It was summertime. I was 14 years old, and my life was about to change forever.
Instead of doing normal summertime things, like riding a bike or going swimming, I had crippling stomach pains. After a week, the first blast of pain subsided, only to come back with a vengeance.
I stopped eating — anything I ate increased the pain — and lost 10 pounds. My mom took me to my doctor, who said I was infected with Giardia Iamblia, a germ often found in public pools. That was wrong.
Bedridden for another week, shedding more weight and getting sicker, I went to the hospital, weak, dehydrated and suffering from immense blood loss.
After doctors took blood, did a colonoscopy and administered many uncomfortable tests, they finally determined the source of the mounting problems. I was diagnosed with a disease called ulcerative colitis — an inflammatory bowel disease that attacks the intestines and colon, causing deep ulcers and open sores. The disease had been developing since I was very young.
I was put on a liquid diet and hooked up to an IV that gave me every nutrient I needed to stay alive. I had no strength. I couldn’t walk, so I crawled.
I thought I was dying and so did my family.
I had to have another colonoscopy, but instead of waking up after a half hour, I awoke seven hours later with a colostomy bag at my side. My colon had been perforated and was releasing toxins into my body it, so the doctor took it out.
Having my colon removed turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I could eat more of what I wanted without feeling sick. I began to gain weight and feel healthier.
I was discharged from the hospital for the longest period of time since my sickness began, and I was able to start home schooling to catch up with my classmates.
Even though the illness seemed determined to take over my body, I was still in control of my mind. I didn’t let the disease dictate my attitude. Optimism carried me through those hard times — mind over matter.
Since the day I was first diagnosed, I have spent four years dealing with immeasurable numbers of pills, IVs, needles and specialists. Mine was a unique case, and there was a lot of trial and error, pain and frustration.
Today, 15 surgeries later, I am “healthy,” but my definition of that word has changed dramatically. Before the ulcerative colitis, being healthy meant I could do what I felt like doing and eat what I felt like eating, without limitations. Now being healthy means waking up, taking my pills, eating less of what I want and figuring out the best way to get by most days.
I am currently off medication and taking my life one day at a time. Although I’m still adjusting to my new routine and am not back to my old self quite yet, I have come a long way since the start of it all.
Ulcerative colitis has changed my outlook on life. I try not to take anything for granted because it all can be lost with one trip to the hospital. In a strange way, I am thankful for my illness.
Each moment I was sick defined who I am today: A stronger person.