Taking on IBD one step at a time: Getting empowered through Team Challenge

One of the many benefits of getting involved with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation is finding people locally who understand and live your reality. I became friends with a woman named Angie last year. facebook_1529431731870She’s a resilient person with a positive attitude. Her energy is contagious. This week, a guest post about her involvement with Team Challenge and how it’s enabled her to find community not just in St. Louis, but throughout the United States. I’ll allow Angie to take it away…

My journey began with inflammatory bowel disease began in April 2011. For me, symptoms went from non-existent to emergency surgery within a month of first waking up with cramps and diarrhea. I had been a healthy active person up to that point and I was a month shy of my 46th birthday.

I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, but that diagnosis was later changed to Crohn’s disease. Due to reoccurring abscesses, my GI doctor ordered some additional tests that showed I have Crohn’s. When I was first diagnosed with IBD, I had never heard of Crohn’s disease. There was so much to learn and absorb, but I was so sick, it was hard to take it all in. My emergency surgery resulted in a total colectomy. I had a perforated bowel in 4 places. Once the surgeon opened me up, he discovered things were much worse than he expected and I had sepsis. Those early days in the hospital were hard, but I was committed to staying positive and hopeful.

One of my favorite ways to stay active had always been power walking. If I could walk somewhere vs getting in my car and driving there, that was my path of least resistance. So, getting to a point where I felt well enough to get back to exercising was a goal of mine. Ironically when I first asked my doctor when he thought I’d be well enough to power walk again, he recommend I not walk too far because he knew I’d probably need to use the restroom. In those first couple years living with Crohn’s, I was taking 20+ pills a day and probably using the restroom 30+ times a day. I was fragile and got short winded quickly, even walking to the corner in my neighborhood was a challenge.  I stayed hopeful that brighter days were ahead. I was very fortunate to have a very supportive group of friends and family around me.

Fast forward to the fall of 2015. I was feeling much stronger since being on Humira for about a year. facebook_1529431766690I saw a post on Facebook about Team Challenge and an upcoming Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon that was taking place in February 2016 in New Orleans. I didn’t hesitate to sign up and commit to doing a Half Marathon and fundraising to find a cure for Crohn’s & Colitis. Almost immediately, one of my childhood girlfriends decided she was going to do the Half with me and she too joined Team Challenge. I’m not sure we knew what we were getting into, but we were 100 percent committed. Two ladies, soon to be 50, and neither had even done a 10K, let alone a Half Marathon! In full disclosure, we always knew we were going to walk, not run the Half. We might be crazy, but as they say, we were only “Half Crazy”!

Team Challenge has been one of the best decisions of my life. It has been a truly life changing experience. I am about to start training for my third Team Challenge race taking place in November in Savannah, GA. Team Challenge is a few hundred people who share one common goal, which is to find a cure for IBD. Once you sign up, you commit to a fundraising goal, but Team Challenge provides the coaching and training to not only complete the race, but to reach your goal and have fun along the way.

Race weekend is amazing! There are opportunities throughout the weekend to meet with your individual team, as well as the entire Team Challenge family. The night before the race there is an inspirational pasta dinner.

The evening is filled with tears of joy and we celebrate our combined mission of finding a cure. Some are parents running or walking for a child, some are friends and family running in memory of a loved one lost, and some are like me – a Crohn’s patient determined to not let Crohn’s hijack her life!

My advice to anyone looking to feel empowered against IBD would be to get involved with Team Challenge. I have made so many new friends and I’ve gained so much confidence through my involvement. I guarantee you’ll leave race weekend with a feeling of accomplishment and you’ll feel the love from the Team Challenge tribe that is now an extended family and support system of your own.

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with Team Challenge.

Finding strength through your IBD tribe

Back in the fall, I had the privilege of sharing the stage with a fellow IBD advocate in the St. Louis area during a Crohn’s and Colitis event. Her name is Kelli Young. Kelli has battled Crohn’s disease for 28 years. She’s a veteran to the game, and has incredible perspective about how IBD not only shapes our lives, but dictates the kind of people we become. This week—a guest post from Kelli about why finding your tribe—an empathetic support system—makes a world of difference.

It took over a year and a half of being prodded and poked in every orifice of my body to receive the diagnosis of Crohn’s. I received the devastating news eight days before entering my sophomore year in college. IMG_1076The excitement of knowing “I’m not a hypochondriac” was overshadowed by the fear of having a “poop disease”. You see, my first year of college, I became best friends with my Suite mate. Ironically, she too battles Crohn’s. I was 20 years old, diagnosed with a disease that had no cause and therefore no cure…how can that be? Why me? What am I going to do?  I didn’t even know how to swallow a pill. I was never the sick kid! Now, I had to take 24 pills a day, which sometimes would take me an entire hour to swallow one dose, throw up, re-swallow again. Three times a day. It was as if I had entered “hell”.IMG_1077

Six month after diagnosis, I came home from college for winter break.  Tipping the scale at a whopping 75 pounds, my body was too weak to undergo surgery. For 45 long days, I received all my nutrition through an IV. This was so my bowel could rest as I prepared for a colon resection. The surgery was my only hope for living a more productive life.

What I’ve learned after nearly 30 years with IBD

Fast forward nearly three decades—and through the years, I’ve been labeled as “the complicated” patient. I’ve undergone multiple surgeries which include: three colon resections, gall bladder removal, appendectomy, countless ERCP’s and fistula repair. Can’t forget the life-saving blood transfusion I needed after my colon ruptured, causing me to lose half my blood volume. I dealt with TPN (Total parenteral nutrition)/bowel rest for each of the three surgeries. 45 days was my longest duration on NPO(no food). 30 days was my longest hospital visit. For the last 28 years, my body has had medication dumped in it.

My generation was taught differently. IMG_1078Which made my journey with the disease a little different than today. I was raised to think “only the weak complain!”  “Someone always has it worse!”  “Suck it up butter cup”.  “If you want the job done right, do it yourself”. This made me look at the situation as this was “my” disease, “my” problem and I don’t want to make anyone worry about me or feel sorry for me!  I became a master at hiding the disease and a master at hiding the byproducts of the disease.

It has taken me decades to evolve. Six years ago, I realized, I had to create a better “village” for myself. And my voice was starting to be heard. I just wanted my peeps to treat me as an equal, no matter how many bowel movements I’ve had that day. And most importantly, yearning for support and compassion, not to be mistaken for pity or despair! During my evolution process, big sacrifices had to be made. As a mother of two, I had more than just myself to think about.

The power of transparency

Today, transparency has set me free. Free from the misconception that I’m “lazy”. Free from the labels placed on me because of my thin statured frame. Free from the worry of how others view me. And free to live my life.

Today, I am able to share my journey with an audience that might share a similar experience or with an audience that has a loved one with Crohn’s Disease. I share my story, with the hope of inspiring others and showing anything is possible.

My disease has made me who I am today. It has taught me that I am strong, determined, confident and secure. kelliI’m a proud mother to two amazing children. I carried and gave birth to both of them with zero complications. I’m a business owner of a successful insurance agency, which I established 4 years after diagnosis. I didn’t allow my disease to derail my professional aspirations. I’m an active mother and manage to find time to be a room mother and Girl Scout cookie manager.

As a patient advocate, I serve on the board of the MidAmerica Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, in addition to other professional boards. I value the good days! I reflect on my bad days and listen when my body tells me to slow down and get rest.

My advice to you

If you’re newly diagnosed or in the thick of the battle, it’s important that you realize… “this is your normal”. Embrace it! Accept it! Own it! Speak about it!!  Get a “village” that gives you positive support, not to be mistaken for negative attention. If I can get thru this crazy game of life with Crohn’s disease, so can you!  Don’t let the disease define you.

While I know my journey will include the daily struggles from the disease, it no longer is my hidden secret. My village knows and loves me for me. They understand the disease and ask questions to understand it better. This is not just my “problem” any more. As we all patiently wait for a cure, it is important we speak up, join together and help one another.