No one can comprehend the horrors of Crohn’s Disease unless they have experienced them. As a senior at Louisiana State University, my weight suddenly dropped to 90 pounds. I was having bowel movements up to 28 times a day. After seeing my doctor, he simply deduced that my physical changes were a result from stress. As graduation neared, I found myself in constant pain – a pain comparable to child labor. I fought through constant exhaustion from lack of sleep due to pain and frequent bowel movements. After visiting several specialists, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease that typically affects the intestines, but can occur anywhere from the mouth to the rectum. In short, it is an autoimmune disease where the immune system can’t tell the difference between normal body tissue and foreign substances. This leads to chronic inflammation. In 2002, this was not a commonly heard of disease and I felt lost and helpless. Upon walking across the stage to accept my diploma at graduation, I had to immediately be hospitalized. I could barely muster the energy to walk across the stage, much less celebrate with my family and friends.
Because I was making frequent visits to the emergency room due to intense pain, I had no choice but to move home with my parents because I was unable to be independent. I had days where not only could I not drive, but also I was barely able to walk because of the pain and exhaustion. My gastroenterologist had me taking around 20 pills a day, one of them being prednisone. Not only did these medications not relieve my symptoms, but their side effects were causing severe depression, mood swings, vomiting, and headaches, amongst several other problems. I felt like no one could relate and I wanted to disappear. I was jobless, exhausted, depressed, and saw no relief or silver lining in sight.
Shortly after becoming married, I became pregnant, which I was told would be impossible with Crohn’s Disease. Upon giving birth to my daughter, I finally had a reason to push past the symptoms and seek relief. When my daughter turned one, I found myself in the middle of divorce. As all single mothers can attest to, it is difficult juggling employment and motherhood. This was made even more difficult trying to cope with Crohn’s. After being hospitalized every 3 months for weeks at a time for blood transfusions (for severe internal intestinal bleeding) or pain management, my doctor finally decided to perform surgery. I had a colon resection performed and my doctor removed 3 feet of the diseased portion of my colon. Unlike ulcerative colitis, removing the diseased portion does not cure the disease. Around this same time, a new drug, Cimzia, was introduced for the treatment of Crohn’s. It’s a monthly injection in your thigh and stomach and the program also sends a nurse to your house to administer the injections free of charge. Since the surgery and the introduction of this new treatment, I haven’t been hospitalized in over a year. I do have anxiety-induced flare ups sporadically, but none severe enough to prevent me from working or engaging in everyday activities. I have my life back. I am engaged to be married in April and now have the energy to take care of my 4-year-old daughter and my 7-year-old stepdaughter.