Meet Michelle, mother of 4 and full time nurse with Crohn’s
At 14yrs old in 1995, I could frequently be found after a meal at the kitchen table doubled over in abdominal pain, with bouts of nausea and then finally the vomiting would come, knowing that at least throwing up would give me some relief from the intense abdominal pain. This was a story that repeated itself over and over. No pain medications were effective and my mother was repeatedly told that the GI distress I was experiencing was related to stress. My typical symptoms at the time were abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.
After suffering for many months, my grandmother happened to come over after dinner once to find me sprawled across the bench at the kitchen table in pain. She said, “that’s it!” and put me in the car, took me to the paediatrician and demanded a consult to a GI specialist. From there, a scope was set up which confirmed the diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. I had never heard of Crohn’s Disease and thought it must have something to with chromosomes and that I wouldn’t be able to ever have children. Thankfully, I was soon educated as to what Crohn’s Disease was (a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract), and that it had nothing to do with the ability to have children.
I was put on a ‘gut rest’ diet for 9 weeks, where I could only drink a specialized formula called ‘AL110’ and was required to drink a specific amount, an amount way more than I would have liked. I started to feel better almost immediately. After the completion of the 9 weeks ‘gut rest’, I reintroduced foods slowly back into my diet, which along with multiple medications, kept my Crohn’s disease at bay. But not for long. I had to do a second round of the formula diet shortly after, and then went into remission. But again not for long.
For the next 10yrs or so, I was to have many exacerbations, or never fully went into remission, I am not sure which. I had multiple hospital admissions, rounds of steroids, antibiotics and other medications.
At one point, I moved to London for a few months (I was living in the US with my family at the time) for a course of daily injections and high-dose medications, a treatment that was not available in the US at that time. At a different time, I went on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which did help me avoid a surgery at the time but I was unable to sustain the diet longer than a year. All this while I was finishing up high school in London, spending a year of seminary in Israel, going through college in the US, acquiring my Registered Nurse License, and then subsequently working as a nurse.
It was definitely a challenge but I was lucky enough to have friends and family who have always been very supportive, as well as the doctors who cared for me as if I was their own, and I can’t imagine getting to where I am today without their support.
In 2005, just weeks after being hospitalized with yet another flare up and subsequently starting 6MP, I met my husband. 6MP seemed to be the drug my disease responded to and has kept me in remission since then, but I like to think it was mostly due to me meeting my wonderful husband who is caring, understanding, supportive and the most amazing partner one can ever imagine. Since then, I have had minor setbacks requiring short courses of steroids to retain remission and a couple of intestinal obstructions which fortunately resolved on their own, but nothing in comparison to what I had experienced earlier on in life.
I am grateful to have 4 beautiful children and work full-time as a certified pediatric oncology nurse. In order to retain remission and avoid setbacks, with the approval of my GI specialist and OB/GYN physician, I have chosen to remain on 6MP and few other medications throughout all my pregnancies and breast feeding.
Luckily I don’t need to stay away from any specific foods. Since I am already prone to poor nutrition and malabsorption, getting enough of the right nutrients by sticking to a well-balanced healthy diet is all the more important for me. Taking many pills a day is just my norm and I am ok with it.
I am very open about the fact that I have Crohn’s Disease and always have been. I have been able to help many people because of this and have been a resource for others.
I recognize that I have been so fortunate and am extremely grateful that my course with this diagnosis thus far has been relatively smooth. I thank G-d for my health, and hope that, G-d willing, it continues this way.