In the past 5 months, I have used food, exercise and mindfulness to go from scared and sick to happy and healthy. I started this blog to help others do the same. Here’s my story:
A little over a year ago I was laying in an operation room terrified as a poor nurse tried to get an IV into my arm. For anyone that knows me, they know I am terrible at getting my blood taken. My genetics have blessed me with deep, tiny, rolling veins that have caused both arms to bruise up due to so much poking and prodding whenever I need blood work done. This combined with a tendency to faint make for a lovely combination. But laying in my gurney, this was the least of my worries.
I had been seriously ill for 2 years. One day, out of nowhere, I had blood in my stool. My first thought was that I had cancer. If you ever have blood in your stool, don’t search Web MD like I did… the results aren’t pretty. You can imagine my relief when a month later a doctor told me I had internal hemorrhoids. No big deal. They would go away with some medication. A month goes by, and I’m still bleeding. I go back to the doctor, she tells me to keep up with the medication, internal hemorrhoids can be stubborn. I keep up with the medication. A few months go by. Still bleeding. A year goes by, and the bleeding gets worse. The bleeding is so constant that I get used to it. It became my new normal.
November 2015, my symptoms became worse, and I started to fear that something was really wrong. I had a constant dull pain in the right side of my abdomen. On one particularly painful weekend, I called my boyfriend in tears, begging him to come take me to the hospital. Anyone who knows me also knows I have been in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend Kyle for 5 years. We started dating in our senior year of high school. On that November weekend he drove 313 miles from Ithaca to Pittsburgh to take me to the hospital. I had hit rock bottom.
The next month, I visited the same doctor who had diagnosed me with hemorrhoids. She examined me and asked me to meet her in her office, where she told me I likely had a form of inflammatory bowel disease, but she would need to do a colonoscopy to diagnose it. Panic ran through my entire body. When was I going to do the colonoscopy? I was supposed to be leaving for Disney the following week on a school field trip, and right after that return to school for my final semester of college. I couldn’t leave school to get the procedure done, I was production managing my school’s musical. I couldn’t just leave. My doctor saw the panic in my eyes but insisted I get the colonoscopy done as soon as possible.
Driving home from the doctor, I knew I had to cancel my Disney trip. There was no other way. That decision was the first time my disease controlled me.
The following week I was doing the colonoscopy prep that most people don’t have to face until their 50’s. And the next morning, while my classmates were sending me selfies from Disney, I was lying in the operation room. The nurse took one look at my veins and refused to even try getting an IV in. She said she couldn’t do it. My veins were too hard. When the anesthesiologist finally got the IV in, I was relieved. And the next thing I knew I was sitting in a chair in the post-op room. My doctor came in.
You have ulcerative colitis. Here are the medications you need to take. Start them tonight. The nurse in the room gave me some pretzels and apple juice and told me there are support groups online for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease that I should join.
It’s funny, we’ve been trained since childhood to listen to everything doctors have to say. And I did. I faithfully took my prescribed medications for 6 months, and they did absolutely nothing. Seeing blood every day remained my normal. The dull pain in my right abdomen remained too. I learned to live with it.
As soon as I left the office, though, I didn’t feel right about it. What kind of doctor tells their patient not to research a drug on the Internet that may change their life? It was this feeling that sparked something in me. There had to be another way. My disease, though painful and concerning, was mild compared to so many others’. How had I gotten to this point? There had to be another way.
And there was. I went home and starting researching. I obsessively researched. Everywhere I read, one constant theme remained: do everything in your power not to go on Humira.
I started with diet. All of my doctors had told me that diet has nothing to do with my disease. Looking back, I was so naive to listen to this and accept it. Within 2 weeks of cutting out gluten and dairy, I felt incredible. I felt as if a huge cinderblock had lifted off of me. I didn’t think I was depressed beforehand, and I still don’t really think I was. But in just those 2 short weeks, I felt my soul begin to rejuvenate. But I was still bleeding.
I decided to go further. I began exercising 2-4 times a week. I cut out all grains, sugar, soy, legumes, and most alcohols in addition to the dairy and gluten I had already eliminated. Within 4 days, for the first time in over 2 years, I went to the bathroom for the first time without seeing blood.
In the past 5 months, I have lost 50 pounds. I went from never exercising to exercising almost every day of the week. I still have setbacks. My body was under attack by my immune system nonstop for over 2 years. I have to remember it takes time to heal. I get frustrated when I still see blood once in a while, but constantly remind myself where I was just 5 months ago.
I have always loved food. I come from a family of dedicated foodies. But my relationship with food has changed through my journey. Before, I indulged in food. I used it to cover up my anxiety and sadness about my disease. Now, I view food as the one medicine that was able to save me.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from this disease so far, it is to never accept what others tell you as fact. If something sounds wrong to you, it probably is. Just because someone has qualifications, licenses or education that you do not have does not mean you cannot become your own expert and advocate.
A few weeks ago, I went back to Mt. Sinai to get my blood drawn. My doctors and nutritionist wanted to see what my progress had been since I changed my lifestyle. The results came back great, but I knew that would be the case before I even got them because for the first time in my entire life, the phlebotomist stuck my vein on the first try. Every other time I’ve had my blood drawn, I’ve needed to squeeze someone’s hand so I wouldn’t pass out. But this time, I went alone. Before, getting my blood taken was my least favorite thing in the world. This time, it was no big deal. I had conquered much worse.
In my journey that follows, I know I will face more challenges. But now more than ever, I am confident I will be able to approach each challenge with positivity and determination. I hope you’ll join me along the way.