I was 19 years old, in my second year of college when I began to have some pretty alarming symptoms. I would have diarrhea for days on end, and just figured it was a stomach virus that wouldn't quit. I finally told my parents that something was wrong, and after our local doc-in-a-box couldn't find anything to explain what was going on they referred me to a gastroenterologist, and that's when all the testing began in earnest. Even then, it was another six or seven years before I was diagnosed with Crohn's. I was already a mom -- I'd had twins, and then our baby girl -- when I was told, definitively, that I had this chronic autoimmune disease.
Honestly, I had been frightened for quite a while that they were going to come back with that diagnosis. A friend from high school had been diagnosed with Crohn's, and she had multiple surgeries, parts of her intestines removed, just terrible experiences, and I was scared to death that I'd have to endure the same sort of pain, and the same sort of indignity.
For years, my doctors had me on all sorts of medications for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and nothing helped. I was continually losing weight. I got down to something like 113 pounds, which is scary, because I'm six feet tall, and when I graduated high school I weighed a solid 165. I was an active teen, I played sports all through high school and for a few years in college, but I had to give all that up because of this disease.
Still, at least when I was diagnosed I could put a name to what was wrong, and I felt like I could finally really begin tackling it. I've always been pretty die-hard about how I approach things, and knowing what I was up against was almost a relief. Deep down, I think I knew that it was, in fact, Crohn's. It's just that for the longest time, I held out some vague hope that it wasn't.
When I step back and put things in perspective, I can see how fortunate I am. There are many other people with Crohn's and other autoimmune diseases who are far worse off than I am. But at the same time, I'm not going to pretend that any of this has been easy. It's still a challenge to try and lead a so-called normal life.
My husband and I have coached our son's baseball teams over the past few years. I coached my oldest daughter's softball team last spring. So I do try and get out of the house and fight through the day, even when I sometimes don't know how I'm going to find the energy to literally put one foot in front of the other. Another concern is that my kids have had to grow up a little bit faster than I would have wanted them to. They worry about me -- about the extent or severity of my condition now, and what mommy might have to face in the future. In that sense, I guess -- and I think any other parent would understand this -- my biggest challenge is being the best mom I can be for my children, despite my Crohn's. I don't know any other way to be. If something is going to benefit my children, then they're going to get the chance to experience it, and if I can help them achieve their goals, I'm going to do it. Period.
Never, ever let this disease define you. Realize that you are capable of so much more than you might think you are when you're first diagnosed. I believe that you're given one life, and God created you to live this life and to be an example to others. He made me this way. He allowed this to happen, he created me this way, and I'm perfect in his sight. Instead of rejecting what has happened to me, I accept that I can never go back and change the past. Everything that has come before is part of my story.
I'm not going to say that I don't get depressed sometimes and wonder why. Why me? But if one of the reasons I have this disease is so that I can be a strong example of a woman, a wife, and a mother to my children, then that's how I'm going to move forward in the world.