Why Team Challenge? What a big question. It’s hard for me to put into words on a piece of paper the importance of this organization to me personally, but I’ll try. I'm running my second half marathon with them next week, and felt a little reflective. First, some background:
About three years ago, I started suffering from abdominal cramping and bleeding every time I went to the bathroom. The cramps were mild, and doctor after doctor told me it was probably a food intolerance or hemmorhoids. Super fun stuff to hear about at 22 years old! I was mortified, and subsequently kept everything to myself. I switched my diet to focus on unprocessed, good-for-you foods, started taking a bunch of vitamins, and exercising regularly. The bleeding never stopped, but I was convinced everything was fine. I had gotten used to constant discomfort.
In February of 2014 things got significantly worse. I noticed I had been losing weight, which I had been trying to do, but it was happening a bit faster than I anticipated. The number of times I was going to the bathroom each day went through the roof and I was getting up two or three times a night to go, too. Still, I stayed quiet when it came to my family and friends. I went to my doctor asking about this twice in February. She drew blood and both times said I seemed fine. One week in March, I realized I lost 6 pounds in one week. I had lost my appetite. I knew this wasn’t right. I marched myself into my doctor’s office, asked to see a different person, and discussed my symptoms with her. She was still convinced it was hemmorhoids, but also thought I had some kind of intestinal virus. She ran a blood test and off I went. The next day I couldn’t keep food down and was vomiting every few hours. My friend finally said enough is enough, and took me to the hospital. A CT scan in the emergency room revealed that my entire large intestine was inflamed. My friend stayed as long as she could, but I was admitted to the hospital alone, scared and confused. Most of my family lives out of state.
My Dad drove up from Colorado Springs, CO to stay with me and the next few days were a blur. I had blood drawn every 12 hours and each time they had to poke me in a new spot. I left the hospital with bruises up and down my arms because I was such a hard stick. I got used to my IV, but the nurses discovered pretty quickly how nutrient and iron deficient I was. One night, they tried to feed potassium through my IV. Potassium has a reputation of hurting like hell when they infuse you with it; I felt like my arm was on fire. I tried to rip my IV out and they had to sedate me to make sure I could sit through the infusion. It was terrible. A colonoscopy revealed I had significant scarring and ulcers all throughout my colon. The doctor suspected Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. I had never heard either of those names before. Both are incurable autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases occur when your body’s immune system can’t tell what it’s supposed to be fighting off and what it isn’t. Essentially, my body was raging a tiny little war with itself. No one knows why or how these illnesses manifest.
Before I was discharged my doctor gave me my biopsy results and said that he suspected Ulcerative Colitis. He prescribed me with steroids, another drug that I can’t remember the name of, iron supplements and high doses of vitamins. I left the hospital a whopping 98 pounds. If the hospital stay didn’t kick me down enough, the steroids did the trick. I was moody, I couldn’t sleep, was getting more acne than I’d ever had and was growing more hair on my face. All side effects. The worst was a reaction to more sodium retention—the dreaded moonface. My face looked like I was 30 pounds overweight while the rest of my body was significantly underweight. People kept commenting on my appearance (they didn’t know what else to do) and it killed my self-esteem. Completely shattered it. My boyfriend at the time noticed. We ended up breaking up because the stress of dealing with my illness was too much. Good riddance. Bye Felicia. I started losing my hair because my body had undergone such severe weight-loss and blood-loss. I didn’t know physical trauma caused you to lose your hair. I had lost so much muscle mass during my hospital stay that hauling myself up a set of stairs was a chore and took an eternity. I kept suffering blow after blow after blow.
The worst part wasn’t the medication, or the side effects, or the hospital stay. It was feeling misunderstood. It is really difficult to understand these diseases and unfortunately, the mentality of others tends to be “well if it’s a digestive issue, you did this to yourself because of what you ate.” I was eating the healthiest I ever had been before my diagnosis. I kept feeling like I had done this to myself in some roundabout way. The mental toll of this illness took a toll, too. When you have very little answers to not only WHY you got this disease but HOW to treat it, you become exhausted.
It got a little easier. After about 2 months I was feeling a bit more like myself, but the steroid side effects didn’t wear off until about 5 months after my diagnosis. I started receiving Remicade infusions; Remicade is a form of low-grade chemotherapy that turns off parts of immune system that overreact to foreign invaders. So I became way more susceptible to illness and infection, but at least I didn’t feel like I was dying. I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. I literally woke up every morning thinking to myself “this is what people who are dying must feel like.” The physical effects had gone away, but in their place was the huge hurdle of mental illness. I was severely depressed because I felt like I had lost so much to illness: my health, my peace of mind, my boyfriend, any hope I had at a normal, easy life. PTSD also developed, as well as a pretty severe case of anxiety. I started seeing a therapist and began working through the problems I had, but something was still missing.
Enter Team Challenge. I got a flyer in my mailbox in February 2015 and my life was forever changed. Team Challenge is a group of runners who train for half-marathons and fundraise for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America together. I liked that they focused on any ability level. I was very much a walker, but not really a runner. I figured that if anything, I could at least walk the whole thing. I signed up for a race in Dublin, because WHY THE HECK NOT?! I figured if I was going to do this, I might as well do it big. I raised $4,400 for the CCFA and finished my first half-marathon. I wasn’t the fastest, but I finished. And I felt whole again. I felt like I had shown my body that I could do whatever I wanted to—despite some significant obstacles that had been placed in my way. I still struggle every day. There is never a day where I don’t have to keep my anxiety in check and stop thinking “what if.” There is never a day where I don’t think about my disease. But, it has less of a hold on me now. Because I kicked some Ulcerative Colitis ass and did a flippin’ half-marathon. If I can do that, I can do anything. I can endure another week in the hospital. I can endure another flare up. I can endure another round of steroids if I absolutely have to.
Most importantly, I do Team Challenge because I hope my story isn’t something we have to hear more of. The funds raised from these races go directly to the CCFA for all different kinds of research that these illnesses desperately need. I would never, in a million years, wish my experience upon my worst enemy. I run because I don’t want another person to feel alone and confused when they first hear the words “Crohns” or “Colitis.” I run because I don’t want another 25 year old to be taking chemotherapy every 8 weeks. I run for all the friends and family members of patients who suffer alongside the people they love. I run because I remember what it is like to not even be able to go up a set of stairs. I run because I can. And I will never take that ability for granted again. Despite the hurt, the pain, the frustration and the different course my life has taken, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. UC has made me a better version of myself. I appreciate the little things and laugh more than I ever have. I also learned first-hand how short life is and how quickly things can be taken from you. I will fight tooth and nail for the rest of life to keep others from experiencing this. And most importantly, I will never stop hoping for a cure.
This is why I run.
If you're interested in helping others like me so we don't have to keep hearing stories like this, feel free to click the "more" tab at the top of this page, and then the big "donate" button. Thank you in advance.