My name is Nicole and I am 21 years old. I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease on my 16th birthday and Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) just a few months later. These diagnoses were heartbreaking, but I did not let them stop me. I am graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor's of Science in Biology and will be returning to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio to work as a Genetic Counseling Assistant to pursue my passion in genetics.

My greatest struggle with my chronic illnesses is to accept the symptoms and allow myself to be 'sick'. Whether I find myself trudging through my day and wondering why I am so tired at 9am, becoming frustrated why a restaurant wouldn't have accessible gluten and dairy free options, or simply being upset that my stomach is hurting and that I need to stay home, I simply forget that it is OK to be sick. It is OK to need rest and to be upset and to hurt and to cry when you have a chronic illness (or 2 or 3 or 4).

One of the most rewarding experiences that having a chronic illness provides is to share your diagnosis with those that are closest to you and watch as an outpouring of love and support roll in. Once you are vulnerable with your friends and family and share your exhaustion, pain, frustrations, and reality, there is no longer a need to put up a front and pretend to be OK. These are the people that will be there to put you to bed when you are exhausted, to celebrate your accomplishments despite your illness, and for every moment in between.

Although having support from your loved ones is vital, there is no better outlet for understanding your diseases than through other patients. Not only do they support and care for you, but they have been there and truly appreciate what you might be going through. I know that the PAC is a great resource for newly diagnosed patients and veterans alike, and I hope to add a number to that phone book of people to call when you need someone to listen.

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