’s has showed her that not every friendship is meant to support you in the same way.
This is a great piece of advice. As you live with a chronic illness, you’ll come to know which friends you can share your deep dark secrets and worries with, and which you give the high-level cliff notes version of your experience to. Your chronic illness will help you set those boundaries in a graceful way.
Her love story with her husband embodies what those of us with chronic illness deserve, a partner who sees us as more than our disease, but understands the severity and complexity at the same time.
Juggling a Career and Crohn’s
One of the biggest challenges of life with IBD is knowing how and when to disclose your health situation with your employer. You may wonder how the news will be received, if it will jeopardize your chance for promotion, if your coworkers will resent you…the list goes on and on. As someone who worked in the TV industry as a producer, news anchor and reporter for nearly a decade, and as a PR professional and corporate communications specialist, I’ve been lucky that all my bosses have been incredibly understanding of my struggles with Crohn’s, but never used them against me in any way. I’ve always waited until after I have received the job offer and then told my boss in a meeting the first week of work. This alleviated some of the stress on my shoulders and ensured my coworkers wouldn’t be blindsided when I had a flare that landed me in the hospital. By communicating openly, it also to set an expectation that I may not always feel up to par and that I may need more bathroom breaks or to work from home or come in late after doctor appointments.
Tessa so eloquently writes, “You want your boss to understand that while your disease affects your life, you’re still capable of doing your job. Deliver the necessary facts about your illness without bombarding your boss with information—keep it direct and simple. Be clear about how you manage the illness and that although you do your best to keep it under control, it can flare up. Tell your boss what you’ll do if and when that happens.”
Realizing the Power of Pain
One of my favorite analogies that Tessa shares in the book is that each of us carries an invisible bucket, some are heavier than others, and the weight of that said bucket is constantly in fluctuation. She says that as she started connecting with those in our community, she came to realize that her personal pain was no better or worse than anyone else’s. So often we weigh our struggles against those of others, and that’s not helpful to beneficial for anyone.
“Think about it: If a friend came to you in pain, would you tell them that other people have it worse and that their pain isn’t valid? If you did, you’d be a lousy friend—so why do you speak to yourself in such a way?”
Rather than thinking that ‘someone always has it worse’ ask for support when you need it. Don’t downplay your struggles out of guilt thinking you aren’t deserving of help. Give support when you can but don’t forget about the person you see looking back in the mirror, be loving, kind, and patient to them, too.
Leaving the Rest to Imagination
Some of my other favorite excerpts from the book are Tessa’s “Seven Secrets”. The secrets (both big and small) she keeps from loved ones and friends about her experience with IBD. The secrets are relatable. We don’t want to come off as a burden. We don’t want to scare those who mean something to us. We want to hold on tightly to the notion that our illness doesn’t define us, so we often don’t disclose the true reality of what encompasses our illness.
Another section I know you’ll love is “Thirty-Eight Experiences of Joy” where Tessa shares quotes from 38 different people with chronic illness and how they’ve discovered joy despite their illness. I’m honored to be featured in that section of the book.
She understands the power of community and how finding your tribe within your disease space and outside of it is an important aspect of disease management and life fulfillment.
“Connecting with other chronically ill people teaches you how to carry each other’s weight—when to lift when you have strength, and when to share the burden when you have no energy left,” writes Tessa. “I’ve found the chronic illness and disability community to be one of endless empathy and generosity.”
The Gratitude That Comes with Chronic Illness
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book and a perspective that I wholeheartedly share:
“At the beginning of my illness, I was so inwardly focused on what I’d lost that I couldn’t see the gifts illness had given me. Mom, a determined optimist, taught me to always look for the silver lining. Mine is this: Yeah, my body won’t allow for any bullshit—no jobs I hate, no relationships I’m not fulfilled by, no hours crying over wrinkles. Illness made me braver, kinder, and more empathetic, and that gives me way more radical power than the faux control I was clutching to for so long. In the most unexpected way, illness freed me. It compelled me to begin therapy, which kick-started the process of tending my wounds old and new. It made me focus on the present more than the anxiety of the future. And it made me be in my body in a way I never experienced before. Suddenly, I had to mindfully care for my body and brain as best I could and understand that beyond that, it’s out of my hands.”
We hope the holiday season has been filled with love, joy, happiness and health for you. Thank you for your endless support and encouragement, kind words and feedback and interest in not only my patient journey, but also the well-being of my family. Whether we’ve connected on social media, through Lights, Camera, Crohn’s, by email or collaborations, I feel so grateful to have this platform to share my experience living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease every week of the year. You inspire me to be vulnerable. You inspire me to be strong.
I write and advocate in hopes of being the voice I so desperately needed when I was given a lifelong chronic illness diagnosis at age 21. Being able to lean on the IBD family virtually and in person is the gift that keeps on giving. We can all serve as a wonderful resource for one another, not only during difficult days, but also when we’re feeling on top of the world.
I hope you take this week to enjoy time with loved ones, relax and find time to care for yourself!
If we haven’t already—let’s connect on social media:
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 Parcels. 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.
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!
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!)
@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).
I’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!
Feelings of isolation, fear and embarrassment. Chances are, if you battle inflammatory bowel disease you’ve experienced all of these feelings upon your diagnosis. That was the case for Byrd Vihlen, a 31-year-old from Georgia, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 26. Fast forward three years and her diagnosis changed to Crohn’s Colitis.
Byrd recently won the first-ever Lights, Camera, Crohn’s Instagram giveaway. The connections we make along our patient journey empower us to be stronger and face our illness head on. Check out this interview that sheds light onto Byrd’s brave battle against IBD.
NH: What symptoms did you have that led you to know something was wrong?
BV: “For about a year, I was having digestive problems (seeing occasional blood in my stool, chronic constipation, and bloating). I thought it might have been a milk/diet sensitivity, so I scheduled an appointment with a GI, and he immediately advised me to get a colonoscopy. I was really scared and didn’t have enough information, so I cancelled a few days before the scheduled procedure. It wasn’t until almost a year later (after a few weeks of antibiotics for sinus problems) that I realized something was horribly wrong. I started to bleed a lot, was in severe pain unlike anything I had experienced before, and had extreme urgency.”
NH: How has your disease changed your perspective on life?
BV: “Before I got diagnosed, I would easily get caught up in the plans for what I thought my future would and should look like. Being chronically ill makes you slow down, loosen the control of your life that you thought you had in the first place, and focus more on what’s going on today–because most of the time, you’re fighting just to get through the day. It makes you aware of the little things that you may have been too busy to see before, like people trying to hide their suffering and struggles. I’m thankful IBD has opened my eyes and given me the gift of true empathy. That empathy has led me to crave a deeper understanding and genuine connection with friends and loved ones. It has also shown me the true strength in others, and I am constantly humbled by the selflessness of my sweet husband and forever soulmate.”
NH: What advice do you have for those who are newly diagnosed with IBD?
BV: “Finding the right team of doctors, get referrals and read online reviews. When you do find a doctor you trust, you still need to be your own biggest advocate and use your voice. Don’t be scared of asking questions and calling them too much–only you know when something isn’t right with your body. Connect with more seasoned patients and ask for advice, there’s a lot of overwhelming information on the internet, so it’s nice to receive firsthand experience from people you know. Your new “normal” is going to look a little or a lot different; it will take some time to adjust to that. Try not to compare your new energy level to your old, your body is fighting a hard battle and you’re doing the best you can. If your energy/activity level is more limited, plan accordingly. Choose wisely who you want to spend your time with and what you want to do – soak in and cherish these times.”
NH: What inspired you to share your patient journey with IBD on social media?
BV: “After diagnosis I was feeling isolated, scared, and embarrassed–like I was alone in the pain. I wanted to tell others about this huge life-changing battle I was beginning to fight, but realized that most people are uncomfortable talking about chronic illness in person. I had a desire to be seen, understood, and wanted to connect with others going through a similar journey. I then discovered the incredible Instagram community waiting for me and loved that as an artist I could creatively tell my story in a visual way.”
NH: How does support from others in the IBD community on social media help you push through the difficult days?
BV: “Connecting to others who are fighting gives me strength in knowing that I’m not alone. People sharing their vulnerability is beautiful and it warms my heart. Whenever I am having a really difficult day and see a fellow warrior saying they can relate, offering words of kindness, or that they are having a hard day as well, you can feel that genuine connection and know that they truly mean it.”
You can connect with Byrd on Instagram and follow her patient journey by following her here: @byrdvihlen. Stay tuned to my Instagram page (@natalieannhayden) for future Light’s, Camera, Crohn’s giveaways!
Hey guys! Big news to share. I just launched the first Lights, Camera, Crohn’s giveaway on Instagram. As someone who’s battled Crohn’s disease for nearly 13 years, I’m well-aware of how far a simple act of kindness can go, whether it’s from a friend or a stranger. That’s why—I’ve teamed up with other positive forces for this special giveaway. Here are the prizes:
–A cozy, lightweight hoodie from @thegreatbm that reads “IBD Can’t Stop Me” on the front and “Ask me about my resilience and determination—where I find my strength—what motivates me to keep going and reminds me I can handle this pain—why I refuse to quit and what I’m doing to overcome my IBD” on the back. I own this hoodie, it’s comfy and so empowering.
-Pretty earrings that go with any outfit from @rockswithsass. The store owner battles Crohn’s disease herself and donates a portion of all proceeds to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation!
-Stoke quotes from a childhood friend who’s dedicated her life to motivating others through messages of positivity. @marliwilliams has donated 100 uniquely designed quotes geared towards helping you find and live your purpose everyday.
Tag your besties or some fellow IBD’ers in separate comments. Each person you tag counts as an additional entry. Good luck!
The giveaway ends Saturday, April 21st at 11:59 PM MST. Winner will be announced on Instagram Sunday, April 22.
This is my way of saying “thank you” for all your love and support through the years. Simple acts of kindness (especially on days when we aren’t feeling our best)…can make all the difference. If you’re interested in donating to a future Instagram giveaway, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to collaborate with you to make someone’s day!