Appears courtesy of 13 Going on Crazy.
I have not been honest with you my readers and most importantly with myself. At the age of 12 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I will never forget our annual family vacation in Walt Disney World right before my twelfth birthday. My family and I flew to Orlando for a week of fun, celebrating New Years and my birthday, and way too many sweets. But this trip to Disney World was not too much fun for me. To this day I could still tell you where every bathroom in Walt Disney World is, even the secret ones! Though I was tired all the time and everything, I mean everything went right through me, we still managed to have a great vacation. My parents simply assumed based on my symptoms that I simply had the stomach flu; unbeknownst to them it was way more serious.
The next few months were rough as we still did not have an explanation for my symptoms. I even remember throwing up at Old Orchard mall, which is an outdoor mall, in pure winter white snow right in front of Cheesecake Factory. You have to understand that this was a 2-story Cheesecake Factory where the guests ate on the second floor with floor to ceiling glass windows. Mind you when I throw up, I like to throw up on all fours, for some reason it makes my stomach feel better. Needless to say that everyone had a front row seat for a sight that they truly did not need to see. My father was ready to cancel our annual Super Bowl Sunday party at our house as they did not know if what I had was contagious. My parents told me that if I did not have any symptoms for three days we could have the party. I kept it together and like clock work as our company was leaving my house; I started throwing up uncontrollably in the kitchen.
It was a very difficult winter and by April of that year, I had lost a lot of weight and they still did not know specifically what was wrong. By this point, I was not only having diarrhea, but I was having bloody diarrhea. At first I was too embarrassed and confused to go to my mother and explain what was now happening. Even I knew that this was serious. During this time I watched the movie, A Child’s Wish with Anna Chlumsky, which is about a young girl who is shown throwing up blood, being diagnosed with cancer, and is dead by the end of the movie. After watching the movie, I decided to do exactly what you are not supposed to do; I went on the internet to figure out what was wrong with me. After research and the knowledge that I learned from the movie I diagnosed myself and decided that I was dying of cancer, that was a lot to take in for only being 12-years-old. I finally gained the courage to tell my parents my diagnosis and that I had accepted my illness.
My parents called the doctor immediately and took me to the doctor the following day. After a really bad blood test, with extremely low blood count, my doctor called my parents at 10 pm to discuss the results. I was promptly taken the next day to see the head gastroenterologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. After a series of tests involving me drinking way too much GoLYTELY, after every dosage I was given a Beanie Baby. The results from the colonoscopy were conclusive that I had Crohn’s Disease.
Since Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune disorder, which is characterized by severe stomach pain, diarrhea, anemia and the inability to properly digest food. No one, especially not a 12-year-old girl would want to talk about this. As most people can remember 12 is a very embarrassing age especially if you are a girl becoming a women. Unfortunately during the initial first few years of my diagnosis I dealt with some very unkind and unsympathetic reactions from extended family members and friends. As a result, I did not tell people what specifically was wrong with me and perhaps the 12-year-old girl is still inside me. To this day I do not openly tell people that I have this disease. I mean now being a 20-something female trying to make it in the professional world, who wants to talk about this topic of all topics? I have dated guys for months and never told them what was wrong with me. I preferred to let people think that I was a picky eater who orders food like Sally from the movie, When Harry Met Sally. One of the most difficult aspects of having Crohn’s Disease is finding a way to tell people about it. Of course my immediate family knows and has been my biggest support system. Outside of that I try to keep it a secret.
I go through periods where I am perfectly healthy, but during a flare-up it is a completely different story. One minute I could be perfectly fine and then out of nowhere, my stomach will cramp up and I need to find a bathroom immediately. After I go to the bathroom, I feel better for a few minutes, but the pain and urgency always come back.
My advice to other young women dealing with Crohn’s who like me are embarrassed and afraid of what most people will think, is to step up to the plate and come out of the bathroom. There’s no cure for the disease, but with diet and lots of food journals, life can be both manageable and enjoyable. If people can’t accept you for you who are then they don’t need to be apart of your life. Who needs people with their toxic energy in your life. Learn your boundaries, understand what foods are your friends and what foods you should stay away from. Be prepared for social situations, bring your own food if you have to, and don’t be shy when ordering at a restaurant. Tell your waiter exactly what and how you need your food prepared.
So one might wonder how this has affected my running. On the days where I lack energy to even tie my shoes, is the day that I know that I must hit the pavement even if I simply walk. I plan my running routes on where there are accessible and clean bathrooms. One might wonder and question why I have chosen a sport that is physically and mentally challenging. I have learned that NOTHING and I mean NOTHING can ever hold me back. My running has truly been my saving grace. I made a conscious decision not to let my body hold me back from doing the activities, which I love. I feel the most alive when I am running and I will not allow my body to prevent me from logging those miles. It has been my personal journey and life lesson that life can’t and won’t take the wind out of my soul.
We are not alone in this particular race, some well known and well respected people with Crohn’s Disease include: co-anchor of Nightline and Primetime Cynthia McFadden, Private Practice’s Amy Brenneman has ulcerative colitis, Pearl Jam rocker Mike McCready, NFL quarterback David Garrard, NFL tight end Chris Gedney, the 34th president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 35th president of the United States John F. Kennedy, Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino, PGA golfer Al Geiberger, hockey pro Kevin Dineen, actress Shannon Doherty, singer for Saves the Day Chris Conley, son of President George W. Bush, Marvin Bush, and Gold Medalist Sir Steve Redgrave. There are countless names that are not included in this list.
I know that there are so many people with this disease who suffer greater than I do, my prayer for all who are suffering with Crohn’s is that in our lifetime through science and research, that a cure will discovered.
For further information please visit Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, http://www.ccfa.org/.