There are two very important things to know about me. First, I have Crohn’s Disease. Second, I am very stubborn. You may have never heard of Crohn’s Disease and may be wondering how being stubborn and having an illness are possibly related, but I will explain.
There are many medical definitions of Crohn’s Disease that you can find online, but they cannot portray the accuracy of the physical and emotional devastation the disease can cause. Here is my medical story as concisely as possible: I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (a chronic incurable autoimmune gastrointestinal disease that causes inflammation) after my 12th birthday and spent years on drug therapies that ravaged my body in pursuit of remission. After continuously exhausting medical choices and spending vast amounts of my life in the hospital, I chose to undergo permanent ileostomy surgery last year right after my 19th birthday. What does that all mean? It means that I have spent the last eight years of my life entrenched in the medical world and that I no longer have a large intestine and will always have an ostomy.
In some ways, having an ostomy is kind of like the ‘happily ever after’ ending in fairytales. It has given me unimaginable independence and freedom and I absolutely love it. But in other ways, it’s a short vacation. Crohn’s Disease can occur anywhere in the GI tract, and so within six months of my major surgery, inflammation was lining my small intestine.
But before this appears to be a sappy, Oprah-worthy medical tale, let me explain why being stubborn is relevant. I had no choice in having Crohn’s Disease, but I do have a choice in how I live my life with Crohn’s. Being sick can make it hard to go to school, have a job, be with friends, travel, and fulfill my dreams – but just because something is challenging does not mean that it is impossible. When I decide that I want to do something, I make up my mind and nothing can stop me from following through – not even my disease. After finishing high school in Canada, I decided to go to school in America. As a dual citizen, it had been a longstanding dream of mine as far back as a primary student. People who didn’t know me urged me to stay home, they reasoned that I was sick and belonged with family. But I was determined and I packed up my life and moved to Boston to attend Boston University. I’ve been on the Dean’s List, I’ve been in the hospital, but I wouldn’t trade living my educational dream for a split second. As a Psychology major, it is my goal and full intention to be a pediatric psychologist for chronically ill children – a hole that is so needed in the pediatric medical system. My own medical experiences have lead me to see a gap in the world that I would have otherwise been blind to and it has become my mission to publish on this area and really make a difference for future generations of chronically ill children.
I once described to someone that living with Crohn’s was like having only one-colored pen. I could write a million different words, but they would all be shaded with my Crohn’s. But just because I have Crohn’s doesn’t mean that I am Crohn’s. I am a student, a writer, a babysitter, an amateur yogi, an aspiring runner, a jewelry maker, a volunteer, an advocate, and a hundred other words that won’t fit in this post. As the chair of the Youth Advisory Council for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, I take an active role in changing how people think about Crohn’s. I try my best to live by the wish I wrote when I was 13, “You hope to rise above your disease and excel”.
Crohn’s Disease is a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). IBD affects over 5 million people in the world, and over 200,000 Canadians – the highest rate per capita in the entire world, with the most prevalence in Nova Scotia. IBD costs the North American economy $4 billion a year. To me, IBD had cost me my childhood and my large intestine, but it has not taken my resolve to live and thrive.
When you’re confined to a hospital bed and have no energy to stand or even stay awake for the entire day, the idea of moving and being active is completely laughable and painful to comprehend. But as I fight day by day to have my life and succeed with my ostomy, being active brings an indescribable joy and freedom. In March of 2012, I will be joining a team of like-minded people to travel to Peru to climb Machu Picchu to ‘change attitude with altitude’. As part of the IDEAS’ (Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society) IBD Adventures, I will finally get a chance to travel across the world to literally rise above and excel. We will be hiking 40 km through the Inca Trail, on a physical journey and a medical one. You can learn more about the trip here.
While I am ecstatic about the trip, it means missing a week or so of college. And even though that’s not an ideal situation, I am so passionate about this trip and raising awareness about IBD that I have to go. In college, we usually sit around in classrooms and talk about these amazing, wonderful, incredible things that other people did – be it write the great American novel, or discover something, or conduct a cool experiment. And we can write all the papers we want about that – but isn’t the best way to say “I get it!” to do something amazing and wonderful and incredible? If I have learned anything about resiliency and chronic illness in my Psychology classes, it’s that setting and achieving goals is paramount to a positive future. And – this isn’t a small thing – it will be rejuvenating for me and inspiring and make me even more dedicated to my degree and future career. Just imagine: a big, framed picture of Machu Picchu in my office when I’m a psychologist and telling a kid who feels like the world is too much that they can do anything because I climbed a mountain in Peru.
We all have intestines and we all go to the bathroom. There is a shame that is associated with intestinal diseases, but that is condemning and inaccurate and it is about time we came out of the metaphorical bathroom stall and did something about it. I want to raise $5,000 ($125 per km) for the Machu Picchu trip so that important research can be funded to find a cure in my lifetime. I would so deeply appreciate anything that you could give – be it a penny or words of encouragement. Donations can be sent online via my blog.
Just as my disease is chronic, so too is my resilience, stubbornness, and belief that I have a right to a beautiful life. I am 20 years old, and have a challenging but remarkable life ahead of me – and in March, a very, very large mountain.
Jennie David is a 20 year old junior at Boston University majoring in Psychology and minoring in English. She is a member of NSCS and Psi Chi and is a dual citizen of both Canada and the US. She has Crohn’s Disease and is the chair of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada’s Youth Advisory Council. Her career goal is to be a pediatric psychologist for chronically ill children. Visit her blog about the upcoming Peru trip here.