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Heather’s Story (Ulcerative Colitis)

Heather's Story (Crohn's) I was just about to turn 17 when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune digestive disease called ulcerative colitis. It and Crohn’s disease are collectively called Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD. Essentially, my immune system mistakenly thinks there are foreign bodies in my intestines.  It attacks my intestines and creates ulcers in the intestine walls. This causes a feeling of urgency when going to the bathroom, as well as frequent, painful bowel movements.

Some people lose so much blood because of this that they require blood transfusions. Luckily I never needed a blood transfusion, but I did become very anemic. In addition, I was in a lot of pain and rarely was able to sleep through the night, as every time I would lie down, I would have to go to the bathroom. As a result of this and my body fighting itself, I was constantly exhausted and fatigued.

During the three months that I was most sick, I missed about two weeks of school (this was during my senior year) in total. And that’s very lucky, as most people I’ve talked to who have colitis or Crohn’s have missed a lot more school than that. I was fortunate enough to get diagnosed very quickly and my doctor was proactive with my treatment (there is no cure for these diseases). After trying one medication and getting worse, I was put on a steroid called prednisone. Including the time it took to wean me off of it, I was on it for around three months. In that time, I suffered many of its terrible side effects, including weight gain, horrible stretch marks, chubby cheeks, back fat, terrible mood swings, and depression. It did what it was intended to do, though, and I got better.

I eventually (in January 2012) was able to stop taking it. I was then put on other medications to keep my symptoms at bay. From that point until April of this year, I was in remission, which means the same as it does in terms of cancer: I had no symptoms and my condition was technically inactive. Unfortunately, in April, I started having symptoms again. That’s the thing about IBD, you never know when it’s going to flare up again and you don’t have much, if any, control over it.

Avoiding certain foods (for me, raw vegetables, popcorn, nuts, and seeds) helps to some extent, but it won’t necessarily make a difference when it comes to whether or not one has symptoms. Even though I’m frustrated and saddened by this setback, I’m trying to stay positive. I’ve made it through far worse times so I know I can make it through this as well. I also know how fortunate I am in comparison to others who have IBD. Many people with IBD go to the hospital on a regular basis or have had surgery (some have had more than one surgery) or live in pain every day. I really am lucky. Each day I try harder and harder to be grateful for the things I do have, like my friends, family, and pets, my education, intelligence, and just all the opportunities I have. I may be struggling right now, but I know I’m going to get through this and be stronger in the end. I fight like a girl and I’m going to beat this! Let’s find a cure for Crohn’s and colitis!

Submitted 6-16-2013

The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

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