Arriving to the college dorms sick and full of anxiety was not the best way to start my new journey into college but that’s where I was at. My Crohn’s disease was the worst it had ever been when I started college in 2012 at Cal State Fullerton but do you think I let that stop me? No way! College, schooling, getting an education is so important and I would like to share with you how I survived it and ways that made it easier for me to feel more comfortable.

I pulled up on campus with my car packed and ready to find my dorm, and my first concern was, where’s the bathroom? That was usually the main thing I thought about all day…every day. If you have read my past blogs I got my ostomy later in school so just to remind you I did not have my ileostomy yet. So, my day consisted of walking through campus and learning where all the restrooms were. After learning about the disability program when signing up for college I registered right away, and I never regretted it. I advise you to do the same because Crohn’s or UC or any chronic illness is a disability and the college will accommodate you as they should. I made sure to let all my teachers know my situation by introducing myself in person and through email. I had special privileges of leaving the classroom whenever and however long I needed to with no questions asked. As well as getting a note taker for days I had to miss class, and if I was absent I wasn’t penalized. These kinds of things really mattered to me because I did not think it was fair for me to lose points because I was home in bed sick from a flare, or from a bad day with Crohn’s. Do not feel embarrassed signing up for disability or for communicating with your teachers. They will understand and if they don’t, simply have the disability advisor take care of it.

First Year 2012
First Year 2012

After my surgery in 2013 many things turned around for me. I gained 50 pounds and I no longer was rushing to the restroom as often and now I could enjoy school and get out of bed. Throughout my years in college I did have several surgeries missing weeks at a time, but I still stuck with school. I had to take one semester off, but I did finish in 5 years. I advise those ostomates out there living away from home, on campus, or even at home, always have supplies with you when going to school. Then you are fully prepared for a possible leak and prevent any problems. I remember one day in class I had a leak and I had to up and leave. I remember the teacher glaring at me and I felt so rude for leaving but there was nothing else I could do. I ended up emailing him later that day to tell him I had a medical emergency, but I never really think he understood.

Graduation 2017
Graduation 2017

There will be a lot of people in your life who don’t always understand what you are going through. Some may be your peers, you teachers, managers at work, family, or close friends. It’s how you adapt and develop a sense of understanding that not everyone will accommodate or understand your struggles and how you go about overcoming them in your own ways. I am so proud of graduating college with this disease and I hope you will keep going and keep up the good work. It is doable to finish a 2, 4 or however many year university you choose to go to. You just have to believe you can do it and that will be your motivation to succeed.

Kristen Furey - Patient Champion
Kristen Furey
Patient Champion

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Bullying. Think of it however you want. What do you envision? Has it happened to you?

This morning while feeding my son I was casually looking at Twitter. I was absolutely flabbergasted and appalled by tweets made by a “journalist” with 46,500 followers about a woman with an ostomy bag. I personally do not have a bag, but I know many people who do. And the hateful, hurtful and shocking words made me feel sick. In my twelve years battling Crohn’s I personally haven’t been targeted by hateful banter, but it’s so sad to think others with chronic illness are targeted. Here are some of the tweets (that have now been taken down – please excuse the language)…

“She can’t help but talk shit. She has such a problem w/ shit in her body she has to wear an ostomy. Being full of shit is her actual illness.”

“I could care less about her or her illness. She doesn’t deserve my sympathy or respect. Sucks for her.”

“I’m not the one w/ a shitty hole in my stomach virtue signaling about how my stomach hole is cute. Why lie to her & tell her it looks good?”

“I’m not making fun of her. I am making a factual statement. She is actually full of shit. Ppl who are walking toilets shouldn’t throw shit.”

“Your friends are lying to you. It isn’t attractive. When you post pics like that you’re just asking for a confidence boost.”

I think you get the idea. I’m not one to instigate or enjoy confrontation. As a journalist… and a just a decent person, I’ve always done my best to steer clear of putting anything out on social media or my blog that could create anger, seem biased or one-sided. But, as a member of the inflammatory bowel disease community, as a voice for the millions who suffer in silence, and as a new mom… I just can’t let this go.

I commend each and every IBD patient who proudly shows their ostomy bag like a badge of honor. You know what, you deserve to. What you have endured to get to that point and what you experience physically, mentally and emotionally each day is difficult for someone like me to comprehend.

When I scroll through social media and see men, women, and kids in bathing suits or workout clothes and not hiding their bag in shame, it’s empowering! It makes me smile to know these people aren’t letting their disease or their personal situations hold them back from living a full life. Rather than hiding their bag or being embarrassed, they are showing people all over the world that your quality of life doesn’t have to be destroyed or hindered because you go to the bathroom differently than everyone else.

Is having a bag ideal? No. Is choosing to rise above your struggle and not let it hold you down incredibly inspiring. Yes. So when you see tweets like the ones above, brush your shoulder off… drown out that noise and know there are millions of others who look to you as a hero. Shame on anybody who thinks otherwise and shame on the keyboard warriors who can spew such hate.

 

Natalie

Posted originally on July 20, 2017 on Lights Camera Crohns.

Rachel

I was diagnosed with Crohns in 2002 after just over a year of stomach pains, rushing to the loo and blood in my stool. Although I had many procedures over the years, these were mostly exploratory to check up on my Crohns and I managed flare ups with courses of various medications, like oral or IV steroids helping to get me through sixth form and university.

I considered myself fairly lucky as I knew that cases of Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis can require surgery and I had years of fairly good health, being able to complete my studies and start working full time. I became very poorly at the start of 2015 and knew that something was different with this flare up – symptoms were far worse than anything before and medication I had previously taken wasn’t ‘kicking it into touch.’ After a couple of short hospital stays to go on IV steroids, I went to an emergency clinic and was admitted to hospital for what I was adamant needed to be a longer stay to really get to the bottom of things (no pun intended). My employer was very accommodating and I had told them I would probably be in for up to a week. Fast forward seven weeks and I was still in hospital on a low residue diet and trying biological drugs via IV for the first time. With no improvement from these drugs and results from tests showing lots of ulcers, inflammation and swelling in my large bowel (colon) which was in my consultant’s words ‘on fire’ it was time to consider surgery. Well, I say consider, I was informed that surgery would need to happen and at 9 pm one evening a surgical consultant I had never met before came to tell me I would need a pan-proctocolectomy.

 

When it comes to health and my Crohns, I feel to an extent that ignorance is bliss. I knew that people with my condition could need surgery at some time in their life and had a vague idea that ‘a bag’ may need to be worn but I didn’t want to know any more than that to worry myself. I was in my own room in the hospital when the consultant told me about this operation which involves removing all of the large bowel, rectum, and anus and forming a stoma. I remember feeling very upset, terrified of surgery and frantically googling the procedure and what a stoma even was. I found lots of videos on YouTube which were really helpful, showing how to clean a stoma, put a bag on securely and how to wear support garments to prevent a hernia forming. At that time, I went on to have a loop-ileostomy formed and none of my bowel removed. This type of stoma was formed so that if all went well, biological drugs would ‘heal’ my inflamed large bowel over time while ‘traffic’ as I like to think of it was diverted to pass through the stoma rather than the large bowel, resting it. I remained positive that I could have what people term a ‘reversal’ and the stoma could be popped back inside my body and reconnected once my large bowel was better again. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen and fast forward to March 2017 where I was once again in the theater for a major operation, this time for a pan-proctocolectomy and a permanent or end stoma was formed.

I never thought at 33 I would have a bag for life other than my weekly shopper but I feel lucky as surgery wasn’t a decision I had to make like some people who are managing their symptoms but life could be better with an operation, it was really the only option and decided for me as I was so ill.

I tried various biological drugs before my second operation to make my stoma permanent and am grateful that I had the chance to try these. My gastro and surgical consultants were less optimistic and had suggested the second operation long before I went ahead with it but as it was such a final operation, I wanted to give modern medicine a chance, until it became clear it was unsafe to keep doing so.

A device like this would work well for me as the type of stoma I have is an ileostomy and is permanently working/producing output. During the night when I am sleeping and not emptying my bag, it obviously gets fuller and stays fuller, particularly if I have had a large evening meal or eaten late at night. This runs the risk of leaks as well as the bag filling with air or ‘ballooning’. Having something in place that raised an alert if the bag was filling would ease my mind about potential leaks.

The only real changes I have had to make in my new life with a stoma are that I’m very careful when exercising as a hernia was formed from the first operation and I had it repaired in the second. I wear a heavy duty support belt when walking my powerful dog or doing something like circuits. Swimming is a great form of exercise as you are naturally supported in the water. I am also conscious of what I eat at times, not all the time, just before something major like a long flight or a full day out when I don’t want to constantly be emptying my bag. There are things to help with this like Imodium tablets to slow down output and sachets to put in the bag to help soak it up.

I’m loving my life, grateful to be off steroids and their many horrible side effects and want to spread awareness that stomas are not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and that a full life can still be lived.

 

Rachel

@rachelcarey84