Help the Zuck Siblings Take on Crohn's and Colitis!
During my Junior year of college I had the opportunity of a lifetime to study Architecture in Versailles, France. I lived in a small 300 year old apartment a stones throw away from the gates of the Palace of Versailles. I studied in the former stables, renovated to house the École Nationale Superior d’Architecture de Versailles – one of the best Architecture Schools in France. Spending a year traveling Europe and studying Architecture in its birthplace had been a dream of mine since high school, but the trip quickly turned into a nightmare.
By September I was coming home between classes to nap just so that I could get through the day. During our first sketch trip through the Loire Valley I spent each night trapped in the bathroom. Afraid to seek help in a foreign country I let my health decline before seeing a doctor.
I was immediately admitted to the hospital. In a strange way, I was lucky. The severity of my symptoms made Ulcerative Colitis an easy diagnosis.
Unwilling to give up my dream of living and studying in Europe, I stayed in Versailles and continued school. For months it seemed like every other week I was making the hour trip by train and metro from Versailles into the hospital on the outskirts of Paris for tests, doctors appointments, iron infusions, and treatments.
Unfortunately, no treatment seemed successful long term. In March I made the decision to finish my classes from home so that I could work on healing. Despite continuing to struggle with my health, I returned to campus at the University of Illinois for my senior year and I finished my Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies on time, even giving the undergraduate commencement speech.
Determined to continue my studies I started my Master of Architecture in the fall at Washington University in Saint Louis, changing my goals only to add a Master of Business Administration so that I would have a fall back in the future should a career in Architecture be too stressful on my health. While Washington University offered impressive programs in both Architecture and Business, it also conveniently allowed me access to the physicians at Barnes Jewish Hospital. After only a year back in the Midwest I had quickly realized that my Ulcerative Colitis was more aggressive than most doctors were familiar with.
I got what I was looking for, but in the most upsetting way. My new GI at Barnes immediately told me what my previous doctors were uncomfortable deciding: I needed surgery.
Again unwilling to sacrifice my goals, I waited until the end of my first semester of Graduate School to have my first surgery and I spent my Christmas break recovering on the couch. Through sheer willpower I finished my first year of school and allowed myself the summer to fully recover from my last surgery and to gain my strength back.
While touted as a “cure”, surgery was never a success for me. I continued to struggle with symptoms until my diagnosis was switched to Crohn’s disease. By graduation I was so sick that I weighed barely over 100 pounds from being unable to eat properly for so long and I was so weak that climbing the single flight of stairs to my apartment or to my studio desk at school physically exhausted me.
Yet, I finished both of my degrees in May of 2016, and a week following receiving my diplomas I stood as the “best man” at my brother’s wedding.
Finally though, my endurance gave out. Physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I was hospitalized. I underwent my fourth surgery to have an ostomy put in place, hopefully to allow my Crohn’s ridden intestines to heal. Still malnourished and unable to eat, I was quickly readmitted and started on intravenous nutrition.
Unfortunately this was “too little too late” and in mid-June my immune system gave up. I was admitted into the local ICU in septic shock and spent a week fighting for my life.
My scars are evidence of when I’ve walked through hell and came out the other side stronger. Through every experience, I have wondered to myself how much more I could possibly take before I broke, but as my favorite quote goes, “you never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” I refuse to let my illness define me, and instead I have used my experience to shape myself for the better. Pain has taught me strength. Depression has taught me happiness. Having my own body turn against me has given me confidence.
I want to run the Team Challenge half marathon as an act of defiance. One year after Crohn’s nearly took my life I want to run not just for myself but for everyone else whose life has been turned upside down by this disease. For everyone who has not had the amazing support system that I have had. For everyone afraid to speak up because Crohn’s Disease is stereotyped as a “bathroom illness”
In a continued show of solidarity, my big brother has agreed to be my race buddy as I run the Napa Half Marathon with Team Challenge to raise money and awareness for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. More than my brother, Chris is one of my best friends. He’s the person I trust to put a smile on my face. The person I can still make stupid jokes with even when it feels like the world is falling apart around me.
80 cents of every dollar donated will go towards finding a cure towards Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. It breaks my heart knowing that others have had the same horrific experiences that I have had and have felt the pain that I have felt. Help me to put and end to this.
If you want to follow my journey:
Instagram: Notjustanothercrohnsgirl (https://www.instagram.com/notjustanothercrohnsgirl/)
Twitter: Notjustacrohnie (https://twitter.com/notjustacrohnie)
As well as the blog I started the night before my first surgery at http://amzuck.tumblr.com/
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