Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Old Lady Post

I can't believe it has been over a year since I've posted. Not that I think people have been waiting with bated breath or anything. But man, a year can sure fly by!

I do want to share my story of the past year. Hopefully it can give someone encouragement if they have been sharing similar struggles.

It's been a rough year. Hold on to your hat and get ready for this little old lady to tell you about her laundry list of health ailments. Don't worry, I won't get too graphic.

A little background: I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2003. Daily high fevers and severe abdominal pain sent me to my family doctor who referred me to a gastroenterologist who knew even before internal testing that it was Crohn's (even though I didn't present with the typical *ahem* bathroom issues).

I took four gigantic horse pills called Pentasa, four times a day. My fevers went away and I felt TONS better. I was in college so as soon as my symptoms went away I went back to my normal life and forgot that I even carried this diagnosis of a chronic disease with no known cure.

After Jim and I got married in 2006 I had another flare up. I needed to get back on my Pentasa but we learned that it was not covered since it was a pre-existing condition. $500 a month. That wasn't going to happen. I began to learn to manage my symptoms by changing my diet... somewhat... like... as in... not very much. I did enough to keep fevers away but I couldn't give up these foods that I loved so much. The creamy sauces. The desserts. The fried foods. THE CHOCOLATE. 

Pregnancy, oddly enough, brought relief. I felt great and we joked that I should just stay pregnant for the rest of my life. (Ha. Ha... no.) But after James was born, and for the next entire year, my body returned all of the evil that I had done to it. All of my belly issues came back in addition to normal post-pregnancy issues.

Understandably, it took us a while to become pregnant with Anna and I banked on the fact that pregnancy would bring the relief that James' had. It did. However, I was underweight throughout her gestation and after she was born I watched my body deteriorate terrifyingly fast. This time I dropped below my pre-pregnancy weight within a few months (which, for me, was not healthy at all) and continued to drop weight. I nursed as long as I could but stopped early in hopes that my body would begin to build itself back up. Even though my Crohn's disease wasn't flaring up, according to colonoscopy and endoscopy tests, the malabsorption was in full swing. It didn't matter how much I ate, I wasn't gaining healthy weight. 

Soon my abdominal pain became debilitating. This was stop-you-in-your-tracks, bend-over-holding-your-belly pain. Then the vomiting, 3-5 times a week from the pain, began. I had a very sick gallbladder removed over the summer of 2013 before Anna turned one. It brought some relief, but soon it all returned. I was literally prescribed every antacid known to man. Every single one made me sicker. I have a small hiatal hernia, but my gastroenterologist didn't think it should cause these many issues. This spring I had an MRI scheduled and new blood work done to search for tumors and cancer markers as my weight was at a whopping 83.5 pounds. Yay.   

I should pause here and explain that I have the most wonderful husband, family, and friends in the world. My in-laws and parents cared for me and the children, Jim came home early from work on bad days when I needed him. James prayed sweet prayers at night to, "please make mommy's belly feel better." I could function to get through the day, but only just. I needed them and they were there for me.

The MRI and blood work results were negative and Jim and I praised Jesus for his mercy. While we were relieved, this still left us with more questions than answers. My Crohn's disease wasn't causing this directly, neither was my hernia or gallbladder or liver or anything clearly pathological. So why was my stomach rejecting everything I offered? There was one more rare thing it could be called Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction - I would be sent to Charleston for that test in two weeks. Neither Jim nor I felt like this was the answer either.

Would you believe me if I told you that Facebook gave me back my life? Cheesy. I know.

One of my friends shared this page about following a Paleo diet. I should share that throughout these years of struggle I had cut out gluten, sugar, and dairy at different times but never all three together. And never with the determination that is really required for it to make a difference. Honestly, I was immature about caring for my body. And my gastroenterologist's response about diet? "You should be able to eat a normal diet." Bless his heart.

I believe the numbers on my bathroom scale coupled with a scary MRI lit the fire that I needed to do it. Jim and I decided to do the Paleo diet very strictly and if it made no difference, we would go through with the MUSC visit. That very day, June 16, 2014, my mom stocked my kitchen with everything I needed. 

Within three days of a strict Paleo diet my abdominal pain and vomiting had completely ceased. I didn't even know what to do with myself. That had been my norm for so long. My lower back was sore from standing upright because I was so used to being hunched over! I called my gastro's office and was so excited to share with Linda, the nurse, (yes, we were on a first name basis by then) my happy news. We cancelled the Charleston appointment but of course will return to my doctor if needed.

It has now been 4 months and I've gained about 5 pounds. I know that doesn't sound like too much but I'm thrilled. After about a month, I introduced rice and white potato back into my diet to try to gain more weight. Since then I've completely added grains back in to continue to try to gain healthy weight. I'm still off of dairy and trying to avoid added sugars. I still feel great and truly like I've been given my life back. 

I also have a more realistic outlook on the rest of my life: I will always need to be careful with my diet. The creamy sauces. The desserts. The fried foods. Even THE CHOCOLATE. It's not worth it to me. (Yikes! Did I really write that into existence??)

So. I wrote this for me. To remind me of God's faithfulness through this storm. And yes, He'd still be faithful if that MRI returned with scarier results. Yes, He'd still be faithful if the Paleo diet didn't work. In this part of my story, though, he's teaching me discipline through my food choices. And his mercy in restoration.

Thanks for pushing through to the end! Please, if you struggle with similar belly issues that plague so many people these days, consider looking at a lifestyle change such as the Paleo diet or something similar.