Showing posts with label autoimmune disease. Show all posts
Showing posts with label autoimmune disease. Show all posts

5.03.2017

The One Thing I Need You to Know About My IBD

Well over a month ago, a relatively new friend of mine and I were in conversation over lunch. We were catching up about all the things college girls do-- boys and homework, boys and homework. About mid-conversation, I had a moment where I thought to myself "I feel normal right now."

Not even a split-second after that thought crossed my mind, my new friend asked "Kenzie, how has your health been?" I started by giving her an elevator speech overview of sorts. There's low blood counts. I'm still dropping weight unintentionally. A lot of my days/nights contain vomit. Lots of vomit. I'm frustrated. I'm anxious. I'm scared.

She looked at me from across the table and said "Kenzie, I don't know how you do it. I can't imagine how daunting these surgeries must be. How scary it must be to make treatment decisions..." I nodded my head. Those things are scary. That was a validating statement. The conversation carried on and I didn't think of this exchange again until I found myself on the bathroom floor last night. And that's when it hit me.

I had left my night class early due to yet another wave of nausea and made it back to my dorm room. Ophelia was there waiting for me; napping on our little twin sized dorm bed sweetly and soundly. She was excited to see me as she always is after we have a few hours of "break" time from each other.

I clipped on her collar, clipped on her leash, and we headed outside for a potty break. On our way back in, I realized I was going to be sick. Making it back to the toilet in time, I threw up my stomach contents for the umpteenth time in 24 hours. I stumbled to my bed, snuggled next to Ophie, and tried to breathe deep and slow. When I had regained some strength, I reached over to my nightstand and grabbed some baby wipes which I used to wipe my mouth and nose.

Shortly thereafter I excused myself to the bathroom. Not a second after I sat down, I realized I was finally going to 'go' after some back up over the past several days. I pulled up my pants and quickly skittered across the hallway to my bedroom where I grabbed the baby wipes and a brown paper bag from my colorectal surgeon's office. Upon returning to the restroom, I placed the little white hat from this bag underneath the toilet seat and proceeded to go to the bathroom.

After cleaning myself up and pulling back on my owl printed pajama pants, I knelt on the floor by the toilet meticulously opening sterile bags and bottles and carefully placing the correct amount of stool into each one. Around the time I opened the third of seven bottles, I noticed my bottom lip was quivering. Upon opening the fourth, I felt the tears start to flow...and before even reaching for the fifth, I sat back against the door frame and began to violently sob. Tears that had built up over YEARS of humiliation, frustration, confusion, and hurt finally broke through. And for once, I let them.



If there is one thing you ever know or learn about inflammatory bowel disease...please, please, please, let it be this. These are the moments I am scared of. The moments I am behind closed doors and quite literally find myself shoveling my own shit into vial sized containers to be sent away and tested. The moments where all of the built up animosity towards these diseases and the embarrassment they cause comes crashing down. The moments I am reminded that this is my life. That this is what it has become...and that this is what it will be for the foreseeable future.

To be quite honest, I'm not scared of surgeries. I'm not scared of treatment options, vomit, and long nights spent in a cramped ER. I'm not scared of a new diagnosis, an abnormal test result, or even unaccounted for symptoms. But what I am absolutely pretrified of is the moment pictured here-- a moment in which I am truly and utterly alone; humiliated beyond belief and at the very end of my rope. I am scared of the pain that even my closest friends and family members cannot enter into and sit with me in.

THAT pain is the pain I have to deal with and carry completely on my own. THAT pain is the pain I can't tell you about the next time you ask me how I'm "really" doing merely because it's taboo to talk about your inflamed bowels, stomach dysmotility, and rectal pain on the internet or otherwise. THAT pain is the pain that reminds me I am absolutely scared. Oh, how absolutely scared I am.

THAT pain is also the pain you do not, cannot, and likely will not see or experience for yourself. But THAT is the pain I need you to know about. THAT is the pain I need you to hold for me while I cry out the frustration and allow myself a moment to be the broken body + soul that I am.

THAT is the pain, and it is so relieving to finally just. feel. it.


2.27.2017

I Don't Want To Be (Physically) Healed

It was a Monday-- the start of a fresh semester. I pushed through a weird queasy/cramping feeling in my stomach all day and happily attended night class. Following class, I went to bed feeling completely nauseated and incredibly exhausted from "pushing through" all day. Still, it didn't occur to me that something could be seriously wrong.

Around 2am Tuesday morning I began throwing up. I woke up sweating profusely with a fever of 101.2 and attempted to go back to sleep + ignore the pain in my stomach though it appeared to be worsening. At this point, I thought perhaps I had the flu. I had also done my Methotrexate injection the evening prior and it is not uncommon for me to experience nausea/vomiting/a low grade fever following injection night(s). I continued trying to get some rest. No big deal, I thought.

I was wrong.

By 8am Tuesday morning, I could no longer hold down water or lie in anything other than the fetal position. The "twisted" feeling in my stomach left me feeling pretty certain that I was suffering from a bowel obstruction. I picked up my phone and dialed the colorectal surgery office and spoke with one of the nurses who cared for me following my subtotal colectomy last April. Through tears, I explained my symptoms and attempted to breathe deeply through the pain which was becoming more and more difficult to do as the seconds passed. The nurse and I both agreed that I needed to get to the Emergency Room where my attending surgeon would come by later. That said, she started the admitting process over the phone.

As I was giving the nurse the basic admitting information she asked for, she told me to pack a few things and gather my medications. Though I was aware of my delusional state from lack of sleep and the exhaustion that accompanies such pain, I somehow thought that I was going to drive myself to the ER. As I crawled my way out of bed and stood up to gather my medications, the pain became so severe that I blacked out/fainted. It happened quickly and absolutely without warning. When I came back "to" I was lying in a puddle of vomit and completely disoriented. After a few seconds, I remembered I had been talking to a nurse. I picked my phone off the floor and heard her say "McKenzie, stay with me. There is an ambulance on the way."

I don't know if it was the sheer feeling of defeat or the effects that the significant pain/lack of sleep were having on me at this point, but I broke down into hysterical sobs on the floor of my bedroom. Within 5 minutes, several paramedics came into my dorm room apartment, somehow managed to get me on the stretcher, and on the way to the hospital.

The ambulance ride was absolutely terrifying and incredibly uncomfortable. The pain continued to ebb and flow much more severely. As it lessened and then spiked again I screamed, continued to sweat, and white knuckled the scratchy ambulance blanket all wadded up in my hand. I really don't think I can even recount further details right now as my mind seems to be blocking them out (and for good reason). The 12 hours between 8am and 8pm that day were easily the worst and most painful hours in my 21 years of life thus far.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, all of my admitting paperwork was done. I was brought to a room in the ER where I was given pain meds and we arranged for a CT scan. The CT revealed (as suspected) a small bowel obstruction. Due to its location and severity, my surgeon suggested I may have had this obstruction for over a month.

Immediately, an NG tube was placed to decompress my stomach and remove the bile which had settled and was making me so sick. My surgeon came in again shortly thereafter and explained the emergency dilation procedure I would need to undergo early the following morning. At this point, my pain was being phenomenally managed and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital room I would call home for the next 7 days.


The days were long and the nights were even longer. Though my pain management regimen was very helpful in "taking the edge off," it was very evident that beyond the mechanical obstruction problem, we were dealing with significant inflammation all along my digestive tract. This inflammation can only really be treated by entire removal of the affected part(s) or utilizing high dosages of immunosuppressant drugs. Thus, the pain and symptoms continued as we began having conversations about permanent ileostomy/colostomy placement.

Around the 4th or 5th day, I remember lying in bed around 4pm. I had just turned on the song "In Control" by Hillsong United, closed my eyes, and quite literally began to cuss at God. Mere seconds after this argument began, in walked the hospital Chaplain. As we began talking he said "McKenzie, I remember you." It turns out this Chaplain had also come to visit with me back in April '16 when I underwent my subtotal colectomy. He remembered me as the youngest patient on that particular floor, and he also remembered a joke I had cracked in the midst of the hysterical tears that often accompany such post-op pain. Ha!

The Chaplain sat next to my hospital bed in an uncomfortable folding chair for a good hour. We talked about the complexity of my illnesses, how passionate I am about studying to become a social worker, and how I managed to get a hospital room "with a view." (Seriously! It had the best view of the Minneapolis skyline!) As we wrapped up our conversation, he asked to pray with me. Without thinking or really even knowing what was coming out of my mouth, I replied by saying "we can pray, but I don't want you to pray for me to be healed."

A bit taken aback but seemingly intrigued, the Chaplain looked and me and said "tell me more about that." Through tears and a continued whisper tone of voice (thanks, NG tube) I told the Chaplain things I have never told another human before. I told him what I feel God has been telling, showing, and teaching me for the past 7+ years.


I told the Chaplain I couldn't remember the last time I prayed true, physical healing over my own body. I told the Chaplain how I haven't really been to church in over a year. I told him of some recent experiences in which two church "leaders" suggested there may be "unforgiven, generational sin" in my family...hence the reason I had not yet "received healing."

Finally, I told the Chaplain what I felt God was telling me as I had been lying in the that hospital bed. I told him that I had spent the past several days doing nothing but swearing and yelling at God. Angry...livid, really. But also that I had never felt so close the One who created my body this way...and no doubt for some good and holy reason.

I told the Chaplain that I believe God can heal. In fact, I believe that He DOES. But there is something to be said about other forms of healing (in ways and for reasons higher than our own) apart from the physical. I believe that God has been faithful to me thus far and will continue to be. I see that God has used this pain whether He ordained it or not. He has made it purposeful, intricate, and beautiful. He has made it worthwhile. And yes, He has even made it good.

"God could have healed me 7 years ago, a week ago, even yesterday...but He has not chosen to do so...and that," I shared, "gives me reason to believe that perhaps the path I'm walking has a purpose far greater than what I will ever be able to comprehend."

That, to me, is the absolute truth. Some way, some how, God has given me distinct purpose and great joy in a life marked by tragic illness, great despair, and exhausting desperation. Perhaps having been given those things is what allows me to live a better life than the one I would be living if physical healing allowed me to do so painlessly and "ailment free" here on earth.

The bottom line I tried to explain is that to live in a constant state of pain is to live in a constant state of reliance on faith in Christ. I believe that and know nothing will ever compare to that. I fully believe that being healed and whole in Heaven one day will be worth the journey I am currently on.

Heaven. My mind was then directed to the idea of Heaven. Through tears I told the Chaplain "I don't want to be healed because I want to experience the fullness of God's presence HERE. In great sickness. In horrendous pain. In a plastic hospital bed with an NG tube down my throat, a defeated spirit inside of me, and visible tears in my eyes..."

I want to experience the fullness of Christ and how He responds to His children when they are lying awake at 2am screaming in pain and begging for the strength to make it through to the next dosage of pain meds. I want to experience the fullness of Christ which feels so visceral and overwhelmingly beautiful upon waking up from yet another round of general anesthesia. I want to experience the fullness of Christ in the deepest, darkest hours of my life here on earth.

...And I want those things not for attention, pity, or to be seen as some great martyr. I want those things and the other pain our broken lives bring because I want to seek, to know; to pursue, to learn. To wrestle with and experience the perplexing truth that authentic JOY is possible in the midst of severe pain.

All of these thoughts and tears had me reciting a favorite poem in my head. A poem that I'd never truly understood before, but could now grasp to its full extent.
The Thorn by Martha Snell Nicholson 
I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
And begged Him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, "but Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me."
He said, "my child, I give good gifts and I gave My best to thee."
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without His added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

I don't want to be (physically) healed. Not here, not now...for I know God is using this daunting hike through life and the mountains of chronic illness to refine and restore my soul in ways that only He can.

So, the Chaplain and I prayed. Not for physical healing but for the strength to endure. The grace to benefit. The willingness to learn from and let God use this pain. For the first time in a long time, I felt like someone had truly listened to me. Someone allowed me to be comfortable in all of my uncomfortableness...someone chose to enter into that uncomfortableness with me. And in my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than that.

11.28.2016

Invisible Illness, Guilt, Community, & Positivity

Invisible illness. Guilt. Community. Positivity.

I know what you're thinking...the concepts are hardly synonymous. In fact, at particular points along this journey, I will readily admit I have struggled with accepting that some of these things can even coexist.

I'm hardly a professional when it comes to sustainable mental health, positive energy, or even relative emotional stability (let's be real)...but I've certainly learned a thing or two the past 7+ years and I'm not sure I would have learned those things had I not been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (and 6 co-morbidities).

I've found that it's important to think deeply about the things that bring hope and make me look forward to tomorrow despite the inevitable pain and grief that will be there as a result of living with chronic, invisible illness. It's also important to remember there is professional help outside of our immediate circles of influence; and it is equally (if not MORE) important to talk with our doctors about both mental and emotional health.

INVISIBLE ILLNESS

I risk sounding clichΓ© here, but it is imperative to note that absolutely every single one of us copes with stress and fear differently. Even the stress and fear experienced by two people with the same autoimmune diagnosis differ significantly. However, I would be willing to venture a guess that the invisible element to these chronic conditions affect most of us in a similar manner. The exhaustion that comes from constantly feeling the need to justify and explain or risk being invalidated and/or judged heavily sadly affects everything we do. Invisibility *almost* never, ever feels "good" or validating.

Don't get me wrong, there is a certain feeling of empowerment and even one of gratefulness that comes with/from being able to cover up my scars and swollen joints with clothing. However, that "hidden blessing" can just as well be a curse. A life marked by a chronic condition (or several) already leaves many of us in a constant state of limbo. One hour can feel well-managed and triumphant and the next you can find yourself in a puddle of tears grieving the thought of a life you might have had. It's a scary place to find yourself as there is no predictability living in a body that deceives and attacks itself daily.

I try to keep a healthy list of things (an actual, tangible list sometimes...but a list in my mind, mostly) that have helped me through difficult, painful seasons in the past. Some of the most tried-and-true techniques I've found include:

  • Using a meditation app such as "Buddhify" or "Headspace"
  • Calling, texting, or otherwise messaging one of my  pals.
  • Putting my energy and focus to work on a specific project. Lately, that energy/focus has been put towards my journey to getting a service dog!
  • Scheduling an appointment with my mental health professional to talk about and employ other coping mechanisms, such as progressive muscle relaxation, "leaves on a stream," etc.

Now, if I'm being honest, not even an ounce of me feels like seeking positivity or practicing healthy coping strategies, particularly right now. My body has been flaring for several weeks and as I continue to wait to begin a new medication, I have found myself spending majority of my time curled up in bed with ice packs, heating pads, pain medication, and ginger-ale trying to block out the internal, invisible pain. And, well, the guilt that comes along with all I've written thus far makes me wonder if what I've done or continue to do just to keep my head above the water is "enough."

GUILT

I've found that the most pressing guilt I feel and am constantly trying to break free from stems from the very simple but detrimental thought that I could be or should be doing MORE when I am doing ENOUGH. If I have a couple hours between classes or my next appointment, the reality is that I will (more often than not) choose to take a nap rather than do the laundry. If I was in the emergency room for hours the night before trying to get pain under control, the reality is that I will (more often than not) choose to skip class the next day and force myself to rest.

Yet, even though I can straightforwardly present those two recent, real examples in writing and refrain from typing the words because...or let me tell you why...I still find myself fighting the voice of guilt in my head. The voice that says "Kenzie, people have it worse" or "Kenzie, this reveals just how much of a burden you really are..."

There is immense power in recognizing that, but mere recognition does not change thought processes or eventual outcomes. Personally, I've found that expressing the guilt I feel with a trustworthy member of my support system often relieves some of my incessant search for that sort of validation. Giving yourself grace in it all is important, too. The repeating of simple "observation" mantras such as...

  • I was particularly anxious today, but that doesn't mean I'll feel the same way tomorrow. 
  • I am doing my part in this treatment process; that's all I can do.
  • My pain is real and my feelings about that pain are real...and those things don't need validation.
  • A good day is good day...and a bad day is a good story! 

...has helped me immensely in terms of intervening with these unproductive thoughts. :)

COMMUNITY

Because I've been struggling myself, I decided to reach out to the beloved  Twitter community for ideas. The raw, visceral responses to a tweet in need of suggestions is just one of the reasons I believe in online community more than I believe in just about anything else. My kindred spirits are people hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles away, but we are able to reach each other in ways that no one else can.
There are very few things more powerful than a community of people who speak unabashed truth + fierce encouragement. I have been fortunate enough to find a safe place within these communities on , , and with some of my favorite folks at Joint Decisions. I will be forever grateful for that honor and the empowerment it has brought me. I strongly, strongly encourage all patients to seek out and engage in these communities as they foster an environment of connectedness and vulnerability through the sharing of one's personal story.

POSITIVITY

I think it's both fair and safe to say that even following the specific suggestions set forth here and practicing a variety of other healthy habits won't completely take away the sheer reality of what it is to live a life filled with continuous, constant, chronic pain. 

Nonetheless, throughout the seasons where and when we are reminded just how all-encompassing our pain can be, I think the best thing we can do for ourselves is remember the often somber but universal truths that get us out of bed in the morning; ready and willing to fight for another day. That, to me, is true positivity. Seeing each day as an opportunity to try.

I have known no other humans with as much determination, gumption, and strength as those in this community. Most days, it really can and does feel like drowning. That's the truth. Every day, though, I am reminded it is absolutely possible to learn how to swim. 


"We cannot save anyone; we can only offer ourselves as a guide to fearful people. Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely in this guidance that the first signs of hope become visible. This is so because a shared pain is no longer a paralyzing pain but a mobilizing one, when understood as a way to liberation. When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope." -Henri Nouwen


This post was sponsored by Joint Decisions, an educational initiative developed by Janssen Biotech, Inc. that empowers people living with RA to take a more active role in the management of their disease and have more open and honest conversations with their doctors. I was compensated by Janssen for my time spent collaborating on content for Joint Decisions, however, all thoughts and opinions presented here are my own and should NOT be taken as medical advice.

Check out Joint Decisions on  and !

10.28.2016

Better Days

*** Written last night -- October 27th, 2016 -- the night before today -- tummy surgery round 2.

Ah, yes. Here we are again. On the eve of yet another surgery/potential diagnosis that I had to fight like crazy for several MD's to even consider. 

Here. I'm here indeed. I made it to today. As you're reading this, I'm probably showering the last time for a solid week-ish. More likely, I'm probably making last minute hospital packing changes and my blood sugar is no doubt dropping lower than low because I haven't eaten anything since midnight!

I'm headed back to the operating room today for what I like to call another "abdominal revision." We have pretty clear evidence that points to a rather severe endometriosis diagnosis and after a solid year and a half, I'm finally under the care of a physician who cares enough about my pain to do something about it.

Around 12:45pm this afternoon, I'll be wheeled back for a little nap and hopefully wake up with some answers and controlled pain. Not sure about that last one -- HA! -- but a girl can hope. ;) Let's just say my stomach has seen better days.

[pictured: top left...morning of subtotal colectomy, top right...8 days following my subtotal colectomy, bottom left...14 days following my subtotal colectomy, bottom right...last night & approximately 6 months post-op]

All week I've been a little wound up about the fact that my doctor has decided to reuse my incision sites from April's subtotal colectomy (if possible). Though she thinks it will actually be a less painful recovery, I have my doubts. Cutting through freshly healed tissue and (as my dear friend Ben would say) "putting a flamethrower in my uterus" sounds like a recipe for some major, gut-wrenching (pun intended!) pain.

The concept of cutting into these incisions again is just a little hard to wrap my mind around...and looking at these past pictures of my bloated, distended tummy following surgery scares the $%^# out of me. I think the most frightening thing I've learned about pain is that all you can do is endure it.

If you're cold, you wrap yourself up in a blanket. If you're hot, you turn on a fan. If your stomach has been cut into in four different places and your body decides "HEY! THAT HURTS!" all you can really do is take the scheduled pain meds and pray to God they'll make you drowsy enough to sleep through some of the hurt.

But, as we must...forward is the only productive direction. Forward holds the potential of relief from endometriosis and forward holds the promise that I'm going to make it through this operation the same way I have made it through the last five. One moment at a time.

8.01.2016

A Response to Being Diagnosed with Hypoglycemia

Today: Fewer words typed out. More words spoken. And even a few tears cried. On video.

I don't know for sure why I felt so strongly I should to film this video the other night. I don't even know if I successfully articulated the things I was attempting to get across! But what I do know is that I want this space to be real and raw, and in order for it to be just that we all have to share the hard things, too. In fact, not too, but especially. We have to share the hard things especially.

The things that would be easier to keep to ourselves. The things that hurt and haunt us. Our stories....pasts, presents, and futures...no matter how daunting, messed up, or complicated...are the very things that hold the healing we so desperately seek.

I truly, truly believe we do ourselves and the God who created us a HUGE disservice when we ignore an opportunity to share the way difficult trials can truly be revolutionized into an opportunity for more assured and solid hope. When we are vulnerable and honest, however, we can move to a place where we are the furthest thing from alone. In addition, we give others the freedom to learn they are not alone, either.

Since my subtotal colectomy, I have struggled intensely with low blood pressure and what we most recently recognized as low blood sugar. Though I know adding hypoglycemia to my laundry list of diagnoses is not the end of the world, it is something that has greatly affected my independence the past few months...and last week, hearing those words affected my emotions greatly as well.

Watch the video below, and I'll fill you in a bit more...


I have gotten quite used to Methotrexate (chemo) Saturday nights and Humira (biologic) Wednesday nights. I have worked through a fear of needles and conquered these injections week after week all while learning that I can only do my best. Some occasions hurt worse than others-- sometimes tears fall and sometimes they don't even scratch the surface-- but all in all, injections have inevitably become a part of my life.

Checking my blood sugar will become a part of my life in the same way. I will figure out this "new normal" and learn the ins and outs of how to maintain this crazy blood sugar of mine. I will eventually learn I can't "forget" to check my darn stats before I eat a meal, after I wake up, or when I'm feeling all sweaty, insanely shaky, and shivering my ever loving booty off. I'll learn. And as I learn, I'll continue to grow.


One step, one finger prick at a time. :)


5.19.2016

Handicap Placards and Dirty Looks

It's unbelievable to think that I'm here typing this with virtually ZERO tummy pain, digestion issues, cramping, constipation, or Miralax anywhere in sight. My subtotal colectomy was nearly two whole months ago, I am out of the hospital, and mentally I am feeling like a million bucks. Unbelievable. All of it.

That's not to say recovery hasn't been a bear, however. I'm still dealing with some incision pain as the scar tissue settles in and figuring out new dietary restrictions (more on that to come in another post!) has been more difficult than expected. I really, really have to watch what I eat now in order not to irritate anything and while those changes are wholesome and GOOD, it's still been a challenge! One day at a time and continuing to adjust. :)

The thing I'm most excited about is how much more freedom I have now. I'm not scared to go out to dinner with friends or worried about running out in the middle of class, a meeting, etc. to go to the bathroom. I'm not curled up on the recliner at home with 6 trillion pillows surrounding me as I reach for another Percocet. This past Sunday, I spent the WHOLE day out with my best, best friend Amy. We got our nails done, shopped a bit, met her boyfriend and another friend for dinner, and even stayed up late watching movies together!

Overall, it was a phenomenal day filled with so much freedom. I mean that. But something has bothered me since then-- something that happened before we even got into the mall. As Amy and I pulled into the bustling parking lot, I eyed an open handicap spot right near the mall entrance. Since surgery, I have utilized my handicap placard about 95% of the time I'm out and about. Though I owe no one an explanation or need to write out a list of reasons why, I will do so to prove the point I'm hoping to get across in this post. Here goes:

  1.  Prior to surgery, I was taken off of both Methotrexate and Humira. Both of these medications treat my autoimmune arthritis and keep it at bay. I have not yet "restarted" those medications due to some insurance complications and nearly any level of activity is causing "mini-flares" right now, resulting in me reaching for pain pills and using ice packs 'round the clock. Parking in a handicap space during this time and saving those spoons/that energy is truly making a difference in my joint pain right now. On Sunday, I CERTAINLY utilized my right to park there because I knew I would be out and about all day with my friend Amy. 
  2. While it has been nearly two months since surgery, my incision pain still spikes (some days more than others). It is still difficult to get up from a sitting position (or from being seated in a car) and use those core muscles that are still healing. As the scar tissue settles underneath those incisions, it definitely contributes to the pain. All we can do is wait and let my body continue to heal and do what we can in the meantime to make things easier.
  3. Last Saturday night (the night before the incident I'm about to describe), I had to take 1000mg of PM Tylenol in order to fall into a light sleep. I woke up 8+ times that night from nerve pain, dystonia spasms, and restless legs. I was unable to really fall asleep until around 3am-- and ended up sleeping til around 11:30am Sunday afternoon. That is life with chronic illness and it never goes away. Fatigue is a nasty, nasty reality.

Here's the rest of the story: as Amy and I began to turn into the spot, a pregnant woman and what appeared to be her significant other looked at us, stopped walking, stood in the handicap space, and pointed down at the handicap symbol. (Note: my handicap placard was NOT hanging from my rearview mirror yet-- I store it in my middle console when it is not in use.) That's right. They both stood there, pointed to the symbol, and then had the audacity to wave me away.

We didn't need to exchange words with them for Amy and I to know what they were ensuing. We are two young girls and both of us look completely healthy on the outside...a perfect remedy for finger pointing judgement and dirty looks. Lovely.

I waved back at the couple (ensuing "kindly move out of the way, please"). The couple proceeded to shake their heads as they started walking towards their car a row over. Amy and I parked and I looked in my rearview mirror to see the couple standing outside their vehicle staring at me. I opened the door and took a few seconds to unbuckle myself, grasp the seat, swing my legs onto the asphalt, and push up while additionally holding onto the door so I would not fall. I gave myself a second after standing up and again glanced over at the couple...still standing outside their vehicle and STILL watching my every move. The man shook his head and wagged his finger at me. I processed the interaction and instinctively sat back down in the driver's seat of my car. I reached for the handicap placard I had hung on my rearview mirror, whipped it out the door, and waved it at the couple with a smirk on my face. I then hung it back up and proceeded to get out of my vehicle.


As I was walking into the mall with Amy at my side, I whispered "can you believe them?!" as a wave of guilt ran over me. I thought "Kenzie, you're not limping today. You didn't need that spot." I thought "Really? Your freaking surgery was nearly two months ago. You can park in a regular spot now." I thought "Those people are right to point and wave at you. You're not doing enough. You need to walk more each day anyway."

...and just as that third thought ran through my mind I stopped myself. I took the key to my mind/thoughts back and said to myself "those people are not you, those people don't know you, and those people's finger-waving judgement isn't about you." Because realistically? It's not. It's not at all.

I should not and will not allow these thoughts continue, because right now is about celebrating. It is about the fact that I got out of the house for. an. entire. day. FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY! Not only am I recovering...I am fighting and I am doing that in the best way I know how. When I know better, I'll do better.

While I never, ever wanted to possess a handicap placard or the right to park in a handicap parking space, I also know that utilizing that part of my treatment plan right now has allowed me to do some pretty awesome things I might not otherwise have had a shot at. I don't need to defend what I know is my reality. At the end of each day, I know I'm doing the best I can, and some days that does means using a handicap placard to help me through. But never, ever, ever does that mean I'm not doing enough or am undeserving of respect.

I want to end this post by saying thank you to that couple. Yes, you read that right...THANK YOU. Thank you for reminding me that the opinions of people like you don't matter a single bit in the grand scheme of this battle-- a battle I'm winning one tiny victory at a time. Your judgement isn't about me. I am free from it and all that it entails. Yes indeed...I am.

3.09.2016

The Progression

It feels like yesterday and it feels like a year ago when I posted a mess of a GI update. I wrote it just to write again and get some information down somewhere. I was journaling a lot, but I needed the chronic community to come alongside me as I waited for test results and began to pursue surgical options.

This blog has grown with me over the past 6 years. It has nurtured honesty and it has taught me the value of telling it like it is. And so, even though the GI issues I've been facing for the past year felt (and inevitably ARE) uncomfortable/embarrassing/what have you, I just felt like this blog needed to continue growing with me. So I wrote. And I posted that writing online...right here on Life According to Kenz.

And I'm thankful I did because things have since progressed fast and furiously. On April 4th, 2016 I will be having a subtotal colectomy. 


A subtotal colectomy consists of removing a majority of the colon (large bowel). Unlike in a total colectomy, my rectum and anus will be left untouched. My small bowel will then be joined to my rectum. This part of the procedure is called ileorectal anastomosis. According to my scopes last Friday which showed minimal inflammation in this area, there is no need for a stoma or ileostomy/colostomy bag at this time! (HUGE praise!)

My blog is going to become a CaringBridge of sorts over the next couple of months (pre-op, op, and post-op), so I want to get logistics down here for those who may not know me well. I am truly trying my hardest to respond to comments, emails, messages, etc. but it is impossible to get to them all in one sitting. Just know that I read every single one and each of them sustains me during the dark moments that inevitably still plaque me from time to time. This is my best (and probably failed) attempt at getting some answers down all in one place. :)

"So, how the heck did you get here?!" Back in September, it was suspected that I was developing early stage Crohn's disease (another autoimmune condition). However, after further investigation and invasive testing, we discovered that majority of my abdominal/GI/bowel symptoms are being caused by something called colonic inertia or severe slow transit constipation. I was officially diagnosed in January.

"What is colonic inertia?" Colonic inertia is a motility disorder. It is also referred to as an abnormal passage of waste throughout the digestive system. My colon (for unknown reasons at this time) is simply working FAR too slowly and refusing to contract on its own. This causes extreme constipation which results in excruciating pain, loss of appetite, and round-the-clock nausea and vomiting.

"You've had constipation issues for awhile...so why are you having surgery now? Is it urgent?" Well, the short answer is no. It's not a matter of life/death. But it is a matter of quality of life/no quality of life. Let me explain. The past year has been awful, but I have accepted most of the symptoms as my reality. That is, until said symptoms started to affect my ability to get out of bed in the morning, go out for dinner with my friends, or get a good nights sleep in my bed...not on the bathroom floor. The reason we started pursuing surgical options is because my ability to function independently is decreasing with each passing day and I have now lost 35 pounds due to my inability to eat/hold things down.

"How long is recovery time? Can you have visitors in the hospital?" Recovery time can be anywhere from 5-14 days in the hospital depending on how the surgery itself goes. There is plenty of room for complications just as there is with any surgery, but the potential pros at this point far outweigh the potential cons. I can certainly have visitors in the hospital (and at home!) and will happily put you in touch with my mom should you want my hospital/room information. After I am discharged from the hospital, there is a 6 week period of no lifting/activity beyond walking and a 4 week period of no driving. I will NOT be bedridden (mark my words)...

"Are you dropping out of school?" ...but I will also be in no state to be manage 15 credits and two on-campus jobs. I have withdrawn from two classes, will be taking an incomplete in one, and plan to finish both an online course and night class pending my professors accommodations. I plan to be back at Bethel in the fall, but will be moving home for the remainder of the semester at the end of this week. And by the way, "dropping out" is a swear word (swear phrase?) in my book. Don't ever say that around me, and definitely not to me. ;) 

"Are you still going to the Dominican Republic over spring break?" I failed to publish a blog post about my excitement to go to the Dominican over spring break with a missions team here at Bethel...but I shared that with many of you in real life. :) However, after meeting with my surgeon and confirming surgery dates, it was decided that the infection risk is far too high for me to be traveling out of the country, returning, and then having a major operation (involving removing an organ). I am heartbroken and hate that it feels as if I am "losing" another bit of independence thanks to the condition of my health, but I know that the rest of my team will have a life-changing experience there.

"How can I support you?" Continue asking questions and please continue sending prayers. I feel them. I also so appreciate the words of encouragement through messages, conversations, and cute little cards. :) Words of affirmation is my love language! The night before I met with the first colorectal surgeon on this journey I kept repeating "I choose peace" under my breath until I fell asleep. I was so afraid of hearing what I didn't want to hear the next day. The night before my scopes last week, I simply thought "I can't wait to spend time with my mom tomorrow!" I felt content. Really. At the end of the day, I am anxious and afraid as any patient would be leading up to a major surgery, but I trust my team of doctors and the support system surrounding me. And you know who else I trust? The God that has brought me this far and continues to promise me healing.


At MedX in September of last year, I met a beautiful woman named Breck. She has a young warrior son named Bennet who has battled Cystic Fibrosis and its complications since birth. She chronicles her family's journey with the disease on her blog. Her writing has such a focus on what you would know, see, feel, etc. if you were in her position. The vulnerability she exudes is contagious and simply being a reader of hers has made me a better empath and advocate.

My only goal these next couple of months is to write and share more honestly than ever before, just as my friend Breck has. As I grew up dealing with constipation issues, I was so terribly embarrassed and ashamed. As those constipation issues turned into much more serious complications such as duodenal ulcers and anal fissures, I felt completely and utterly alone. It is my hope that through sharing my journey (the good, the bad, and the ugly), even one person would realize that they are not isolated in their suffering. That sounds cliche...but I would've given anything to be that one at the start of my chronic health journey.

I will update as I know more, but for now I leave you with words from the incredible Henri Nouwen. In his book "Turn My Mourning Into Dancing" (which I am currently reading) he writes,

"True gratitude embraces all of life: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not-so-holy. We do this because we become aware of God's life...God's presence...both of which are in the middle of ALL that happens."