Impact on Acedemic Performance

My sophomore year started out great. I was on the girls’ gymnastics team and had recently received my driver’s license. But as second semester got underway, things changed.

It was the home gymnastics meet. I was ready to perform, when something started feeling wrong. Thinking it was just my nerves, my coach and I decided I should sit out to relax and pull myself together. Although the setback, I performed my routine successfully. However, the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach was still there, and it seemed to be getting worse. As the weekend went on, I seemed to be feeling better.

Monday came, and while sitting in my third hour class, the dreaded feeling returned. This time it was much more intense. I tried to stay focused on the lesson, but this was not easy; I knew something wasn’t right.

Two weeks later, it hadn’t improved. In fact, it had gotten worse. Twenty to thirty trips to the bathroom every day had been added to the list of symptoms. I was missing school and gymnastics practice almost every day, and a trip to the doctor resulted in an initial diagnosis of a stomach virus. Eating had become a chore, as was simply getting out of bed. I was losing weight—about ten pounds already—and energy, and my family and I doubted that this was just a stomach virus.

After three weeks, I had only left the house once for a doctor visit. This appointment led to many tests, all of which came back negative. Nobody knew what was wrong with me. I was consumed with feelings of frustration, sadness and loneliness, as my days and nights were filled with tears and unanswered questions. My mom made several telephone calls to try to find a specialist that would see me; all said they would not see me until I’ve had symptoms for six to eight weeks. It had now been four. My days consisted of sleeping, going to the bathroom, and crying out of frustration and pain. I could no longer lie down in bed because of the increased pain, which left me trying to sleep in a sitting position.

Persistent, my mom found a specialist who said I would need a colonoscopy/endoscopy. I would wait another week for this procedure, during which time I was given some medications to make me more comfortable. But things worsened. Dehydration and additional weight loss caused fainting episodes, ultimately resulting in multiple trips to the Emergency Room.

After the procedures, my doctor said, “You have Ulcerative Colitis”. I didn’t know what to think. I felt relief knowing what was wrong, but I was also scared. The doctor proceeded to tell me that I would be put on medications that would control the disease; however, one of them (Prednisone, a steroid) would potentially come with some harsh side effects. At the time, the side effects seemed very insignificant. I would have done anything to feel better. I wasn’t worried.

Over the next week, things seemed to improve. However, a week later, I hit another bump in the road. I had horrible reactions to one of the medications, including vomiting and joint pain. My doctor ordered a change to my medication, and the disease was somewhat controlled through the rest of the school year and summer.

The steroids packed an emotional punch, but the disease symptoms were definitely better and more tolerable. I tried my hardest to stay focused on things I could control and think less about the things I couldn’t. The known side effects of Prednisone were now weighing heavily on my mind. I did not realize how emotionally difficult it would be to ignore the weight gain, extreme fluid retention, and mood swings. It caused me to ask myself which one was worse – the symptoms of the disease or the affects of the medications.

My junior year brought a fresh start, a new year, and hopefully a new me. But in November, my medication stopped effectively controlling the disease. The symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis returned, and so did the desperation, sadness, loneliness, worry, and anger. I then started a different medication, Remicade, which required a visit to the hospital every four weeks, to receive an IV treatment.

After completing the first series of treatments, I saw no improvements and it seemed like I was sicker than I had ever been before. It was the day I stepped on the scale and saw 92 pounds that my mom knew I had to be taken to the hospital. I stayed for two weeks, during which time I received IV treatments of steroids and pain medication.

As one final non-surgical option, my doctor suggested we combine the last two medications in hopes that, together, they would do the job. I finally felt better and I was sent home to continue the new medication plan and receive daily nutrition via an IV.

A couple of weeks went by and I was feeling better. I was going back to school, after being gone for months. Things, once again, seemed to be improving. My school schedule was modified, as my energy level was very low.

As I was finally getting used to my new schedule and being back to school, things got bad again. We needed to consider surgery. As a surgeon explained to us, there would be two separate surgeries with eight weeks in between. The first surgery would involve removing my colon and creating a “new” colon, using my small intestine. The second surgery was to get everything reconnected. I was terrified, but I knew it was the only answer and my only option to get back to normal. The surgery was scheduled for the following Monday.

After the surgery, I stayed in the hospital, recovering, for five days, and was then sent home to heal. Eight weeks of healing was filled with tears, anxiety, frustration, fear, and anger, but I had to stay focused on healing so surgery number two could be completed.

When I was sick, it was impossible to go to school; recovering from surgery was different. It was decided that the best solution would be an online class, and some homebound schooling to get me back on track. My teachers were willing to give so much of themselves in an effort to make sure I was able to successfully complete my junior year. This made me realize how important it is to recognize when I need help and then to actually get help however I can.

When this recovery time was finally over, I found myself back in Madison at the hospital ready for the next phase of the journey. Surgery number two was much easier, only taking one hour instead of five.

Having Ulcerative Colitis has taught me so much. I am a much stronger person than I ever thought I could be. Throughout my experiences, I have found both physical and emotional strength. I pushed myself, with the help of the people who love me, through situations I never thought possible. I am determined and I now know I can do anything I set my mind to. I have learned to pay attention to the important things in life. My family and being healthy are, by far, the most important things to me.

Bringing a positive outlook to every situation I am faced with is important to me, as well as going at them with a “never say never” attitude. Ulcerative Colitis, and all that I have experienced because of it, has shaped me into a stronger, more optimistic, and more confident person. Although I have had to adapt to changes along the way, I feel resilient and I now choose to face challenges head on, knowing they are all just part of my life.

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