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Thankful Things Thursday: On Having Crohn’s Disease

Posted Dec 06 2012 7:58am

I mentioned the other day that this week is Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week .

Now, if you’ve read this blog for longer than a day or two, you’re fully aware of Crohn’s disease. I like to think I’ve done my part to help spread awareness over the years, even if all the details along the way haven’t been very pretty.

In FITNESS magazine, talking about my going-to-the-bathroom disease. Lovely—but effective! I got lots of letters from FITNESS readers after this piece ran back in April.

Sorry about all the descriptive phrases I’ve used.

But I do think it’s cool — and comforting — that a decade ago I’d tell people I have Crohn’s disease and they’d look at me like I had something made-up. No one had heard of it, no one knew what it was and I’d usually just clarify by saying, “I get really bad stomachaches.”

Me and my best friends!

Understatement of the century.

So that brings me to today: A special Crohn’s-themed . Because as much as I hate having this disease and as much as it tried to ruin my entire year, I am thankful for it sometimes (and when I’m actually feeling sick, there’s no way in hell I’d write this post — so we’re doing it now!).


I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it got me into running! A few years ago, I couldn’t tell you how far a marathon was and I didn’t even know a “half marathon” was a thing. Then, one February day on the Subway, I was reading the Metro NY paper and saw a half-page advertisement for Team Challenge.

I ripped out the ad, took it home and taped it to my desk in my bedroom. I did a little research and found that I could raise money, get a coach and a training plan and run a half marathon in Napa, CA, that July.

I attended an info session with my roommate a few days later at JackRabbit Sports. By the end of the session, I had committed to raising $4,400 for CCFA and running 13.1 miles five months later.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

With my Napa buddies!

I woke up every Saturday to train in Central Park with the team and I got hooked on running — something I had never really done before.

I’ve since run three half marathons as part of Team Challenge: my first in Napa…

At the Napa-to-Sonoma Half Marathon Team Challenge pasta party with the NYC team. I drank, like, eight bottles of water at the pre-race party, thinking I needed to hydrate. That was the day I learned about “over-hydrating” and I was up all night peeing.

…my second as a Team Challenge mentor in Las Vegas…

With the other Team NYC mentors and Coach Jay (far left), welcoming TC participants to the pasta party. AKA being super obnoxious and trying to get people excited.

…and finally, last year I ran the Las Vegas Half Marathon again, after raising $20,000 for CCFA through the Run for the Rabbit campaign.

Sooooo fancy.

I don’t think I would have gotten into distance running if not for Team Challenge. It was a great way to learn about running and train for my first half marathon, and I’m grateful for all the Team Challenge people — the mentors, the endurance managers and the coaches — for getting me to all those start and finish lines.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it has introduced me to amazing, resilient, incredible people. All those cool people I’ve met doing Team Challenge? We’re still friends.

About to run the Las Vegas Half Marathon in 2009, back when it was still a morning race.

One of the most life-changing things for me came with joining Team Challenge that first time and meeting so many people who not only knew what Crohn’s disease was, but who also had the disease or had a friend, family member or loved one who had it.

Suddenly, for the first time, I could talk about my symptoms. I could discuss my treatment plans and things that worked and didn’t work for me.

“Things that don’t work.”

I felt so comforted. My first season with Team Challenge, in the late winter of 2009, was when I first started talking about having Crohn’s disease. Before that, I’d always mentioned I’d had it as necessary — like to my boss when, just a few days into my first post-college job, I had a flare-up and was out of commission — but I never went into detail or brought it up. Team Challenge connected me with people I could relate to and commiserate with.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it has made me vulnerable — and I’ve learned to be OK with that. OK, I’m learning to be OK with that.

“GO TEAM NYC.” —Written by Ali Feller

I hate when I get sick and can’t make it to the office. I hate running to the bathroom in the middle of meetings. I hate everything that comes with flare-ups. But this year, after a seemingly endless Crohn’s battle, I learned to let my guard down. I learned that it’s OK to ask for help sometimes, and it’s OK to give into this disease.

I tried so hard to “power through” this year. I tried to keep running and I tried to maintain my normal lifestyle. But at times, the sickness got so bad that something had to give. I hated thinking that Crohn’s disease could in any way control my life — but slowing down and giving myself the occasional break proved to be helpful for my mind, my body and, ultimately, my sanity.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it helped me find my strength. As I said, there were days when I tried to keep going and live “normally,” and there were days when I had to let Crohn’s win.

I am so much stronger today because of what I went through this year. I understand my disease better, I know better what I can and cannot handle and I’m in a much healthier place mentally than I’ve ever been. (Some people/Brian may argue this, but you should take my word for it.)

Crohn’s disease takes a major toll on my body. It attacks my sad little immune system and it wears me down with symptoms of fatigue, anemia and exhaustion.

But whether or not my digestive system is cooperating all the time, having this disease has made me into more of a fighter. And I will fight you. Bring it.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it makes feeling good feel so good. This is my favorite thing. The flare-ups suck. Everything about them makes me miserable. But the second I start feeling better I am a lover of all things in life. Seriously.

Every run is magical.

With Team Challenge before the Las Vegas Half Marathon in 2011.

Every bathroom I don’t have to use is spectacular.

Every healthy day is a beautiful day.

I emerge (like a butterfly) from each flare-up with a renewed appreciation for my health. I have been feeling good (knock on wood, knock on wood, BRB running to a forest to knock on all the trees) since I left the hospital back in September and it has been the best.

Feeling awesome at my cousin’s wedding, two weeks after leaving the hospital. I was so happy getting to enjoy the wedding and not running to the bathroom during the ceremony.

I’m living life like a normal person again and that will never grow old. I feel appreciative and grateful every single day, and as much as I hate to give this disease any credit, Crohn’s disease is the reason I’m so into the whole thankful thing.

I know I may get sick again. This disease never seems to really go away entirely and I feel traces of it all the time.

But if — or when — the next flare-up comes along, I know I’m better prepared for it. I’ve had three months in a row of feeling awesome and I’m so, so thankful for that.

So cheers to health, happiness and occasionally talking about things that are not cute!

ANYTHING FOR YOU? Got anything you’re unexpectedly thankful for, like a disease or a bike crash or that time your dog ran away and your parents bought you a new, better puppy?

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