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Alex zips over to The Gutsy Generation

alex8799Awesome LOOP blogger alex8799 recently submitted 'Zip Lines, PICC lines and Tofu: Facing the Challenge' as a guest-post on The Gutsy Generation, an initiative by the CCFC YAC (that's code for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of Canada Youth Advisory Council).

 

Alex had also shared this post with us here at LOOP, but instead of just re-posting it I wanted to take the opportunity to send you over to The Gutsy Generation.  It's a great blog!  The contributors are young people, just like Alex, who live with IBD and have decided to share their stories with the world.  They all definitely get two enthusiastic thumbs up from me!


On Top of the World

[slideshow]Two and a half months ago, I was in a hospital bed weeping. Surgery hadn’t gone as planned and suddenly the horrific semester I had just overcome seemed to loom before me. My heart felt like it had been split open, my dream from the summer of going to Peru seemed torn apart. Life was unfair and overwhelming and painful.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned, if you wait a few minutes, take in a big breath, and remember who you are, things become a little more possible.

So now, as I sit here writing this, I will try my very best to relay the amazement, wonder, joy, and peace of my recent trip to Peru. Warning: there truly are no words, so whichever I find will not do it justice.

First of all, the people were wonderful. There were ten of us including myself and the group was comfortable and hilarious, comforting and encouraging. We sang songs and joked and had serious times when we related stories of pain and discouragement. It was a group of people who had every reason to be bitter and angry and discontent with the world, but somehow there was so much joy.

We were broken in easily to the challenge that was steeped in front of us. After a couple of days of touring around Cusco, wrinkling noses at the cooked guinea pig, and grinning over adorable Peruvian children, we donned our backpacks (which seemed to get heavier everyday!) and took out our trekking poles. I’ve never been to South America before, but the sheer vastness of mountains and the glaciers standing triumphantly in the background, the laziness of the cows grazing in the fields, the rumbling of the river as it fell over itself - all of these sights and sounds I tried to commit to memory so I would never forget. It was, in a word, beautiful.

There are too many details to try to write down, too many things I will not be able to aptly describe. On the third - and hardest - day, we climbed to the peak (4200 m) to ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. After climbing the ultimate StairMaster (thank you Incans), I climbed to the top of a big rock with a fellow young trekker. We looked down at the stairs, winding in the distance, saw the Incan irrigation chevrons carved into the landscape, and cheered for the trekkers behind us to make it to the top. There aren’t words - it was gorgeous and glorious and empowering and exciting. We sat there and breathed, inhaling and exhaling, unable to find words to articulate how our hearts were singing.

Even with the chilly nights wrapped in sleeping bags and the midnight journey to the bathroom tent with only a headlight, the trek came to an end way, way, way too fast. We reached the Sun Gate and took countless pictures, so proud of one another and the journey we had completed. I looked down at Machu Picchu, the postcard picture I had seen online so many times, and couldn’t mesh the real and surreal elements of the moment. I had made it. I was on the top of the world. And as happy and proud as I was, my heart ached that the trip was nearing an end and I would be leaving the people I had come to care about so dearly.

Besides crying as I left Peru, the most vivid memory I have at the end of the trip was the bus ride from the train back to Cusco. It was dark and everyone was tired and plugged into their iPods or falling asleep. The bus drove along, the lights of the surrounding towns twinkling. I was listening to my music, grinning at the joy of the occasional person who would break out into song or the laughter that would warm the bus. I closed my eyes so tight and promised to remember what it felt like to be there and wished the bus ride would last forever. If I close my eyes now and listen to my heartbeat I can still feel the sway of the bus and the hum of laughter and the peace that blanketed us all.

It was the best experience of my life, though I wish I could say that more eloquently. I am so happy to have been healthy enough to go, but now sad that it is over. But I know that there will be new challenges, new mountains, and new friends.

And when I get nostalgic and wish I was back on the trail, hiking steps and laughing, I’ll look at my pictures and smile, and close my eyes and be back in the bus, happy and whole and healthy.

Jennie


Jennie | Story of Self

jendavid91Years ago, a doctor asked me to draw a pie-chart and shade in how much Crohn’s affected my life. I remember hesitating and then looked up and said it was impossible. There was no way to decide where my life and my Crohn’s didn’t walk hand-in-hand, they were as intertwined as written words on paper. Alone it might just be blank pages and a pen, but together they make a story.

 

I had just turned 12 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. This is what I remember most about that time: being scared, confused, alone, angry, lost, lonely, and feeling robbed. I didn’t know what Crohn’s was before my diagnosis and thought that it meant taking a pill and not eating broccoli. I did not want to be sick, in fact I refused it, and wished that I could rewind the past few months and never be diagnosed.

 

But a lot can happen in 9 years, and indeed a lot has happened. I tried every medication to little avail, spent copious amounts of time in the hospital away from school and friends, dealt with people’s ignorance about bowel disease, and acquired a medical vocabulary. I’ve lost count of the PICC scars on my arms and the medications I took. I have boxes of medical ID bracelets and needle caps and finger puppets (the reward for a blood-draw at my pediatric hospital). And even though it’s an enviable collection, what I am most proud of is being involved in awareness and advocacy through Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC) and our Youth Advisory Council (YAC) here.

 

When I was applying to college, people who didn’t know me well would timidly warn me, “Oh you should stay at home for school. You’re sick”. I absolutely hate being told what I cannot do, because no one else can tell me what I’m incapable of. I left Nova Scotia for Boston University, where I’ll be a senior in the fall. I’m studying Psychology and plan to apply for a clinical PhD in pediatric health psychology in the winter. It’s a mouthful, but I want to be a pediatric psychologist for chronically ill children.

 

After my freshman year at BU, I became extremely sick during the summer. I had spent so long feeling unwell that it seemed ordinary to me. My GI scoped me and saw the inflammation in my colon was severe and the bowel had begun to die. I was so relieved to hear the news because it meant that something drastic would finally be done. I chose to have a proctocolectomy (aka everything after the small intestine is gone) and a permanent ileostomy. I love my bag so very much, it was the right choice for me and my disease, and wouldn’t trade it for the world’s best working colon.

 

I think that one of the hardest parts about living with IBD is understanding that it’s chronic. I don’t think we ever have a solid understanding of the word since there is virtually nothing in our lives that is stays the same forever. We grow, we move away, we meet new friends, we watch new television shows. Even though it’s been almost a decade of being an IBDer, there are still mornings when I remember my ostomy and can’t believe what’s happened to my body.

 

I was recently in Peru to hike Machu Picchu to raise awareness about IBD and ostomies. People asked me if it were possible go back and take away my Crohn’s if I would. I said no, because I wouldn’t trade the clarity that living with IBD has given me on my life and what I want to do for anything. I am not my IBD, I’m just a girl who likes to run, loves Patrick Dempsey, and could probably win a banana-eating contest. And everyday I do my best to live by the words I wrote to myself after being diagnosed, “You hope to rise above your disease and excel”.

 

Jennie


The Plan (according to Alex)

alex8799For a teenager with IBD, life has its “ups” and “downs” like it does for everyone else, but I bet the “ups” are better for me than others – or maybe I just appreciate them more. With awesome “ups” … the “downs” become a little more tolerable and no matter what, the “ups” and “downs” and how you handle them is what shapes your life.  Recently I had a big “up” - not a big turning point in my life, but it certainly reaffirmed a couple of my life ambitions - the first being to set goals and the second, to make my mark on the world.

 

The second to last weekend in June, I spent four days at the Hugh O’Brien Leadership seminar (HOBY). It was a great experience, a lot of fun; I met new friends, and learned the principles of good leadership. Leadership is important to a community, to an organization, to me … to everything really. At the HOBY seminar, we learned about the different areas where leadership can be applied and different elements that define a good leader. HOBY taught me a thing or two about my own leadership development – they suggested in the seminar that in order to exemplify good personal leadership you must first know yourself.

 

It took me some time to realize who I was as a person and what I have come to know as my goal in life.  Maybe this is just part of growing up, but I have to wonder if the ups and downs of having Crohn’s disease have not played a part in that process.  Over the past several years, things have become very clear for me - my goal in life is to help others - using my experience and my disease to help others through their “downs”. For the longest time, I denied the fact that I had Crohn’s; I did not want to be different and just wanted to fit in – I guess I was in denial. However, over the past few years, with the support of friends and family, living with Crohn’s has helped me discover myself and I have turned what some might consider my weakness, into my strength.

 

My goal in life is to become a gastroenterologist and to use my experience as a patient to better my patients’ experiences. My life ambition includes two important ideas that we covered in the HOBY seminar last weekend. The first is to always make SMART goals. Without goals, life has no direction and someone without goals will very often not accomplish anything. The second of the two topics we discussed at HOBY was the more important one in my mind - that is to make your mark on the world by changing and inspiring others lives.

 

My plan: to touch the lives of as many patients as I can in my lifetime.

 

[Editors note: read more posts by alex8799 in his archive]


Open Your Eyes

In my last post, I mentioned the isolation I felt after diagnosis. I kept my disease and my emotions private. At the time, I didn’t think this was my choice. I felt bullied into silence by my disease. It was so embarrassing. If I had to be sick, why couldn’t I have a normal disease? I thought everyone on the Internet was a weirdo (who would be crazy enough to admit they had IBD online!?) and just wished there was someone nearby who knew UC stood for more than “you see.” I didn’t only feel alone, I was so remarkably confident that I was alone. In retrospect, I wasn’t really trying. I didn’t consider Camp Oasis, or as I preferred to mockingly call it, Camp Whiny Sick Kid (stop, don't listen to my bitter little self, not at all accurate!). I wouldn’t have admitted it, but I knew there were support groups out there. It was my choice not to look into them.

In 2010, I was a Junior in high school, getting over my second flare. I was still as stubborn as my immune system. I wouldn’t have mentioned my disease at school in a million years. When Crohn’s disease came up in French class, it wasn’t from my lips - which made it all the more surprising!

It turns out that all along, a boy just a year older than myself at school had Crohn’s. His family was very active in the IBD community actually. I just never opened my eyes wide enough to realize. I passed him in the hallway at least twice a day. I didn’t speak up that day, though I could see my teacher who knew about my IBD eyeing me from her desk. I wasn’t ready, but this was a defining moment for me. I couldn’t believe it! I ran through the "what if’s" in my mind. How could I have missed this in a school of only 400 students? Would the past two years have sucked less if I had spoken out and connected with him?

Here’s what’s even more surprising, though: I still didn’t reach out to him. Just a few months ago, he reached out to me on Facebook, and I pretended I hadn’t known. I didn’t make the first move. Why?

Taking the first step is scary. Admitting to others that you have a disease is difficult because it forces you to admit your disease to yourself. I ran for two years - because I was scared of a label. I didn’t realize yet that I could choose my label. By not coming to terms with my disease, I was letting it label me - as a girl controlled by her disease. Now, I label my disease - as something that may challenge but will not trap me again.

Now that I’m actively involved in the IBD community, I love meeting other teens with UC and Crohn’s. I love sharing experiences, and I love how we often inspire each other. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to take that first step.

That first step is scary, but believe me, it’s not nearly as scary as fighting IBD alone.

Open your eyes. Look around you. Someone to understand how you feel might be closer than you think. You won’t know until you try.


It's OK to say it sucks!

Remember Alex? Read Alex's first post to LOOP here.

 

My life in one word (or acronym)…. IBD. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age nine. I am currently a sophomore at Milford High School and 16 years old. My life with Crohn’s disease was summed up one day by my school nurse. That day I came in to the nurse’s office and I broke down. I was in the middle of a month or so – what seemed like an endless period of having stomach cramps for no apparent reason. I started crying and in that conversation the nurse had this to say about IBD, “You’re allowed to say it sucks.” I thought that summed up the low points of my life and other patients’ lives with Crohn’s disease pretty well.

 

In my seven years with Crohn’s, I have gone through all the medications used to treat kids and have not found one that works. I have had several surgeries, the biggest of which was a resection of my ilium this past August. I have definitely had my ups and downs. But doesn’t everybody?

 

Even through the lowest downs, there is always an up; the silver lining that lights up your day. For me, I found that silver lining through Crohn’s disease. I guess Kelly Clarkson doesn’t lie when she says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” My silver lining is advocacy for a better patient experience. I get my inspiration, my optimism and my might from the patients that I see who have thrived under the weight of diseases worse than mine.

 

Crohn’s has turned into my life and my strength. It is the reason I am down, but it is also the reason I get right back up again. I have made new friends from Crohn’s. Through Crohn’s disease, I have learned who I can count on, to support me when I fall. It has introduced me to some of the most wonderful patients and people I will ever know. I have met patients facing bigger obstacles than me and living their lives giving back to others; living like everyday could be their last. Through Crohn’s disease, I have found my future and my life goal.

 

Life will always be full of obstacles but the way you deal with them is what determines whether the roadblock will be turned to a strength or a weakness.

 

Crohn’s is my life and my strength.


I've been lucky.

It first occurred to me while organizing the Big Blue Box, a jumbled collection of boxes, bottles, and doctors’ notes. A friend walked into my dorm room as I transferred that week’s supply of pills into my backpack. She already understood the basics of IBD, but I took the opportunity to introduce her to my crew of prescription superheroes.

 

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2008 at fourteen. It took just one month. I got lucky. I woke up from my first set of scopes to find out I’d won a ride to the inpatient floor. I was told to expect at least a week-long sleepover. Instead, my body ate up the Prednisone like candy, and I managed to break out after three days. Lucky for the second time.

 

My first superhero was Asacol. It gave me a sweet two months of remission. I flared again in 2009. This was my worst IBD flare to date, no doubt, but again I got lucky. I avoided an inpatient stay. I responded to Prednisone again. The rash on my skin that threatened to take my beloved Asacol away turned out to be a benign condition. I won’t deny the facts: the pain was unbearable at times, I felt very isolated in school, and I re-flared halfway through my Prednisone taper. I still think myself lucky.

 

I met a new superhero: 6mp. My parents and I feared it at first. It had the dreaded C word attached to its reputation. It came with an abundance of blood tests and risks. It also saved my colon. I’ve had very few side effects, and none of them significant. I expected nausea or worse to come out and, bam, hit me in the face, but they didn’t. Remission finally stuck around. I’ve had no significant disease activity since 2009.

 

Through it all, IBD was my secret. Poop isn’t really a comfortable topic of conversation in high school. I hated how my disease had affected my high school social life. I decided I needed to reach an emotional remission to match my physical remission: I would control how my disease affected my life, not vice versa. I joined an online support group. I’ve met and bonded with other teens with IBD. I’m a member of the ImproveCareNow patient advisory council. This year, I’ll be a volunteer counselor at CCFA Camp Oasis. I’ve found my voice, or at least I’m trying.

 

I have friends without colons. I have friends that dream of remission. I have friends that have dietary restrictions I don’t have or feeding tubes. I don’t pity them, but I do consider myself lucky. Every patient’s story is different, and none of us chose our story ahead of time. We didn’t get to preview our particular path through the disease and approve or veto it. I don’t know why my path has been less bumpy than my friends’. It makes me sad. If I could, I would share my remission with them. I can’t explain why things are the way they are, so I just call myself lucky.

 

That day in my dorm room with the Big Blue Box, all of this ran through my mind.

 

“This just makes me feel so bad for you,” she said finally.

 

The story rushed through my head from the beginning - where I started, how far I’ve come. My story is my own, but my passion for sharing it is about so much more than me. Neither of us spoke for a few seconds.

 

“I’m okay,” I say. It’s true. I’ve been lucky.


Story of Self | Jill Plevinsky

Jill Plevinsky Jill Plevinsky | Patient Advisory Council Chair

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 7 and have grown up to become both personally and professionally invested in the pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) population. Through my interest in improving the lives of these patients and their families, I became involved with the C3N Project and ImproveCareNow primarily as the founding chair of the Patient Advisory Council, which serves the initiatives of both projects.

 

I currently live in Cambridge, MA having recently earned my M.A. in child development from Tufts University. As I continue my collaborative work with the C3N Project and ImproveCareNow, I hope to eventually earn my PhD in clinical psychology and continue research and program development efforts that will help improve the accessibility of social support and overall health-related quality of life for all patients with IBD. I have a special interest in utilizing social technologies and social media platforms to do so because my own avid use of these tools has helped me to broaden my own patient network beyond friends I had met through experiences earlier on in life through pediatric support groups and Camp Oasis.

 

My own experience at these support groups and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Camp Oasis program initially inspired me to dedicate my higher education and career goals to young patients with IBD, and I hope that my insights and unique perspective from that of a patient and a researcher helps LOOP readers to better understand how ImproveCareNow is striving to make a difference from the top down.


Patient Advisory Council at ImproveCareNow | Looking for New Recruits

The patient voice is one to be heard. In 2011, the Patient Advisory Council (PAC) for theImproveCareNow Network was established to provide valuable input and act as an advocate, as well as serve as a resource and co-designer for the Collaborative Chronic Care Network (C3N).


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