Ignorance is not bliss: Get health screenings outside of your IBD

It’s often said managing IBD is like having a full-time job. Along with the regular visits to the gastroenterologist, all the blood draws, scopes and scans, we also have to juggle taking and ordering medication (dealing with insurance!), listening to the symptoms our body is speaking to us throughout the day, knowing when we need to slow down…and the list goes on.

One aspect of taking care of our overall health that is often not discussed is the importance of staying on top of all the other preventative health checks—seeing the dentist two times a year, getting a vision screening, having a well-woman visit, and getting a full body skin check by a dermatologist, to name a few. pexels-karolina-grabowska-4386466

As we all continue to navigate the choppy waters of this pandemic, being proactive with medical care has been a bit more challenging. Appointments may have been canceled or delayed. The stress of going somewhere for an in-person appointment may seem risky to you, but it’s imperative we all stay on top of our most important job of all—staying as healthy as possible. Because even if your Crohn’s is in remission, your disease, and the medication you take to treat it, can put you at greater risk for other health issues.

Did you know?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women with IBD, especially those on immunosuppressants may be at increased risk for cervical dysplasia and abnormal pap smears. Meaning, we’re at a greater risk for abnormal growth of cells on the surface of our cervix that could potentially lead to cervical cancer. Get those pap smears! I visited my OB-GYN and had my well-woman visit a few days ago.

The same goes for seeing a dermatologist. Those of us on immunomodulators or immunosuppressive therapies may have an increased probability of developing malignancy, including non-melanoma skin cancer. I went to the dermatologist this past week for a full body screening. I had a small atypical mole removed from my back that I wasn’t even aware of. Even though atypical moles are not always skin cancer, having these types of moles can be a risk factor for one day developing melanoma. I’ll admit, I haven’t been the best about staying on top of this aspect of disease management. The last time I had been to a dermatologist was 2005, because I was dealing with acne from the prednisone I was taking.

Although medications that manage Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are the most significant contributor when it comes to our risk of skin cancer, it’s believed having IBD alone can also lead to an increased risk of melanoma.

It’s recommended by the National Cancer Institute, that people with chronic illness be extra vigilant about sun protection. My dermatologist recommends wearing an SPF of at least 30 and having a yearly surveillance of my skin done.

Some researchers believe our faulty immune systems fail to detect cancerous tumors in our bodies and that the increased inflammation can make us more susceptible to certain cancers.

Dental, vision, and IBD

IBD can also make your dental health bite. Studies show people with IBD are at an increased risk of getting cavities and oral infections. While it’s not completely clear why this is, it’s believed our immune systems along with steroid-based drugs and even the acidity of our mouths, can cause our teeth to be weakened. dentist-4275389_1920

As someone who was forced (haha, by my mom!) to get braces, twice, I have always taken great care of my teeth. But, when I was pregnant with my son Reid, I did develop an abscess on my gum over my molars that luckily went away after he was born. It was unclear at the time if this was more pregnancy or IBD related. I know the thought of going to the dentist seems daunting since it’s such an invasive appointment where you can’t wear a mask while you’re in the chair, but when I went in for my cleaning last month, I felt completely at ease by all the safety protocols in place.

Whether you’re blind as a bat like me, and always get an annual vision screening to update your prescription and order contacts or if you have perfect vision, it’s important to get your eyes checked. Between 4-10% of people with IBD experience issues with their eyes because of their disease activity. Problems with your eyes can be a sign of a flare. During my visit with my ophthalmologist last month I was impressed by all the measures taken to ensure patient safety.

Take time to take care of you

Trust me, I get that life is busy and these times are scary. But, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t take advantage of the preventative medical care that is available so you can be proactive should an issue outside of your IBD arise. While telehealth is great to take advantage of when you can, for many of these appointments, you do need to be in person. If you’re worried about this, you can ease your fears by calling the office prior to your appointment to learn about what measures the office takes to protect patients. Whenever I start an appointment I always let the person taking care of me know that I have Crohn’s disease and I’m immunocompromised because of the medication I take.IMG-7443

I don’t particularly enjoy any of these appointments, but I always leave with peace of mind that I’m doing everything I can to be vigilant and healthy not only for myself, but for my family. I often find I get more anxious for these “other” appointments than I do seeing my GI, because I feel much more confident about how I manage my Crohn’s and the way my disease process manifests. Don’t do all the work to keep your IBD in check and forget about the rest of you.

I’m typing this article with a band-aid on my back and a slight burning sensation in my shoulder from the biopsy, with the hope that my experience implores you to make an appointment and get all your ducks in a row when it comes to all your “other” appointments. Yes, I know it’s a lot, but ignorance is not bliss when it comes to your overall well-being.

Drowning out the noise of social media as a mom with Crohn’s

Comparison. Feelings of inadequacy. Fear of missing out. Guilt. Jealousy. Chances are, you’ve experienced all these emotions and then some when it comes to your involvement on social media. While being able to connect with friends, family, strangers, and celebrities right at our fingertips can be fun and entertaining, it can also be detrimental to our overall well-being, especially as people who live with chronic illness. So how can we drown out the noise and focus on accounts and people who evoke joy, fulfillment, and empowerment? Oftentimes it’s easier said than done, but here are some helpful reminders.

Think about how you narrate and select what to post, others do the same. That selfie you posted with your husband, if only your followers knew you guys were having words hours before. That perfect photo of your child laughing, let’s not forget about the 50 takes and the tantrum that occurred before and after it. Remember that the photos you see capture a moment. They are often edited with filters, captions, you name it. Even though we know everyone crafts their content the same, we’re all so quick to envision how much better or how “perfect” the lives of those in our “inner” circle are. All comparison does is rob of us joy. camilo-jimenez-qZenO_gQ7QA-unsplash

If a certain person or a page is making you feel negatively, stop following, stop engaging. One of the best tools on Facebook and Instagram is the ability to unfollow (but stay friends with people) and “mute” people on Instagram. Pretty sure we all have accounts that make us feel a certain way, it’s not healthy to continue an online presence with someone who makes you feel unhappy or less than.

Stop chasing the “likes” and the followers. It’s so easy to get caught up in the numbers. How many people liked this post, how many followers does he have, how did she get so many followers? sara-kurfess-6lcT2kRPvnI-unsplashIn a world where we all want immediate gratification, think about how it feels when you share something and there are crickets on the other end. Use your social media channels as a platform to share what you care about and what matters most to you, rather than trying to think about what others want to see.

Be conscious of the content your put out in the world. Everybody is facing their own struggles, regardless of how wonderful their life looks on social media. Be cognizant of the fact that your words and posts could cause someone else to hurt. Think about how your friends with fertility or child loss feel each time they see a pregnancy announcement or baby photo. Think about how your friends in the chronic illness community feel when you’re talking about your remission or even your setbacks. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t celebrate huge milestones or challenges, but there’s a way to be tactful, a way to be considerate. Be empathetic to others.

For me, my Crohn’s has been in remission since August 2015. I’m going on almost five years of feeling well, most of my days, which is great…but often as people and as patients we feel a sense of guilt for doing well when our peers are in a flare or constantly in the hospital. There’s a survivor’s guilt that plays into chronic illness. While you may want to celebrate how well you feel, also remember when you were the person in the hospital bed.

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Hospitalized with a bowel obstruction the year of my surgery.

Remember how you felt the day you were diagnosed. Remember how you felt getting rolled into surgery. Remember how you felt waking up from your colonoscopy scared to hear the results. Just remember.

While social media has done wonders for the IBD community and other health spaces, there are still people who bring others down. There are many people professing cures and providing false hopes to those desperate for answers. Be weary of who you let in. Recognize that there are keyboard warriors out there who don’t care about you and will say something for shock value or to bring you down. Be skeptical when you see messages from strangers telling you to try this diet or join a group. I know when you’re feeling isolated in your illness you jump on the opportunity to connect with someone you think “gets it” but be mindful of these connections and guard your heart.

One of my favorite things to do after putting my kids to bed is to charge my phone in the kitchen and turn it on silent. This forces me to be present with my husband and relax. Relax from the pressure of commenting and engaging and just shut out the outside world. While being accessible and helping others is one of my favorite parts of patient advocacy and something I do with all my heart, it’s important to know when to take a break and when to focus on who is right in front of you, rather than a stranger who you’ve never met.