During the second semester of my senior year in high school, in 2008, I started getting really sick. In June, three days before graduation, I had a colonoscopy, and I honestly don't remember being with the doctor when she told me what the diagnosis was. I vividly remember the colonoscopy itself -- where and when it took place. But I don't remember hearing the diagnosis.
I suppose I was so focused on graduation at that point that I just wanted to make it through the next few days, and then I could have the rest of the summer to figure out what was going on and how to deal with it. I don't think I was really focused on learning about the disease right then. Instead, I was like, "Okay, you say steroids will help fix it. Give me some of those so I can make it through graduation. Then we can take care of the bigger problem later on."
Obviously, I wasn't really prepared for having a chronic illness. I don't think I could have wrapped my head around this idea even if I hadn't been prepping for graduation, much less beginning college. In high school, I was involved in competitive swimming , marching band, and was first-chair saxophone in our high school concert band. With the onset of my illness at the end of my senior year it was an extremely difficult experience having all of those end of year tests and having to take bus trips to concert competitions. Considering how stressful it was, I suppose it's not that surprising, really, that I don't remember a lot of it.
I'm a planner. I've always been a planner. I'm the oldest in my family -- I have two younger sisters -- and I think that older siblings in general often feel they have to set an example, so they're often quite driven. That's how it was in our family, anyway. So, being diagnosed with a disease that is so unpredictable was even more challenging. It's always throwing a wrench into plans I might make.
My husband has helped so much with that aspect of this disease. He's very much an easy-going guy. We've been married for one year, but have been together for eight years, and he's taught me that I need to learn to go with the flow and be flexible. If I tried to organize and control every aspect of my life, with a disease like this, I'd go crazy. And you know what? That approach really has helped me in so many ways. I had a plan to become a physical therapist but that didn’t work out, mostly because of this disease but I'm still working in the health care field, which is what I always wanted.
Yes, there are still days when I wish I could have pursued that doctorate in physical therapy, the way I wanted to when I was younger, and there are definitely days when I see colleagues working in a rehab unit, doing physical and occupational therapy with patients, and I think, "What if I could have pursued that program?"
But I just couldn't. That program is extremely strenuous, and I understand that I wouldn't have been able to keep up with it. Thankfully, things worked out for the best. I earned a Master's degree and currently work in one of the best medical centers in the world. Sure, things would have been different if I had been healthy, but all in all, I think they worked out pretty well.
Anyone diagnosed with this disease will have to deal the stages of grief -- denial, anger, all of it. There are likely to be constant waves of depression, and questioning. "What if I didn't have this? What could I be doing? Look at what my peers are doing. They're doing all these fun activities, or they're moving up so quickly in work because they can work 12-hour days, and I simply can't do that." There's also anxiety, of course -- which is different than depression -- and I dealt with that on a daily basis, to the point of almost feeling paralyzed by fear.
There are medications out there -- but sometimes, those don't work. There has to be something else that can help. I truly believe that we weren't put on Earth to live in constant fear and anxiety. And that's where my faith comes in. For me, there is simply no other answer to the problem of how I'll make it through than the power of prayer, and reliance on my faith. It's not theoretical for me. It's reality.