Taking on Crohn’s to Get My Life Back on Track

This post was sponsored by AbbVie Inc. Personal opinions and thoughts are my own.

Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week is December 1-7. If you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, get tips from gastroenterologist Dr. Corey Siegel, a Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis expert, by visiting the online Expert Advice Tool before your next trip to the doctor’s office.

The gnawing abdominal pain. The frequent trips to the bathroom. The fatigue that hit me like a ton of bricks. It all became my “normal” the first few years following my diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in July 2005. During that time, I did everything I could to put a smile on my face as I reported the news on television stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. While I loved sharing other peoples’ stories, I never wanted my own struggles to be uncovered while I was in the spotlight.

I am one of approximately 700,000 people in the United States affected by Crohn’s. Once I left the news desk in 2014, I felt it was the perfect time for me to share my struggles and become a vocal advocate. Rather than keep my story in the shadows, now, I share my journey proudly with hopes of helping and inspiring others as an IBD patient advocate and blogger.

Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week (December 1-7) is a time to educate others about IBD and empower those who may be struggling with their disease. It’s a time for patients and caregivers to speak up and use their voices to show that IBD doesn’t need to hold you back from experiencing all that life has to offer. It doesn’t need to prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. It doesn’t need to isolate you from enjoying a full quality of life. That being said—it takes effort on your part to listen to your body, recognize the symptoms and manage them accordingly with your health care team.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, and is not contagious or caused by food. IBD is a progressive disease, which means it can get worse over time if you are not proactively managing it. It’s also an invisible illness – I look like everybody else, no matter how I’m feeling on the inside. Those with IBD often internalize their struggles and keep their pain to themselves. It’s as if an inner conversation begins with every meal or beverage, moment of stress or excitement and twinge of pain.

In July 2008, almost three years to the day following my initial diagnosis, I found myself dealing with Crohn’s symptoms spiraling out of control. I was the morning anchor for ‘Wake Up Wisconsin.’ Deep down, I knew something wasn’t right. I was headed home to Chicago to celebrate the Fourth of July with family. I ended up being hospitalized over the holiday with an abscess the size of a tennis ball in my small intestine. I watched the fireworks reflect off my hospital room window with my mom. I felt broken and exhausted by yet another setback.

My gastroenterologist entered the room and talked candidly with me about the need to change my treatment plan to minimize the progression of my Crohn’s. While it was a daunting and emotional conversation, it’s a conversation that changed my life as a young woman with Crohn’s. I had my whole future ahead of me. I knew I needed to make changes and get my life back on track.

I’m here to tell you that despite my diagnosis of Crohn’s at age 21, I was still able to accomplish it all. The first decade of my disease, I worked full-time in the television business and spent time at a public affairs firm. I fell in love with an amazing man who sees me for so much more than my disease. We got married in 2016. We have a healthy toddler and we’re expecting a baby in 2019.

Crohn’s has shaped my perspective and shown me the strength I possess within. It’s taught me to slow down and listen to my body and to appreciate the beauty of a ‘feel good’ day. My IBD journey has been one of highs and lows, smiles and tears, and everything in between. I wear my IBD diagnosis as a badge of honor because it’s something that has tested my strength and perseverance, but it hasn’t robbed me from becoming all I want to be.

If you have Crohn’s, it’s important to work with your doctor (sooner rather than later) to create a monitoring and treatment plan focused on long-term success and minimizing disease progression. Prepare for your next doctor’s visit with the help of gastroenterologist Dr. Corey Siegel and the online Expert Advice Tool.

(US-IMMG-180836)

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by AbbVie Inc., a biopharmaceutical company, and should not be construed to constitute medical advice. Personal opinions and thoughts are my own. I am not a medical professional and am not qualified to give medical advice. Please talk with your doctor about your individual medical situation.

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!