Writing for a reason: IBD Pen Pals

Who says snail mail is a thing of the past? For one 10-year-old in the Chicagoland area, connecting with fellow IBD pediatric patients is helping her cope, comfort and help others as she takes on Crohn’s disease herself. emily4Meet Emily. This past February she received her chronic illness diagnosis. Even though she’s brand new to IBD life, she’s taking all the pain and all the setbacks in stride.

Her mom, Michelle, says watching her young daughter go through Crohn’s has been a punch in the gut.

“It’s overwhelming, lonely, and mentally draining for everyone involved. Her little body has been put through so much in the last few months and she just goes along with it all. I wish I could’ve done all the horrible tests and take away every ounce of her pain. My heart breaks every time she gets poked, every time she takes medicine, every time she has to do a test, or when I send her to school, knowing she feels horrible.”

Emily’s courage and compassion for others has inspired Michelle. Her Crohn’s diagnosis has spurred an interest to connect with other IBD kids. Rather than take on the disease in silence, Emily finds there is strength in numbers, a purpose for her pain. Emily penpalHer mom was able to reach out to fellow parents on Facebook about a pen pal program.

“How cool to come home from school and have a couple letters waiting for you from kids all over the country?!? Emily has already made 12 new friends with IBD from the U.S. and the U.K. I never want Emily to feel alone on this journey nor do I want any other kids to feel alone. I want Emily to see that other kids who have IBD are living a “normal” life and that she can, too! There may be days when I won’t understand what she’s going through, but her new friends will.”

Emilyand michelleFrom a parenting perspective, the pen pal group has introduced Michelle to other mamas going through the same fears and experiences. The connections have brought her peace of mind as she navigates these new waters with her daughter.

“Emily and I are firm believers in spreading positivity and what you give out, you get back. It’s up to us to find the good in this situation and what better way than emilylettermaking new friends? Friends who understand and continually cheer you on, no matter how far they are. My hope is that Emily will make life long connections and that these letters will serve as a constant reminder that she is never alone.”

Interested in joining this pediatric pen pal group? A Facebook page is in the works. In the meantime, you can get involved by emailing Emily’s mom, Michelle: positivelyshelly@gmail.com.

When life hands you lemons: Brittany’s story of resilience while battling Crohn’s

Imagine being hospitalized with a Crohn’s disease flare. Now, close your eyes and picture yourself in Germany, surrounded by doctors and nurses who don’t speak English. Brittany7You have your husband and children, but other than that…all your family and friends are thousands of miles overseas. That was the case for my college friend, Brittany Cable. Brittany was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2007, about a year after she had her oldest son.

It’s one thing to take on IBD and be surrounded by family and friends who you can lean on for support, it’s an entirely different situation when you have to take on your disease in a foreign place, with nowhere to turn. Luckily, Brittany is now back in the States, with a strong support system nearby.

As an IBD mom, Brittany flared after all three of her pregnancies. While she was pregnant, her disease was well-controlled. She was able to bring three, beautiful, healthy babies into this world—despite her own health issues. brittany

Throughout her patient journey these past 11 years, Brittany has been on Asacol, Lialda, Uceris, Humira and Entyvio. The prednisone bursts and tapers have been difficult—to say the least. At one point, she was on 80 mg a day! To anyone who has been on prednisone, you know that’s a monster amount. After my initial diagnosis, I was on 60 mg for three months, so I can attest firsthand about how much of a struggle that presents due to all the side effects.

Brittany is a super-mom in every sense of the word. She’s now a single mom, raising three children, as she takes on Crohn’s. She works full time and has full custody of her children. She does this all alone. I’ve known Brittany for 16 years. She’s always been a super strong person with a great sense of humor. Brittany3Despite the hardships and heartbreak through her life, she’s never allowed the difficult moments to dull her spirit. She tells it like it is and isn’t ever shy when it comes to sharing her story. I’ve always admired that about her.

As Brittany says, the constant fatigue, body and joint aches are what she struggles with the most now. Every day after work, she is tired and wants to crawl in bed, but she knows her kids depend on her and need her. She knows dinner needs to be made and soccer, swimming and other activities have to be attended. It’s one thing to be a single mom and have your health—I can’t imagine living her reality and doing it all on her own. But she does. And her kids have thrived because of her herculean efforts to be there and be present, every single hour, of every single day.

So how does she do it? Brittany says, “When I think about my journey so far, I figure if I made it through having three kids, living in a foreign country and my husband leaving… all while managing Crohn’s disease, there isn’t any thing I can’t do. Every time I get a stomachache, I still fear that something horrible is about to happen, but I think that’s normal for all of us on this journey. So I take everything that comes my way one day at a time. My children will not suffer if I don’t make a home cooked meal every night. Sandwiches or pizza are okay!”brittany2

When Brittany’s husband left her and their children, she was sure the stress and drama of it all was going to throw her disease in a tailspin. But it didn’t! Instead, the hardship has empowered her to trust in her faith and seek counseling. She chooses to tell herself everyday that she is stronger than her disease and even if it attacks again, she knows she will get through it. And I know she will, too. Because that’s Brittany.