The Importance of Friendship in the IBD Community
My last year in college began with a trip to the ER. Previously, I ignored blood in my stool as it would often resolve after a few days. (Pro tip: Unlike me, please tell your doctor if this happens!) However, since a week had passed and the pain incrementally worsened, I began to worry. Seven hours later, I heard the words "ulcerative colitis" for the first time from the on-call gastroenterologist. Thus began an onslaught of needle pricks and endoscopic procedures that led to my UC diagnosis.
Ignoring my ulcerative colitis
My first year with ulcerative colitis consisted of me dissociating from the disease. I sporadically took my medication and hardly made time for activities that would help in achieving remission. Everything felt overwhelming. I responded by turning off that sick side of me. It wasn't me, just an unwelcome guest that would soon leave.
I felt hypocritical since I wanted to become a doctor, and yet, I was a poor patient myself. So, I looked for ways to change this pattern of thinking and found the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Through volunteering with the Foundation, I learned about the value of a strong, supportive network for those with chronic diseases.
Finding community at Camp Oasis
I first saw this peripherally while volunteering at a summer camp, Camp Oasis, for kids with Crohn's disease or UC. While I walked with a group of middle schoolers, the campers talked about where they received biologic infusions. A light-hearted conversation ensued about which veins had blown out during previous infusions as they each compared arms. A conversation that would most likely never occur in a regular setting once returning to school.
Their shared experience and overall easygoing tone resonate with me. When Camp Oasis ended, the campers exchanged contact information and continued their special friendship.
Understanding among Crohn's and colitis community
As I continue getting more comfortable with ulcerative colitis, here are specific moments where I've been fortunate to have a friend in the IBD community. While taking bowel prep for one of my colonoscopies, I started to get nauseous and thought I wouldn't be able to finish. Phoning a friend helped me not only find ways to finish the prep but also ease my worries about the impending procedure.
For IBD patients, going on road trips can make us hyper-aware of the best locations for restrooms and pit stops. Turning this vigilance into a competition amongst fellow patients on who could find the cleanest bathrooms, helped make road trips from Louisiana to Texas something that I enjoyed.
Thankful for my IBD friends
Sometimes you may just need to vent, whether that be about ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, or something else. Having a friendship with someone who may understand what you are going through can be therapeutic.
Over time, I've grown more comfortable in advocating for myself after sharing my story in the company of close friends and fellow patients. I share successes and failures with those who have become my biggest advocates. In turn, I want to help advocate for patients, to help them be seen and heard, and I cannot thank my friends in the IBD community enough for helping to this point.
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