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.