My name is Shawntel Bethea, but I go by Shawn. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at 17 years old after many years of active symptoms. Growing up, I always had sharp pains in my side. I also experienced bloody stools, urgency to use the bathroom and extreme fatigue. My family and I knew something was wrong, but every time I went for medical attention, they would say it’s “nothing” or “growing pains.” At 17 years old, my symptoms became severe, and I was hospitalized. While in the hospital, I was administered many medications, IV steroids and two blood transfusions. I was finally diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.
After high school, I was going to college during the day and working part-time at minimum wage jobs at night to pay for it. At the time, there was no way for me to get the medical attention I needed, so I would “get by” with taking over-the-counter medications or old steroids. Slowly, my symptoms became worse and worse. I started experiencing more and more urgency, pain, blood, fatigue, and now, vomiting. Ulcerative Colitis literally controlled my life. Everywhere I went, I would spot a quick way out or bathroom. I was constantly thinking “what if.” “What if I get sick?” / “What if I have to use the bathroom?” / “What if there IS NO BATHROOM?” / “What will people think if I throw up?” And the list goes on! At work, I was constantly running back and forth from my seat to the bathroom, until things got REALLY bad.
I woke up one day in a tremendous amount of pain and had no idea why. I let it go on for about a week until I felt so bad it brought tears to my eyes to even walk. I was sitting in a meeting one day at work when I got sent to the doctor, who sent me to the emergency room, and I had my first surgery within 24 hours.
After surgery, I began to realize how serious my disease was and started seeing new specialists who believed my symptoms lined up more with Crohn’s than Colitis. I went through a lot of testing at that time, and every test result said Ulcerative Colitis. However, the doctors were still convinced it was Crohn’s. So temporarily, we referred to my illness as Crohn’s Colitis, which is a mix of the two. Recently, my diagnosis was finalized as Ulcerative Colitis after my 4th surgery, when I had my large intestines and appendix removed. I am now 22 and have a temporary Ostomy and will be going through my 2nd JPouch surgery in April 2015.
My goal is to raise awareness for my illness so no child will have to go through what I went through, and also to raise funds for the CCFA to go towards finding cures for Crohn’s and Colitis! I really want to help the IBD community in any way possible because we should not sit in silence or embarrassment any longer. You are not alone.
I have created a blog and YouTube channel dedicated to raising awareness, sharing my story, giving advice, and just having someone to talk to!
Learn more at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=1jj9CXc5Dmo
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.