To the person who doesn’t want to see me smile as I battle Crohn’s

Today marks my 13th anniversary with Crohn’s disease. Lights, Camera, Crohn’s: An Unobstructed View, is two years old today! It’s a big day. Lots of reflection and bittersweet emotions. It’s always difficult to know how to handle an anniversary of a chronic illness diagnosis—is it a celebration? Is it a remembrance of what was? Is it all the above? For me, I like to think about how far I’ve come since July 23, 2005. How my perception of life, people and my own personal strength has grown, changed and evolved, thanks to my disease.

Since I started sharing my story in 2014 as a patient advocate, I’ve really put myself out there. I’ve been vulnerable, honest and haven’t minced my words. I’ve been fortunate to have speaking opportunities, videos, conferences and feature stories. While that is all wonderful—it also puts you in a space and a place where complete strangers—who have no idea what you’ve endured, can pass judgement and make claims about how you choose to take on your illness.

This past week—I was surprised by a comment on Facebook, written on an article by Health Central that highlighted my patient story. Like many people on social media, rather than read the article—they reply to the title or the pulled quote in the caption. Reader CommentThe featured image from the story is one of me smiling outside my home. The comment on the article: “Crohn’s sucks. Why don’t you show what a real sick person looks like, instead of a happy smiling one???? Just saying—nothing happy about this crap.”

This really took me aback. This felt like a slap in the face. This comment hurt me. Obviously, she didn’t read the article or she would have known about all my hospitalizations, surgery, and rollercoaster of a journey. But to flat-out judge a fellow patient who lives with this debilitating disease and demean me for having a positive attitude…and smiling (God forbid!). If it weren’t for my attitude and the way I approach my Crohn’s disease, I never would have accomplished my dreams of being a television news anchor. I never would have trusted a man with my heart and gotten married. I never would have become a mother and gotten pregnant again.

If there’s anything I’ve wanted you to take away from my blog and my journey, it’s about finding the power of positivity in your experiences and seeking the good that still exists in your life, despite your disease. If you want to think woe is me and suffer all day long on the couch…that will be your life. image1 (13)If you choose to smile and show Crohn’s who’s boss, than no matter what obstacles and setbacks come your way you’ll tackle them and fight through flares with a knowingness that better days are ahead.

As a patient advocate—I know I can’t please everyone. I know not everything I say will resonate with you. And that’s completely fine. All I ask is that you have an open mind and understand that each person chooses to take on this terrible disease how they want to and shouldn’t be called out for it. My life is not all about hospitals, IVs, pain and suffering. Yes, this past week my injection hurt so badly I was sobbing hysterically and yes my stomach was killing me while out to dinner. But you know what, those moments passed. Rather than allow my pain to rob me of a wonderful conversation with a friend—I stayed at the restaurant. Instead of wallowing in the pain of my injection and the bruise that remains days later, I had a bowl of ice cream and gave my 16-month-old a few extra high fives. _F6B3268

So, to whoever decided to try and belittle me on the article about my patient journey and look down on me for smiling, please know I am a real person…and I am sick. But sick doesn’t come first when I think of who I am. It’s a part of me. It’s not all of me. That’s how it will always be, no matter what. And one thing I can promise you—now and in the future, it will never stop me from smiling.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canceled Plans: Dealing with the unexpected with IBD

Making plans. It’s almost an oxymoron when you battle Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. For the past month or so, I’ve been corresponding with a girl named Amanda. We were brought together through a patient advocacy group known as “The Breakthrough Crew.” One of the organizers told us we should connect. I’m so glad we have. image1 (7)

You know that feeling when you talk to a complete stranger and feel like they’ve been a part of your life and your patient journey since the start? That’s how it is with Amanda. We went from emailing, to texting, to talking on the phone. Our phone conversation felt so comfortable and effortless. She lives in Chicago, I’m from there. We grew up 20 minutes from one another, little did we know our paths would cross in our 30s. This past week, my virtual IBD bestie and I made plans to meet up for lunch halfway in the suburbs.

Unfortunately, days before our lunch plans, Amanda was hospitalized with a flare up. We texted and decided it would be best to change our plans and for me to take a train into the city so she wouldn’t need to drive. We were both so excited. IMG_6057Three days later, at 10 pm the night before we were going to hang out, Amanda was admitted back into the hospital.

This is life with IBD. Making plans and then your disease intervening and saying “not so fast.” This is life when you don’t know what the next hour or day will bring. IBD can rob us of so much of what so many people take for granted. In these moments, this is when friendships within the IBD community mean so much.

While Amanda sits in her hospital bed, we’re able to correspond and be there for one another. I don’t think twice about having my plans change in a matter of moments, it’s almost an expectation. When I heard she was hospitalized, we shifted our plans and rather than lunch and girl talk, I was going to take the train and an Uber to the hospital to meet this girl who I’ve never met, but feel so close to. Unfortunately, her and I both knew rest was what she needed more than anything. And hospital visits, while uplifting, can be exhausting.

When she voices frustrations I too can feel her pain and offer meaningful words of encouragement.

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Amanda and her amazing husband, Rick

When she talks about her incredible husband Rick and how the poor guy wasn’t even given a chair to sit in as she struggled in pain for hours in the ER, it immediately brings me back to moments where my husband had to lay in my hospital bed with me because he too wasn’t given a place to rest.

Since I started sharing my story in 2014…nearly a decade after my diagnosis, I’ve realized how empowering it is to be open, to find comfort in friends—both virtually and in real life—and to know there are so many people out there who can be your lifeline in health and in flare ups. Find your Amanda. Find your friend who gets it. Even if you have yet to meet in person, they can bring you comfort you never realized you needed until it was available.

Amanda and I made plans. They didn’t happen. But, hey…that’s the nature of the beast we call IBD. If it weren’t for IBD, our paths never would have crossed. We’ll try again next month, and the month after, and one of these times the stars and our health journeys will align.