Most people probably can’t tell by looking at me, but I’ve battled a debilitating disease every single day for 15 years. It is all consuming, no matter how hard I try to put on a brave face. You may or may not know someone like me suffering from the same horrible gut diseases. But, today you know at least one, and that’s me.
My name is Jenna. I love wine, fashion, vintage treasures, handbags, stilettos, black and white movies, luxurious paper and going on walks. I am a 32-year-old business owner, married to the love of my life, and a blessed mom of three beautiful boys.
Here’s my story.
I was diagnosed with both Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Crohn’s Disease (CD) when I was 17 years old; UC in my small intestine and colon, and evidence of CD, but not an exact location of where. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the inner lining of the large intestine, which includes the colon and the rectum. The inflammation causes erosion of the lining of the colon, leading to bleeding, production of pus, diarrhea, and severe abdominal discomfort.
Although I was young, the statistics show that my age was not uncommon. Unfortunately one of these diseases alone affects 1 in 1,000 Americans and mostly starts between the ages of 15 and 30.
I’ll never forget my first flare-up, which is the term used to describe an episode of ulcerative colitis symptoms. I was a Junior in High School. It occurred the night following my last day of finals. Just as my adrenaline was coming down from a stressful time, my immune system crashed.
My flare-ups, which typically occur at night, involve excruciating abdomen and back pain, unhealthy weight loss, loss of appetite, inability to get comfortable or be still, insomnia, diarrhea and (as of late) vomiting. I cannot walk, lie down, or sit up without crying. It is difficult for me to describe the pain; it’s like an all-consuming burning sensation in my whole body that just won’t cease. It is an extremely exhausting, frustrating, painful, hopeless and embarrassing feeling. The hardest part for me is that I can’t control it. It’s my body, yet no matter what I do, it comes on without warning, like a freight train, swift and powerful.
Following my 1 to 2 daylong flare-ups, I get what I like to call my “UC/CD hangover.” My body is exhausted, achy, sore and tender. It is very hard to function and walk, so it felt almost impossible to study, hang out with friends, and play competitive tennis. To this day, I still suffer from these day-after aches and weakness, only to fear another flare-up later the same day. It makes working and taking care of my family so much more difficult.
Around the time of my diagnosis, I remember feeling starved, from not only my disease symptoms, but also from fasting before my Endoscopy / Colonoscopy procedure that diagnosed my digestive track ulcers. I weighed about 100 pounds at the time, the lowest weight I’ve ever been. Following the procedure, my doctor told me to go home and eat anything I wanted. So, naturally as a teenager I ate bowls of macaroni and cheese and pizza. My health worsened exponentially after my procedure for many days. I had a 103 fever and painful flare-ups that lasted for several days.
Shortly after my diagnosis, I was told to take a steroid (maybe for the rest of my life). I did this for a few months, simply out of pure desperation to ease some of my symptoms. But, thanks to my very loving parents, we opted to seek out additional, more natural remedies. The natural path and MD licensed doctors told me that they didn’t want to “put a band aid on my injury,” but rather “heal it for years of remission.” I went off the steroids, and started a chelation regiment, which included IV treatments with high-potency and natural vitamins. Initially the treatment was daily, and then it was tapered down to every-week, every-other-week, every month, and finally every-other-month before I was done.
This strict IV treatment, in addition to probiotics, vitamins and diet put me into remission for a few years. My diet consisted of only grilled chicken, cooked vegetables, non-dairy fruit smoothies, and steamed brown rice. I removed sugar, raw veggies, raw fruit, wheat/gluten, dairy, potatoes, legumes and white rice from my diet completely. I was not in a full remission, but thankfully I was better. I would have occasional flare-ups (less than 10 per year), but it was a vast improvement from nightly flare-ups.
Just when I seemed to have it all figured out, I left for college, drank with friends, and ate what typical college students eat (fried food, fast food and wheat-heavy food). Just like that, all my hard work had been reversed, and the flare-ups began to happen more frequently. I wish I had made my diet and gut health a priority during my college and post-college years. But, I lived, and I learned. I learned that what I put into my body directly affects my gut, and ultimately my health and happiness.
My post college life and battle with my disease has led to another enemy in the battle for my remission – stress. Research shows that although stress doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis, it can make your signs and symptoms worse and may trigger flare-ups. I can personally attest that when I am stressed and/or neglect my needs, I get sick immediately and begin a cycle of flare-ups. I have an extreme Type-A personality, which makes me susceptible to high stress. Recently, the stress levels in my life have increased (marriage, 3 children under the age of 5, opening a boutique store only to close it 3 years later, maintaining a graphic design and printing business and building a house), which means my health has taken a back seat.
I don’t want to be curled up in a ball at a party anymore. I don’t want to be throwing up all night, while my kids sleep, anymore. I don’t want to urgently run to the bathroom all day long anymore. I don’t want to live in fear and miss out on social events anymore. I know this seems like an ideological, unobtainable goal for someone with my disease, but I will fight to even get a small percentage of a better life. If I don’t have my health, I have nothing. And, with an amazing husband and kids (plus a dog, who also has Ulcerative Colitis as well – go figure), I have too much to live for.
Thus, for the last few years, I have committed to a strict wheat-free and dairy-free diet again to get my health back on track.
My mom always told me probiotics were essential to my health (in fact, they are essential to everyone’s health), and based on the research, my mom was right. However, I have learned that not all probiotics and bacterial strains are the same1, which is why I’m so excited about VSL#3. VSL#3 is a high-potency probiotic medical food that is clinically proven in the dietary management of the serious digestive issues irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis (UC) and ileal pouch and must be used under medical supervision.
VSL#3′s unique synergistic composition, with eight diverse strains of bacteria, makes it one of the most potent probiotics in the world. VSL#3 is 10 times more potent than the average probiotic (average CFU = 15.5 billion). The average probiotic (according to IRI data 09/12) contains about 4.3 billion CFU.
I live in fear of my disease from the minute I wake up until the minute I go to bed. But, I’m incredibly hopeful that adding VSL#3 to my daily routine can help me manage my UC symptoms. Bring on the good bacteria! I want to feel stronger, healthier, and more functional without the painful, embarrassing symptoms. My disease will never go away without a cure, but if I can manage my symptoms day-to-day, and live a healthy, more energetic life to keep up with my family, I win.
I’ll be trying VSL#3 every day for the next three weeks, and tracking my symptoms as the weeks progress. Check out my second post after three weeks to read about my results! I hope you join me on my journey #VSL3TheJourneyBack.
If you suffer from serious digestive conditions like IBS, UC (like me) or ileal pouch and have tried general probiotics found on the pharmacy shelf without success, you may want to try a serious probiotic, such as VSL#3. It’s worth trying, right?! I’m looking forward to seeing the difference. VSL#3 is kept refrigerated behind the pharmacy counter, which preserves and maintains the high potency and vitality of the carefully designed formulation of billions of bacteria.
Interested in trying VSL#3? Now you can take part in VSL#3′s new Patient Savings Program. Simply print out this VSL#3 Patient Savings Card and bring it to your pharmacist, along with a prescription from your healthcare provider, to save up to $80 each month on your purchase of VSL#3 DS and up to $40 a month on VSL#3 unflavored packets. This is the largest savings ever offered for both VSL#3 and VSL#3 DS. Visit here for more information and talk with your healthcare provider today to take part in the savings program!
For more information on VSL#3 please visit www.vsl3.com
For giveaways and exclusive offers, join VSL#3 on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vsl3probiotic. Be sure to check out their series of videos including helpful info about managing IBS & UC at www.youtube.com/user/VSL3Probiotic.
You can find delicious low-FODMAP, IBS-friendly recipes at http://www.vsl3.com/discover/ibs-friendly-recipes/
1Reference: Bertazzoni, et al. Journal of Chemotherapy.25.4.193-212 (2013); Fedorak RN, J Clin Gastroenterol. 42:S3; S111-115 (2008); Lammers KM, et al. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 38:165-72 (2003)
VSL#3® is a high-potency probiotic medical food that’s clinically proven in the dietary management of IBS, ulcerative colitis, and ileal pouch. To learn more visit www.vsl3.com and LIKE the brand on Facebook.
This is a product-provided, sponsored conversation that contains affiliate links. All opinions, text and experiences are my own. VSL#3 is a high-potency probiotic medical food for the dietary management of IBS, UC and ileal pouch and must be used under medical supervision. Please speak with your healthcare provider for any specific questions. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.