Sunday, July 10, 2016

Four Years Later

Four years. Four years ago, I received a diagnosis that has changed my life. It's taught me a lot about strength, survival, and fighting on even when met with disappointment after disappointment. It's taught me hope, love, friendship, patience. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with severe Crohn's Disease.

Actually, I should correct that. Initially I was diagnosed with severe Ulcerative Colitis. See, Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Crohn's Disease, are both forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) but can be very difficult to tell apart. Ulcerative Colitis, effects just the colon (large intestine), whereas Crohn's can be anywhere in the digestive tract. In my case, the inflammation that they saw when they did my colonoscopy was limited to my colon, and since I didn't have any non-intestinal symptoms of Crohn's, or granulomas present, they believed that I had Ulcerative Colitis. Unfortunately, 4 years hasn't changed the fact that it's still very difficult to tell the two diseases apart, and many are still misdiagnosed.

In 4 years, I've had so many treatments and procedures that it's overwhelming. I've been to the OR 15 times. At one point I was taking handfuls of 18-19 pills at a time. I had a colectomy (removal of the colon), donated my colon to research and gained a fancy bag out of the deal for collecting poop. Each medication brought new side effects, some of them tolerable, some of them a nightmare, but treatment after treatment failed to control my Crohn's and I kept getting sicker and sicker. Four years, and it's still often trial & error to find the right combo that works for the patient.

After 4 long years, my Crohn's is finally starting to get under control. That doesn't mean that I'm "better" though. I will live with this for the rest of my life, or until there is a cure. Remission is an awesome thing to achieve, but it can so easily take a turn the opposite way. I'm focusing on the fact that at least my Crohn's is now controlled so that we can look at what else is going on with my health (because the answer to that is A LOT). But that's a whole other post...

The main thing I want to share with others is HOPE. After my colectomy, things were looking so bad inside that at one point, the doctors were thinking I might have to have a major part of my small intestine removed. The doctors were stunned at just how bad it was. After the Remicade dramatically failed, leaving me with bleeding psoriasis all over my entire body, I did worry that we'd never find a treatment that worked. I worried about my future and what it would be like. Would I still be able to achieve my dreams of being a scientist (physics, chemistry) if I couldn't regularly get to school because of this? Would I always have to spend the majority of my time with doctors and nurses? The Stelara injections that the doctor started me on were, and still are, quite new to treating IBD, and not always effective. But taking a chance to see if it helped without major side effects was worth the risk compared to doing nothing. A year later and I'm no longer at risk (at the moment) for losing part of my small intestine! In fact, things look almost normal inside! There is HOPE. Sometimes it's the things that you're least confident in doing that will give you the results that you want. Keep trying. Failure is not failure so long as you get up and try a different approach. Keep moving forward. Change is scary, but if you don't make changes, things likely stay similar to the situation you're in now. Keep your head up, it does take time to find the right combo of treatments but when you do, it's a major accomplishment. You CAN do this.

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