My Story: Why I’m Bananas for Healing

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.

My rock bottom in November 2015. Those are heated blankets the nurses put on my arms because they couldn’t get my veins to surface.

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.

Summer 2016

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.

September 2016 –> February 2017. 50 lb difference, but more importantly SO much healthier and happier.

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.

December 2016 in Punta Cana. On my way to healing.

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  • Camille
    March 15, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    Jess! I’m so happy that you have started this, and obviously that you are so happy and well. Makes my heart sing. Thanks for sharing, I can’t wait to read more!

    • Jess
      March 15, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      Thank you Camille xo. So happy you’re following along!

  • Kim
    March 15, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Jess, I’ve been waiting for this blog. You have truly inspired us and I’m so proud of you and incredibly happy for you. I can’t wait to keep following.

    • Jess
      March 15, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Thanks so much! So happy to have you here.

  • Logan
    March 15, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    I love this Jess! So glad you’re doing great – such an awesome read. 😉

    • Jess
      March 15, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      Aw, thanks Logan! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Susan Timm-Sirignano
    March 15, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    What a wonderful story! I am so inspired and thrilled to hear of your hard work and determination in the face of a fairly devastating diagnosis! Great job! I know a bit about autoimmune diseases, so hearing that you have given this one a kick in the butt brings tears to my eyes. Congratulations! I’m proud of you!

    • Jess
      March 15, 2017 at 9:14 pm

      Thank you Susan!

  • Annesha
    March 15, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    This is really inspirational. I have Polysistic Ovary syndrome, and I’ve been trying to get on the same track for a couple of months now. But it’s really difficult with Grad school and a job and everything. Thank you so much for sharing this, it’s really reassuring to know that it’s possible to achieve it despite all odds!

    • Jess
      March 15, 2017 at 9:41 pm

      Thank you Annesha! It is hard work but worth it to feel good. Let me know if you need any help or tips!

  • Erica Miller (Holz)
    March 15, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    Bravo Jess! I’m so impressed with and proud of you. You go girl!
    I know how hard it is to stay on track, and stay focussed on your health. Keep going!
    You have inspired me to get back on track myself, as I struggle daily with Hashimotos Hypothyroidism and Celiac disease.
    Thank you for posting. Looking forward to the next one.

    • Jess
      March 15, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      Thanks Erica! I remember. When I first started out, I thought of you often and your Celiac. Stay strong! I am honored to have inspired you to get back on track 🙂 Let me know how it goes!

  • Amy Keene
    March 26, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    That is amazing!!! LOve how you said not to take anything someone else tells you as fact! It is in our culture to entrust any medical concerns to our doctor’s advice and take it blindly as solid truth. My 5 year old has found healing on the SCD diet. Miraculous to see how much food can heal. And prayer and exercise and reducing stress and anxiety:). Way to go!! Thank you for sharing your story it is so inspiring!

    • Jess
      March 26, 2017 at 11:27 pm

      Thank you Amy! I’m so happy your child has found relief and healing. It really is amazing how much food can heal!