May 7, 2015

A New Journey

On the outside I seem like any normal eighteen year old, going to college and fulfilling my dream of living in New York City, but on the inside it’s a completely different story.  Ever since I was born, I had a variety of minor health problems, like asthma and allergies, which I quickly became used to.  Hospital visits, going to the doctor and getting weekly shots became normal for me and I learned to appreciate my health at an extremely young age.  In hindsight, it was preparing me for the big changes that would happen in my life.

On a family vacation to Philadelphia when I was ten, I became extremely sick with stomach pains – something I had never had problems with before.  At the time I attributed the pain to something I ate or overtiredness from the trip.  I expected it to pass, except it never did.  New symptoms started to arise such as fatigue, severe weight loss and joint issues.  It felt like my body was falling apart.  My doctors didn’t believe my symptoms were anything of concern and thought I was exaggerating my pain.  Their lack of support or help left my family and me feeling hopeless and lost.  I was living two different lives, one at home and one at school where I was trying to make it through the day and hide my pain.  As time went on and my daily pain became worse, I realized that this problem might be permanent and felt like I would never find an answer.  For three years I struggled with dealing with the worsening pain and having my doctors minimize my situation, until I ended up in the emergency room on my thirteenth birthday.  I could barely breathe or walk without sharp abdominal pains hitting me.  At the hospital, they did numerous tests and asked a bunch of questions, but I left with no answers.  When I came home from the hospital later that day my family tried to salvage what was left of my birthday, but I could barely see the flames of the candles through my tears.

A few weeks later I had my first colonoscopy and finally received an answer that I had been waiting three years for.  I woke up from the colonoscopy groggy; I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I could hear in the distance my parents talking to the doctor.  They were throwing around names of medications and it was then when I knew.  On September 21st 2009 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic disease which affects the digestive system, also known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Everyone who has Crohn’s, or Ulcerative Colitis, two forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, has different symptoms and areas where the disease is active, which makes it harder to manage and find the right medications.  Along with the disease there are many systemic issues that you can have.  Symptoms I had include anemia, abdominal pain, osteopenia, psoriasis, eczema, arthritis, gluten intolerance, weakened immune system, and the most painful of all, kidney stones.  It’s a chronic disease, so there is no cure.  At thirteen it was so hard for me to wrap my head around the diagnosis and the fact that it would be with me for the rest of my life.

Now a few years down the line at eighteen years old, I feel so different than that thirteen year old first getting a diagnosis.  From the point of diagnosis, I began a new journey, one that I’ve been on for the past six years.  It has been a journey of adapting and accepting a new lifestyle and a new outlook on life.  There have definitely been highs and lows that have come with this journey, but the lows only make me stronger.  The life lessons, the opportunities, and the people I’ve met because of this disease are invaluable and make all the pain worth it.  I now attend my dream school, Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, in my dream city, New York City, despite the illness I struggle with.  While Crohn’s can be an obstacle, I’ve never let it take away from who I am and where I am headed.