The first time I heard the term “Crohn’s disease” was in high school. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t coming from my doctor. Unfortunately for my best friend, Kerianne, it was coming from hers.
Having grown up alongside a friend with Crohn’s disease, I’ve seen the ups and downs that the journey entails. So, I asked Kerianne to tell her story for one of our In My Words podcast episodes, with the hope that her experiences would shed some light for those who are unfamiliar with the condition, and be a friendly and familiar tale for those with it.
An Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Crohn’s disease is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any portion of the gastrointestinal tract (also referred to as a “GI tract”), particularly the small and large intestine. It is an autoimmune condition, which means that the immune system that normally protects the body from invaders such as germs, mistakenly attacks the GI tract. This causes an array of challenging and distressing symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood in the stool, and generalized weakness.
The road to Kerianne’s diagnosis began when she started experiencing diarrhea and abdominal pain. Foods she had eaten her whole life with no issue suddenly caused her unbearable pain and would send her to the bathroom for hours. Multiple medications failed to help, and ultimately, a colonoscopy revealed ulcers in her ileum, a section of the small intestine, which led to the Crohn’s disease diagnosis. It was not a complete shock to Kerianne and her family, as her grandmother, “DeeDee”, had also had the condition.
Living with Crohn’s disease can be extremely challenging with its management often requiring strong medications with side effects, hospitalizations, and surgery. For Kerianne, she underwent an operation to remove sixteen inches of her small intestine, which helped lessen the severity of her symptoms.
Surrounded by a Strong Support Network
High school is an interesting time in everyone’s life. For some, “difficult” is putting it lightly. Couple that with a chronic condition that can be extremely challenging to manage (and often, embarrassing), and you can begin to see how hard the experience might be. Luckily, we had a good group of friends. When Kerianne couldn’t come out or had to keep getting up to go to the bathroom, she would brush it off saying, “it’s my Crohn’s.” We understood but didn’t pry. We could relate to having diarrhea but what proved more challenging to us was understanding the debilitating pain and constant worry and how it would forever change her relationship with something many of us take for granted - food. In retrospect, understanding why she wouldn’t order anything from Wendy’s, or why she couldn’t eat a salad, would have afforded me a clearer view into her reality.
Although I was empathetic, I could not truly relate. As she shares in the episode, being diagnosed with a chronic condition such as Crohn’s disease can make you feel lonely and scared. As Kerianne states, “…you have all these feelings inside and you don’t know how to handle them, nobody knows what you’re going through, and you just kind of figure it out in your way.” Which is exactly what Kerianne did. She chose to actively learn more about her condition, to talk to her doctors, and to share her experience with others. She states, “right now I am 26 years old, I am engaged, and I feel great. I have ups and downs, of course, but every day...I realize that it just gets better and better.”
And it has gotten better! Since we recorded our episode, Kerianne has celebrated a birthday and her wedding. At the onset of a new chapter in life, Crohn’s disease is not holding her back (as she enjoys her honeymoon in the Greek isles).
In addition to the podcast, we also have a comic book, Understanding Crohn’s Disease, featuring the story of a boy named Raj.