This is a shout out to my family, friends, and colleagues – the ones who know what happened to me last year. And especially the ones who don’t.
Because, last summer, everything changed. I became very, very sick, and found myself in a hospital bed with tubes all over the place, undergoing test after test after surgery after test, living on a steady diet of antibiotics and morphine, and wondering what the hell had just happened to me.
Short answer: I have Crohn’s.
Some fast facts, in no particular order:
Crohn’s Disease is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It is not a sensitivity or intolerance. It is not related to Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Celiac Disease.
It’s in the name – “inflammatory.” That inflammation can and does damage and destroy tissue. Much of the damage takes the form of aggressive ulcers that can attack every part of the digestive system from the mouth to the colon, and that will happily eat their way through intestinal and organ walls.
Crohn’s is hard to classify. Doctor’s used to think it was an autoimmune disease - because it acts like one. Now, they believe it may be an immune-mediated disease. This much they do know: the Crohn's sufferer's immune system is defective, and normal – helpful - bacteria that populate the digestive system and facilitate healthy digestion are misidentified. The body’s immune system goes rogue and turns on these crucial allies and itself, identifying the digestive tract as an enemy. Then it sets out to destroy that enemy with extreme prejudice. Last July, my body tried to kill me.
There is no cure for Crohn’s. There are treatments and therapies that can help me fight to win back some part of the life I used to take for granted. Some of those are expensive chemotherapies and some are complicated and difficult lifestyle changes. The list of foods that will trigger an attack is long: gluten, lactose, seeds, nuts, garlic, onions, mushrooms, legumes,cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, caffeine. Pineapple.
Yep. That’s my reality. It will be my reality for the rest of my life.
I’ll never cruise up to a drive-thru window or walk into a restaurant, again, without bracing myself for what comes next: the long, tedious, and usually disappointing conversation about menu items and hidden ingredients, and about what I can eat without triggering pain, inflammation, and intestinal bleeding. I dread long flights because the skies are not Crohn’s-friendly. Simple as that. If I’m lucky, there might be decaf coffee. I travel a lot, for business and pleasure. Travel will never be easy again.
And there’s no going back. Every day is a negotiation and a little trial and error where the errors come with a cost. Some days aren’t good.
People with Crohn’s are at higher risk for an all-you-can-eat buffet of complications – both irritating and scary – that include but aren’t limited to: joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis, malnutrition, ulcers, inflammation affecting the intestine, organs, skin, and even the eyes, and colorectal cancer.
And when you have Crohn’s,you have to be extra vigilant because many of the symptoms that ordinarily point to the presence of this cancer are already so much a part of your everyday life with Crohn’s that there are no alarm bells or red flags. Just the Crohn’s, a disease that takes no prisoners and shows no mercy.
I wasn’t diagnosed until after my 50th birthday, but most Crohn’s sufferers are diagnosed between the ages of 13 and 30. Some are younger than 5, and the rates of diagnosis for that group – little kids - keeps climbing every year. Twice as many Canadian children are diagnosed with Crohn’s today than 30 years ago.
Those kids have a tough slog ahead of them. They can look forward to a lifetime of special diets, expensive drugs, and the likelihood of multiple surgeries. They may grow up with parts or all of their colons removed. Some of them will attend the big game or their senior prom with a colostomy bag hidden under their clothes.
And those kids will keep fighting for every inch of a normal life they can take back for themselves. And they’ll keep fighting to give the kids who come after them a better chance at the best life they can have.
Knowing that I belong to the same club as those kids is a humbling thing. I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m holding on for them, too. When I participate in the Gutsy Walk, I’m telling the world that I, Wayne Goodridge, have Crohn’s and I’m tougher than Crohn’s. I’m not going to let it own me. I’m not going to let it own those kids,either.
And I’m asking you, my friends, to reach out if you can. Support me in my fight against Crohn’s and help us fund the research that will give us back our lives.