As I prepare for yet another surgery, I wanted to reach out to everyone with an update on my current health situation, as well as give a background on my journey through illness thus far. Repeatedly challenged by sickness, I am often left to navigate my way through life around numerous obstacles placed in my way due to complications from Crohn’s disease.
I ask you to read this blog and hopefully you will be able to get a clearer picture of how truly devastating inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can be. My hope is that once this ordeal is behind me, I can hit the ground running (or at least walking) into 2016. My goal is to get through an entire year without having major surgery or complications. My real hope is that we find the CURE.
Health Challenges Ahead
For the past eight years, I have been struggling with my health. Some of you who follow my page have known about a few of my struggles; others may be new to learning that I have a very severe and complex case of Crohn’s disease. Every doctor I have ever encountered has termed me everything from an “anomaly,” to “complicated,” to “a nightmare.” It has been extremely difficult to walk this journey and try to maintain some normalcy in my life when nothing is “normal” with my health.
When I was 17 years old, I was so sick, and on the cusp of colon cancer, when the doctors decided to remove my entire large intestine and rectum. I underwent a total-proctocolectomy and was given a temporary loop ileostomy and an internal ileo J-pouch.
An ileostomy is when the small intestine is brought through the abdominal wall and waste is diverted to the outside of the body. This continence diversion allows for a person to expel body waste into an ostomy appliance on the outside of the body.
A J-pouch is an internal pouch using a portion of the small intestine made to take the place of the rectum and can be used to expel waste similar to any other person (minus the correct anatomy). My J-pouch was connected to a small part of my anal cuff left behind during surgery and left to heal.
I lived with my ileostomy for four months then had it reversed. Physically, I looked “normal” from the outside, other than the abdominal scars I had from surgery. Doctors opened my bottom and the concept was that the J-pouch would emulate a “mock rectum” and function as an internal reservoir for waste out of which I would be able to go to the bathroom somewhat “normally.” However, I wasn’t so lucky.
In the entire time I had my J-pouch, I went into what essentially would be considered “failure” and was terribly ill for the 20 month duration I had it. My surgeon was trying hard to save the reconstructed organ because he was trying to take my youth into consideration. He was working hard to avoid giving me a permanent ileostomy.
So, I underwent another surgery to go back to a temporary ileostomy in hopes of saving all the reconstructive internal surgery I had done and save my J-pouch. It was not successful.
After 10 months, I underwent testing to see if this extreme procedure would work, but the doctors determined that there was a lack of blood supply flowing to the J-pouch and my disease had attacked everything. There was really no chance to save the tissue and intestine.
The doctors then made the decision that my best case scenario would be to remove the diseased intestine, remove the J-pouch and give me a permanent ileostomy. I was 20 years old.
It Takes a Toll
It is difficult to describe to someone how it feels to constantly have your life interrupted by illness. Although I have incredible family support, it has been a difficult journey to take as I watched my brothers and my friends move on to college when my six attempts at college were detoured by illness, to the point where I just gave up trying. I watched them move out on their own, get married, work a job outside the home, and move forward in life.
For me, it seemed that for each step I took forward this illness tried it’s best to push me two steps backward. I fought back EVERY step of the way. I have tried a myriad of medications, holistic healing, naturopathy, homeopathic, and dietary measures to help myself. If you can think of it, I most likely have tried whatever method to stave off this disease. Up until recently, (as I now am preparing for another surgery and have been taken off of several of my meds in preparation) I was/am taking chemotherapy drugs, biologic drugs, probiotics by the bottle-full, vitamins, dietary supplements, and numerous other medications to sustain my life and existence as best as I can.
Even if from all outward appearance I look “normal,” the crazy thing about this disease is that it is invisible from the outside. I guarantee if you saw me from the inside, you would know how truly devastating this disease really is. I feel that over the years and after numerous surgeries, I have been pieced back together, that all my mismatched parts have been stitched back like an old rag-doll that has seen too many days of wear and tear.
Since my initial series of life changing surgeries, I’ve had to undergo many more as I sacrificed more and more of my intestine to this monster. Last summer, I had another 30 centimeters of intestine removed, and because of a prolapse to my ileostomy, I had my ileostomy moved from my right side to my left side.
Shortly after surgery, I began to experience incredible pain around my new ileostomy. After numerous tests, the doctors found a subcutaneous leak where feces were seeping into my abdomen. Upon further testing, they also found a large abscess at the surgical site in my abdomen. Another major surgery was performed to open me back up. It was so bad; they could not close my abdomen. They left the incision open and I underwent what is known as “healing by secondary intention.” I was put on a woundVAC machine, and my wounds were packed and treated until they healed. I spent more than a month hospitalized and another six weeks with home healthcare nurses taking care of me with the additional help of my parents.
The Journey Continues
Fast forward to this year, and I still have not had much luck conquering this disease. I have yet to get through a year without major surgery or to even have lengthy respite from being in the hospital. Even this year I have been hospitalized five times since January 2015.
Earlier this fall, I started to experience incredible pain in my lower abdomen. Several days had passed, and the pain increased. I had been home alone caring for my nephew when I knew there was a bigger issue than just typical Crohn’s pain. I called my parents, who were out in New York visiting my brother. My parents cut their trip short, left NY, and raced back home.
Upon arrival my mom rushed me to the ER. I was immediately admitted inpatient with an abscess. The problem was that the abscess had formed in my lower abdomen where my anal cuff had been left behind from my permanent ileostomy surgery, and they sewed up my bottom. The mucosa produced from the tissue, along with bacteria, had caused a critical situation, making conditions ready for this disaster to happen. The abscess was located in a very vascular area and was affecting other organs.
The decision was made to transport me to another hospital more equipped to handle the level of care I needed. I was taken by ambulance, and by the time I arrived at the other hospital I had gone septic. I ended up in the ICU for several days and had to undergo emergency surgery to place drainage pumps to get the infection from my abdomen out. It was a terrible ordeal, and it is remarkable that I even recovered from being that sick.
After a week in the hospital, I was discharged with the pump, drains, and tubes still inside of me. As long as my mom could care for my apparatus at home, I could continue treatment from home. So I went, happy as a clam to get out of the place I so ungraciously refer to as “The Joint.”
However, this doesn’t end here. This is the reason for the inspiration for this blog post. I had the drainage system in a little over two weeks until the doctors were able to remove them. Unfortunately, this could be a reoccurring problem, and they said I may not survive another episode if the abscesses come back. In order to prevent that from happening, I need to have the entire area removed. This will entail the complete removal of the anal area, the muscle surrounding it, the internal area where the disease is showing, and any of the area where abscesses may form.
At this time, there is no way to know how deep it will be or how much will need to be taken out. The best case scenario would be about a three inch diameter section of my bottom, but internally I am not sure. Needless to say, I am extraordinarily frightened.
Actually, that doesn’t even come close to explaining how I feel as this disease continues to ravage my 25-year-old body and continues to claim one piece at a time. From diseased intestines, surgeries, hospitalizations, blood clots, infusions, transfusions, PICC lines, infections, and a number of other challenges, this disease has truly tested every bit of physical and mental strength I possess and it continues to do so. Fear does not own me, but I can honestly say it is ever present through this journey.
I was told the recovery time is six to eight weeks for this type of surgery. Each one of these surgeries makes my situation even graver and more challenging for an already challenged body. There are moments when I feel like screaming out in rage and beg for an answer to the question “WHY?” Other times, I feel like I just want to embrace life and celebrate EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. that I can. I choose the latter most often.
You Give Me Strength and Purpose
My surgery is scheduled for December 9th, 2015. I was able to obtain medical clearance from my doctors to travel to New York City for a few days before surgery to visit my brother, and I am really looking forward to that trip. I feel like having that to look forward will help keep my mind off the obvious event of surgery looming in front of me. Each moment to add good memories to my life canvas makes all the difference in the world! I am so eternally grateful for the many gifts in my life. I owe all to Allah, my family, Nate, my friends, my IBD family (Crohn’s and colitis patients and doctors), and you, my crochet family who keep me fighting when I feel weak.
I have shared with you before how much I value crochet. I have told you how crochet saved me, but you may not know what you have done for me every day that you showed up to watch my videos and work on my projects. You gave me purpose in an otherwise difficult time when I wasn’t sure of my value. You gave me reason to keep working, creating, and teaching. That is more valuable to me than all the medicine in the world. When I say, “I wish I could hug each and every one of you,” I truly mean it. Thank you so much for the contribution YOU have made to my life. Sometimes people say that I have impacted their life, well; it goes both ways. You have truly impacted so much of my life.
I will be taking time off from filming, but have managed to film a few nice videos ahead of time, to be released during my surgery and recovery. I hope to make a full recovery and get back to crochet and creating in no time! Please continue to share your work. I promise to keep checking back to see what progress everyone has made. As soon as I am able, I will be back, ready to hook my way into action!
Thank you for your patience and your continued support. There are no words that can express my honest gratitude.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you will not see the shadows.” ~Helen Keller
Love and *Soft Yarn Hugs,*
Your crochet instructor,
If you would like to learn more about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, please visit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s website at www.ccfa.org