A letter to my daughter, from your mom with Crohn’s disease

My sweet daughter,

In less than 30 days you will be safe in my arms. It’s felt like a long journey to get to this point with you. Much like your brother, you’ve made me feel a sense of health that I never knew was possible. Through the creation of you and your life, I’ve found a deeper appreciation for my own.

You’ve silenced a disease that has ravaged my body for more than 13 years. _F6B0473You’ve reminded me of what is possible and what I’m capable of. You’re already an inspiration to me and you don’t even know it.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hoped and dreamed for you. A daughter. A best friend. A relationship so sacred, so unique. Words don’t do justice for how anxious and excited I am to bring you into this world.

Just like your brother, you will see me struggle some days. Not with being your mom, but with my Crohn’s disease. It pains me to think about making you worry about my health or question when my next flare up will be, as leaving you and Reid for an extended hospital stay will be so tough on me and on our family.

I never want you to feel scared or question my resilience. Instead, I want to show you how strong I am and instill a positive attitude in you from a young age. You will witness the highs, the lows and everything in between that comes with chronic illness, but trust that mama will always come out on top. _F6B0340You and your brother serve as my greatest motivation to push through the pain and be strong. You’ll see how your dad loves and nurtures unconditionally and rises to every challenge that comes my way.

Here are my hopes for you.

A kind, happy heart. Always try and see the best in others, rather than coming to quick judgement. Soak in the happiness bestowed upon you each day and light up the room with your smile, even when the going gets tough.

A confident attitude and demeanor. Stand tall and be proud of who is looking back at you in the mirror. Love yourself for all that you are and don’t let any person make you question your worth.

A compassionate, empathetic mind. Recognize the pain of those around you, and be supportive, thoughtful and caring. Be a positive light in the lives of others.

A patience with yourself and others. Understand that life has setbacks, disappointments and pain, but that God has a plan for you. Trust in it, even when the path seems daunting or overwhelming. Try and use each challenge that comes your way as a moment to learn and grow.

A strength to use your voice. Never be afraid to speak up, be heard and communicate your hopes, dreams and fears. Feel empowered by your voice and know that everything you say and think matters._F6B0313

A life without Crohn’s disease. While there are many qualities I would love to share with you—I hope and pray you stay healthy and never receive an IBD diagnosis. I will be there every step of the way, should that ever happen. I’ll be your best advocate and your closest confidant in sickness and in health, and always.

See you soon, my sweet girl. My rainbow baby. My darling. Someday you’ll know how you’ve made my heart fill with such joy and immense gratitude.

Mama

Food for thought: What it’s like to get all your nutrition through an IV with IBD

This week–a guest post from an IBD advocate who continually inspires me. Meet Sonya Goins. twibbon-profileShe is a news reporter for a community television station in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area. Sonya is also a Crohn’s patient, diagnosed with the digestive disease in 1985 while she was in college. I’ll let her take it from here:

While fighting the physical pain of Crohn’s is tough, the mental aspect is even harder.

On January 3rd, 2018 my doctor put me on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition), which means I was fed through my veins. All of the nutrients I needed to survive were in an IV bag and pumped through my veins throughout the day. My doctor wanted to give my colon a rest so ulcers could heal.  I endured this treatment for eight and half months.  It was one of the most trying times of my life. No food, just water, broth and on occasion, coffee.

Despite my circumstances, I named my IV catheter “hopeful.” 26677835_10155748847937819_1006971807936260031_oHowever, it took me a minute to adapt a positive inner attitude.  You see, in public I put on a good, cheerful attitude. There were times when I wanted to crawl up into a big ball and shut out the world. The first few weeks of constantly wearing a backpack full of IV fluids were very hard.  I did not like what I saw in the mirror. I was angry at my situation.  It wasn’t until I visited a pediatric Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation support group that I changed my way of thinking. Seeing young people living with the digestive diseases, and going about their lives despite their circumstances, motivated me to do better.

I had to live my new normal to the best of my ability.

The mental game of TPN

Mentally, not eating real food was very, very challenging.  Although I could not eat, I still cooked for my youngest child. The smells of the food made my mouth water, tempting me to taste what I know would make me sick. There were a few times I lived on the edge and took a sample. I paid for my mistakes—painful cramps and bloody diarrhea were my punishment.

After the first month on TPN, I knew I needed professional help if I were to survive.  So, I sought the help of a therapist.  I also prayed and meditated—a lot. 35682318_10156164555637819_6627378019424010240_n

First, I needed a distraction for when I was tempted to eat. A friend taught me how to crochet. She even purchased the yarn, hooks and beginner books to get me going.  I still cannot do a granny square, but I learned a new skill.

When times were bad and I wanted to give up, I would mentally go to my happy place—Turks and Caicos. Several years ago, I visited the Caribbean Islands. I imagined myself sitting on the pristine beaches, watching the waves crash.

The social impact

The loss of social invitations also did a number on me.  Some of my friends did not want to hurt my feelings by eating in front of me, so they stopped including me. However, I did have one friend who went out of her way and found a restaurant that served the best broth in town. We sipped on broth and caught up with each other’s lives. This was one of the highlights.

I was determined not to let this situation get the best of me. Instead of going out to eat with friends, I invited friends to go for a walk. I walked with former coworkers, acquaintances and family members.  The fresh air and good conversations did me a lot of good.

Taking steps to heal mentally and physically

Walking became my foundation. I was motivated to walk for another reason.  Before I got sick, I signed up for several half marathons to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I finished the New Orleans half marathon in March, just three months into my treatment. I have never been so proud.  I had to walk the race, but I finished. Several months later, I also completed the Twin Cities 10 mile race, and the Savannah half marathon.

My unexpected journey made me stronger mentally and physically.  I am more outgoing and more self-assured than ever before.  After all, you cannot be shy walking around with an IV bag strapped to your body.

I share my story to give others hope.

Sonya Goins is also a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Board Member/MN Dakota Chapter.  You can find her blog at SonyaStrong.com. She also has a podcast on iTunes and GooglePlay entitled “Conversations about Crohn’s and Colitis.”

Discovering Gratitude While Living with IBD

When you think about life with inflammatory bowel disease, are you able to think beyond the pain and suffering? Are you able to pause and take time to reflect on how your illness has shaped you into who you are today? Are you willing to look at something that continually challenges you, scares you and leaves you drained—and think…you know what, I wouldn’t have my life any other way? _F6B0037

It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience to come to this place of realization. Until recent years, I’m not sure I would have ever been able to say a positive word about what it’s like to live with Crohn’s disease. But now, more than 13 years later with this disease, I feel my vision has gone from black and white and changed to color. I have peripheral vision I never had before. I’m able to see how my past shaped me into who I am today. I’m able to recognize how the pain and hurt has altered my perspective and forced me to take the blinders off. I can see moments where I’ve risen above and shown courage and bravery. Some memories are painful, some make me feel sad, others make me feel proud.

There comes a time in a chronic illness patient journey that you stop thinking “why me” and instead “why not me.” I don’t like placing pity on myself. I don’t prefer to fantasize about the days before I was diagnosed. Instead—I enjoy reflecting on how I’ve evolved through the years, despite the setbacks and the scares. wedding1Chronic illness, while physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, also has the ability to show us the beauty of the world around us and all that we’re capable of. Instead of thinking how my Crohn’s holds me back—I think about how I’ve lived despite its restraints.

As the years go by, and the diagnosis “anniversary celebrations” roll on, I continue to grow and feel a renewed sense of self within my illness and within myself. As you experience procedures, self-injections, surgeries and the unknown, you get desensitized, but you also gain strength. The day-to-day management of an invisible chronic illness is exhausting and can be overwhelming, but there comes a time when you feel a sense of harmony with your body. You know what it’s trying to tell you. You know when you need to listen. You understand when you need to act.

_F6B0340My disease has helped me take on motherhood. It’s made me soak in the feel-good moments, take mental snapshots of the happy days and celebrate the beauty of life. My disease has forced me to press pause when I’m doing too much, it’s reminded me of the importance of self-care and taking time for me. It’s shown me which people are meant to be in my life and which are meant to be in the backstory.

It’s a season of gratitude. A season of thanks. A season of family, friends and celebrations. This year—I’m choosing to celebrate how Crohn’s disease has guided me to the present. Beyond thankful for a husband who’s my rock, a son who is healthy as can be and a daughter on the way in January. My body may not be “healthy” …but, it’s still managed to create miracles.

It hasn’t always been a fun ride, it’s been brutal at times. But it’s my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Please do yourself a favor and give yourself time to reflect on how your disease has shaped you into the person you are today. By showing gratitude about living with IBD, it’s one of many moments where you can show your disease who is in the driver seat and continually rise above.

How Hurricane Maria changed the path of my Crohn’s Disease: A Puerto Rican patient’s journey

I recently connected with a fellow IBD patient on Twitter named Jessica Pérez-Cámara. Aside from both of us battling Crohn’s disease and both of us taking Humira, we’re also both journalists. This week—Jessica shares an emotional piece about what it was like to take on inflammatory bowel disease, amidst a natural catastrophe, mid-flare. I’ll let her take it away.

Life with IBD is hard enough. IMG-5512Try having a flare during the worst natural disaster in the history of your country. It happened to me. I survived.

On September 20, 2017, Category 4 Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing a humanitarian crisis. Maria left nearly 95 percent of the island without communications, water, electricity and with limited medical access.

Many of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens living on the island had restricted access to resources like food, fuel, among many other essential needs. No communication, no cell phones, no internet. Nothing. I am a journalist who, at the time of the storm, was working as a communications assistant in the local Government. My job was to share news to the public before and after the hurricane. My country ended up getting hit with two hurricanes, and my beloved grandmother passed away a few weeks earlier. She died the day before Hurricane Irma. It was all such a whirlwind, as the stress mounted, so did my flare. IMG-5510

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in August 2015, even though I’ve lived with IBD for more than three years, I’m still learning to navigate my illness. Upon my diagnosis, I was put on Asacol and Budesonide. I had been fearful of going on a biologic and did all I could to avoid them. But, deep down I knew the moment would one day come.

Nonstop work after Hurricane Maria

I worked nonstop for months on the initial hurricane recovery efforts. As I took on this responsibility, I was flaring badly. Many hospitals were not working full capacity, running on generators and with shortages of basic medications like IV bags.

I was feeling terrible, exhausted, the fatigue and diarrhea were worsening, but I kept working through the pain. I was putting my duty for my country before my health. I was working long hours and when I got home, it did not get any easier, because life was not the same. Basic things like food, water, fuel for the generators, gas for the cars and even having a good meal or taking a shower were more difficult. My body ached from head to toe. The food was scarce and what was available was mostly junk food, fried food and canned food.

IMG-5513One morning I decided to stop in my GI’s office. He had lost the A/C unit and the office was flooded during the storm. He ordered some labs, an emergency colonoscopy and a few days of rest. I was anxious, exhausted, scared. After the colonoscopy, I was prescribed prednisone for a month and then started Humira.

Humira without electricity at home

I began using Humira in November 2017. My initial four loading dose shots were at my parent’s house, because they had two power generators and could have the refrigerator running 24/7. They kept my Humira for the rest of the blackout for us, which lasted 114 days.

It’s now a year later. I am back to normalcy – to my new normal- of giving myself painful shots. I’m in the process of receiving the Citrate-free (pain free) Humira and I can hardly wait! Unfortunately, I deal with some side effects from the medication (general body aches and joint pain, fatigue and weakness). That being said, the minor side effects I deal with are manageable and worth it to keep my disease under control.

An important conversation about chronic illness

As a Crohn’s patient and as a Puerto Rican, IMG-5514I hope my experience sheds light on what it’s like for those in the chronic illness community as they endure the repercussions of natural disasters. It’s a critical conversation that needs to happen—preparedness for the IBD community in the face of weather disasters. How can employers, government and society step up to the plate?

One year ago, I began walking the path of the Hurricane to the path of remission. I look forward with a sense of hope for the future both as a person and as a patient.

 

 

Operation “Good Health” with IBD through finding love, raising kids and building your dream

“Crohn’s isn’t what I’d call a “sexy disease” – it’s hard to invite the love of your life to share a bathroom with you. You are scared, embarrassed, worried and everything in between. However, my bathroom habits are out of my control. And, even though I’d give my arm for my incredible man, I don’t want him to know what goes on in the bathroom. I want to be sexy, a woman of mystery … and IBD sometimes isn’t… well, hot.”

If that didn’t get your attention, then I don’t know what will. Katy Love is an IBD warrior who recently tied the knot October 21 with the love of her life. Katy+Vince-12Sickness and health truly take on a whole different meaning when you live with a chronic illness. Katy witnessed her husband Vince’s compassion and character while they were dating.

She had a wound vac that was loud, smelled and made it impossible to shower. Vince loved her despite her health complications and Katy said her Crohn’s brought them closer throughout their courtship.

“I’m extremely blessed to have a supportive partner. As anyone with IBD knows, you have great days and horrible days, sometimes within the same week. I truly believe IBD has made me a better, more understanding partner. I value each day, especially days without pain. And I value Vince and his support. From day one, he’s wanted to be involved in my Crohn’s journey. Going to doctor appointments, infusions, participating in fundraisers and holding my hair when I get sick,” said Katy.

While Katy doesn’t allow her IBD to define her, it’s a huge part of her day-to-day existence. It impacts her as a mother, a business owner, a partner, a friend…and especially as a wife. Diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 17, more than 21 years ago, she’s endured 40-plus colonoscopies, multiple bowel surgeries and removal of more than 75 percent of her bowel.

Preparing for the big day

Leading up to her wedding day she instated Katy_Vince_Family_137“Operation: Good Health.” She made it a priority to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night, as lack of rest tends to be a trigger for her. She was on a mission to hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. To set herself up for success and limit any surprise flares, she planned out her meals the entire wedding weekend. For example, she does well with bland foods, like noodles, rice, chicken and (big one) avoiding alcohol. And finally, she delegated responsibilities (aka stress) to friends and family. Katy admits she’s pretty Type A and would much rather do things herself than hand them off. However, she wanted to enjoy her wedding and because of her proactive planning, she was able to do just that!

Katy is a shining example of living life to the fullest, despite her disease. She was blessed with three, beautiful, healthy children. Fall 2017 Family 1Reagan, Grayson and Carter may not understand why their mommy is in bed or why she needs to pull over on the side of the road when she gets sick, but Katy’s Crohn’s has taught her children a great deal of empathy at a young age. A few weeks ago, she was in debilitating pain and her nine-year-old offered to make dinner for her brothers. She poured them each a bowl of cereal and that was everything.

Along with motherhood, Katy has managed to have a successful career in public relations, including serving as Vice President of Global Communications for Crocs, Inc. Recently, she launched her own PR firm, Comm Oddities Inc. that specializes in food, fashion and footwear. There is nothing this woman can’t do.

Advice after living with Crohn’s for 21 years

As far as advice for the rest of us? Boulder_Headshots_043

“Be kind to yourself. I’m very guilty of getting frustrated with myself. I want to do it all, all the time. Give 100 percent to my job, my family, my friends … and some days just getting out of bed is challenging.

One of my favorite quotes about living with a chronic illness (that’s most of the time invisible) is “Those with chronic illnesses aren’t faking being sick, they are faking being well.”  That really hits home. You don’t want to burden others, so you simply say, “I’m fine” and smile. But, asking for help isn’t a weakness. Those close to you want to help, they simply don’t know how.”

 

Juggling two under two while taking on Crohn’s disease

As the weeks go by and the days get closer for baby girl to arrive, I can’t help but feel anxious and nervous about what it’s going to be like having two kids under two, while managing my Crohn’s disease. Throughout this pregnancy, I’ve quickly come to realize how my needs and health oftentimes take a backseat as I take care of my little guy. IMG_3626While I feel incredibly blessed to be in this position, it comes with its own unique set of worries.

Prior to becoming a mom, my sole focus could be taking care of myself. While hospitalizations and flare ups were always dreadful, looking back, I had no idea how much “easier” it was to go through sickness, when all I had to worry about was me. I think many IBD women are hesitant to become moms because they are fearful of being able to juggle it all. That’s a valid concern, but personally motherhood has always been something I’ve dreamed of and wanted. I wasn’t about to allow my disease to hold me back from experiencing it.

That being said—you have to find patience within yourself and a trust in listening to your body’s symptoms to know when you’re doing too much and need to slow down. You need to be willing to wave the white flag at times and surrender to your illness. You have to be willing to ask for help. You need to be confident in the fact that your children will grow up differently than others. IMG_3802They will live within a home that talks about chronic illness and experiences it each day. Your little ones will learn compassion and perspective before they are even able to truly communicate. If you have a child and chronic illness, you know what I mean.

So far, I’ve been a mom for 19 months. I’m still a rookie. I’m still in the trenches of learning how to navigate this new life. But, I’m proud of how I’ve taken on the role of motherhood and balanced my illness along with it. I finally feel like I’m in sort of a cruise control with my son. In January, everything will start anew as we welcome our daughter into the world. Reid simply can’t wait for “sissy” …he constantly kisses my belly and tries to pull up my shirt, so he can “see” her.  While I can’t wait either, the fear of a postpartum flare once again weighs on my heart. There are so many what ifs as a chronic illness mom.

What if I’m hospitalized and have to leave TWO babies at home until I’m well? What if my disease spirals out of control and I’m home alone with nowhere to turn? What if the stress of taking care of two children with limited help sends me into a flare up? What if I’m not enough? I’m trying to be proactive now to prepare myself mentally for both the magical moments and the challenges that I’ll be presented with when we become a family of four. IMG_3723Whether it’s with motherhood or with living life with Crohn’s, it’s important to remind yourself that everything goes through stages. There are highs and lows, but each moment is fleeting.

One of the most amazing parts of pregnancy when you have chronic illness is witnessing your body create a miracle, right before your eyes, after years of letting you down. It’s a beautiful reminder that despite your illness and the parts of you internally that tend to malfunction, you are still able to carry a child and bring a life into this world. Pregnancy and motherhood have given me a renewed sense of self in my patient journey with Crohn’s. Motherhood has helped me love my body again, after years of damning it. It’s shown me that while IBD has shaken me to the core and blindsided me countless times, it hasn’t taken away one of the life’s most gracious gifts and experiences.

 

How a first-grader is taking her Crohn’s and turning it into a positive

IMG_0029She’s a ball of energy and a sweet little chatter box, wise beyond her years. Seven-year-old Brooke, of Missouri, was diagnosed seven months ago with Crohn’s disease. She spiked a fever on New Year’s Eve 2017 that lasted for eight days, and from that point forward, life was never the same.

I had a chance to get dinner with Brooke and her mom, Tara, this past week. I couldn’t help but look at this little girl in awe. Despite already being hospitalized three times since March and starting on a biologic drug in August, it was as if she has dealt with the disease her entire life. She talked candidly about all the pokes of the needles and how she tells all the nurses they are her friend. She raved about the tater tots and pancakes at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. And laughed about how annoying it is when the lights go on in your hospital room in the middle of the night. She was more like a teenager, than a little girl.

Here’s how her Crohn’s diagnosis came about. After ruling out the flu, mono, strep and a UTI, doctors discovered she was anemic. The pattern of fevers continued for two months. Still no answers. As time passed, Brooke’s pediatrician started considering a GI issue. After an endoscopy and colonoscopy, IMG_0409Brooke and her family were told she had Crohn’s disease on March 2, 2018. In a matter of months, she went from being an outgoing, energetic kid to a hospital patient on a laundry list of medications. She developed her first fistula while on methotrexate and was on prednisone for more than three months.

Dealing with the diagnosis

Fast forward to this past summer and this sweet little girl received her first Remicade infusion four days before she started first grade. Brooke is the first person in her family to receive an IBD diagnosis. Her mom, Tara, says these past months have been the hardest she’s ever endured. Her mind races with the what ifs, as she navigates her family’s new normal.

“Were there signs we should’ve seen sooner? Ditarad we do something to cause this? Were we making the right decisions for her treatment and care? Brooke has a HUGE personality. When she was first sick, and before her diagnosis, she just stopped talking. She would lie on the couch for hours and hours every day. This was not my Brooke. She normally can’t sit still for more than a few minutes! I was SO scared because I knew something wasn’t right. Watching her in pain and miserable for two months while we waited on this diagnosis was miserable. You just feel helpless…all we could do was love her and pray,” said Tara.

Juggling life and family from the hospital

Tara and her family have encountered many challenges along the way. Between the costs of the medications, the hospital stays, all the tests and trying to juggle work. To say it’s been a lot, is an understatement. Tara’s husband, Josh, works from home which helps, but Tara is a preschool special-education teacher. She was out of paid sick days by the end of January of this year. Although both employers have been understanding of Brooke’s health situation, the family has taken a big hit financially.

remicadeWhen you’re going through this, you are spread so thin and it’s difficult to ask for help. We have another daughter, Haley, who is 10. Of course, when Brooke was in the hospital, either Josh or I were with her every minute. We live over an hour from Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, so it wasn’t possible to pop up for a quick visit. It was also hard for us to ask for support. We needed help mentally, financially, and logistically with many things. We have an AMAZING support system of family and friends who have helped us throughout this process.”

An advocate from the start

Brooke has been a true IBD warrior every step of the way. She doesn’t even cry anymore when she gets her IV. Brooke openly communicates about her diagnosis and is able to tell you which foods trigger symptoms, and which are safe for her to eat. She explained to me how she’ll have one strawberry at lunch at school, if it doesn’t “hurt her tummy” she has two strawberries the next day, and three the day after that. This little girl just gets it. Tara says in just a few short months, Brooke has already become a very good advocate for herself.

“Watching my baby go through this has changed me forever. IMG_2456Although I know she doesn’t know yet, what it really means to have Crohn’s, I am always so amazed by her strength. She talks about it very ‘matter-of-factly’. It doesn’t define her. I hope and pray constantly that anything that I encounter, I can deal with, the way she has dealt with this. It’s made our family stronger by seeing that we can face this together.”

A GoFundMe page has been created for Brooke and her family. Click here to submit a donation, every dollar helps!

Life Insurance and IBD: Breaking down walls and understanding coverage

Have a pre-existing condition? Do you have medical insurance? What about life insurance? Today—a look into the process of getting life insurance and the importance of getting it, as it relates to inflammatory bowel disease.

Mike Raines Mike headshothas worked in the life insurance special risk marketplace for more than 30 years. He specializes in helping those with pre-existing conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While he’s not able to represent everyone, he works closely with companies who underwrite conditions such as IBD the most favorably.

First off, you may be reading this wondering if you need life insurance protection. Mike tells me those with pre-existing conditions should be aware that life insurance should be purchased at the earliest age possible, since future mortality costs are typically higher on those with pre-existing medical conditions. That cost will only increase with age.

“Anyone, (not just those with pre-existing conditions or Crohn’s), who provides financial needs for their family or business probably has a need for life insurance protection. Life insurance can provide a large sum of cash within days to help provide time to for those who need it to adjust. Some of the planning needs for life insurance can include personal need such as: replacement of income, mortgage protection, pay for future college expenses, pay for outstanding debts including funeral expenses, spousal needs, future retirement account losses,” explained Mike.

calculator-385506_1920Insurance can be confusing—no matter what type you’re dealing with. Some of the most common misconceptions with life insurance protection are that it’s too expensive, too complicated and that conditions such as IBD are not insurable. This is simply not the case.

“The number one secret to finding the lowest rates on life insurance if you have Crohn’s disease or any pre-existing condition is to work with an independent agent/agency who has experience in the special risk arena. An independent agent will typically offer many carriers to choose from. Also, an independent agent/agency who specializes in pre-existing medical conditions will also offer those carriers that underwrite not only preferred risks, but those risks that may be higher risk such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes, etc. Experience and knowledge matters. Your agent is your best advocate. Put him to work to find you the protection you need,” said Mike.

At Special Risk Term, each individual case is treated as such. Mike and his team individually underwrite each applicant, based on personal medical history. For example, let’s say one person has Crohn’s disease, but also smokes, is overweight and doesn’t follow doctor’s instructions. While another with Crohn’s disease is very compliant, exercises every day, does not use tobacco and meets the height/weight chart. The person who is “doctor compliant,” will most likely be given a much better rate class for life insurance.

“Throughout my career, I’ve found it was easy to find coverage for someone in “perfect” health. I found it was much harder to find, negotiate and bind coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions. I also found that those individuals who we found protection for were so much more grateful and happy that someone would fight to find them coverage. Many had been declined multiple times or had almost given up on finding any coverage, so for them to be able to protect their families was very gratifying. Obviously, sometimes not everyone is insurable or insurable at an affordable rate, but I like the challenge of helping find coverage for those who don’t know where to turn.”

Click here to learn more about IBD as it relates to life insurance protection.

 

How living with Crohn’s inspires this medical student to make a difference

There’s never a good time to receive a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease. The earth shattering news tends to flip your world upside down. For 27-year-old Alyssa Alda Clements of New Jersey, her Crohn’s disease diagnosis could not have come at a worse time. Alyssa was in her first year of medical school and had recently lost three family members.

“The hardest part about my diagnosis was the time I spent in the hospital or being homebound, because it took me away from my schooling. Having to take medical leaves from my DREAM was so heart breaking. I had wanted to be a doctor since I was three. In time, I started to feel better when we got things under control and was able to go back to medical school and, knock on wood, I am still hanging in here,” Alyssa says.

Being sick never made her want to quit, if anything it made her realize how much we need doctors, especially ones who care. Alyssa says her patient perspective provides her with insight when it comes to the type of doctor she wants to be and the type of care she aspires to provide day in and day out to those who depend on her. alyssa7

“My first trip to the ER nearly killed me because the doctor didn’t believe my pain, told me it was in my head and that I was a crazy medical student, and didn’t even touch or listen to my abdomen. It turned out to be an obstruction and thankfully I listened to my gut and went to a different ER the next day,” Alyssa recalls.

Fast forward a week later, Alyssa woke up from her first colonoscopy to learn she has severe Crohn’s disease in her large intestine, small intestine and rectum. The GI spoke candidly and said her odds of ever becoming a doctor were slim, due to her health. But, Alyssa didn’t let the naysayers stop her from following her dreams.

Becoming a doctor while living with Crohn’s

As many know, working in the medical field is not for the faint of heart. alyssa6The profession entails a great deal of stress, both physically and mentally. Not only are the hours long, but you are exposed to a ton of people who are sick, while you are immunocompromised.

“I have learned so much about empathy and sympathy as a patient, the way some physicians made me feel pushed me to continue in medical school and be a better caregiver than they were to me at my worst moments. I have learned to listen to the patient because I have been ignored. I know just what being a patient feels like, how scary, uncomfortable, painful, that being sick can be, and I want to be there for others who are in that position. When I finally found my amazing care team that I have now, I became hopeful that I could be that person for someone someday,” Alyssa says.

As far as advice for fellow IBD’ers, Alyssa says be honest with yourself and what you can handle. Don’t let your disease limit you, but also know that it’s ok to be kind to your body and slow down when you need to. Alyssa says she’s modified her life so that she’s able to handle medical school and keep her well-being in mind at the same time. She relies heavily on the support of her family and boyfriend and makes self-care a part of her daily life.

Big city, bright lightsalyssa people

Alyssa was recently featured by People Magazine, that’s how her and I connected on Twitter! I saw her inspiring story and immediately wanted to share it with you. She went to New York City and was interviewed as a woman who is overcoming chronic illness. Talk about a great person to represent those of us in the thick of fighting this disease.

Her attitude is admirable, “I want to show anyone that they can be strong and resilient and still achieve their dreams after a diagnosis. I want to show young women and girls with illnesses that they are still beautiful, that their bodies might be constantly changing, but they are still themselves, they are still amazing.”

Bouncing back from difficult days

In her first year of diagnosis, Alyssa was in and out of the hospital. She endured more than 12 bowel obstructions, a PICC line, NG tube and tests galore. While at Disney World that November, Alyssa fell to the floor of her hotel room. She came to find out she had multiple abscesses and fistulas. After four weeks of total bowel rest, she had an ileocecectomy. A total of 13 inches of her intestine was removed. In her eyes, the surgery saved her life. Alyssa has been on Humira for almost five years. She says the new citrate free formula has changed her life (and I must agree!!)

“Days can be hard, filled with pain, fatigue, never ending symptoms, but always know that you are not alone. There is an army of us fighting diseases you can’t see.” You got that right, Alyssa!

When I looked in her eyes, I saw myself

I recently met a 15-year-old girl who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Like many parents of teens newly diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, her mom reached out to me for words of advice and comfort. It’s not too often that upon learning this news and connecting with families that I get to meet both the parent and teen in the same room, at the same time.

Maybe this can be chalked up to pregnancy hormones. Maybe it was because my heart hurt for her. It was probably both. But, I kept getting emotional looking at her and talking to her. My eyes welled up with tears because without her saying a word, I felt and could see her pain. In that moment, I felt like I had time traveled back to the first few months of my diagnosis.

I felt the loneliness and isolation she was feeling, even though she was in a roomful of people. I watched as we ate dinner and she quietly sauntered in the hallway, behind the kitchen table to make her way to the bathroom…more than six times in less than an hour. I listened as people questioned why she wasn’t eating…and told her to get ready for dessert. Her mom telling us as she was in the bathroom that she’d dropped four pounds in the last week and only had an Ensure to drink that day. I told everyone to stop talking about food and allow her to come into the kitchen when she felt ready. I remember all too well how it feels when people are watching you like a hawk, questioning every morsel you put down your throat. Food and the relationship we have with it while taking on IBD and navigating familial relationships and friendships can feel like psychological warfare.

She pulled her mom to the side after she overheard her telling me about her medical issues and told her not to tell anyone. I touched her arm and with tears in my eyes, I quietly told her I’ve had Crohn’s for more than 13 years…and that I understood how she felt. I pointed to my 18-month-old running around and to my baby bump and told her that if she wanted a family in her future, it was still possible, despite her disease.

Oftentimes, it can be difficult to connect with teenagers, because they seem guarded and are private about their disease. For many, it’s still a top-secret part of who they are. I get it. I took me nearly a decade to share that I had Crohn’s disease with the world. There’s no sense in rushing anybody. We all find the time that is right. We all know when we feel strong enough physically, mentally and emotionally to open ourselves up to questions, opinions and thoughts from those around us. It’s completely normal to want to keep others (especially strangers) at arm’s length, because during those impressionable young years, you don’t want to be seen as different. You know the moment you say, “I have IBD.”… it’s truly your reality. Your identity, how people view you…it’s all forever changed.

A message for parents

Parents—I know it must be SO difficult to feel like you’re on the outside looking in at your child in debilitating pain as they deal with the burden of a lifelong disease for which there is no cure. If this is a “new” disease to you and your family, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the information on the internet, what you’re hearing from specialists and what is best for your child. Lean on people like me, who live your child’s reality. Ask us the questions. Talk to us about how it feels. Equip yourself with knowledge and understanding so you can get acclimated to life with chronic disease in your family, just as your child needs to. It’s a learning process for every person in the family. Have patience. I know it sucks. I know there are times you just feel like screaming from the tallest mountain… “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING!!!???” I know you are reminiscing back to when life seemed so simple. When health was never in question. There’s no use in romanticizing the past.

You must embrace your new normal and be a pillar of strength for your child. If they see you waver, if they see you upset and frantic, that will directly impact how they feel. Communicate with your child and see if they’d like to talk with someone else who is living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. If not now, maybe later. The IBD family is strong, resilient and welcoming…and we’re not going anywhere.