Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guest Story: Christina's Story

We're excited to share Christina's story with you all! Christina blogs about her experiences living with Crohn's on 'The Diarrhea Diaries'. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter!
The first time I heard the term, “Crohn’s disease,” was when a friend of mine told me that she was not going to name her brother as the guardian to her children in her will. We were both considering what we would do if the unthinkable happened and we died before our children were adults, and that’s when my friend told me that her brother had Crohn’s disease. Even though she loves her brother, my friend didn’t want to leave her children to someone who was always sick and at risk for multiple, life-threatening surgeries. Not only would it be hard on her children, but it would be hard on her brother. At that moment, I equated Crohn’s disease with misery and death and my heart broke for my friend’s family.

A few years later, I was lying on the bathroom floor of my local emergency room drenched in sweat. I’d had strange “episodes” every six months or so when I would wake up out of a deep sleep in labor-like pain. It would last a few hours until the pain broke in a wave of nausea so intense, I would leave the restroom shaky and exhausted. During my third “episode”, the pain didn’t give up but continued to grow. I decided I’d had enough and would sell my soul for pain-relief, so my husband drove me to the emergency room while I held trash bags in my lap. I didn’t make it very far before the pain “broke” in the emergency room bathroom; and by the time I was seen by a doctor, I was already recovering.

When the emergency room physician told me that my CT scan indicated that I had Crohn’s disease, I thought of my friend’s brother. I immediately labeled myself no longer fit to raise another person’s children. I later learned that the pain I’d felt was due to a partial small bowel obstruction, and I would come to find out that these agonizing episodes would be my constant, shadow companions.

When I saw a gastroenterologist for the first time, my colonoscopy showed a very mild form of Crohn’s. When I had my next partial small bowel obstruction, I prayed for the pain to pass as I vomited everything I’d eaten for days. I was pretty sure this wasn’t a “mild” case of anything, so I found a new doctor who diagnosed me with moderate-to-severe Crohn’s disease after a new round of tests. He showed me pictures of the high-grade stricture that had formed from ulcers that could only be visualized by swallowing a pill camera.

I immediately started Remicade but the stricture continued to narrow my bowel. I was hospitalized multiple times with a nasogastric tube, bowel rest, and steroids; and I couldn’t eat without fear that the food wouldn’t make its way through my small intestine. I missed weeks at work and was devastated when I missed my son’s first slumber party. I had three small bowel resections in four years and my friend’s brother has yet to undergo his first surgery. If I wasn’t fit to raise someone else’s kids in an emergency, was I even fit to raise my own?  

The answer is “yes”. A million times yes. I might not be able to go on every field trip or travel as easily as others, but my husband and I can make lasting and important family memories at home. My kids tease me for taking so many naps, but I laugh along with them. I’ve shoved all of my prescription pill bottles in a red bag and we call it my “bag o’ pills”. When I have to use the restroom, I say I have to have “Crohn’s” which is code for “get out of my way!” And most importantly, I take the medication my GI prescribes to hopefully avoid future surgeries. I take care of myself when I’m sick so I can take care of them. And I’m happy to say, my daughter and son are intelligent, interesting, and funny kids who are growing up to be wonderfully compassionate people.

My disease is a huge part of me but it doesn’t define me. It’s given me the opportunity to help others who are also sick by sharing a part of me on my web site, Blogging has allowed me to meet very strong, community-oriented individuals whom I wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know if I didn’t have my disease. And for that, I am truly thankful. 


Thursday, January 3, 2013

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - Happy 2013!

The clock struck midnight, and just like every other person around the world us here at Gutsy began to reflect upon the year we had. While we chatted about the memories, we laughed, smiled and came to the realization that we had a pretty awesome year! So here we have compiled a list of our top ten favorite moments of 2012!

1) Butt campaign

This year we dove into the world of a social media campaign! We formulated the ‘Butt Campaign’ where people had the chance to be a Pain in the Butt!. Throughout the making and promotion of this campaign we had the chance to meet some unbelievably inspirational IBD-ers and work with people who had the same passion as us. We had hundreds sign the pledge, over 2000 views on the video and we are hoping it continues to grow as time progresses. We think this deserves to be in the top moments of 2012 for the awareness it brought to IBD and the people it connected.

2) Casey Abrams pledging to be a ‘Pain in the Butt’

Just hours after we shared The Butt Campaign with the world an email appeared in our Gutsy Generation email notifying us that Casey Abrams, American musician and former American Idol contestant had not only retweeted our campaign but had also pledged to be a Pain in the Butt, and for that reason we think this is an ultimate win!


3) E-Cards

We introduced the world of IBD to the wonderful world of “Ecards” or as some people call them, “memes”. In the life of an IBD-er it is we know there are crappy days and unpleasant medical tests but we believe even though we spend hours upon hours on the toilet and sometimes look at like a 90 year old crippled over in pain that we should laugh through the tough days and appreciate what we do have.

4) Guest Post Series
This year we had a strong guest post series featuring IBD-ers from far and wide sharing their struggles, triumphs and laughs with us. Some of our esteemed guests included The Great Bowel Movement, Gut Inspired, A Guy with Crohn’s, Love for Mutant Guts, LOOP, and My Journey with Crohn’s.

Surf around for some inspirational IBD stories!

5) Being featured on other blogs

We believe that meaningful awareness and advocacy comes from partnering from other passionate and gutsy organizations. We loved being featured on blogs such as,

Girls with Guts

LOOP ImproveCareNow

My Journey with Crohn’s

And even getting a ‘celebrity’ shoutout by Disease on My Sleeve.

6) Niagara International Half Marathon

What happens when two stubborn, colon-less girls get the idea in their head that they are going to run a half marathon? Well it happens, of course! Through hell or high water we (Jennie and Taylor) trained hard and completed the Niagara Falls International half Marathon together sporting our homemade “Colonless #1” and “Colonless #2” gear all 21.5km. Awareness and ambition, showing others that just because you have IBD doesn’t mean you should let IBD have you.

Read about it here.

7) IBD Adventures Machu Pichu trek with IDEAS

A 4-day hike through the mountainous backyard of Peru is not the typical way to celebrate 2.5 months after surgery, but Jennie found it fitting. After joining IDEAS for their IBD Adventures (listen up, the next trip is in China!) in the pursuit of “changing attitude with altitude”, Jennie had the most incredible time doing something she couldn’t have dreamed of. This is her favorite picture, showing that ostomates have bags but not baggage.

Read about it here.

8) Awesome IBD Organizations

As an IBD-ers we kind of (okay we are going to be honest here) we have IBD ‘celebrity’…crushes. Not crushes in the way that we would like to cuddle and kiss these people, but crushes in the way that we just adore what they are doing in the world of IBD and admire them greatly for that. This year we were blessed to have developed some strong IBD relationships, and had a few moments where we have had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. We’ve developed friendships and supports with Robbie's Rainbow, Girls with Guts, Disease on My Sleeve, The Great Bowel Movement, Awestomy, John Bradley (Author of the Fowl Bowel), and IDEAS just to name a few. In addition to these friendships, we have had a couple moments that have left us asking our friends and family to pinch us – including getting an email saying Russell Brand and Justin Beiber (the fake ones, but still – right!) were now following The Gutsy Generation on Twitter as well as one of our favorite IBD guys – Brian Greenberg! All over so many awesome gutsy friendships made this year!
9) Number of followers

As of today, The Gutsy Generation has 876 likes on Facebook and 488 followers on Twitter. This number has grown exponentially throughout 2012 helping us raise awareness about IBD. 2013 will hopefully bring us into the 1000’s – expanding our reach farther and wider educating all about IBD.

10) People who 'came out of the stall' - Matt Light, Ken Baumann, Shayne Corson, David Gerrard
This year brought a lot of celebrities and athletes that came out publically about their IBD and we couldn’t be more pleased about the gutsy awareness that is being shared with the world.
Shayne Corson Talks about his Ulcerative Colitis
Here is Ken Baumann’s article in People magazine and a screenshot of him ‘favoriting’ our tweet about it!

We wish you all the best in 2013. May your medications be helpful, your toilet paper be soft, and your bowels be healthy! Happy New Year Gutsy Guys and Gals!

With love and (minimal) guts,
Jennie + Taylor

Thursday, December 20, 2012

IBD and Me

As my annual appointment with my GI came and passed I am strangely aware that my ‘relationship’ with my disease has evolved through the years; just as my relationships have. Enjoy the little moment’s memories that you will treasure for years to come. Each year there is change and every holiday season will be different.

This holiday week, is the true test of time as I am spending the entire Christmas holiday with my husband’s family, with different traditions, different family gathered during the holidays and different conversations. Just like my disease - I will have to adapt, and find the ‘happy medium.’ This holiday season remember to take it easy and enjoy the time you are spending with family or friends.

For the last few years I remember waking up on Christmas morning with the smell of croissants in the air and wanting to eat half a dozen of them but being told that I could only have one because we were having the big Christmas dinner that day and I couldn’t spoil my appetite. I recall the how when my sister and I were younger we had to wait until everyone in the house (there were at least 10 people during holidays) to get up, eat, shower and get dressed before we could even think of opening any gifts. To a small girl, this seemed to be an eternity.

Apparently, with my new family, we now open gifts before eat, getting dressed or cleaning up. So we have a bunch of pictures of us sleepy looking, in our pajamas. – Which is different to say the least.

In the New Year I have the privilege of having yet another colonoscopy, MRI, more blood work and more infusions. Can I say that handling my disease has changed; it used to be my mom deciding what to do along with the doctors. However, now I have to decide how do I want my quality of life to be?

This holiday season remember to take it easy, enjoy the here and now, take one family disaster at a time.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Never Say Never

Under normal circumstances, I would avoid quoting my fellow countryman Bieber in the title, but this my friends is anything but a normal circumstance. You see, I have set a record for myself. I went the entire semester without being in the hospital.

My first thought, ‘Is this what college is supposed to be like?’ Answer: apparently. Who knew. I managed to forgo my frequent flyer miles at the local hospital (after all, the rewards are less than desirable, I’ve already ‘won’ enough scars to last me) and get to all of my classes. I didn’t miss a class for feeling sick - instead I missed a couple of classes for attending an IBD conference and running a half-marathon. Beats my ‘sorry-I-decided-to-live-in-the-hospital-now’ line that has accompanied every semester.

My parent’s reaction to this: IT’S ABOUT TIME (yes, the feeling can only be expressed in caps). This semester has been full of college firsts - having a kitchen, living with roommates, starting my senior thesis. I think of my roomies, we’ll call them Maya, Mimi, and Ana, and can’t remember a time when I didn’t come home and see their faces, grinning at me, or bake them cupcakes or have silly dance parties to Disney songs. I felt this kind of way after my ostomy surgery a couple of years ago, like the reset button had been pressed and all of a sudden I’m turned out bright and shiny (quoting Grey’s, but of course).

If things were always sunny, I wouldn’t know any different. But when things are dark sometimes, there’s something nothing short of glorious to open your arms wide and squint in the sun. Not metaphorically, having had a rough go for my freshman through junior years, it means all the more to have had a wonderful fall semester of my senior year.

But this is not all to say that challenges are hiding behind my closet door and under my (impossibly high) bed (note: the bed is very high, I have a stool to propel me atop it). My small gut is dotted with grumpy ulcers, ready and waiting it seems to rain on my beautiful parade. But now it’s different - I have the say in my care, an absolutely wonderful GI, roommates and the best of friends to pick up prescriptions and see what I’ve eaten during the day (“Jennie-fer, what can you had to eat today?” note: ‘Jennie-fer’ is my name for when I’m ‘in trouble’), and just be there and not talk about IBD or bowels or bags and just be 21. Of course sometimes I’m scared, sometimes there are tears, and sometimes I am angry that my body can’t give me a break.

But more often than that, I am so very happy to be where I am. The other day I was standing in my living room on the phone with my Mom, and had this thought of, ‘Wait, how did I get here?’ The sheer fact that I’m a college senior, without any medical leaves, spanning two surgeries, and extensive hospital stays, made me wonder how it all happened. And here’s how - with a lot of help. My parents, my friends, my professors, the disability office on campus, and my doctors. My education has and always will be, if I am so lucky, a communal effort. There is no way to thank everyone, all I can do is try and keep running as fast as I can toward my dreams.

Life is big and giant and arguably impossible and overwhelming at times. Maybe you feel like you can’t do something, but the thing is there’s no reason you should have to do anything by yourself. There are so many others who love you and who are rooting for you on the sidelines (if you can’t hear them, maybe it’s just that your thoughts are turned up too loud). You can do it.

Remember, in the wise words of Justin Bieber - never say never.


Friday, November 30, 2012

One More Time, Just For Kicks

What would be the fun if things were easy? I prefer the harder, circuitous route that takes you a thousand miles out of the way only to end up a step behind - clearly the more enjoyable path.

I’ve since lost track of which stories I’ve employed as metaphors, but alas I shall tell another in the hopes of demonstrating my point. When I was about 9 I was sledding with a friend on this big, enormous, wonderful hill (that seemed like a mountain at the time) near my house. The short of the long story was that there’d been an ice storm that day before and the hill was slick and frozen. Regardless we still thought it was a good idea to sled, and we climbed in this big purple Rubbermaid sled (goodness knows why Rubbermaid made such a sled, but I’ll have you know it was quite hefty and heavy), her behind me, and pushed off. Needless to say it wasn’t the smartest idea to be sledding in such conditions, and soon enough we flew off a bump, did a 360 in the air, then I landed on the ice chest first, then her on top of me, then the big ol’ purple sled and all we could hear as we moaned and slowly slid down the hill was my Mom screaming at the top. When I decided to have ostomy surgery a couple of years ago, I did so knowing that I would still have Crohn’s, still have a chronic illness, still have medical decisions to be make, but it was a big step in treating and addressing my disease. And it was. I don’t for the smallest fraction of a second regret my choice. IBD treatment has been described to me as ‘step up’ treatment (ASAs to steroids to immunosuppressants to biologics to surgery) and by all accounts a complete protocolectomy at 19 was the most aggressive treatment possible. But now as I sit here with a flare-up, it feels like I did when I landed on my chest on that icy hill - the you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me-this-is-ridiculous kind of headspace. Even though I know it’s not true logically or medically, it feels like I’m back in the same place as I was before surgery making these difficult decisions about difficult medications. 

It’s kind of funny - I’ve never had a flare-up without my colon before. To quote Aladdin, it’s a whole new world. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks and hurts and seems particularly unnecessary and unpleasant. But I’m not running to the bathroom, and all of my colonic symptoms are only memories. I know for my parents they hoped - with good reason - that my surgery would be more or less the final event in my IBD journey, at least for longer than two years. I can sense their disappointment and frustration on phone calls, just as I feel disappointed and frustrated at times, but I know that I have their support about whatever treatment I choose (to this point my Dad informed me that my Mom and him were “100000% behind me”).

It’s kind of like when you’re somewhere and you smell something that seems familiar but it takes you some time to place it - having a flare and being ‘sick’ again is a transition that I’m getting used to. After standing on my soapbox about taking your time with medical decisions and so on an so on, it’s about time I take my own advice.

I just have to hold on, and close my eyes for the scary parts if I need to. Here we go.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Guest Post: Greg's Story

We're so glad that Greg reached out to share his story of strength and positivity. Enjoy - you'll smile just like we did!

First off, I would like to applaud The Gutsy Generation for all their hard work in raising awareness for IBD and I’d like to congratulate Robbie and the Team for having Robbie’s Rainbow officially registered as a charity, this is such a huge milestone. 

I would like to share my story with you, those that are newly diagnosed, those that are living and caring for someone who is newly diagnosed and those helping to find a cure. 
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s  Disease at the age of 9, but if you ask my parents, they’ll tell you I’ve been dealing with this disease since the day I was born. I was born in March of 1983 and if you do the math, that means I’m 29 years old, so I’ve been dealing with this disease for almost 3 decades. I’ve learned a LOT of stuff about Crohn’s in this amount of time… actually I learned a lot about Crohn’s before my 15th birthday. 

I cried for the first 10 months of my life. Well not really cried, according to my mom and dad, I screamed for the first 10 months. Let it be known, that 10 months of screaming resulted in me being an only child and I cannot blame my mom and dad one bit for that. My parents were told I was colic, they knew it was much more than that. From the age of 10 months, up until I was 8 years old, I lived a pretty healthy, active, normal life, but then things started to go downhill. I started making more trips to the washroom, frequent diarrhea, severe cramping and major weight loss.  The trips to the family doctor started to become a weekly ritual and soon I was referred to a local specialist to try and figure out what was going on.  

I remember his name vividly, Doctor Berg, a gastroenterologist here in Sudbury. For those that don’t know, Sudbury is a small community of 165 000 people located approximately 400 kilometers north of Toronto, Ontario. We’re predominantly an underground mining community, keep that in mind, as it will come into play later on in my journey. So back to my story. Doctor Berg sent me for an array of tests, scans, blood work, etc. Eventually he sent me on my way to Sick Kids Hospital to see the experts and figure out what the heck was causing such an illness. This is when I was officially diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 9. 

I’ve been asked many times what went through my head when I was told I have Crohn’s.  The first things were, “What the heck is Crohn’s Disease? How do I spell Crohn’s? , And why must they call it a Disease? “. The second round of questions were,“ How is this going to affect me? Will I live a normal life? Where’s the cure? And why am I not healthy like the other kids? “ . Another question I asked, and continue to ask but kind of know the answer to, is “Why does my dad continue to call it Chrome’s Disease?” The answer to that one … it’s his French background. For him, three is tree, tongs is thongs and Crohn’s is Chrome’s. I gave up correcting him many years ago and now I just smile and nod when he talks to family and friends about my “Chrome’s Disease”. 

So at 9 years old, I was put on a daily dose of medications. I had a weekly pill organizer … breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime … Sunday through Saturday ... just what every kid wants. The steroids did their thing. I went from being the skinny kid in class to being the fat kid. I felt great but that’s what steroids are supposed to do, make you feel great and mask the disease.  I can’t even begin to name all the medications I was put on … prednisone, 5 ASA, metronidazole, methotrexate, ciprofloxacin , the list goes on and on. I knew this list by the age of 13. 

From 13 to 16, I had my ups and downs. Going for routine blood work, ultrasounds and the “not-so-new-anymore” Colonoscopy.  I was eventually put on another round of steroids shortly after my 17th birthday and it just so turns out, it was around this time I received a letter in the mail telling me I was selected by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to become of their Ontario Ranger Program…. I was going to spend the summer of 2000 with 25 other guys, over 1000 kilometers from home, in the cramped quarters of a bush camp in the small north western Ontario village of Ignace. This was going to be one of my first real jobs (other than pumping gas ) and I was going to spend weeks at a time clearing canoe portages, campsites and performing work in some of Ontario’s Provincial Parks. This also meant I wasn’t going to be near any real washrooms for weeks at a time but that was Okay, the steroids were doing their things and helping to mask the Crohn’s symptoms and I was gaining weight. I made it through that summer feeling great and came home after 12 weeks 40 pounds heavier ,just in time for the new school year and heading into grade 12. 

Grade 11 was going to be awesome for the first semester. My guidance councilor hooked me up with a semester-long co-op placement at Science North, a nice science center here in Sudbury, and I was going to be on the Biodiversity/Biosphere level of the building which was right up my alley since I planned on going to college to become an MNR Conservation Officer once I graduated highschool.  A week into school I started to feel some cramping but shrugged it off as the side effects of me coming off the prednisone… no big deal really, I’ve had cramps before. A week later my life was about to change.  

It was a nice warm September day and my dad had just picked me up from my co-op placement and we were heading home at 4pm, I had felt under the weather all day. I remember the next chain of events like it was yesterday. Here we were driving along, 10 kilometers from home and the traffic light turns red. We’re stopped at the light and I feel as though someone is sticking a knife into my lower abdomen. The pain is so strong that I’m out of breath… so I take a deep breath and all I feel is a “pop” , kind of like a bubble from a piece of chewing gum had just been burst.  

I’m stubborn, strong and very quiet. I’ve lived with Crohn’s for 17 years, so I don’t complain about pain and I kept quiet this time also. Dinner was ready when my dad and I got home, I sat at the table to eat but couldn’t stomach more than a bite and had to go lay down on the couch. The vomiting started but I never said a word and just went to lay down in bed for the night. I didn’t get a minute of sleep that night and when morning rolled around my parents knew something was up. I told them I needed to go see a doctor. I told them I could not get out of bed. My dad carried me out to our vehicle and brought me to my specialist who had taken me on months prior when my previous gastroenterologist had moved his practice. My dad carried me into the office where we were rudely told that if I didn’t have an appointment, I wasn’t going to be seen.  We then went to the emergency department of the local hospital. “What’s your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?” I was asked.  I replied “12”. We were then told it was a 4 hour wait until I could see a doctor. My mom called our family doctor and we were told he was on-call at the local clinic. My dad once again picked me up and carried me to the vehicle and we made the trip across town.  The clinic was packed with people but as soon as we walked in, my family doctor spotted me as he walked by. He told his nurse to lay me on an examination bed. He lifted my shirt, placed his hands on my abdomen and no sooner than I could say it hurt, he was calling his nurse to have an ambulance brought in. 
A lot is a blur from this moment on. I remember getting to the hospital, doing a few tests and the next thing I know I’m being asked to sign forms … I was being prepped for surgery.  An I.V line was being put into my arm, the bright lights of an operating room were blinding me and a mask was being put on my face. 

I was in surgery for 5 hours but it felt like 20 minutes. I had never had surgery up until this point, so what a weird feeling waking up, dazed and not knowing where you are. I was heavily sedated for 3 days, so I don’t remember anything, except asking what time it was. After day three, I finally was conscious enough to know what was going on. My mom and dad were in the room with me and so were a few nurses and the surgeon.  The surgeon’s first words, were “ You made it” . I pulled down the sheet to see what kind of scar I had. It was a “zipper” from above my belly button down into my lower abdomen, a good 14 inches in length … oh … and an ostomy bag. Having researched Crohn’s  and having spoke to various people over the years, I knew surgery was a typical thing . I also knew that one day having an Ostomy was a possibility. That day had finally arrived.  
I spent a month in the hospital recovering, missing my co-op and learning about living with an ostomy. I remember the day the ostomy nurse came into the room and explained how to care, clean and change an ostomy appliance. Maybe it was my young age or maybe it was my stubbornness, but I had the changing, caring and cleaning figured out in no time at all. After all, if I didn’t learn it now, I wasn’t going home and I really wanted to get home… the hospital food had gotten the best of me and I was eager to sleep in my own bed. 

I made it home before Thanksgiving that year, returned to my co-op, finished my last semester, met a girl and graduated from high school. I earned an award for “Most determinate student” that year because of the challenges I faced and for being able to finish with some excellent grades despite missing so much time. 

As I mentioned I also met a girl.  Now this was probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. How do I tell this girl that I have Crohn’s Disease? How do I explain that it’s a bowel disease? And how do I tell her I have an Ostomy? Simple! I came right out and told her and explained it. If she was not going to accept it, than this relationship was not going to work. Much to my surprise she accepted it. She didn’t care that I had scars, she didn’t care that I had Crohn’s disease and she didn’t care that I had an ostomy. She liked me for my personality, for who I was and the Crohn’s that’s just part of the package. We dated for over a year before we went our separate ways. This relationship taught me several different things. It taught me how to be confident in myself. It taught me that there are people out in the world that care about more than just looks, and it taught me that Crohn’s Disease is really no different than someone being diagnosed with any other disease. 

Between the age of 17 and up until 3 years ago, I spent quite a bit of time in and out of hospitals and having surgeries. But during that time I also met my wife. Oddly enough, we met through another girl I dated for a short period of time, who also happens to be my best friend, who also did not judge me based on appearances. Funny, how in a society that seems to portray model good looks and 6-pack abs as being the thing that ALL women want, there are so many girls in the world that don’t actually care for that kind of thing and want someone who is just “normal”. The same can be said for how many guys in the world that don’t care to have the magazine cover super-model.  

When I first met my wife, I explained to her that I had Crohn’s, that I had an ostomy, and that more than likely I’d spend some time in and out of hospitals. We’ve been together for 8 years now and have been married for 2. We also have a beautiful 7 month old, healthy little girl. My wife has stuck by my side through thick and thin. She’s been there through doctor’s appointments, through surgeries, through days of laying in bed feeling like crap, and through days when I’ve asked “Why did I end up with this disease?.  She usually replies that I ended up with it because someone else probably wouldn’t have the strength to deal with it. She has also been there with me through some major accomplishments. I never did go on to college to become a Conservation Officer. I went to college for Civil Engineering, which I figured out in my third semester just wasn’t for me. I’m from a mining town, my dad was a miner and my grandfather was a miner, so naturally I got into mining.  Unlike my father and grandfather, I didn’t want to be handling a 120 pound rock drill for 12 hours per day, so I enrolled myself in one of the best mining schools in the world located here in Ontario and studied Mining Engineering. I graduated with Honors a couple of years ago and have been employed with one of the largest mining companies in the world. Today I work 5000 feet underground with 15 other men on my crew, most of which are my dad’s age, and every one of them treat me like their own son.  

I’ve learned a lot from being diagnosed at such a young age. I grew up fast, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. While most kids my age knew every Ninja Turtle by name, I knew my list of medications by name and dosage. I learned the importance of listening to my body. I have a very high pain tolerance like most people who have a chronic illness, so when I have pain, I know something is up and I better go get checked out.  I’ve learned to express myself to others, choose to tell who I want about my disease. When I was young, I always thought that people would look at me differently, but 9 times out of 10, when I mention that I have Crohn’s Disease, people will tell me about how they know someone that is living with it or they’ve heard about it. The odd time, they’ll say they never heard of it, so it gives me the opportunity to educate them about this disease.  I have also met some really awesome people throughout the years, some of which I stay in contact with to this day. I’ve shared hospital rooms with other kids when I was younger and their moms have treated me like their own child when my parents couldn’t always be around. I’ve shared hospital rooms with some elderly who’ve told me stories of days gone by and of a time when Crohn’s was very uncommon. I had the opportunity once to share a room with a pastor who told me to always keep faith because God will never throw anything my way that I cannot handle. I’ve met some really great nurses ,who were new to the practice 20 years ago and have been great friends ever since. They learned about Crohn’s at the same pace that I did … and sometimes I even taught them a thing or two about the disease.  Who else can say that they’ve invited and had their homecare nurse attend their wedding? I can!!! 

I felt compelled to tell my story because this disease is affecting so many young lives and its numbers are growing annually. If my story can be helpful to one person who is going through what I’ve been through, then I’ll have done my part in battling Crohn’s Disease. 


Friday, November 16, 2012

None of Your Business

For a long time, I thought I owed people disclosure of my Crohn’s Disease. I thought it was as obvious as my hair color and couldn’t get far into a conversation without it coming up in some way. And in truth, virtually any story from the last nine years relates back to my IBD, but nevertheless the disclosure was a near-immediate thing.

I challenged myself when I came to school to not tell people. Not to hide it from anyone, but to be Jennie first and a person living with Crohn’s second. But now, as I apply to graduate school, I feel torn.

Whenever I tell someone that I want to be a pediatric psychologist for chronically ill children, they always raise their eyebrows and comment on how specific it is. Why, they want to know, did I choose that? Well (insert sigh here), I often tell them, I have Crohn’s disease.

But this, in all reality, is not really true. Of course I do have Crohn’s, but I don’t want to be a psychologist because I have Crohn’s. My exposure to pediatric chronic illness was because of being a patient, but why I want to pursue Psychology is because I’m extremely passionate about the field and doing research. Not as a patient, as an academic.

And this is the push and pull of my disclosure saga - to tell or not to tell. It’s one thing when I’m sitting face to face with someone and have the opportunity to explain and show (aka flash) my ostomy and delve into my whole gut-filled story. Sure, okay. It’s quite another when I’m applying to graduate school and trying to articulate my relevant research experience, to people that I have never met before all over the country who will likely only look at my application for a matter of minutes. In this case, disclosing excessively seems unnecessary - an unprovoked therapy session almost - and so I’ve tried to step carefully, disclosing succinctly in a way that does not consume my personal essay.

The heart of the issue is that it’s my story to tell. Disclosing is a choice and I get to decide who gets to know. Be it for graduate school, or a new friend, or a boyfriend, I can choose whose business it is.

Because I am not Crohn’s. I am Jennie, and proud of it.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Guest Post: Sarah's Story

We love meeting new gutsy friends - and are thrilled when they want to contribute to our blog! Meet Sarah: the founder of My Journey with Crohn's, a great site featuring interviews with IBDers and lots of information. Be sure to check her out on Facebook and Twitter as well!

My name is Sarah Choueiry and I am honored to share my story with Crohn’s Disease.
I have to say that I never really took my Crohn’s seriously until these last couple of years. I remember my doctor telling me this, but there is something about being young and being diagnosed with something that may be too big to understand at the time. He said that typically, we have an “invincibility” feeling about ourselves and we don’t think it can really affect our lives. Well for me, I know that was the case. 
I was 12 when I started to have symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. It happened after a trip to Lebanon, were I caught a bad stomach virus (along with the rest of my family) but ever since that my stomach was never the same. My theory is that it was dormant till then, and that event woke it up, but who really knows. It took about two years for my doctors to finally diagnose me. Initially, my general doctor blamed it on a lot of things, saying it was psychological, my eating habits were bad and so on. Funny thing is, I was a happy kid who came from a loving family and who ate a very healthy Mediterranean style diet, so that did not add up. My mom fought with this doctor a lot and finally got him to send me to a specialist, who once hearing my symptoms automatically said, “I would like to test you for Crohn’s Disease.” I remember thinking, “What is Crohn’s Disease?” but never really asking it out loud. 
Well after my first, of many of course, colonoscopies at 14 (and many other tests) my gastroenterologist was right, I had Crohn’s Disease. The thing is, at that time, there was not a lot of research on Crohn’s Disease. The doctor put me on Asocal and that was about it. She had said that diet did not matter so we didn’t think of altering anything I was eating. When I would have a flare up, I would automatically eat light out of survival and I remember having a lot of rice and bland chicken, toast with cream cheese and melted cheese on pita bread. Notice the amount of dairy? We had no idea that dairy could be an issue because my whole life I always ate a Mediterranean diet, and that consists of a lot of cheese. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t really associate the harm of cheese in my stomach (it doesn’t affect all with Crohn’s but it definitely does mine) until two years ago when I did a “vegan” cleanse for a month and started to add cheese back and noticed the negative effects it had. Now that was a sad day for me . Who doesn’t love cheese, right? That is one hard thing about my disease for me. I am a huge lover of food and love to create recipes and I become limited on what I could eat, depending on how my body was feeling. It also limits a lot of the places I can go to eat, because the majority of my diet to be organic, fresh and meat free. For me, this diet works best to make me feel good. But hey, it is a challenge to be more creative and I am more then happy to accept it! 
But back to high school, all I really remember is not telling anyone because I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had to run to the bathroom after every meal and that it would smell so bad. The worst! I remember having to go so bad and getting up to leave a class and the teacher called me out on it. Made me stand in front of the class asking, “Where do you think you are going? Can you not hold it in?” I thought I was going to die. After the class, I went up to her to tell her my situation in private and she definitely never did that again. I had my visits to the emergency room but nothing a weekend at home, with some TLC, couldn’t cure. 
In college, I started to feel it more. Maybe it was because I moved away from home (only an hour away but being in the dorms and away from my norm was stressful for me) and I had my first real boyfriend. He was actually great when it came to me and having Crohn’s. We would have a secret code that I would use when I had to use the bathroom ASAP and with out a question he would get me to a bathroom. I was lucky, because I know that dating in college, especially with Crohn’s Disease, is not easy at all. I remember having more attacks then but not running to the emergency room like I used to because I figured, it doesn’t do anything for me. I end up going right back home anyways with them saying, “stay hydrated, take your meds and try not to stress out.” As if that was the magic to keeping it all in remission and I was actively trying to not do it. It got annoying to be blamed or told I was causing my attacks, because people did not get it, I could be perfect and still have a flare up. 
Mid college it got pretty bad and I began a medication called 6mp, I also met my doctor who I have today and adore. It is so important to find a gastroenterologist you can develop a true respect and relationship with. I began the 6mp, gritting my teeth and complaining, because I believed that this was an over exaggeration. That taking these meds was admitting it was a bigger deal then it was. I thought, “so what, some tummy aches, who cares. Ill get over it, why are we getting so dramatic with 6mp.” BUT I took them and I did a shitty job of it, to be honest. I still at that point never took the time to research what Crohn’s Disease really was. I never even met anyone at that time who had Crohn’s Disease. I didn’t think anything could get me down. Also at that time I broke up with my boyfriend and very quickly began a relationship with someone that unfortunately was not as positive and supportive, and I think that contributed to the issues with my Crohn’s acting up. With me, I began to notice how much my stress level and happiness level played a role with how active my Crohn’s could get. 
Well since then I don’t think I ever really remember having “normal” poops. Sorry to be graphic but its true. I was used the consistent stomach aches and pains, and I just knew how to deal with it. My norm was going to the bathroom after stressful tests, after meals and I slowly started to notice the correlation between food and my stomach around the end of college. Crazy to think it took that long but I typically am a very healthy eater, so I never thought that there was more to it then just doing what I was doing. I went straight from college to my masters. After my masters I moved to Arizona to be with the guy (the one that I SHOULD have let get away… haha) and just a month after I moved I broke up with him and began a life on my own, away from my family, starting a new career and just learning to be with me. I have to say, it was the best year in my life. I also decided to stop taking the medication on my own, without consulting with my doctor. That was very stupid of me and I was lucky nothing bad happened, I would never recommend that to anyone. I really began to take time to learn about food and its effects in my body. I began to do yoga a lot more and study the effects of meditation on calming stress. I began to make great friends and grow closer to the ones I had back home and I also was not on medication. I have to say, I went into remission that year. I don’t recall any stomach problems at all. I have to contribute that to me finally finding a balance that worked for me. I cooked every night and never went out to eat, so I was in control of what went in my body and really made sure to take care of myself physically, emotionally and mentally. I always made sure to be surrounded by love too and had a great support system. I am lucky because I am blessed with a mother and father who ALWAYS stood by me and supported all my choices in life, and I honestly, still, don’t know what I would do with out them. It makes me sad to think that some may not have that support and that is one of the reasons I created my web site, but ill get to that later! 
So after Arizona I moved back to LA, met a new man in my life, started to work at a school I loved (I forgot to mention, I am a Speech Language Pathologist), and was back near my family and friends. I was doing ok not being medicated. Key word is ok. I was not perfect but I could handle the bathroom runs and occasional bad tummy aches. My Crohn’s, I think, was tired of getting ignored and decided to scream a little louder. In this last year and a half I started to go downhill. I was experiencing a lot of stress in my life, I moved to a new city away from my family (again), got engaged, was working at a job where everyone was so negative (that really affects me, being surrounded by negative people), got married and was meeting new people all over again. I am the type of person that does not do good with big changes or not feeling secure/stable in my life. Well, this last year a lot of that was happening. I began to try and search natural ways to heal my flares because they were getting much worse and I was having a hard time dealing with my every day routine. I even went to a holistic doctor and drank this specialty tea three times a day that tasted like crap and went on a pure vegan diet. That did not work. I ended up giving in and made an appointment with a gastroenterologist down in San Diego, while emailing my Gastroenterologist in LA to help guide me because I still considered him to be MY doctor and I trusted him. Well, after all the tests were done, I was right, my Crohn’s was back and with a vengeance. This was about 5 months ago, which means it had been active for a while because it took me a while to speak up. Well, we got an opportunity to go back to LA because my husband found a partner for a business he was starting and I knew I had to get back to LA to get better. I wanted to go back to my doctors and start, what I called, “the healing process.” The first week I moved back I had an appointment with my general doctor (who I also adore and have been with for a long time) and my gastroenterologist. We began me right away on 6mp and entecort, and of course I was gritting my teeth. Well, 2 months into the treatment I was hospitalized. I knew something bad was coming and tried to see my doctor the day before I went to the emergency room because the pain I was enduring was worse then normal, well I was right (that is one thing I know I am good at, listening to my body. That is key, if I can give any advice. Listen to your body and don’t ignore it. If you feel something is going on, check it out and go see your doctor. Be your advocate!). I ended up hospitalized for 7 days because my small intestine had obstructed and I needed to be put on IV steroid to see if that would open it back up by reducing the swelling OR it was surgery. Thank god the IV steroids worked. Also to find out the 6mp and the entecort was not doing it for me. My blood counts were VERY low and I just kinda fell apart. That week was hard for me, emotionally, mentally and physically. I was lucky because between my parents and my husband, I was never left alone to get too depressed about it all but it was hard. I understand if you are there now or have been there, its tough but man I give us props because I feel people who have Crohn’s are really a tough group of people. You cannot knock us down easy!
Well, that experience led me to create www.myjourneywithCrohn’ I hope with this web site to share everything I know about Crohn’s and the tips that have helped me. I share things like recipes (a lot of course I give credit to my mom creating), news updates, interviews with people in the Crohn’s community, eastern/western medicine, funny stories and much more. I am proud of this web site. I think I need this web site. It is my therapy and it has allows me to meet such amazing people who have Crohn’s and hear their story, which it inspires me every day! I am hoping to do the same for others. So right now, I am all about My Journey With Crohn’s, healing and living my life. I start back up at work in January and will continue to dedicate a lot of my time on My Journey with Crohn’s. My future goal is to create a retreat at the end of next year for people with Crohn’s and oh, it will be GREAT! Can’t wait to share that soon. I am also starting up on a medication called, Humira and waiting to see if it works for me. I will continue to eat right and take care of myself emotionally and mentally, and try always to surround myself with positive people that make me laugh. I truly believe holistic methods help but there has to be a balance, at least for me, between eastern and western medicine at this time. I do hope to go into remission and only rely on eastern medicine to stay that way, but we will see what the future holds and I will keep fighting. 
My advice, if I may share, is to never give up. Always try. Set goals for yourself and if you mess up, who cares, you are HUMAN. Just try again tomorrow. No need to ever be harsh on ourselves. Surround yourself with only positive people (if you can, because that can be hard, I know). Remember life is about choices (well not the choice to have Crohn’s haha) but you know what I mean, a choice to fight! 
I send all my love to all of you who have struggled or are struggling and I want to let you know you are not alone! Please visit me any time on my web site 


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Being a Big Ol' Pain in the Butt

After months of planning and excitement, we are THRILLED to share with you 'The Butt Campaign' - a campaign of passion, courage, and most importantly guts.

Pledge to be a pain in the butt with us here. Together, we will be pains in the butt until there is a cure.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Not The Same Thing

In order to avoid having a mental breakdown, I shall choose to be constructive in writing this post and explaining what is bothering me so much. DEEP BREATH - okay, here goes:

Let us begin by going back to elementary school. Circle and square: not the same thing. Dog and cat: not the same thing. Being five or thirty-eight: not the same thing. Being hot or cold: not the same thing. Now let’s see if you’ve clued into the pattern - Crohn’s and another disease/illness: not the same thing.

I know someone who had pneumonia a month or so ago and continues to recover. I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks because I’ve been having problems with my stoma - which, to note, is hard to explain because I’m not sick, but having a localized issue - and she somehow thinks that these are the same thing. I’ve never had pneumonia and can’t comment on what it’s like - but that’s the point, I don’t know so I can’t say anything. But it does not stop this individual - on and on with the metaphors and how we’re so similar and how we have to take care of ourselves and all of those ooey-gooey things you’d say in a therapy session in a saccharine movie. The entire time I was talking with her I wanted to be like, “Wait, I’m sorry, am I on Punk’d? Are you serious?” I demonstrated incredible restraint in not bursting into laughter or raising my eyebrows at her incredulous claims. When she found out that my parents aren’t in the city, or the country for that matter, she was so apologetic and fails to understand that having a chronic illness is different than having an acute illness and I have a support system and she does not have an honest clue about me.

And then there’s the matter of her ‘expertise’. Well, she’d have you know, her cousin has Crohn’s and therefore she is an expert. She knows all about it. Everything. You couldn’t tell her one new thing. Never mind the fact that she doesn’t believe in Western medicine - which is one thing, but please don’t tell me that my beliefs are wrong - and does not understand that IBD is so varied in presentation and severity and that having a stoma problem is not, in fact, an IBD problem. But pish posh, she’s the expert, who am I kidding (insert groan here).

I’ll take the opportunity to apologize for my invariably sarcastic diatribe, but give me a moment to explain to you why I wrote this. I truly, truly believe that is it wrong to compare suffering of any kind. We cannot possibly try to make pain ordinal - we can’t say that Crohn’s is worse than asthma, we can’t assign judgments - it’s impossible, but moreover it’s utterly unfair to the individual dealing with the illness/pain/life event. Who am I to say, as someone who’s only lived my life in my body, that someone else’s issue is easier to cope with than my own? I don’t have that authority and when people attempt to pull out a ‘suffering scale’ to compare things, I am automatically turned off and endlessly annoyed. 

A friend of mine said this the other day in a conversation and I thought it was brilliant, “it’s not comparative, it’s analogous”. I think if we truly want to understand one another and be empathetic and supportive, then we must listen and believe that our experiences are analogous but not the same thing as someone else’s. Only you know your body and your beliefs and your lifestyle and your dreams, and no one else can tell you differently. 

But did I say anything to this person that I know? Nope, and here’s why: I genuinely feel badly that she is in pain and that her recovery is slower than anticipated. I have long ago had the ‘eureka’ moments in regards to health and life and will let her have hers all to herself. I know she doesn’t say anything out of malicious intent, and that her words aren’t meant to deride to degrade my medical experiences. And because, at the end of each and every day, we are different people - we are not the same.