Serving as the Glue to Keep My Care Together: Advice from an IBD mom

For as long as Danielle Fries can remember, Crohn’s disease has been part of her story. Even though she was officially diagnosed with IBD at age 13, she had stomach issues since infancy. Over the last 16 years, she has tried medications, diet adjustments, holistic treatment options, and therapy to reach a happy balance and remission. This week she shares her experience of flaring during pregnancy and how she managed to bring her baby girl into this world and take care of herself at the same time.

When I found out I was expecting, my GI health was stable. I was only taking Lialda and my most recent colonoscopy showed minimal signs of disease, which left me feeling confident. After my first OB appointment, I was referred to MFM (maternal and fetal medicine) for a consult solely because I had Crohn’s and the pregnancy is considered high risk when you have IBD. The MFM specialist took my history, let me ask more than enough questions, and ultimately decided I was on track for a healthy pregnancy. We parted ways feeling confident that my disease was under control and I should return in the third trimester for one more consult to confirm all was well.

My Crohn’s disease had different plans

I struggled early on with morning sickness but something about those stomach pains felt different. As a Crohn’s patient for more than a decade, it can be easy to tell when something is off. By 12 weeks, it was very evident that these symptoms – cramping, nausea, burning, bleeding, the works – were more than just morning sickness. I was on my way to a full-blown flare and my little one growing inside me was stuck for the ride.

My first feeling was fear. I was terrified enough about becoming a mom, but now that my Crohn’s complicated the pregnancy, my mind started racing. Would the baby be able to grow properly? Would the baby end up with complications? Would I make my baby sick? Will my baby end up with Crohn’s like me? The anxiety and unknown of the situation felt beyond overwhelming and I knew I needed to find the right support system to make me feel somewhat in control of all the chaos.

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29 weeks pregnant with baby Nora

Turning to my most trusted fellow IBD warrior, my mom

My mom was my first source of reason. She could understand and relate to what I was going through more than anyone since she too has Crohn’s. She got diagnosed while pregnant and flaring with me! While her Crohn’s has never been as severe as mine, it really helped to find someone who related to the fears and uncertainty I was experiencing and made it through with a positive outcome.

I was extremely fortunate to find a group of specialists to help bring some answers and clarity to my journey. The entire pregnancy I was in close contact with both my OB and the MFM. The MFM was honest in her lack of understanding of how Crohn’s disease can fully affect the pregnancy and referred me to a GI she trusted. My new GI doctor became my confidant, my champion, my source of calm in the pregnancy. She specialized in the intersection of women’s health and Crohn’s disease, with a specific interest in pregnant women. Finding a GI doctor who I trusted to lead me with a care plan for both my Crohn’s and my baby’s development was the greatest sense of relief I felt since the day I found out I was expecting.

Struggles in the Second Trimester

As I entered the second trimester, I struggled to gain weight and it became apparent that my baby was suffering from intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). My doctor’s visits became more frequent, the tests (non-stress tests, growth ultrasounds, blood flow ultrasounds) increased and I found myself at the doctor 3-5 times a week. As the visits and tests increase, so did my constant questions, fears, and uncertainties. Never ever be afraid to ask questions – you are the one on the journey and deserve to understand what is going on!

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Final date night at 37.5 weeks

I quickly learned that while I was lucky enough to have three doctors in my court supporting myself and my baby, I still had to be my own advocate. Each doctor had their own niche of where they could help, and I had to serve as the glue to keep my care as one seamless plan. I trusted all the doctors, but wish they could have just had a conference call titled “What the heck to do with Danielle Fries and baby?” rather than leave me playing telephone in the middle. But I learned to be the squeaky wheel to advocate for my health and my baby’s health and not fall through the cracks.

An early induction

After many weeks of testing, deliberation, questions, and my baby’s decreasing growth, my doctors and I decided as a team that an early induction was the best course of action. The OB and MFM felt confident that my baby would grow better on the outside than on the inside and the GI doctor wanted to be able to get my health back in control. I trusted my doctors and asked way too many questions, but felt more confident with a plan of action.

My trust in my care team paid off. Baby Nora was born teeny at 38 weeks and measured in at the 3rd percentile. She spent a few days in the NICU while she gained her strength and learned to breathe on her own. Now that teeny nugget is 6 months old and weighing in at the 90th percentile! I complain daily about how heavy she has gotten and that carrying my baby is more work than going to the gym, but I feel so fortunate. Every single roll (and trust me, they are endless) is a reminder that this girl and I were cared for by the best team of doctors who were by our side every step of the way and gave us both our health. Just after giving birth, I started a new treatment regimen of Stelara shots every 4 weeks and I finally feel like I have my Crohn’s disease back under control.

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Three lessons from one IBD mom to another

  1. Find doctors/care team you trust. You will be talking to them a lot and you need to feel comfortable asking anything.
  2. It is okay to be scared. The unknown is scary and add in the hormones, and it’s a recipe for more! But as much as you may be afraid, you can and will do it and your baby will be okay too!
  3. Be willing to adapt. Whether it’s your timeline for getting pregnant, your birth plan, your own treatment regimen, testing, doctors visit frequency, something is bound to change. I really did not want to be induced (I had heard horror stories of 4 days in labor), but ultimately all my doctors agreed that was the best option for me the baby. And things worked out fine (better than I ever expected!) DANIELLE

 

5 Ways to Make Money At Home In The COVID-19 Era

The way we work looks a lot differently these days than months prior. Chances are the COVID-19 pandemic has forced you to work from home, put your job on hold, or be out on the frontlines. Whatever the case may be, there are ways to adapt to these challenging times to help make ends meet. This week—a guest post from Annelise Bretthauer, a certified Financial Planner who also has Crohn’s disease. IMG_0834She offers up some invaluable advice about freelancing and educating yourself about opportunities that are right at your fingertips.

The gig economy has opened up opportunities to make money in a variety of new ways but many of these jobs are not conducive to our IBD community nor COVID-19. Although, driving for Uber or making grocery runs for Instacart offers great flexibility with work hours, it doesn’t meet our IBD needs and puts our immunocompromised community at risk. Thinking about what was available yesterday can blind us from what is available today and what might be available tomorrow. With every struggle and every hurdle comes a silver lining. We just need to know where to look.

The world will never truly be the same after COVID-19 and with that will come new opportunities. New opportunities for even more flexible work that is better suited to our IBD community. Opportunities our IBD community is uniquely prepared for.

We already know how to work from home productively. We already know how to manage hard times and keep going. We already know how to overcome daily challenges and find ways to keep our mental state healthy. We’ve been strengthening our creativity and time management muscles for years. We are strong and have developed a comfort with being vulnerable that allows us to show up in non-traditional ways that our peers cannot. To quote Brené Brown, we are masters at “being in the arena.” IMG_2273

We are wildly adaptable and we’ve already learned to find a community online and make deep connections without ever sitting face to face.

All of these things put our IBD community at the top of the talent pool when it comes to the new jobs that will be created (or established jobs that will evolve) through this crisis. Keep your eye out and your ears open. This list of 5 creative and flexible IBD friendly ways to make money at home is just the beginning!

#1: For The Typing Expert:

Write Transcripts for Audio Files

This job is ideal for those who already spends much of their day on the computer and can type quickly without error. You can make $0.25 – $2.50 per audio/video minute, which translates to ~$15-$25 per hour.

Here are a couple places to go to get started:

#2: For The Person Who Is Happy To Invest In More Education To Make A Bit More Money:

Become A Remote Tax Preparer

This job is ideal for someone who is detail oriented and thinks they could get behind making tax preparation fun and engaging. Once you complete the education (there are some costs associated with doing this) and become certified for tax preparation, you could make up to $100 per hour.

Here are a couple places to go to get started:

#3: For The Computer Wiz:

Get paid to test others websites for usability and content.

This job is ideal for those who can’t stand when a website is hard to navigate and has lots of ideas for how they could make it better. There is quite a range in pay per test (~$5-$90) but it iron’s out to an average pay of around ~$20 per hour.

Here are a couple places to go to get started:

#4: For The Person Who Loves Crossing All The T’s & Dotting All The I’s:

Become an Online Remote Notary (available in in 23 states)

This job is ideal for someone who is detail oriented and enjoys the process of making sure everything is done correctly. Although each state differs in what you are legally allowed to charge for notary services, in most states the maximum is $25 per notarization.

Here is where to go to get started:

#5: For The Early Riser or Night Owl Who Prefers Working Odd Hours:

Teach English Online

This job is ideal for someone who likes to be up early or stays up late. That is because many of the jobs are teaching English to foreigners in different time zones. Please note, many sites require a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL teaching certificate. The pay does vary significantly but most sites pay between $10-$26 per hour.

Here are a couple places to go to get started:

  • Magic Ears (need TEFL teaching certification + bachelor’s degree)
  • VIPKid (Platform offers TEFL certification but you will need a bachelor’s degree)
  • ET Teach Online (need TEFL teaching certification + bachelor’s degree)
  • Cambly (no experience needed)

If none of the options above speak to you or you aren’t sure where to start, check out Chronically Capable. Chronically Capable is a job site designed only for those with chronic illness. You can browse for jobs that have already been pre-screened by their team – pretty awesome huh!? IMG_7756

From one IBD warrior to another, don’t ever lose sight of your worth. Your skills and your adaptability will rise to the top of the talent pool. We can’t pour from an empty cup, so remind yourself that self-care is other’s care.

If you’ve ever been curious about how others make, save and spend their money, feel free to check out Annelise’s podcast, This American Wallet. She interviews different people from different walks of life about money. Available for a listen on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.  

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not to be taken as advice of any kind. All pay estimates were made in best efforts given the informational available via each company website.

 

Telehealth: Where Have you Been All My Life? Making the Most Out of Your Next Appointment

They say there’s a first for everything and that was the case for me with telehealth visits. Nearly 15 years into my patient journey with Crohn’s disease, and I had never had a video chat with a physician. Going into the experience felt a bit daunting, a little uncomfortable. As patients, we get so used to our routine for managing our illness, that changing the course of care can make us feel anxious. I know I’m in the majority when it comes to being new to this whole telemedicine thing. Let me tell you, I really loved it. I walked away from my computer smiling and feeling happy. Here’s why.

Connecting over video saved me time and a whole lotta energy

My commute to and from my GI office is about 35 minutes and usually involves bringing at least one of my kids with me or coordinating childcare. It was awesome to just walk into my kitchen and instantly connect with my physician. We’ve talked on the phone many times in the past when I have a question or an issue but conversing over video made a big difference. You feel much more connected and like you’re sitting in the same room.

I didn’t feel rushed

Oftentimes while in the examining room, I feel like I’m racing the clock to get all my questions asked. It can feel like I’m just one of many appointments in a row and that my physician is bouncing from room to room. There was a sense of calm and a laid-back aspect of the call that sat well with me. It felt like a 35-minute heart-to-heart that was genuine, educational, and comforting. I felt listened to and heard. We talked about everything from my Crohn’s symptoms to my next colonoscopy, and how to handle everything with the COVID-19 pandemic.

We set a game plan in place

Something I love about my GI is that she’s extremely proactive and aggressive. You ask her a question and she immediately has a confident response. I’ve been more symptomatic the past few weeks than I have been for awhile, so she ordered a fecal calprotectin test to see if there was any inflammation going on. My husband, Bobby, picked up the test from the lab and I will bring the completed test in when I get my bloodwork this week. As far as my annual colonoscopy for later this summer, she told me that we should be ok to get the scope in, as that’s an ideal window for when things are expected to calm down COVID-wise. If we waited or delayed the scope, she fears it could be a YEAR until we’re able to do one again. Telehealth-interpreters-tel-1140x500

She determined that part of the reason I may be experiencing more abdominal pain is unintentionally changing up my diet. Something so many of us are doing right now. Our family hasn’t had take-out food since March 12th. While it’s great to have a healthier diet, having less processed foods can make things more challenging on our digestive systems. She recommended I incorporate more carbs into my daily diet, drink more water from a cup vs. a straw or a bottle (as that can cause gas to build up), and even try drinking peppermint tea or having peppermint oil in the air.

Guidance for navigating the pandemic and IBD

I asked my GI about her recommendations for what to do once Stay at Home orders are lifted and how long social distancing should be in place as someone who is immunocompromised from my medication. She said I am free to go to public parks and trails (while wearing a mask) but should stay out of everything from supermarkets to shopping malls through the summer. She advised it would be best to have my husband continue to run our necessary errands while wearing a mask. She’s anticipating a second peak of the virus will happen when the colder weather approaches.

Luckily, Bobby has been able to work from home since March 18th, a benefit of corporate America. When I asked about what to do when he has to go back in the office, she said he would need to wear a mask and at the sign of any symptoms, would need to stay away from our family.

As far as flaring and needing to go to the hospital, my GI recommended keeping her in the loop and openly communicating about symptoms so we can handle as much as we can outpatient. If there is an acute issue (fever, vomiting, etc.—things that happen with an obstruction), then I should go to the hospital as I normally would.

When it comes to IBD patients being tested with an antibody test, she doesn’t foresee that happening unless we are about to go into surgery or have a procedure. Even then, she says our immune response is different than that of the rest of the population.

Recommendations to keep in mind ahead of your telehealth appointments

Come prepared. Have questions. Be open about your symptoms and don’t downplay anything. Your physician can only help you if they know what’s going on.

Familiarize yourself with the technology. I choose to do my call on the computer, much like a Zoom meeting, but through the patient program provided by my office. There was also an option to click a link in a text message and chat like you’re on FaceTime. telemed

Try to have a quiet space for your call where you can focus. Unfortunately, my husband had a work call during my appointment, but I was able to put the baby down for a nap and bribe my 3-year-old with some snacks and TV. He only interrupted a couple of times, but my physician understood and we had a good laugh about how fruit snacks work wonders to calm or distract toddlers.

Ask about billing. Telehealth appointments at my doctor’s office are billed the same as a routine appointment. Make sure your office has your insurance information ahead of time.

Listen to this About IBD podcast from one of my favorite patient advocates, Amber Tresca, and one of the top IBD docs, Dr. Nandi, about how to best prepare for telehealth appointments during the pandemic.

 

My five year old has Crohn’s and was tested for COVID-19: A Mother’s story

UPDATE: Since this story was shared on March 30th, Jadyn’s COVID-19 test came back. After two weeks of waiting, the test came back positive.

Imagine your 14-month-old baby being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. That was the reality for Anna and Jon Richt of Georgia. Fast forward a few years and their daughter, Jadyn, is now five years old and thriving with IBD. This past week though, the Richt family had quite a scare. E06A1215Jadyn woke up with a fever and a slight cough. Given the craziness of the times we live in right now, they immediately called the COVID-19 hotline. Once the person on the other line heard about Jadyn’s health history and the fact she is immunocompromised, they agreed, Jadyn needed to be seen. In urgent care, Jadyn was tested for the flu, strep throat, and COVID-19. The Richt’s were told they would have a test result in five days, it’s been more than a week now, and still no result.

Prior to all the discussion on social distancing and sheltering in place, Anna and Joe had traveled domestically. Family members who had been staying in their home had recently traveled internationally. Anna says, “The strep test came back positive, which gave us a sense of relief. But it didn’t cancel the possibility of COVID-19. We have been watching her closely, ready to sound the alarm at any sign of health deterioration. Thankfully, she is feeling much better and I believe she is bouncing back to her normal self.”

What’s it like to raise a daughter with IBD from such a young age? Jadyn has a G-tube, and Anna is passionate about spreading awareness about feeding tubes to educate others. E06A1193I’ll allow Anna to take you back to the beginning, so you can have a better grasp of their ongoing journey and how it’s brought them to where they are today.

Seeing blood when my baby was six months old

I started seeing blood in Jadyn’s stool when she was around six weeks old and immediately called her pediatrician. He chalked it up to a couple of things, mostly related to breastfeeding issues and didn’t seem too concerned. When she was eight months old, my husband’s job moved us far away from family and her symptoms worsened. Her new pediatrician was concerned about her weight loss and sent us to the hospital for further testing.

A colonoscopy showed lesions all throughout her GI tract. Crohn’s disease was mentioned but the gastroenterologist was hesitant to diagnose it because of Jadyn’s young age. I did exactly what they say not to do and Googled Crohn’s Disease. The symptoms were spot on: “Bloody stools, persistent diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss.” I’m not sure I’ve ever told anyone this, but deep down, I knew.

Dealing with the diagnosis

The diagnosis eventually came when Jadyn was 14 months old. fullsizeoutput_38f9The first couple years were nothing short of a dog fight. I remember sitting in my sister’s living room after an appointment when all of the sudden the doctor’s number popped up on my phone. She was calling to say that Jadyn’s lab results didn’t look good and we needed to head to the hospital right away.

My sister and I sat there in disbelief and cried. I remember her saying through her tears, “I feel like you are under attack.” We were. But we fought back. There have been countless doctors’ appointments, feeding tubes, eating therapies, procedures, you name it. She has been a trooper through it all and I am so happy to report that her current medication is working. Thankfully, she is a normal 5-year-old for the most part, which I don’t take for granted.

What has the journey been like for me as her mother?

It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever faced in my life. At the beginning I assumed it was something we could easily get under control and move on. I now know it is a marathon race, not a sprint. Watching my child suffer, and not being able to fix the problem despite my best effort made me feel like I was failing her. IMG_6044

It’s been lonely at times. Don’t get me wrong, we have the most amazing family and friends. They have supported us unconditionally every step of the way. But because she was diagnosed so young, we’ve never met another child her age with Crohn’s. I couldn’t call one of my mom friends and ask, “What anti-TNF drug worked for your child?” or “How are you potty training your two-year-old who is flaring?” Instead, we’ve pioneered this head-on, and I’ve completely relied on my faith to get me through. People often say how strong I am, but honestly, I believe it’s God’s strength in me that they see. When I look back on these past five years, I know without a doubt He has carried us. I can honestly say I am proud of the mother I have become due to this disease. I am brave and empathetic. I’ve developed grit and survive on grace.

What I want to say to parents of children with IBD

Take care of yourself. I always think of the airplane safety guide. Secure your oxygen mask before helping others. You cannot fully care for your child if you don’t take care of yourself first. Some days that may mean a 30-minute workout and drinking plenty of water. Other days it’s meeting with a counselor to address the emotional toll the disease has taken.

Let others help. They really want to. Use that time to step away and catch your breath.

See your child for who they are. Your child is more than their disease. They are uniquely designed for a specific purpose.

You can do this. I firmly believe that you were handpicked by God to be your child’s mother.  Continue to advocate and cheer them on. Take it one day at a time.

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Jadyn and her little sister

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

You can follow Anna by checking out her blog: Grit to Grace

Anna’s Instagram: @grit.to.grace

Real talk from an immune compromised 30-something during the COVID-19 pandemic

You can think of this as a Public Service Announcement for the immune compromised. Like many of my peers in the chronic illness community, I may appear healthy on the exterior, but the biologic medication I depend on to manage my Crohn’s disease, knocks out my immune system. In my family alone, so many face the same reality:

-my 30-year-old cousin whose had two heart transplants and a kidney transplant

-my cousin’s 2.5-year-old son battling Leukemia

-my cousin’s wife who has Crohn’s and is on Remicade

-my cousin who lives with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome among other chronic conditions

I’ve been part of the immune-compromised population since I was 24 years old. Over the past 12 years, never did I dream of the reality we’re currently living in. When I first heard about Coronavirus, I wasn’t all that alarmed. As the conversations and situation continues to become more serious, I’m getting more anxious and concerned.

Here are the latest recommendations shared by The Lancet as this relates to the IBD population. I found these guidelines helpful in drowning out the noise of all the information being thrown our way.

Potential risk factors for infection

  • Patients with IBD on immunosuppressive agents
  • Patients with active IBD and malnutrition
  • Elderly people with IBD
  • IBD patients who frequent medical clinics
  • IBD patients with underlying health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes
  • Patients with IBD who are pregnant

Medication for patients with IBD

  • Continue current treatment if your disease is stable, and contact your doctor for suitable medicine if you’re flaring.
  • Use mesalamine as prescribed, this should not increase the risk of infection.
  • Corticosteroid use can be continued, but be cautious of side effects.
  • A new prescription of immunosuppressant or an increase in dosage is not recommended in epidemic areas.
  • Use of biologics, such as the anti-TNF’s infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira) should be continued.
  • If Remicade infusion is not accessible, switching to a Humira injection is encouraged.
  • Vedolizumab (ENTYVIO) can be continued due to the specificity of the drug for the intestine.
  • Ustenkinumab (Stelara) can be continued, but starting this requires infusion center visits and is not encouraged.
  • Enteral nutrition might be used if biologics are not accessible.
  • Tofacitinib (Xeljanz) should not be newly prescribed unless there are no other alternatives.

Surgery and endoscopy

  • Postpone elective surgery and endoscopy. (I’ve heard of many  centers and hospitals delaying until June at this point.)
  • Screening for COVID-19 (completed blood count, IgM or IgG, nucleic acid detection, and chest CT needed before emergency surgery.

Patients with IBD and fever

  • Contact your GI about visiting an outpatient clinic. Consult with your physician about possibly suspending the use of immunosuppressant and biologic agents and follow appropriate guidance if COVID-19 can’t be ruled out.

While the unknown is scary—as a chronic illness community we need to recognize how well-equipped we are mentally and emotionally to live life during these uncertain and uneasy times. According to the National Health Council, 133 million Americans live with incurable or chronic diseases, many of which are treated with medications that make us susceptible to illness.

It can be unnerving to see peers downplay the severity of the situation and making light of the fact they have nothing to worry about. If you have a friend or family member who’s immune compromised or a loved one over age 60, you have reason to be empathetic. Chances are you know many people who fall in these categories. Going against the recommendation and living your life like nothing is going on right now, puts people like me and so many others in jeopardy. It’s irresponsible and says a great deal about your character. CCFA social distance

To those of us in the high-risk category, this quarantining and social distancing is more than an inconvenience or a change in our plans. We know that if we happen to come down with COVID-19, our bodies may not be able to fight it.

The healthy are getting a glimpse into what it feels like to live with a disease that can blindside you and flip your world upside down at any moment. After years of juggling all the variables and the what-ifs, we know how to protect ourselves. We know living in fear takes away from our joy. Thanksgiving2019

Rather than feel like we’re less than, we can continue to choose to see the beauty of what is right in front of us within our homes, with those who matter most.

Rather than feel like we’re goners, we can follow our care team’s recommendations, pay attention to facts over fake news, and stay on our medication. It’s believed the threat of untreated IBD is a bigger concern right now, and if you flare and need steroids, your immune system will take even more of a hit. If you are flaring and have a fever, physicians are now ruling COVID-19 out first.

Rather than waiting for the worst, we can be proactive and use the tools in our arsenal to stay as healthy as possible and use trusted resources to guide our decision making. Wash your hands even more than you’re used to, spend time outside in your yard, never share food or drink, change your clothes if you’ve left the house.

Rather than glue ourselves to the TV or scroll through our phones, we can take time for ourselves and make a point to make self-care a priority. Put your phone in another room, turn up the tunes and have a dance party with your kids. You’ll be amazed at what a stress reliever that is! Read a good book. Organize your closet. Try out a new recipe or bake something yummy.

Rather than cower in the corner, we can continue to advocate and be a voice for the voiceless in our community to educate and inform the rest of the population about what it means to be immune compromised by connecting over social media, Facetime, Marco Polo, emailing and texting.

Here are some helpful resources to check out:

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

Coronavirus and IBD Reporting Registry

International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Coronavirus Resource and Planning for IBD Patients (Blog written by IBD advocate Jessica Caron)

Coronavirus Resources for People with IBD (Blog/Podcast created by IBD Advocate Amber Tresca)

USA Today article: The best thing everyday Americans can do to fight coronavirus? #StayHome, save lives

From remission to flaring in one week: What 2015 taught me about life with Crohn’s

I woke up from my colonoscopy five years ago and was told “You’re in remission”. Tears of happiness streamed down my cheeks. I was in disbelief. Was I dreaming?! It took a decade for me to hear those words, and one week to be robbed of the title.

One week later, I was hospitalized with a small bowel obstruction. The first of three that would happen that next year. So many of us in the chronic illness and IBD community specifically, are constantly chasing after “remission”. But what does remission really mean?

Remission is different for every person, much like IBD manifests differently in everybody. When I heard the word remission five years ago, it felt magical and exciting.

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Celebratory post-colonoscopy cheesecake after finding out I was in remission Feb. 2015.

Hell, my mom and boyfriend (now husband) and I went out and celebrated with a big meal at The Cheesecake Factory. When I flared days later, I started feeling skeptical of the term and came to realize how fleeting and elusive remission can be. I laid in the hospital bed, devastated and dumbfounded by what had just transpired.

It took three bowel obstruction and 18 inches of my small intestine to ultimately be removed in August 2015, for me to reach surgical remission. While surgery is not a cure, my bowel resection provided me with a new beginning. As I approach my five year “remission” anniversary this August,

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Hospitalized a week later with a bowel obstruction.

I remain on edge. I’ve been blessed to be on cruise control with my illness these past few years. My GI has me well-managed on my biologic and vitamins, I know how to read my body when it speaks to me through symptoms, and when I suspect something is going awry, my care team and I nip the disease activity in the bud.

To me, remission is waking up each morning with the expectation that I’m going to feel well and be able to take on the day as planned. Remission is having more ‘feel good’ days than painful ones. Remission is being confident to attend social outings, travel, and do all the things I set my heart out to do, without feeling suffocated by the fear of the ‘what ifs” of a flare. Remission is being able to focus on the part of me that is so much more than my disease. remission blog

Remission tends to the be the “goal” when it comes to IBD, but it’s not always feasible. It’s easy to see posts on social media and feel like you’re failing because your body is failing you, repeatedly. It took me a decade of living with Crohn’s and surgery to be in remission.

While I’m a compliant patient, I don’t take much credit for my remission. I know how at the drop of a hat I could be rushing to the ER, unable to breathe from my abdominal pain. I remember all the flares that blindsided me and I know my body can decide to flip the switch at any given moment. I feel lucky most the time—while my Crohn’s could be worse, it could be better, too. Remission doesn’t mean that symptoms are non-existent, moreso that the majority of the time I feel well with some not so great days sprinkled in the mix. While in this state of remission, I remind myself not to take this time for granted, not to become complacent, and to stay vigilant on managing my symptoms and overall well-being.

Rather than focusing on the big “R” word that’s loaded beyond belief and placing so much emphasis on it, let’s focus on feeling the best we can each day, communicating openly with our physicians, friends, and family, and taking this uphill battle one step and one day at a time.

Tactics for Utilizing a Health Diary to take on your IBD

Many of us struggle to manage our chronic conditions, between ongoing appointments, day to day life, and coping with the unpredictable symptoms of our conditions. This is where our mobile phones come in handy. Thanks to ever-evolving technology, we can feel empowered and a bit more in control of our overall well-being by tracking, managing, and learning about our ongoing health treatment.

Going with the adage of what gets measured gets improved. There are a few things we can do to make managing our chronic disease(s) easier. The first step is keeping your care team in the loop, the second is following through on your care plan consistently, and the last is to focus on monitoring and potentially improving your treatment plan as needed.

Having a Care Team Can Help

We all utilize the help of others to maintain our health one way or another. The case may also be that you could be taking care of others.

As an example, in the CareClinic health diary app, you can add caregivers phone numbers to quickly save all information in one place for times of need. careteam_screenAdditionally, users can enable the sharing of “Progress Reports” which include adherence information and all other modalities to optimize your health. Sometimes a caregiver may not be aware of what you need to take and when, this too can be shared via the “Share Care Plans” functionality.

Sticking to Your Care Plan Can Be Easy

A care plan from your doctor may encompass taking certain medications at a certain time. However, a comprehensive care plan is much more than that. A care plan is your “self care to-do list” which will enable rapid health improvements.

It may include eating healthier, eating at a certain time, tracking and managing your calories or sugar levels. Some other things that can be added to a care plan may include tracking activities, therapies and even setting reminders to check certain measurements and symptoms throughout the day.

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A care plan is everything you need to do to maintain good health. Adding these values will reduce cognitive burden and help you remain on track. An app such as the CareClinic app can provide alerts, notifications and warnings based on your care plan, even better.

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Your Health Accordingly

Patients often wonder if there is a point in maintaining a health diary. It may make sense to use a calendar or reminders to be notified when to take medications, but are there any inherent benefits to recording when medication was taken, or how we felt afterwards in a diary? reminders

The answer as you can imagine by now is an astounding “Yes, there is a point and a need.” By recording this pertinent information in a health diary, you no longer have to guess and see if a certain medication is causing adverse reactions or flare-ups. You’re taking the guesswork out the picture and providing yourself with more clarity.

Apps are now capable of leveraging AI to automatically help you figure out what’s working and what’s not. Even if the app is not able to make these correlations, your care team will appreciate the undertaking and potentially understand your health a bit better. When you provide data in a structured way to professionals, they can better learn and tweak their treatment for you, no matter what condition you are up against.

Tracking Health for a Better You

A health diary enables greater understanding about your own health and helps communicate the information in an objective way to healthcare professionals.

Web based and mobile diaries are a tool that can help you discover new information about yourself and provide for a more in dept history of how your treatment is progressing. In fact, it has been proven that maintaining a health diary can lead to a multitude of benefits (see this study). You can easily get into the habit by starting to track the essentials and then slowly adding more items to your care plan as you start to see patterns emerge.

This post is sponsored by CareClinic. Thoughts and opinions shared were my own.

 

Finding faith through the storm that is IBD

Prior to falling ill two years ago and finally receiving a Crohn’s disease diagnosis in December 2019, 33-year-old Kolby Noble, kolby5 of Maryland, never knew how much her strong faith would help her through the ups and downs of chronic illness. As a wife, mom of three, and an educator, Kolby shares a heartfelt, eye-opening piece that beautifully captures how faith correlates to the daily battles we face as people with IBD. 

Picture it. Jesus had left His disciples in their boat on the sea so that He could spend some time alone. It wasn’t long before a powerful storm developed. Jesus returns to the disciples, walking on the water through the wind and the waves, but they don’t recognize Him and are afraid. Jesus speaks to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”. (Matthew 14:7) kolby

I’ve always been in awe of the ocean. As a child I used to play in the waves of the Atlantic or stare into its horizon and I always felt so small in comparison. I would often wonder how the same God that made the ocean, so vast and wide and deep, would create me, too. How could the same God who told the waves to dance along the shore love and know me so intimately? My life has been much like the ocean. Much of it has been beautiful and calm. But like the disciples and everyone else there have been storms, too. Somehow it’s always through the wind and the waves of those storms that I hear Jesus call to me.

It’s been two years since I first thought something was wrong with my health. For two years the wind and the waves have strengthened until, like the disciples, I found myself in the midst of a powerful storm. kolby4I was as sick as I’d ever been in my life, and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting better. In December 2019, I received confirmation that I had Crohn’s Disease.  I was afraid. But through the wind and the waves, I heard Him say “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Back in the boat with Jesus that day was a man named Peter. Peter saw Jesus on the water and when Jesus called to Peter to step out of the boat and come to Him, Peter didn’t hesitate. In the midst of the storm Peter climbed out of the boat and started walking to his Savior. kolby3Soon, though, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and focused instead on the wind and the waves and began to sink. He cried out “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30) and Jesus instantly reached out His hand to catch Peter. When He pulled Peter from the water Jesus simply asked “Why did you doubt?” They returned to the boat and the wind and waves cease.

Much like Peter, I knew Jesus before the storm of Crohn’s Disease developed. I had witnessed His miracles in my life, just as Peter had before the storm arose on the sea that day. When I received my Crohn’s disease  diagnosis, I heard Jesus tell me not to be afraid. As I stepped out to meet Him in the storm for comfort it wasn’t long before I took my eyes off of Him and focused instead on the wind and the waves. It’s easy to focus on feeling sick, being in pain, being too exhausted to get up each day, or not having the energy to take care of your family. I was taking medication multiple times a day just to function, to somehow get through each work each day. kolby2 I found myself focusing on all the tests and doctor’s appointments I had to go to, and the infusions I’ll have to take for the rest of my life to maintain any sense of health I used to know. I focused on the unpredictability that is Crohn’s, and not on the predictable, steadfast love that can only be found in our Savior.

God doesn’t promise those that believe smooth seas or calm waters. He never says that life is going to be easy. He actually tells us just the opposite. Isaiah 43:2 says “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” What a comfort to know that in the midst of our storms we can look out and find a Savior. God knew before I ever took a breath I would have to fight this disease. He knew that it would be hard, and painful, and exhausting. But He loves me, and He is with me, and it’s because of Him that I can face the storm. You can, too.

If you have just been diagnosed with a form of IBD, I encourage you not to focus on the wind or the waves. Focus instead on a Savior who is ready to reach out and catch you when you start to sink. Don’t doubt His love for you. Don’t doubt that He will be with you through the storm. Instead, listen for the voice that says “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”. For mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you. (Psalm 93:4)

 

Motherhood and IBD: The parallels and what I’ve learned

Let me tell you how small a bathroom feels when you’re on the toilet, your crawling baby is at your feet going after the garbage can and your toddler is pulling at the toilet paper. This has been the scene of my life, multiple times a day, over the past year. Sophia turns one tomorrow (Jan 14!). mom3I feel like we blinked and her first year passed by. That being said, having a baby and a two-year-old, while being a stay-at-home mom and freelancer, who happens to have Crohn’s disease, has its challenges.

Each day, while often exhausting, has been an incredible blessing. I remember being pregnant and wondering how motherhood in general, along with IBD would be. I remember when Reid was born in 2017 and learning to adjust to parenthood and having a family. I remember being pregnant with Sophia, wondering how I would have any capacity energy-wise to take on being home with two little ones, but I did it. Somehow you find a way to get by, to exist, to adjust to your new normal.

Much like navigating chronic illness, with motherhood, you have moments where you feel you’ve found your groove, and then suddenly something happens to prove otherwise. But, that’s the beauty of it. The hard times are temporary and then the beautiful, fill- your-heart with overwhelming joy and happy tears in your eyes moments happen when you least expect it. mom2

Parenthood isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Some moments really suck. Some moments are incredibly frustrating and overwhelming. Some moments you wonder how you’re going to get through. I think there’s this expectation and this fake persona (thanks to social media) that makes us all think we need to do more, be more, and love every moment of parenting, when we all know that’s not the case. Raising little people isn’t for the faint of the heart, but it’s one of the greatest gifts we can be given.

Through motherhood I’ve learned the importance of health—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Through motherhood I’ve learned how imperative it is to rely on your support system. There’s no sense in trying to do this alone.

momof2blog2Through motherhood I’ve learned to soak everything in, because you blink, and another year or milestone goes by.

Through motherhood I’ve learned the importance of listening to my body, resting when necessary, and saying “no” to plans that don’t fill my cup.

The thing is—when you live with a chronic disease like Crohn’s, you learn all these “lessons” long before you become a parent. But, the actual meaning shifts, when you have more to think about than just yourself.

One year ago, today, I went to bed a mom of one and the very next day I woke up, had a c-section and my heart doubled in size and we became a family of four. The addition of Sophia to our family has been an incredible blessing. I don’t know how I ever lived without her. It’s amazing how families adjust to their new dynamic and change in such beautiful ways as they continue to grow.

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Photo credit: Alexandria Mooney Photography

Whether you want to be a mom someday, are currently trying to have a baby, are pregnant, or a mom of one or several kids, let’s all practice a little more grace and less judgement. The only shoes we’ve all walked in are our own. No matter how people choose to present themselves, everyone has bad days, everybody has their own set of struggles and worries, and chances are, we can all relate.

Coming of age with IBD: The 20s and the 30s and how they differ

The new year and new decade have almost everyone reflecting on the last 10 years of their life, looking back at then and now, and anxiously excited to see what the next 10 years will bring. Framing life into decades is interesting, especially when it comes to chronic illness. I wasn’t diagnosed with Crohn’s until age 21, so I can’t speak to what it’s like to live with IBD as a child or a teen. What I can speak to is what it’s like to live with a chronic illness in your 20s and in your 30s and how your lifestyle, your expectations for yourself and for others, shifts as you age. natalie20s2

In my opinion, each decade with IBD presents its own unique set of challenges. Of course, each and everyone of us has a different looking “timeline” as our lives play out, but for the most part, certain aspects of “coming to age” happen at one time or another, depending on what’s important to you. Here’s what my 20s and 30s has looked like:

The 20s:

Said goodbye to being a child and truly became an adult.

Fulfilled education goals, navigated professional life, followed career aspirations.

Dated and found love.

Enjoyed a fun social life with friends.

Moved out at age 22 and lived on my own in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Adopted my dog, Hamilton.

The 30s:

Got into a groove professionally, felt more confident in my skills and what I’m meant to do.

Moved to Missouri to follow love and got married. engagement

Got pregnant and had two babies.

Fewer social hang outs and more family time.

This may just look like a list, but when you live with IBD these life changing milestones and moments have different meaning and carry different weight. When I was diagnosed at age 21, it was before I landed my first TV job. I had just graduated college and spent years interning for free, worked four nights a week on the college TV station…for free, only to be blindsided with a disease that made me wonder if all my hard work was for nothing. At 21 I wasn’t sure if I would ever find a man willing to stick by my side through the ups and downs of chronic illness or if I was worthy of a long-term relationship. At 21, I moved eight hours away from all friends and family, three months after being diagnosed, while on 22 pills a day, to follow my dream of being a journalist. There was great responsibility in living on my own, taking my medications and being a compliant patient, while the rest of my peers’ greatest worry was what going out shirt they were going to wear to the bar that night. natalie20s

During my 20s I put more emphasis on what others thought of me and just wanted to fit in. I didn’t want my disease to hold me back in any way.

Now that I’m 36, and can look back on what it was like to live with Crohn’s throughout my 20’s and now well into my 30s, I must say…while life with this disease is never “easy”, it becomes a lot easier to live with as you get older. Here’s why.

I followed my dreams of being a journalist and worked successfully full-time for more than a decade in TV stations and PR agencies, despite my diagnosis.

I found a man who loves me for me and didn’t think twice of being my partner even though I had Crohn’s. I met Bobby one month before turning 30. Dating him, marrying him, and building a family with him has brought a great sense of comfort and stability into my life. When I flare or I’m having a rough day, I rely heavily on him to be my rock and lift my spirits.

blog2Fatigue from motherhood when you have a chronic illness can be mind-numbing and debilitating, but seeing your body create a life and then bring a baby into this world makes you feel a renewed sense of love for a body that you’ve been at odds with for years. IBD and motherhood has it’s worries and challenges, but at the end of the day, your children will be the greatest light in your life, and the most magical motivators of strength. There’s almost too much going on to worry about your own well-being, which is both a blessing and a curse!

natalieblog2Gone are the days of going out at 11 pm, now I rarely go out and when I do, I’m usually home before 10. There’s no pressure to stay out until bar close or take a shot. My friends are all grown women, many of them are moms, our priorities have shifted. Adult conversation over brunch or a glass of wine and some sushi or tapas is refreshing and rejuvenating. I openly communicate about my disease when asked and don’t shy away from the conversation like I once did.

blogarticleIf you’re reading this and you’re newly diagnosed, a teenager, a 20-something, trust me when I say that balancing life—all your obligations, your network of support, your job and what you’re meant to do with your life will find it’s way. Don’t beat yourself up by creating a timeline or a vision board that sets you up for failure. Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’. Don’t compare where you are in life to your peers. Because there is no comparison. When you have IBD you are being unfair to yourself if you try and be just like everyone else, because you’re not. And that’s ok. Use your experience as a patient to give you patience within yourself. Everyone faces struggles, everyone faces setbacks, but someday I promise you’ll look back and those very same struggles will be the reason you are strong, focused, driven, empathetic, and living the life you were meant to live.