When I was diagnosed, it wasn’t clear right away whether I had ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. My disease was so progressive, and I was so sick, that each treatment was like grabbing straws in the hopes that something worked. I prayed to avoid surgery, I prayed to survive.
On the cusp of colon cancer and failing treatment, there was no way to avoid the inevitable. Surgery was the only choice. Well, surgery or quite possibly death. But I was 17 years old and the idea of losing my colon was terrifying. I remember the team of doctors-specialists, surgeons, students, all filing into my hospital room to deliver the news.
I remember my surgeon drawing a picture with a black pen on white paper. “We will cut here, remove this, and make an opening there, create an ostomy out of that…” each scribble demonstrating what he planned to do to me. It was all so abstract and unreal. It was like I was that paper person and it was as simple as drawing a cut across my tummy and pulling my intestine through my abdomen. JUST. LIKE. THAT. But I am flesh and blood and not a series of sketches on paper.
All I knew is that my life would forever be changed. Illness changes everything, losing my colon was collateral damage that this disease was leaving in its path. It was killing me from the inside, and if my colon wasn’t removed, then there was not much hope for a future. I prayed to just survive.
Go ahead then, take it out.
Surgery was scheduled, my Living Will intentions were made, I signed the papers and cried when they wheeled me away from my parents, holding my mom’s hand until I couldn’t anymore. Until I had to let go… It’s so hard to describe that fear of the unknown. I was sick. Not just sick but deathly ill. If this was my chance at survival, would I really survive? I prayed to live through surgery. I prayed to survive.
I survived the surgery, but I was left with a body that was so unrecognizable to me. Cuts across my abdomen, part of my intestine on the outside, an abnormal anatomy that was hard to comprehend when I was just a teenager. Actually, no matter how old you are, this is something so incomprehensible. Who goes to the bathroom in a bag? Who lives this way? How do I live my life going forward? I am just a kid. Why me? The litany of unending questions each one more palpable than the last. I prayed to survive. Now how do I do that?
That was 10 years and more than a dozen surgeries ago. That was 10 years and more than 100 hospital stays ago. That was 10 years and 1,000 procedures ago. That was 10 years and a lifetime ago. I will never forget that scared young girl. Now, 10 years later, although I am still in a battle with this disease that has finally been diagnosed as Crohn’s disease, I am stronger and I am a survivor. Today, I live with a permanent ileostomy and a permanent positive attitude. I survived. 10 years. I survived.
This is the surgeon who performed my first surgery
This blog is the first part of my birthday gift to you, Nate.
As I start this blog I have to admit that, surprisingly, it is one of the hardest pieces I am writing for a couple of reasons. I have backspaced and deleted enough to the point where, if I were writing in the 1970s, my trashcan would be over flowing with crumpled paper that I keep pulling out of my ancient typewriter. Good thing it is 2016, and several trees are being saved from my inability to focus on how I want to put these thoughts into words.
Part of the reason I am having trouble with this blog is because it was the object behind a bit of a disagreement between Nate and me. It was nothing major, just a misunderstanding. I can be feisty and stubborn, but being ill has taught me enough about what is important and what matters, so arguments and fights with anyone are few and far between. So, no worries please.
Secondly, I am hesitant on writing this because, usually, when things go up, they must come down, and that has been my typical health pattern for nearly nine years. I have learned that a lot of things are temporary. As I continue to write about some of the positive things that have been happening with my health, in the back of my mind there is a whisper reminding me of Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity. That pesky law keeps me from getting too comfortable with the status quo. But tonight I am going to ignore that stinking voice so I can write in peace.
I had surgery on December 9th, 2015 following a very scary episode of sepsis which landed me in the critical care unit for nearly a week. You can read my last health update here. The surgery was scheduled in hopes to offer me a better chance at not repeating history of sepsis in that area as the risk was so high. All of my physicians concurred that I may not be so lucky ‘next time,’ so I had a removal of my rectal/anal cuff and the surgeons closed my bottom. Essentially I was given what they call a ‘Barbie Butt.’ You can laugh. It’s OK. It’s the truth, and God help us all, we NEED humor. I am 25-years-old and have managed to survive some of the most painfully undignified, frightening, and major health hurdles to end up with this Barbie Butt. Believe me, laughter has helped me so much it’s not even funny…or it is…but it’s not. (You know what I mean!) Without humor I wouldn’t have survived; I promise you that. Having this surgery is better than the alternative. So, I laugh in the face of this *bleep* disease that keeps coming at me. “Go ahead Crohn’s disease, Take my a-hole. I didn’t need it anyway!”
Following surgery, I ended up back in the hospital with another abscess and sepsis scare, but it was minor and with a strong dose of antibiotics, I recovered and was home in time for the holidays. That was crucial because I was about to launch the 365 Days of Granny Squares blog in the New Year. Here I was, sitting in the hospital, trying to figure out if I could orchestrate this project from my hospital bed so it would be ready to go by January 1st. I got lucky. I got to come home. 365 Days of Granny Squares went off without a hitch. Today, it has officially been an entire three months that I have not been hospitalized, and to be honest, that is a near record. The granny squares are helping me keep count! Haha!
The struggle is real
Although it hasn’t been easy, and finding an effective treatment plan for my Crohn’s disease has been like playing roulette, things are beginning to look up.
I struggled for the entire month of January trying to recover my strength. By February, I felt stronger but didn’t feel fully better. I started a new drug treatment six weeks ago that offers a lot of promise. Other than being bothered by a few side effects and minor setbacks, I am hopeful as I have seen some mild improvements *knock on wood*. I have tried so many new drugs and treatments, diets and health regimens, that I started to lose hope after failing so many times, but this time I have to hold on to hope. This time is different. It’s different because there is someone else in my picture besides myself, my friends, and my family. It’s Nate.
He’s my person
Remember that argument I mentioned we had earlier? Yeah, well, it was because I put him on the spot barraging him with questions about all this health stuff the other night with that not-so-pleasant side of my personality that demands answers about handling life with a sick person. I was probably having a tiny pity-party. There were tears, but I’m over it. Sometimes, in those fleeting, not-so-pretty moments, I feel unlovable, ugly, and scarred from a dozen surgeries and having an ostomy, all THIS worry comes out and gets overwhelming. It is overwhelming living with a terrible disease, so walking into this life by choice and choosing to love someone with these circumstances on their plate is HUGE. It’s a risk, and he did it. He did it for me. He told me I am worth the risk. Me! *insert a million feels here*
Presently, I am surrounded by several skeins of yarn and 600 tiny square crocheted pixels for a project I am making for Nate’s birthday gift.
I’m not thinking about the ugly side of this disease but about how lucky I am to have that love. For the first time in three months since surgery, I don’t just feel good, but I feel amazing! It has nothing to do with medication, doctors, good lab results, or clinic visits. It has to do with someone who Googled Crohn’s disease so many months ago and spent time reading all about it trying to learn what he could, so he could better understand this disease and what he would be facing with me. I feel amazing because Nate says I “fight like a champ” and I am the strongest person he knows, and guess what? I believe him. I feel amazing because, when he looks at me, he doesn’t see all those scars or my ostomy, and that I feel “broken.” He just sees me. Nadia. The girl I always wanted to be before my body was attacked by this disease.
Fighting like a champ (Surgery 2015)
The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades
There are a lot of things in life that aren’t fair. Nothing is remotely pretty when fighting against sickness. Chronic illness has taught me how unpredictable life can be. I wish I had that magic crystal ball to see the future, so I could know what is coming, but I don’t. I can recite to you my dream of what I would want to see, if the universe lined up just right to grant me that future. It’s a beautiful private dream. But it is exactly that – just a dream.
One thing I have learned is that I can’t control any of this disease, and the universe has a plan of its own. However, despite all these trials, I have been given this perfectly imperfect life that looks nothing like a perfect dream, and that is OK. Illness was the reason I started to crochet. That led me to create YARNutopia and introduced me to this wonderful crochet community. It has brought me lifelong friendships. It taught me the value of what is truly important, and finally, it navigated my life to cross paths with an extraordinary man who is willing to face that frightening, unknown future by my side. He gave me a pinky promise. That is a promise of HOPE. There are no words that exist to thank someone for a gift that extraordinary. Maybe these undeleted, uncrumpled words can help.
So when you ask how I am feeling, the truth would be, I feel amazing.
Happy Birthday, Nathan Lyden.
“…It’s a blessed thing to love and feel loved in return.” ~E.A. Bucchianeri