My Tribute to the IBD Family: You are visible

The theme of World IBD Day (which was yesterday, May 19) was to make the invisible, visible. Here’s my tribute to my fellow IBD warriors and their caregivers.

To the newly diagnosed…

To the person going through their first procedure whether it’s a CT scan or a colonoscopy…colonoscopy

To the parent of a child battling this disease…

To the person being wheeled in for their first surgery…

To the person taking their first steps out of the hospital bed while on the road to recovery…

To the person glancing at their incision for the first time…

To the person looking in the mirror and not recognizing the reflection looking back…

To the person on a liquid diet because it’s too painful to eat actual food…

To the person on a steroid feeling unattractive, irritable and high strung…

To the woman wondering if her body is strong enough to carry a baby…IMG_3723

To the man who’s concerned about being able to be a source of strength for his family…

To the pregnant woman worried about flaring and how it will impact her unborn child…

To the person beginning a biologic or a new medication, who’s petrified of the laundry list of side effects…

To the person crying themselves to sleep because they feel alone in their struggles…

To the mom who feels like she’s waging a never-ending war against her fatigue…

To the teen wondering if they’ll be able to go to college…

To the college student embarrassed of going to the bathroom in the dorms…

_F6B4724To the person nervous to open up in a relationship and disclose they have this disease…

To the person who had to get out of a relationship or was left because the support was lacking…

To the bride or the groom worried about having disease symptoms on their wedding day…

To the person shaking with fear in the parking lot of their doctor’s office, nervous to walk in and face the music…

To the person boarding an airplane nervous about symptoms and being around germs…remedy-nsmith-stlouis-1284

To the person who’s just been told another medication has failed them…

To the person lacking a genuine support system…

To the person who feels misunderstood, frustrated, and judged…

To the person sitting on the toilet contemplating whether a flare is starting to strike…

To the person in the passenger seat being rushed to the emergency room, yet again…

To the person getting their blood drawn staring at a focal point on the wall…

To the person who is constantly approached with the latest and greatest “fix”, “cure”, or way to “heal” …

natalie mothers dayTo the person worried about passing this dreadful disease onto their children…

To the person with the bad veins dealing with their eighth IV poke…

To the person who feels lost and misses who they were prior to being diagnosed…

To the person lying in the fetal position trying to get through this moment…

To the community who feels like home to me.

I see you. I hear you. I believe in you. I’m here for you. I love you.

We’ve all been these people. We all know this is the reality of life with IBD. It’s not easy. It’s scary. It can be overwhelming. The emotional pain can oftentimes be worse than the physical pain. Living with a chronic illness, no matter what your age or circumstance is tough. There’s no sugar coating it.

At the same time, I want you to whole-heartedly believe that while this disease can rob you of joy, it can also provide you with perspective, strength, empathy, understanding, gratitude, patience, and clarity. You my friends, are far from invisible.IMG_3434

I see you. I hear you. I believe in you. I’m here for you. I love you.

Thank you for helping me to see the light on the dark days, inspiring me when I need it most, and showing me that there’s much more to life than being a patient. I hope I do the same for you, always. Use your journey. Use your story. Use your setbacks. Use all that you are, to inform, educate, and implore others to want to better understand your reality. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

XOXO-Natalie

From one IBD mom to another: An interview with Tekhni Wovens Founder, Alisa DeMarco

When a family member is diagnosed with IBD the same week as you, it can be sort of a saving grace.

Alisa

One month post diagnosis–dealing with the side effects of prednisone.

My cousin’s wife, Alisa DeMarco, was told she had Crohn’s disease a matter of days before I was in July 2005. At the time, she was one of the only people I knew who had the condition—one of the only people I could confide in who could genuinely understand my reality. At the time of diagnosis and throughout your patient journey—these bonds and relationships are the glue that keeps you together.

alisa3Now, nearly 14 years later—her and I have come a LONG way. She’s on Remicade. I’m on Humira. We are both mothers. We are both wives. Alisa didn’t allow her disease to stop her from following her personal or professional dreams. In 2013, she left corporate America and founded Tekhni Wovens. As an IBD mom and successful business owner, her perspective and ability to overcome the odds is something we can all admire and look up to. This week—an interview with a woman I’m lucky to call family.

NH: What inspired you to create Tekhni Wovens?

AD: As a full-time working mother who enjoyed caring for my children with the help of wraps and slings, I quickly found myself as part of the babywearing community.  Over time I shifted from consumer to manufacturer, designing textiles when I didn’t find what I was looking for— a fashion-forward aesthetic in easy-to-wear blends at accessible prices.

NH: As a woman with IBD, a mom of four, and a wife–how do you balance leading a successful business and keeping your disease symptoms under control?

AD: Balance is a hard ideal to maintain– and I am not always successful! Image-58 I multi-task everything, stay on top of my biologic infusions, rest when possible and, plan my diet loosely around a mix of SCD and low gluten eating. Getting help is difficult, but I feel lucky to have a supportive husband and local family network. My travel schedule wears me down– but thankfully most of my disease symptoms are well controlled.

NH: What advice do you have for fellow IBD’ers who have big dreams but are hesitant to go after them because of their disease?

AD: Your dreams don’t have to be an all or nothing pursuit!  Tekhni started as an idea to make a better product and help support my family… and evolved into multifaceted business with accounts worldwide.  However, it took years, and many winding paths to get there. Know that there’s no deadline or requirement for any passion you want to pursue.  Start with an idea, and break it down into bite-sized pieces. Your disease is only one small part of your identity, and cannot prevent you from planning and dreaming and accomplishing daily tasks on your own timeline. Image-56

NH: Why are you passionate about babywearing?

AD: Babywearing and attachment parenting are very close to my heart– they are natural extensions of our mothering instincts. They help me care for my young, closely-spaced children while working full-time and managing a household with a husband who is often away for work. Image-55Babywearing helps me effectively multi-task and meet my all children’s needs at the same time. It also helps address postpartum depression, by syncing mother and baby, and raising oxytocin levels.  I believe babywearing is a necessity that should be taught to every single expecting parent and caregiver!

NH: Why is babywearing so beneficial for those with IBD in particular?

AD: Babywearing is a perfect fit for people with autoimmune diseases– it helps you hold, carry, and comfort your baby while taking weight and strain off of your back and hips. For difficult days, it can literally be another set of hands.  And keeping baby in proximity leads to less crying, less stress, and more rest for both baby and mother. Image-60As a bonus, a variety of baby carriers can be adjusted to accommodate an ostomy or j-pouch.

Stay tuned to my Instagram account (@nataliannhayden) for a giveaway on Friday, May 17. We’ll be giving away a Studio Tekhni Ring Sling! The winner will be announced on World IBD Day (May 19). Good luck!

 

Why I cried talking about Crohn’s at my friend’s rehearsal dinner

I stood before a room of strangers last week and shared some sentiments about my friend Jenna who was marrying the love of her life the next morning. Chances are—you’ve been at a rehearsal dinner and participated in the ‘open mic’ opportunities.

IMG-0840

Jenna’s birthday, 2009

As a former TV newsie, I always enjoy a chance to speak and articulate my feelings! I started out talking about how we knew one another and the type of friend she was—and then I went for it. I broke out the “C” card…the “Crohn’s” talk. Most of the people in the room were strangers to me until that night, some probably had no idea what Crohn’s was.

In that moment, I tearfully thanked my friend of more than 12 years in front of a roomful of people for always being present, always genuinely caring and for always being there not only in life’s amazing moments—but also through every flare up I’ve experienced along the way. When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, you don’t stop and think twice about which friends are going to be there, you just expect it. Unfortunately, you’ll find many ‘friends’ tend to fade to the background and will continue to do so throughout your patient journey.IMG-0841

This friend—is the opposite. This friend has sent me countless snail mail letters on adorable stationary—some with Ryan Gosling’s face plastered all over it, others with an inspirational girl gang type quote. Each time I’ve been hospitalized, she’s been my constant ray of sunshine. Always texting. Always calling. Always checking in on me. Her efforts seem effortless. And that my friends, is priceless. Rather than feeling guilt for being “that friend” she makes me feel empowered and loved.

When you live with IBD (or any chronic illness for that matter)—seek out your Jenna(s). IMG-0838Find the people who lift you up. Trust in the bonds you create with those who are there for you because they want to be out of the goodness in their heart, not as an obligation. Hold on closely to the relationships that spark joy and don’t extinguish your flame. Lean on those who are willing to give you their hand to lift you up, even when you don’t ask for it.

At Jenna’s rehearsal dinner, I wanted her to know. I wanted her to know how her compassion and empathy meant the world to me. I wanted her to know how much I appreciate all the effort she continually puts into our friendship, despite living out of state from one another for the past decade. I wanted her friends and family members, and her now husband to see the impact she’s made on my life and how her efforts to be there, make her who she is.

My hope for the IBD family is friendships like this. The ones that stand the test of time. The ones that ground you. The ones that show you the beauty of another’s heart. The ones that remind you that you aren’t ever going into battle alone. The ones that serve as your light when the days are dark. They exist. They are possible. You just need to find them.

Wedding photo cred: Savannah Kay Photography

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.

Putting the war paint on and beating Leukemia: Lukas’s journey to wellness

I handed a few toys to the cashier. She smiled and asked me whose birthday it was. I paused and said…actually this is for my cousin’s son—he was just diagnosed with leukemia yesterday. Saying those words out loud was physically painful. Our family’s new reality seems surreal. IMG_8929I never dreamed I’d be walking around a toy store looking for gifts to comfort and distract my cousin’s darling, smiley, 21-month-old son. But here we are.

We all know how heartbreaking and scary cancer is. We’re aware of the devastation it causes and the havoc it reeks on thousands of families every single day. When this disease chooses to present in a child, a baby, it rips your heart out and reminds you of how fragile life is.

I come from a big, Greek family. We are incredibly close. Our friends even know who our cousins are. All our lives are intertwined in a beautiful way. Everyone is always amazed at the tight bond we share with one another, often not letting a day go by without being in contact. It’s all I’ve known my whole life. At times, many of us take this closeness for granted—because it’s our norm. When the going gets tough though, our family rallies like no other.

IMG_8786When we got the call March 19th that my cousin Nicole’s sweet boy Lukas was diagnosed with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) my mom and I let out deep guttural cries. It felt like an out of body experience. The tears poured down our faces. Life stopped in that moment. My husband had to run our 23-month-old son upstairs so he wouldn’t witness our despair. Our boys are only eight weeks apart. Our boys were supposed to have a play date two days later. But now, sweet Lukas was getting chemo in the hospital instead.

That’s how quickly it happened. That’s how fast my cousin’s life changed and flipped upside down. IMG_8932In the blink of a moment—she went from having two perfectly healthy sons—to finding out her baby was in for the fight of his life. A fight that would involve 3.5 years of chemotherapy. A fight that would involve countless nights in the hospital, setbacks, highs and lows with dire consequences, and having to watch your child take on the beast that is cancer.

I sat in the room while the oncologist walked through the treatment plan with my cousin, her husband and my aunt. She spoke gently and calmly. Her confidence was comforting. When she handed over a packet of stapled information with Lukas’s name on the top…followed by (“Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia” below it) it felt like a punch to the gut. The words on the pages looked more like a college syllabus for an upcoming school year. Each day and treatment listed seemed overwhelming and scary. It’s going to be a long road ahead. A journey like no other. A battle that no child or parent should ever have to fight. A burden too cumbersome for anyone’s shoulders.

When Lukas received his chemo infusion that day, I looked at my cousin Nicole. IMG_8778She held her baby tightly, sobbing in silence as he looked around the room, unaware of the poison getting pumped through his veins. It killed me to see her go through this. It’s truly the unthinkable to watch someone you love hurt so badly as they take on the unknown.

Once you become a parent, these type of tragedies and health crises hit you in a whole different way. They remind us that no one is invincible, and you never know when the tide is going to change. As a parent, your child getting cancer is your worst nightmare. We all wish we could take it from him. Lukas is so young, so helpless. But he’s also so much more.

Lukas is resilient. Lukas is strong. Lukas is brave. Lukas is a fighter. This 25-pound boy, with so much life to live is not going to let cancer take him down. Lukas is going to show each and every one of us the power of prayer, the importance of faith and the strength we can find within ourselves even when we feel weak. He’s going to inspire and implore us to be better. IMG_8933He’s going to give life a whole new perspective. He’s going to thrive. Lukas is going to navigate these unknown waters and open our eyes to the beauty of a feel-good day.

And someday we’re all going to look back on these dark, difficult days and look at him and wonder how we got to this place. Someday Lukas will be free of cancer. Someday he’ll be a little boy who once had cancer. But for now, and always, he’s a warrior. Not only him, but his mom, dad and brother. The war paint is on. The first week of battle is almost over. And from this point forward they and we are all forever changed.

 

How it feels to be hospitalized as a mom with Crohn’s

It’s my greatest fear, having to be hospitalized with a Crohn’s flare as a mom of two little ones. It’s something I think about all too often. The thought alone scares me. It’s difficult to imagine the reality of the experience. Since becoming a mom, I’ve been fortunate enough to stay out of the hospital. Unfortunately, for a friend of mine in the IBD community—she’s had to face this reality all too often.

Her son, Beckham is two months older than Reid. Our little guys could pass for brothers. This week—a guest post from Brooke Retherford, a fellow IBD mama from Wisconsin. She shares the raw emotions she’s experienced since her diagnosis at age 13.

IMG_2014I’ve had my fair share of surprises and obstacles with Crohn’s disease. My patient journey includes numerous surgeries, multiple doctor appointments a week, sitting in hospitals getting Remicade infusions, switching up medications to tame a flare and my all-time favorite, hospitalizations for days at a time. Please note the sarcasm in that last sentence.

These instances are not by any means convenient or something I or anyone else with Crohn’s looks forward to. Hospitalizations are such an emotional time for someone fighting this disease. The uncertainty, the physical pain, being absent from work and home and causing those around you the inconvenience of throwing off schedules for a week at a time. But, the absolute worst part is adding an infant to the mix.

When my son was just 4 weeks old my Crohn’s reared its ugly head and sent me and my disease packing to the hospital for a week. IMG_2015When the pain presented, I tried everything I could to avoid the trip. I just wanted to stay home and live my life with a newborn, enjoy the snuggles and oddly enough the 3 am feedings. Then, the time came when I couldn’t even get through a feeding without needing to set him down so I could run to the bathroom. I knew it was time.

It was no walk in the park having to be away from a little one. I cried. I was upset and mad at my situation. I felt like a terrible mom for letting the disease consume my life and take me away from my child. Luckily, I have a great support system that understands the emotions behind a hospitalization. My husband always brings our son Beckham to the hospital. I get to FaceTime my family to say goodnight and get pictures of my son throughout the day. Family (1)

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last stint in the hospital for Crohn’s. Now that our son is two, I have officially lost count of my time spent away from him. Hospitalizations never get easier. Especially now when he knows I am physically absent from his life and he asks, ‘where did Mommy go?’ It’s heartbreaking and frustrating.

There are always tears involved, mostly mine, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am a better mom for realizing that I need to make myself healthy and not let this disease define what type of parent I am.

Band of IBD brothers: The power of paying it forward

Through the years, I’ve come to notice that much of the IBD advocacy space is female dominated, even though according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, men and women are equally likely to be affected. While there are some vocal and passionate men who share their patient journey, I’ve always felt there’s a need for more.

justin 3I recently connected with Justin Birnbaum. He’s a 26-year-old grad student at Northwestern University who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2015. He underwent a Colectomy in 2016 and six surgeries later, still has an ileostomy. Justin is studying journalism. As part of a school project, he profiled fellow IBD warrior, Robby Denien. Robby has served as a mentor to Justin and helped him take on his disease. This week—a guest post by Justin—about the benefits of their brotherhood, and how their bond has inspired him to give back to those in our community.

On occasion, I remember picturing what Robby Denien looked like.

Despite being in contact for almost three years, we had never met in person — communicating primarily by email and text message. I connected with Robby through a friend from college. She had come to visit me in the hospital and mentioned that her cousin was going through the same thing, a few months further along.

This past summer, being that we were both located in Chicago, we arranged to finally meet. I wanted to share Robby’s story, partly because of how remarkable it was and partly because it mirrored the very same struggles with ulcerative colitis that plagued my life.

After that meeting, there was one observation that stuck with me above all else — he looked healthy. J-Pouch surgery does not work out for everyone. It has a high success rate, but people are still condemned to live with alternative solutions such as a permanent ileostomy.

As someone who already dealt with failed surgeries and remains skeptical about finding a resolution to all of this, it meant a lot to see Robby thriving. He represented what my future could be like.

Leaning on others for support

justin 1When I was diagnosed, my mother and I were terrified. We jumped at the opportunity to speak to someone who knew the ropes and could safely tell us there was light at the end of the tunnel.

And that’s how it all began. Days before my third, and what should have been my final surgery, I sat down with my mother and composed a crisp 250-word email. Twelve hours later, Robby responded.

Robby lives a full life, working full-time as a music teacher. He had no obligation to answer that quickly or respond whatsoever. But he understood what I was going through. In my first email, Robby could see how paralyzed I was with fear of the days to come. He willingly opted to be a mentor to me. Why? Because someone had chosen to do the same for him during his tough times.

“When you meet somebody or have a friend who has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s, there’s almost like a tight brotherhood of sorts,” Robby said.

Life after surgery with IBD

Having surgery is a tough experience to bear. In the case of IBD patients, one of the biggest concerns can be wondering what life will be like after going through all of this. In the first week of our correspondence, I sent him a long list of questions and he responded with a 2,000-word email. His words and his experiences helped calm my fears.

It was more than I could have asked for – a person, with IBD, to bounce any question or idea off of. Someone who was willing to tolerate my craziness and help me come to terms with what would be my new normal.

Paying it forward as a mentor

It also taught me a valuable lesson. When dealing with a life-altering condition like IBD, the best thing you could do for those around you is to share your knowledge and to pay it forward. Ever since Robby became a mentor of sorts to me, I have resolved to do the same for anyone who will allow me. And by doing so, I’ve made some great friends.

It’s always nice to have others to commiserate with when IBD is giving you a tough time. It’s even better when that person knows exactly what you’re experiencing. IBD can have such denigrating effects on your life that it’s easy to ball up and shut out the outside world, but that’s the not the right way to go about it.

We have to stick together. We have to continue to fight. And most of all, we have to keep our heads held high even when this disease brings us down to our darkest of days. That’s what this brotherhood is all about.

How motherhood has helped me discover I’m so much more than my IBD

We walked out of the automatic rotating doors of the hospital and the cold air hit my face. I looked up to the sky in thanks, to show my gratitude and to take in the moment. We had our baby girl in tow, our Sophia Shea. img_5915It was a brisk January morning. Tears filled my eyes as I was overcome with emotion. Our rainbow baby is here, safe and sound. Another pregnancy behind me, a pregnancy that silenced my Crohn’s disease and provided sweet reprieve from my chronic illness. It was time to take Sophia home and start our life as a family of four.

When your health is taken from you and when you receive a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease, life prior to illness often feels like a distant memory. There’s something so sacred and so special about bringing a healthy life into this world, despite your own shortcomings.

My Sophia, much like my sweet son Reid, are my inspiration and motivation to push through the difficult days and find strength and perspective within myself. The creation of their lives has renewed my faith in my own body. img_5886Each time I have a procedure or deal with painful symptoms, I see their faces, I say their names in my head, and it brings me a sense of calm. My goal when Reid was born, was to stay out of the hospital until he could walk, luckily that’s been the case. He’ll be two in March. Now, I have that same goal following the arrival of my daughter.

Pregnancy and child birth bring about such an amazing, miraculous transformation. You see life created right before your eyes. You experience a shift in your own identity. There’s nothing like it. There are no words to capture the emotions and the overwhelming love you feel for your children.

Finding the balance: Motherhood and IBD

17-untitled-9166Motherhood and IBD can be a difficult and challenging balance. Some days the fatigue and symptoms are so debilitating you feel like you’re falling short. At the same time, the days where you’re feeling well, remind you that you are so much more than your disease. Just because you have a chronic illness, doesn’t mean you are robbed of experiencing the beauty of life and what it feels like to have your very own family.

Women often reach out to me with questions regarding fertility, conceiving, pregnancy and what it’s like to take on parenting while battling IBD. There are so many unknowns. I know it can be daunting. img_5751It all starts with recognizing where you are in your patient journey and then determining when your symptoms and body are in the best shape to get pregnant. While everyone’s disease experience is different—the worries, concerns and fears associated with parenting and chronic illness are often the same. Always know you are never alone. Communicating these feelings with those around you, makes all the difference. Lean on our patient community and all those who’ve lived your reality.

I treated my pregnancies the same. I had colonoscopies prior to trying, to ensure I did not have active disease. Once I received that green light, I discussed my game plan with my OB, high risk OB and my GI and had monthly and sometimes weekly appointments. Each time—I stayed on my medication and vitamins from start to finish, which includes the biologic drug, Humira. I had scheduled c-sections for both. It’s all about finding what works for you, what brings you comfort as you embark on this journey and being confident in your decisions. It’s your body. It’s your baby.

29-untitled-9292When Sophia Shea entered the world January 14, 2019, our family received a wonderful gift. Between our son Reid and our baby girl, we could not be more blessed. My chronic illness has given me such an appreciation for health and for life in general. With the pregnancies behind me, I often reflect on where I started back at age 21 in 2005. At that time, in my eyes, I was Natalie and I had Crohn’s disease. There was no telling what my future would hold. Now, nearly 14 years later, at age 35, I’m so much more. I’m a mom to two under two. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m an aunt. I’m a friend. And I also have Crohn’s.

 

Bigger Than Basketball: Taking IBD support to new heights

Loyola University of Chicago Men’s basketball team had a fairytale season last year. There were countless headlines about the Ramblers being THE Cinderella team during March Madness. natalie hayden 5At the time, Nick DiNardi was a senior walk on and served as a scout to prepare players for each game. Aside from his skills on the hardwood, Nick has battled Crohn’s colitis since he was 11.

The diagnosis came at a time when he was enjoying sports and just being a kid. While playing football, he lost around 25 pounds rather abruptly. Along with weight loss, Nick started feeling extremely fatigued, had intense stomach pains, bloody stool and vomiting. About a year after these symptoms persisted and following several tests and scans, Nick received his IBD diagnosis.

“When I was told I had Crohn’s disease, I was not really sure what to think. I had never heard of it and as an 11-year-old, I really turned to my parents to tell me how to handle it. I tried to continue living my active lifestyle, although many times it was very hard. I felt lonely especially because I felt like I was the only person in the world who had this disease. nick and mom, nick sickMy grade school friends had no idea why I was crying in class, oftentimes teasing me while I was in pain,” said Nick. “My parents and siblings were always there to do everything they could to make me feel better, but I just never felt like anyone related to the pain I was in.”

In the 11 years since Nick received his IBD diagnosis, it took him nine years to encounter another person with the disease. He felt isolated and alone in his journey. These feelings inspired him to create a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit called Bigger Than Basketball (BTB) in August 2018.

“The mission of BTB is to raise awareness and funding for research to benefit individuals suffering from Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. BTB encourages, educates, and mentors individuals affected by these diseases to achieve their goals while managing their illness,” said Nick.natalie hayden 2

One of Nick’s main missions is to make those who are diagnosed with IBD have a solid support system. He hopes BTB will serve as a resource of comfort, a safe space for those in the IBD community to share their stories in order to help others directly or indirectly affected by these diseases. His goal is to create a network of support that allows those of us with IBD to take off our mask and be real about your struggles.

“IBD is a beast of a disease. You can have great days where you feel active and energetic, but you can also have days where you don’t feel like talking or even getting out of bed. With the creation of our network, we want to allow people to express what type of day they are having, so others may be able to relate with their current situation,” explained Nick.

“Bigger Than Basketball is truly an exciting new organization, as one of its key goals is to raise awareness in young persons diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis and show they are not alone,  there are others just like them who understand and are experiencing what they are feeling, and that they can still achieve their dreams with the proper understanding and education about their condition,” said Dr. Russell Cohen, MD, FACG, AGAF.

As a member of the Board of Directors and Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Chicago Medicine, Dr. Cohen believes BTB is truly a unique way to reach young people who need help, while expanding awareness and funding with the aim to conquer these conditions in our lifetime.

It’s Nick’s hope that BTB’s network will serve as a buddy system and provide a safety net for people to fall back on. Along with joining the BTB network, you can volunteer and attend upcoming events or donate to the cause. Nick is also looking for people to join the associate board, preferably those living with IBD. To learn more, email: info@biggerthanbasketball.org. natalie hayden 4

Nick’s IBD has also inspired him to work in the field of medicine, specifically research. He currently works at the University of Chicago with a focus on IBD and Celiac research.

Be sure to show some love to Bigger Than Basketball on social media:

Twitter: BTB_Foundation

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My top 5 wishes for those with IBD

As we bid farewell to 2018 there is much to reflect on. Each year brings new experiences, relationships and opportunities. Some years leave more of an imprint on our memory and on our heart, than others. When you think back on the past 365 days what were the highlights? What were the low points?

IMG_4926For me—the past nine months I’ve been incredibly grateful to have another healthy pregnancy, that silenced my Crohn’s symptoms. I’m also celebrating 3.5 years of no IBD-related hospitalizations or ER visits! The cherry on top was the release of Citrate-free (pain-free) Humira this year! After more than a decade of giving myself the painful injection, the new formula has greatly improved my patient experience.

Here are my 5 wishes for you in the days ahead:

  1. Strength through difficult days

There’s no telling when the next flare will strike. We all know it’s not a matter of if, but when. When the going gets tough, take it one hour, one moment at a time. Try not to overwhelm yourself with worry. Go to your happy place and think back to past flares and all the hurt and pain you’ve overcome. Use the moments of your journey from the past that have tested you the most, to serve as your greatest source of empowerment. As the years go by, and your diagnosis seems like a different lifetime, use that to your advantage.

  1. Management of your symptoms

Remission is something that is possible, but there’s no telling how long it will last or for some, if it will ever become a reality. By getting your symptoms under control and well managed, whether that’s through medication, diet or both—your quality of life improves vastly. IMG_4768Celebrate the feel-good days and soak up the moments where your IBD isn’t top of mind. You have an innate sense of when your body is giving you warning signs that rough waters are ahead. Be mindful of the inner conversation going on in your head and listen to your gut. Although it tends to be our nemesis, it has a way of alerting us when things are about to get out of our control.

  1. Perspective about your experience

Use your patient journey and that of others to give you perspective. Empathize with friends and family members going through health struggles, whatever they may be. Sure, many people have it better than us, but many have it a lot worse. It’s not a competition to see who is the sickest, but rather a way of shifting our mindset and understanding that many people have struggles and we are not alone in our experiences. Like the saying goes, until you “get” a chronic illness, you don’t really “get” it.

  1. Support from those around you

Having a network of close family and friends to lean on at a moments notice plays a major role in how we take on IBD. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Communicate the good and the bad, without fear of being judged or ridiculed. nyeblogTrust that those close to you love you and appreciate you for everything that makes you, you—including your disease. Show appreciation for your caretakers—those who live with you and are in the trenches by your side, day in and day out. Find comfort in those who allow you to be vulnerable when you need to be. Stop putting effort into relationships and friendships that don’t add joy to your life—eliminate the negativity, cut the fat, there’s no need for people who bring you down or belittle what it’s like to live with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.

  1. A health care team who listens

Find IBD specialists and gastroenterologists who enable you to be your own best advocate, who listen when you’re worried and address your concerns without making you feel less than or like a number. By trusting in your doctors and the care they provide you, you’ll feel much less stress about the path you are on as a patient.