My Senior year of high school was a great year despite this life-changing diagnosis. My Crohn’s disease was soon under control with the medications and treatments. I had my bouts of depression and sadness, yet in addition to my parents, God had made sure that Brett would be by my side through it all. We had been dating for a year at that point, and of course, I had no idea that he would be my husband someday. God knew and was preparing Brett for the journey ahead. Brett wrote me a letter soon after I was diagnosed that told me that no matter what happened with this chronic disease, he would be right with me.
The song that has captured our love story had become “Come What May” by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman from Moulin Rouge. (I confess…not the most moral movie). Read a section of the song:
And there’s no mountain too high, no river too wide
Sing out this song and I’ll be there by your side
Storm clouds may gather and stars may collide
But I love you, I love you
Until the end of time
(Until the end of time)
Come what may, come what may
I will love you until my dying day
Oh, come what may, come what may
I will love you, I will love you
Brett and I had a long distance relationship throughout college and have been through some hard trials in our almost 7 years of marriage, and therefore, “come what may” has been a motto we live by that no matter what happens, we will choose to love each other. This disease would be the beginning of many obstacles to overcome together.
I had a couple flair ups throughout college. My biggest was that first semester of my Freshman year. With college brings change and stress, and soon followed a flair up. I quickly learned that STRESS is my biggest enemy and inducer of Crohn’s symptoms. My suite-mates would find me literally studying with textbooks and study notes on the toilet since there was no point of running back and forth to my room. (Gross? Maybe, but just giving you a glimpse of the life of someone with a bowel disease.) Or I would be hyperactive at 12 am and couldn’t sleep because of a side effect of one of the steroids. Good thing my roommate was a night-owl.
My roommate, Rachel, and suite-mate, Katie, were the exact friends I needed while dealing with this embarrassing disease, especially during the first semester at college! They never judged my bowels (especially since I couldn’t control them!) and would laugh and joke with me at every chance. I coined the phrase, “I have Crooooooohns!” and would whine this when I needed an excuse for something, even unrelated to the disease. Looking back now, I thank the Lord for putting Rachel and Katie into my life to lessen my fears in new social experiences and allow me to feel ‘normal’.
Rachel, Me, Katie at Cedarville University – December 2004
Fast forward to 2008. I had mild flair ups from time to time, but then the Spring of 2008 came. I remember vividly sitting in the room at Dr. Maisel’s office and the RN asked me if anything was going on in my life to explain a flair up I was experiencing. My reply? “Let’s see. I’m in the middle of my Dietetic internship. I’m getting married a week after I finish my internship in July. My fiance is filming a short film two weeks before our wedding. Brett and I are then moving into an apartment. I start my first professional job one week after the honeymoon, I officially graduate college in August, and then will be taking my Registered Dietitian exam soon after.” College Graduation. Marriage. Moving. New Job. National Exam. Stressed?!? Again, it was another red flag that stress = flair up.
All praise to Jesus, with medication my symptoms were reduced. That summer of 2008 was an exciting time of change, and fortunately, I was able to enjoy every moment without the uncomfortable challenges of the disease…
…Until October of that 2008 hit. 5 months into marriage, Brett was finishing the editing process of The Board and gone until 1 am most nights, and Satan decided that it was time to throw a curve ball. The Board is an evangelistic film that we passed out to each home in Brownsburg, Indiana, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan wasn’t too happy, so like with Job, maybe God allowed him to push the thorn in my flesh deeper to distract Brett’s mission.
Brett and I were youth leaders at our church, and one evening in late October we went on a night hike in the woods. I remember the exact moment as we were walking when my breath caught and I gasped. All the sudden my chest felt constricted and I couldn’t breathe. I got Brett’s attention and told him that something is not right and I can barely take a deep breath. Fortunately, we were at the end of the hike and exited the woods to enjoy a warm bonfire. Almost immediately, my chest opened and I was breathing regularly again. I shrugged it off as “that was weird” and didn’t think about it.
Until a few days later when I started to have high fevers. Ongoing fevers. All day and all night. I couldn’t get out of bed. So after a few days of no relief I called Dr. Maisel, and she instructed me to go to the nearest lab to get blood and urine tests. That was on a Friday, and I didn’t hear from her until the following Monday. I vividly remember when she called that Monday morning. I was miserably in bed from the ongoing fevers for a week with no relief or answers, and Brett had already left for his part-time job at The Indianapolis Star. We were on the phone for less than 3 minutes and in summary she said, “Pack your bags and go to St. Vincent Hospital immediately. You are being admitted for histoplasmosis.” What is that?!? was my initial response. Big name must mean big problem. Dr. Maisel was matter-of-fact on the phone, but I knew she meant business and this was an urgent matter.
Once admitted, I quickly found out that histoplasmosis is a toxic fungus from bird and bat feces. It is very common in the Midwest and a large majority of people have traces of the fungus in their lungs but their immune system can easily fight it off. However, because of the Remicade treatments and medications I was taking to treat Crohn’s, my immune system was compromised and I could not fight off the fungus. So that moment in the woods when I gasped for air? That was the moment I contracted it from bird feces in the woods.
I was admitted for 5 days in the hospital, being infused constantly with antifungal medication to kill it off before it left my lungs and permeated into the rest of my organs. An x-ray of my lungs actually looked similar to pneumonia. The doctors were shocked that I only had fever symptoms and was not coughing constantly. By God’s grace the histoplasmosis was under control and I was released.