Crohn's Disease Sidelined My Dancing Career
Krisja Hendricks, 28, is a dancer who lives in New York City. Diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 23, she was unable to get health insurance due to a past bout of thyroid cancer. Struggling with both symptoms and the cost of medication, she lost weight and missed out on performances and auditions. Hendricks is now recovering from two surgeries and planning a career in dance therapy.
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 while—which 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.
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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 symptoms—even 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