By Madeline Panacci
Rage. Betrayal. Denial. A flurry of emotions pulsated through my body as I stared at the bottle sitting on the counter, tears streaming hot down my cheeks. It sat there mocking me; without words expressing the condescending defeat that it represented. Four pills, three times a day: those were the doctor’s orders.
Promoting from the sixth grade, I weighed 55 pounds. The climax of my health’s deterioration was on a family vacation three states away in Wyoming. I would go days without eating; my body was so weak that I would pass out. After we returned home, no one had the slightest idea what was wrong with me, or what the next step was to any possible recovery.
The week before my first day of seventh grade, already tumultuous with the excitement and anxiety of a new school and new people, I had my first upper and lower gastrointestinal test; essentially a colonoscopy, but searching for any sign of disease throughout my entire GI tract. A fiberoptic scope took biopsies in my small intestine, large intestine, and ileum. I was 12.
Twelve pills a day for three years, and my illness was still undiagnosed. It was sophomore year and my schedule was a chaotic, overwhelming mess. The stress was insurmountable; I digressed out of my brief stage of remission and returned to the mentally and physically painful world that I thought I had conquered. I was scheduled for my second colonoscopy, and months later multiple biopsies confirmed that for almost three years I had been living with Crohn’s disease.
Affecting different people in different parts of the body, Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affects the entirety of the gastrointestinal tract, often spreading into the deep tissue of the digestive tract. There is no cure for Crohn’s. One’s ultimate goal is to live happily and pain-free in the glory that remission brings.
Through a process of mostly trial and error, I have learned to never take my health for granted. I have learned to think about what I put into my body and have grasped a sense of what is necessary to stay healthy. Through a modified gluten and dairy-free diet and the continuance of medicine ranging from probiotics to vitamins to anti-inflammatories, I have strengthened my relationship with my body; I have a greater appreciation and understanding of what my body needs and how to independently take care of myself.
The human body is strangely and fascinatingly resilient; through the doctors, gastroenterologists, therapists, phlebotomists, and nutritionists that I have visited, nothing has contributed more to my sense of self than the pure astonishment I’ve experienced witnessing my body alert, heal, and protect itself.
Gradually over time, I have learned let go of the rage and denial that I felt for so long after my diagnosis. It was exhausting. Crohn’s is not a life-threatening disease with slim odds for survival. It is a persistent, low-grade illness that waxes and wanes. I am healthy most of the time; I have accepted it. After traveling to Rwanda, a third-world country, it seems disgustingly trivial and ignorant for me to focus on the negative aspects of my Crohn’s. Although continually frustrating, it has taught me not to let it define who I am, but to embrace it and let it guide my decisions and influence who I aspire to become.