Growing up in Chicago, I was a healthy kid aside from the typical cold or flu. During high school I thought I was invincible—making straight-A's, active in sports and a drum major. I never expected my life would take a turn for the worse, but at 18-years-old that's what happened. After a month of ongoing digestive problems, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. At the time I thought this illness would only affect my life by taking medicine a few times a day. That blind optimism actually helped me deal with the initial diagnosis before the reality of living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease set in.
After graduating high school, I was accepted into my dream college at the University of Kansas. The week prior to moving I was admitted to the hospital because of severe symptoms and stayed there for two weeks. Deep down I knew it was too risky to attend school out of state, so I put aside my goals and compromised by enrolling at a local community college and living at home. As the disease progressed, I was given more medication and was being hospitalized about every three months. For the next two years I never reached remission and every day living with IBD was excruciating and exhausting.
Despite having health challenges, I wanted to travel as much as I could and found it rejuvenating to think about my next adventure—making future plans kept me hopeful. For a few months I was feeling pretty good so I planned a trip to Ireland, but two days before leaving I started having stomach pain. I called my doctor and he scheduled a colonoscopy the very next day. The results showed that my colon was very inflamed and I was advised not to leave the country. We discussed surgery to remove my colon and I was told it would either be a total colectomy with end ileostomy, or a total colectomy with J-pouch and diverting ileostomy. On December 18, 2011 I woke from surgery with a J-pouch and diverting ileostomy. The first time I saw my stoma I was overwhelmed with joy, because for me this was a step in the right direction to get my life back!
During my recovery I decided to start a YouTube channel called Ostomystory to talk about my new life. I found that being open about my ostomy not only helped others, but me as well. After two years of posting videos I was approached by a producer from the Comedy Central show "Tosh.0" for an interview. I was familiar with the humor of the show, but wasn’t sure if this was the best way to spread my message, so I debated the opportunity for a few months before deciding to go for it. The result from being on the show turned out better than I could've ever imagined and the reaction from the ostomy community was overwhelmingly positive, including being discovered by the CEO of Shield HealthCare who asked me to join their team as an Ostomy Lifestyle Specialist.
It's been almost seven years since my surgery and there's so much to be grateful for. I'm almost finished with my MA of Counseling at Northwestern University, picked up two new hobbies, rock climbing and kickboxing, and celebrated my 26th birthday in November with some amazing friends. I’m grateful that an ostomy has given me a healthy life and look forward to sharing tips I’ve learned along the way to help make your life easier.