Before I was diagnosed with Crohns disease, I was really muscular. I had a strong back and legs, and was in a dance company in Boulder, Colo. Then, in 2005, when I was 23, I started having horrible stomach pains.
I always had a sensitive stomach, even when I was little. I went to the doctor and he said my symptoms sounded like irritable bowel syndrome, so he gave me medication.
It didnt help. I tried changing my diet and was even a vegan for a whilewhich wasnt fun. Then I started having other symptoms like diarrhea, which made my doctor think it was something more serious.
There were about three months when I had no idea what was wrong with me. Finally, I had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with Crohns disease. The day I got the diagnosis, I cried because I was so happy to know what was wrong with me. Before, I felt lost and just in horrible, horrible pain; now I could finally get help.
Crohns affected my ability to dance
However, after I did more research and read literature about a lack of a cure for Crohns disease, and potential complications, I was upset and demoralized; it got to the point where I couldnt even work.
I got so skinny and lost all my muscle. I had a dance performance in April and was taken out of one piece because it was too physically demanding and I had no energy. Im about 5 feet 4 inches tall and at one point, I weighed only 105 pounds.
Because of a bout with thyroid cancer in 2004, I was unable to get health insurance after I graduated from college. So during all of the time I battled with Crohns, I didnt have insurance. This was really, really tough because the steroid I was taking cost $250 a bottle and lasted about two weeks.
I went into remission, but in December I had another flare-up, and by January I had to move back in with my dad. I couldnt take care of myself and had no insurance.
I have had other flare-ups, but they are different now than they used to be. I dont always have stomach pain, but I have been in the hospital twice for abscesses (masses filled with puss from an infection). In 2009, I had to have surgery in June and again over Christmas. I spent New Years Eve in the hospital.
Im applying to graduate school
Now, Im not taking any medication for Crohns. Im still healing from the surgery in December and I have an appointment with a new gastroenterologist. Id like to try Remicade, a drug that helps control inflammation. I have researched it a lot and think its worth it (there is a risk of lymphoma, according to the manufacturer).
After the past hospital visits, I realized Id rather be healthy and in remission and not have to deal with Crohns symptomseven if there is a small risk of lymphoma.
Crohns disease has definitely affected every aspect of my dance life. I moved from Boulder to New York to continue dancing, but its hard.
Im applying to graduate school for dance therapy, but I have already missed two auditions. For one of them, I had just gotten out of the hospital and couldnt dance at all.
Part of the problem was that because I didnt have insurance, I waited so long to get treatment. The Crohns ended up progressing so far that I was really sick and completely lethargic by the time I got help.
But I do think you can still be an athlete if you have Crohns disease. You need to stay on top of the symptoms. Know when you are about to have a flare-up. Stay informed about the disease. See a doctor regularly, and monitor Crohns progression. If you do, youll be just fine. If you can stop having flare-ups and losing muscle, you can get back on track.
As told to: Tammy Worth