How Giving Back Has Kept Me Going

The night was like any other. I washed my face, I brushed my teeth, I texted my goodnights, I turned on my heating pad hoping it would help with my abdominal pain and I went to bed. But then 12:30am hit and I had been woken up due to what felt like a continuous stabbing sensation in my right abdomen – now this had happened once or twice before but after over two hours of it I knew it was time to call my mom. The wonderful women that she is, within 15 minutes of my conversation on the phone with her  she was in the car and on route to London (it really wasn’t much of a conversation, it consisted of me sobbing and her trying to comprehend what I was saying).

Once she arrived, we made it to emerge and I was admitted to the hospital around 6:30 that morning. What followed was one of the worst weeks of my life – I really do not feel the need to relive the series of events but it did change me and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family close by. Prior to my hospital visit, I was already so fed up with the reality I was forced to live and this was just the icing on the cake. I realized it was time to make a choice: I could give up or give back. I could let the pain overtake me and let exhaustion silence me or I could fight back and possibly help others along the way.

I’ve learned how important it is to have loved ones close by in times of need. Although I was 19, I was entirely helpless. Simple tasks like raising a fork to your mouth to eat were so exhausting that they couldn’t be completed without needing an hour long nap afterwards and I don’t know what I would have done if my parents and boyfriend weren’t there to give me constant support.

On the fourth night of my hospital stay, one with about two hours of sleep I made the choice that when I felt like my health was somewhat under control I would give back. I’ve recently become a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House. A charity I believe very strongly in – I’m considered an adult yet when I have a sick day all I want is my mom. (I mean, don’t we all?) I couldn’t imagine going through what these sick children do. The House’s vision is “to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children and their families” while they strive towards a world where all children have access to medical care, and their families are supported and actively involved in their children’s care. In London, we embrace the idea of a ‘home-away-from-home’. The house is lucky to be only 165 steps away from the Children’s Hospital, which allows parents to be there for their sick child while they get the care they need.

Through this experience, I’ve met families and children with stories far beyond mine and with hearts beyond their ages.

For parents, it’s the promise of being close to their children in times of need. It’s the promise that they can run down for a coffee when they need a break or a hot shower to clear their head. It’s the promise of assurance and reassurance and it’s the promise of understanding and companionship. It’s the promise that when everything does not go as planned, they are not alone.

For me, it’s the promise of a reason to get through every bad day and appreciate every good day. The promise of a reason to persevere and the promise of knowing that love and support are profound gifts – to give and to receive. I always thought that giving back would consist of strictly helping others but it has helped me more than I could have ever anticipated.

Who knew that simple tasks like prepping rooms, greeting guests, handing out coffee, making others feel comfortable and ‘at home’ in their time of need, something similar to what I had previously experienced, could give me more restoration and relief than any medication could offer.

My illness has altered and taken away certain aspects of my life but they will never take away my drive, love and ability to give back. So as long as another child is forced to fight a battle they shouldn’t have, I will be there. Through this past year and a half of being chronically ill, I’ve learned many lessons. But I’m beginning to realize the greatest lesson I could learn is within myself – through the power of love and two open arms.

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Want to learn more? Ronald McDonald House Charities

Interested in giving? Day of Change – Gratitude

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“Trust Your Gut”

We’ve all heard this before. I’m guilty of offering up this piece of advice to those who need it and whenever an important decision needs to be made – I often abide by “trust your  gut”.

But how am I supposed to trust my gut when my own body is trying to destroy it? 

Throughout my life, I had fought the common cold; the occasional flu and what the doctors thought IMG_1796.jpgthat at the age of 13 were just pre-menstrual cramps. But after constant nausea and feeling tired all the time (I’m not joking, I would wake up and ten minutes later need to take a nap) I finally decided that it was time to get answers – or at least a different perspective. It took 6 long months of three doctors collaborating tog
ether through blood work, scans, testing and scopes and finally on October 7th, 2015 (one week after my 19th birthday), I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

I stared blankly at the doctor who announced the news.

I was unsure of what the moment of silence he placed upon me was for. Wait, was I supposed to cry? Get angry? Panic? Leave? At that moment I had absolutely no idea what Crohn’s disease was and how it was going to affect me! I was just happy we finally had an answer for all of the nonsense my body was throwing at me.

Crohn’s disease? Okay… so what’s next? 

I can’t help but laugh at myself when I think about that moment.  How did I stay so calm, cool and collected? Well, simply because I had no idea what the next year of my life would entail. Like many of you – I had no idea what Crohn’s disease was and I had no idea how/why I got it.

After a year and some of being a ‘Crohnnie’ (I don’t really think that’s a thing – but let’s just go with it) I’ve learned a few things (a lot actually). But I learned them simply because my body forced me too.

For those of you who are even the tiniest bit interested in what I’ve endured and will continue to endure – here’s a summed up, somewhat sugar-coated version of what Crohn’s disease is!

Brought to you by the ‘Crohnnie’ herself… 

Throughout university, I’ve come to learn that a body is a body – a physical structure composed of different types of cells that together create tissues and eventually organ systems that ensure homeostasis and viability. In order to do this, it consic.pngsts of many systems – one being the digestive system. We all have one. Mine is just… what’s the best way to put this? Mine’s just hella pissed off at itself!

  So what lead me to the doctors in the first place?

Well, symptoms of Crohn’s disease differ from person to person which is why diagnosing it can be difficult at times. You can find a full list of the symptoms here: Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

As I mentioned before, I’ve had miss-school-lay-on-the-bathroom-floor-and-cry-all-day cramps since I was 13 years old. My symptoms consisted of these cramps accompanied by bloating, nausea, reduced appetite, major fatigue, muscle pain and the worst one of them all – extreme blood loss.

What does that lead to?

Well, Crohn’s disease is named after the brilliant man who first described it almost 100 years ago. It’s a chronic, lifelong illness which to this day still has no cure. It falls under the category of an irritable bowel disorder (IBD) and can strike anywhere in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is also considered to be an autoimmune disease. This causes my body to attack and damage it’s own tissues which then leads to all of the symptoms I listed above and more!

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My body is attacking itself. It acts as if my healthy cells are an infection that it is fighting to stop. Therefore, it is fighting itself to the point where parts of the bottom of my small intestine and beginning of my large barely exist anymore.

My immune system is overactive like Usain Bolt compared to yours being the camera guy that ran into him. 

In the past, it has been known to be a genetic disease, but my case was different as there is no genetic history of such a thing – luckily, further research and studies are being done to determine other possibilities that jump-start this illness!

Looking back on it, I’ve probably had symptoms of Crohn’s disease since I was 13 years old and just didn’t know it. The doctors didn’t have sufficient reasons to think that I did at the time and it never crossed anybody’s minds once (including mine or my parent’s). Since my diagnosis, I have felt and dealt with things that I never thought I would have to experience at the age of 20… or ever really. Crohn’s disease is becoming more and more prevalent among young adults my age – it is time to become more aware!

For more information about Crohn’s, the testing and diagnosis process, complications and whether you could be at risk – check out: Are You At Risk?

#WhatDoYouDoWhenYouCantTrustYourGut #TrustYourKnee?

For more about my journey with Crohn’s thus far and all that it has forced me to face check out more blog posts to come! My Gut Journey 

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