The End of My Hard Knock Life

Annie closed on Saturday which means my life is officially mine again!! Thank you to all who came and watched, I truly appreciate your support. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here are some shots from the show, photos with some visitors as well as some backstage shenanigans.

Annie Mosiac

I want to say a big thank you for everyone’s support on my Crohn’s Week Month posts. It has been great to share my story with all of you as well as the stories of so many others. Together we will continue to raise awareness of IBD.

In IBD awareness related news, I had also mentioned that I had some news to share… so here it goes! Remember when I did the Crohn’s Walk last year and raised more than $1700? This year I will be doing the walk as the Honorary Chair for the Toronto event!! (page not updated for the 2010 event yet)

I’m so thrilled to be a part of the planning committee and look forward to help raise more money and more awareness for this cause that is near and dear to my heart (and intestine…) As honorary chair I will not only be sitting on the committee, but also being a spokesperson for the event, doing local media and leading some of the proceedings on the day of. There will be lots of information about this amazing event in the coming months as well as some fun things on the blog to assist in my fundraising efforts, so stay tuned!!

Coming up in December on the blog…

  • New activity chart – I need to get my butt back into gear so I will be printing off my chart (to be posted tomorrow) and COVERING it with stickers!
  • Food picture catch up – I have been eating during Annie and want to share some yummy pictures with you
  • “Doing it in December” (Or maybe a better name to come when my brain cells return…) I need to get my butt into gear this month and want to assist all you in doing the same. This week we’re going to talk about strategies for dealing with the people we may encounter over the holiday season, as well as tips for including the foods you love into your life! We need to achieve our 2009 goals!! I am going to set some new goals for this month and MAKE THEM HAPPEN!! Are you with me? Is there anything that you would like me to talk about that you require additional support with? Leave me a comment or send me an email and I will do my best to include it!
  • The countdown to my new life – school starts in 38 days!!!

Annie was a lot of fun, but I truly feel a sense of relief when a show is over. It’s like a chapter in a book. You enjoy the beginning, middle and end, but you also recognize that it’s going to come to an end at some point. December is going to be a busy month and then I start rehearsal for the next one, so I’m going to do what I can before the cycle starts again!!

Crohn’s Week: Those I’ve Met Along the Way

When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I knew one other person with SANY1289 IBD and that was Lori. I didn’t really know the entire story (as she had been diagnosed quite some time before) but she was the extent of my Crohn-ie connections. Since being diagnosed, I have had the pleasure of connecting with so many others whose lives have been affected by IBD.

I found out from my grandmother that I have two great-aunts and one second cousin with either Crohn’s or Colitis. Many people have confided that they have dads, sisters, cousins or friends who are also affected; Through the blog world I have met so many beautiful people to share stories of poop and Peglyte with. I wanted to share some of their stories with you to spread awareness as to how many people this disease touches as well as give you a sense of how it affects each of us differently.

crohnsandy I found Andy’s IBD awareness site through a Crohn’s forum. He was looking for people to share their stories and I happily sent mine along. Andy was diagnosed with Crohn’s in September 2008. He had been experiencing major stomach pains in the last few months of university, which for a long time he attributed to heavy drinking. The stomach pain continued even after the drinking stopped and then his appetite decreased. After talking to his GP about his symptoms, he collapsed the following day and was rushed to the hospital and put on heavy painkillers. It took the medical team 2 months to determine that Andy had Crohn’s.

Andy was initially put on steroids, but reacted badly to them, making emergency surgery his only available option. He would later have two more surgeries to resolve a blockage and split bowel and to ultimately reverse his temporary ileostomy. Andy was recovering from his third surgery when he sent his questionnaire back to me and said that he felt encouraged that his life was slowly coming back together.

“Even when your body is in its weakest hour, never take for granted your imagination.”

One of the scary things about IBD is that it is often misdiagnosed, which was the case with Marie-Claire. After suffering from constant cramping stomach pains and blood in her stools, her doctor told her that she had haemorrhoids. She continued to be in pain for more than a year, when she ended up in the hospital after fainting due to loss of blood. Marie Claire said,

“I think I have always been prone to the development of this disease, however I believe the actual trigger was stress related as I started experiencing symptoms after my father and both my grandparents died within 6 months of each other. It was a bad year.”

Marie-Claire went on to be diagnosed by a second doctor with Ulcerative Colitis. A year went by and she didn’t feel any better. She eventually landed in the hospital in dire need of a blood transfusion where the doctors even told her mother that she might not make it. It was during this episode that Marie-Claire found a GI who changed her life. This GI was the first to agree that her condition could not be diagnosed as either Crohn’s or Colitis as well as recognize that food and environment are aggravating factors in the disease.

When Marie Claire was in the hospital for the blood transfusion, the only option that was presented to her was surgery to remove her entire colon. She refused and opted for the strongest drugs they could give her including prednisone & cyclosporine. She has been on and off steroid-based treatments for years and is currently managing her disease through a combination of self-awareness, Imuran and supplements with a healthy dose of exercise and positivity. As a result she has been in remission for two years. When I asked if she told people that she had IBD she responded by saying,

“Yes. After having about 15 colonoscopies (I have at least 2 a year) and running to the bathroom holding my butt countless of times, I have no shame.”

Love that girl!

Speaking of love, how stunning is Jessica Grossman?uncover ostomy

Uncover Ostomy is the brainchild of Jessica and the IDEAS group.

Jessica was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the tender age of 9 after having stomach pain, decreased appetite, and frequent trips to the washroom for more than a year. Her disease stabilized for a couple of years until she got the flu when she was 11, which caused her to be sick for 2 years. For a long time she followed her doctor’s advice and took her medication as prescribed by her doctor. She also tried an organic diet without sugar, flour or dairy which she found to be very limiting.

In 2003 Jessica opted to have surgery to remove her colon and some of her small intestine and now has an ileostomy. As a result of the surgery she is symptom-free, pain free, eats as she pleases and is able to thrive as a university student and vice president of her sorority.

Uncover Ostomy started as a project in her grade 12 media studies class. Jessica said,

“Our final project was to create a PR campaign for an NPO. I picked the United Ostomy Association of Canada. I created and advertisement of myself covered in a sheet exposing my ostomy. The summer after the project I went to camp ostomy camp where I met up with a volunteer I had met at camp before named Rob. He was the founder of IDEAS [Intestinal Education and Awareness Society]. I showed him my advertisements and he said he really like them and wanted to use them for his organization. After 3 years of working out the kinks, we finally had a contract and a plan for me to fly to Vancouver to create a new version of the ad for his organization. And that’s how we got Uncover Ostomy. “

I think it’s an amazing campaign and hope that it continues to raise even more awareness and help others to feel more comfortable with their ostomies. Clearly an ostomy isn’t stopping Jessica from doing anything!!

I’ve found some other pretty amazing gals (who happen to have Crohn’s) in the blogsphere. Back in March, I started reading Kris Carr’s blog CrazySexyLife on a day when they happened to feature a guest post by Lauren. We’ve since become friends through comments and emails and I’m feel so lucky to be able to connect with another young woman who is taking a similar approach to her healing. After many different medications and various doctors, she has found a promising new gastro and is feeling generally healthy. In her questionnaire she said,

“Crohn’s has made my life better. I enjoy every second that I am feeling well. I am so happy with the way that I eat now and how I handle stress and emotions.  Before Crohn’s I would let everything bother me. Now I roll with the punches and eat my veggies!!”

I’ve also connected with 2 Meg(h)ans.

Megan (no h) writes a blog called the Gut Gazette. For three years her doctor and naturopath told her that she probably had IBS while suffering from diarrhea, loose bowel movements, extreme stomach pain, stomach discomfort 24/7, weight loss, fatigue, canker sores in her mouth and iron deficiency. She was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s and began a few different treatments. She currently relies on a combination of traditional medicine, holistic treatments and supplements to help her feel good. She said she is feeling about 75% better but still experiences flare ups/extreme pain about once a month.

“Live well, laugh often, love much.”

SANY2162 And then there’s Meghan. I actually discovered Meghan through Lauren’s guest post in March. Her comment intrigued me and I ended up treating myself to a series of cooking classes and became an avid reader of her blog. Meghan’s story of achieving great health, as documented in her e-book The Healthy Cookie is incredibly inspiring. I quoted the following passage of her book in my review back in August,

"We must take our health into our own hands, do our own research and despite what is considered the norm in our society, we should consider our diet and lifestyle first, put natural remedies before chemical treatments and choose needles before knives."

This has been my approach to my Crohn’s and as a result I feel fantastic. I can’t say enough, how blessed I am to have met this amazing woman. She has inspired and supported me in ways that go far beyond food & Crohn’s and I’m so happy that our cyber-paths crossed last spring.

In Canada alone, there are said to be more than 200,000 people with IBD, the highest reported prevalence in the world. These are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been directly affected by IBD. Reading their responses to my questionnaire was thought-provoking and inspiring and reiterated for me that I am definitely not alone. I look forward to feeling inspired by each of them as they travel onwards in their journeys.

I want to say a huge thank you to Andy, Marie-Claire, Jessica, Lauren, Megan & Meghan for their bravery in allowing me to share their stories with you in my continued attempt to raise further awareness of IBD.

For more information of my journey with Crohn’s Disease, please read instalments 1, 2, 3 and 4 of my Crohn’s Week posts.

For more information about IBD, please visit the
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of Canada website.

For more information on Jessica’s campaign, please visit the
Uncover Ostomy website.

To read more of Meghan’s story of healing, be sure to check out her
e-book,
The Healthy Cookie.

What Does Preparing Yourself Mean to You?

Is your calendar for December filling up with social gatherings, parties, dinners and other events? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Now is the time to figure out how you’re going to handle it, by preparing yourself.

At my meetings on Saturday, I asked my members what preparing yourself meant to them and here’s what they came up with:

  • Planning – including meals for the day and/or week, Points values for favourite treats as well as activity. Having a game plan means that you’re more likely to make things happen the way you want them to go. While it might seem daunting while you’re doing it, planning ahead saves you time in the long run and makes your life easier.
  • Learning from experience what has worked or not worked in the past? Where were you at this time last year and what are you going to do differently or exactly the same this year? Take these lessons learned and apply them to your intentions for the holiday season.
  • Asking for help – getting support from others to help you through the challenging times is so important. Talk to friends. Read blogs. If you’re a WW member, make your meetings a priority. You’re not alone in this and will always have people to help you be successful.
  • Taking care of yourselfPutting yourself at the TOP of your busy to do list even when you’ve got parties to attend, presents to buy or meals to make allows you to achieve balance. You can do this in whatever way feels good to you. Maybe it’s having a nap or going to bed an hour earlier. Taking an afternoon off work to do a bit of shopping. Finding some quiet time to do yoga or read a book. It’s an easy time of year to forget about the #1 person in your life – you. Putting yourself first, puts you in a better place to take care of everyone else in your life.
  • Making healthy options available – Stocking up your pantry and fridge with healthy choices and easy grab n go options, making it easier for you to make good choices even when you’re super busy. Or if you’re attending a pot luck, bringing a healthy dish so you know you have at least one great option available to choose.
  • Mentally rehearsing – Practice makes perfect! Who are you going to encounter? (I’m going to talk more about this next week when the topic is managing food-centered relationships…) What are you going to say? Where are you going to position yourself? What are you going to eat? Rehearsing these things ahead of time makes it a lot easier to actually do them when you get to the event.
  • Keeping your goal in mind – When you have a goal, you have a direction and know what you need to do in order to get there. Is having a whole box of Turtles or skipping out on exercise for a week because you “don’t feel like it” going to help you get to where you want to be by December 31st? What needs to happen for you to reach your goal? What are some ways that you can remind yourself of your goals when things get busy? Maybe you could write them on a sticky or card to keep in a prominent place at your desk or stash in your purse.

It was great to hear my members’ thoughts on preparing themselves. Between all of them, I think they came up with some really great ideas and strategies and it was great because they were able to do almost all of the talking! Thinking about these strategies now is so important because the objective is that you’ll feel less overwhelmed and stressed by the time that you’re up to your ears in holiday baking, wine, and wrapping paper. Preparing yourself is setting yourself up for success!

How are you preparing yourself for busy times ahead?
Where would you like to be by December 31st 2009?
What needs to happen for you to get there?

Posts I loved this week...

I can't remember which day it was, but my google reader told me that I had more than 300 posts to read - yikes!! I am slowly catching up, which is so fantastic because some of my favourite blogs have had some fantastic posts up:

10 Ways to Shake Up Your Life and Feel Energized - I discovered Annabel's blog a couple weeks ago and the timing could not have been better for me! Her blog focuses on achieving the life you've always dreamed of and her posts are incredibly inspiring. I dare you to go read this post and not feel inspired. Go.

The Pill: Sex, Drugs & Mood Swings - Meghan did an awesome series this week on the effects of the birth control pill as well as a number of great alternatives. I came off the birth control pill back in May because it was making me crazy. The lovely ladies at Red Tent Sisters were instrumental in helping me to make the transition and introducing me to the Justisse method. I feel amazing and in tune with my body as a result. Check out the posts for a ton of information as well as a great giveaway.

Marni Wasserman Follows her Passion into the kitchen on CrazySexyLife - Marni is going to be teaching holistic food prep at my new school beginning in January! Looking forward to taking class with her!

Have you stopped by Katie's blog for her Operation Chocolate-Covered-Kindness Page view drive?

Remember when Kate got to goal? This week she posted before & after photos on her blog, so go check out her amazing transformation!! What a superstar. So excited to celebrate Lifetime with her in a few weeks.

I also loved this post from Andrea detailing how to get the most out of your Weight Watchers meetings - such a smart (& inspiring) cookie!

Thanks for all your positive comments on my post about positivity! I'll be thinking of all of you when Annie belts out "Tomorrow" 3 times this weekend.

The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow...

In my last post I talked about strategies for making it through the busy week I've been going through and today I wanted to continue on that train of thought my talking about something else that has been helping me through:

A positive attitude.

It's been a crazy week. I've been getting home after 12am and going to bed after 1am. Rather than hop right into bed and snuggle with Joey and the fur-babies, I've been getting things done around the house, preparing meals, taking out my hair & bathing, as well as doing Weight Watchers stuff. At the theatre, things haven't been going particularly smoothly (as they often don't during tech week) but I've been trying not to let it get to me.

Why?

Negativity is like a bacteria that can spread quickly and silently through everything that it touches. If I have a negative attitude and become snippy with you, you may be snippy to the next person. When you're wandering around a theatre full of a cast and crew of 30+ people that's a whole lot of bacteria that could turn into an epidemic if not stopped at the source. If I contribute to the negative energy, I'm simply helping it to spread and get stuck in a yucky rut.

So I take it one step at a time.

Even though I'm sleep deprived and a wee bit cranky, I've done my best to put on a happy face. I've tried to apologize if I've been short with someone. I've tried to keep my complaining to minimum and instead worked to solve the problems. I've talked a few of my cast mates down when they were feeling negative or down in the dumps because they messed up lines or forgot cues (because I've absolutely been there too) I've been working on doing the best *I* personally can and trying to live vicariously through the children because they are thrilled to be on stage and doing this show.

It brings me back to part of one of my favourite quotes, that is still posted at my desk at work:
The remarkable thing is that we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we
embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact
that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only
thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I
am convince that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. -
Cynthia Cooper
When I talk to people about things that have happened in my life, many express their sympathies or condolences because they believe that a mother dying at 13, a disease or eating regime is a horrible thing to have to live with.

I don't feel sorry for myself and work to maintain a positive attitude whatever comes my way.

Everything that has happened to me in this life has gotten me to where I am today and there's honestly no place I would rather be. Reminds me of a certain little ditty from a show that opened yesterday:
When I'm stuck a day that's gray, and lonely,
I just stick out my chin and grin, and say...
The sun'll come out, tomorrow
So ya gotta hang on 'til tomorrow, come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow!
You're always a day away!


We had a great opening last night and I'm looking forward to the 11 shows to come! This week I encourage you to be like Annie: stick out your chin, grin and choose to have a positive outlook on everything that comes your way.

Tips for Maintaining Sanity During Tech Week (or Life)

This week has been absolutely insane.

On Friday I had a date night with Joey. We went for Indian food (delish) and did a little shopping. On Saturday, I led three busy meetings, did two classes at the gym and read my new book. On Sunday I went to Lindsay’s WW meeting, meal planned & grocery shopped, took a Weight Watchers conference call, made dinner then went to the theatre for 6 hours. Since then it’s been chaos as we prepare to open Annie on Thursday.

This feeling has inspired me to share some tips on keeping sane during tech week or just busy times in your life (like the month of December, perhaps?)

1. Be prepared
When performing in a show, it’s not just about knowing your lines, cues, costume changes and choreography, it’s also about planning your life. For me, being prepared is meal planning, having good food in the house, slow cooker meals that are easy to prep and packing everything with me so I can eat throughout the day.
SANY2640That’s lunch (mega salad with mixed greens, avocado, cucumber, peppers, sprouts, chickpeas, hummus & hemp seeds), dinner (potato kale enchiladas from Veganomican) & snacks (apple, banana & pb&j larabar) It requires a little bit of thought in the morning, but for me it is a safety net because I know I have delicious, Ashley-friendly food for the whole day AND I don’t have to spend money.

2. Take care of yourself
I called in sick yesterday because I needed to rest. I took a 2.5 hour nap and it was glorious. (Although I felt like I was back at square 1 again when I got home from the theatre at 12:40am) I also used the time to make a yummy dinner and actually spend some time with Joey enjoying it!
SANY2643 Roasted acorn squash stuffed with snobby joes (another Veganomican fav) with some steamed Brussel Sprouts on the side. I also made the effort to go to the gym on Saturday because I knew that it would be a great way to relax (Bodyflow + Zumba) but also because I knew I wouldn’t have time to get back there for a few days.

Onstage, taking care of yourself, also means worrying about your own business. This is a good approach to take in life as well. As Byron Katie says, if you’re busy worrying about other people’s business, there’s no one there to worry about yours!

3. Have fun
Even though you’re tired or cranky or stressed.
Even when you have to get up for work early the next morning.
Even when your hair and make up goes from looking like this:
SANY2647

SANY2644 to this:SANY2648

Not everyone in the world can say that they get to be onstage, acting singing and dancing up a storm. Performing is something that I find so much pleasure in, yet sometimes I need to be reminded of that after rehearsal that lasts from 6pm-12am! At the end (or beginning) of the day, I’m excited that I get to do what I love!!

How do you prepare yourself, take care of yourself and/or have fun?

Pure Joy

Thank you for all your amazing, thoughtful & genuine comments and emails regarding my post yesterday.

For those of you who follow me on twitter, you probably got the sense that Wednesday wasn’t the best day for me. Yesterday I wiped the slate clean and your positive energy lifted my spirits more than you know. This decision has been a tough one for me, but I felt grounded in my choice and your encouragement and kind words reminded me of how it really was the BEST decision I could possibly make. Thank you!!

Back in October when I blogged about my experience with Byron Katie, Meghan left the following comment for me:

I promise you Ash - as long as you can stay in the high vibe freedom feelings that come from releasing old stresses and fear - the most amazing things will come in to your life. Everything you have ever wanted!

I love this.

I’m posting this quote because there were a few of you who said that you were thinking about new career paths or goals and I want you to know that you can do whatever you want to do. Each and every one of you has the power within you. As you let go of the fear, stress and live in this moment, you can live the life of your dreams. I can’t tell you how much better I feel now that the plan is in motion and I’m telling people. I’ve been sleeping like a baby, smiling more, (crying less) and best of all, I feel like ME again.

Crohn’s Week is going to carry on into next week because I still have stories to share and another tidbit of news for you all. This week has been insanely busy and I want to make sure I tell everyone else’s story well and give them their time to shine. It has felt great to share my story  and reflect on where I’ve come from in the last year and where I’m headed in the year to come. Your comments and shared experiences have been courageous and I really believe that in doing so you’re all helping me to spread awareness of this disease.

Starbucks rolled into holiday mode as soon as Halloween had ended. While I felt it was a little early, I was excited because my favourite tea was back: Joy. SANY2598 Not only is it delicious, it perfectly describes my feelings of late. xo

Life is Sweet

So far for Crohn’s Week, I’ve discussed my symptoms, diagnosis and journey to healing. Today I’m going to talk about the exciting place this has led me…

Last week I quit my job.  
And enrolled in nutrition school.
And began actively working with my Weight Watchers Territory Manager to make leading meetings my full time gig.

Now do you understand why I’m smiling?!SANY2592SANY2593

For the last 4.5 years I’ve been working in an office. It started off as a way for me to pay off my musical theatre debt, and eventually turned into a career. I was hired by my soon-to-be-former company 2 years ago to be executive assistant to the CFO & EVP. I loved the company and I really enjoyed my job. My bosses were great and I developed my role into something fantastic.

With my Crohn’s diagnosis, achieving health and wellness for myself became my main priority in life, which was fine because I loved it! I started reading more books, following more blogs and talking to anyone who would listen about achieving fantastic health through nutrition, activity and taking care of yourself. I found myself surrounded by people who shared a passion for these things and I couldn’t get enough.

Back in May, I remember taking a walk with Lori and describing Meghan’s cooking classes to her and this newfound passion for all things nutrition related. She asked me if I had considered taking any other sorts of classes in nutrition and pursuing this in some way. She hit the nail right on the head, because it had been something that I had been thinking about and casually researching for awhile,  and Joey had even mentioned to me a couple of times. Leading Weight Watchers meetings brought me so much joy and so did nutrition, so wouldn’t it make sense for me to take it to the next level?

After looking at my options and the schools available in Toronto, I decided that I wanted to attend the Institute for Holistic Nutrition. I had heard great things about the school, had met with some graduates, loved the curriculum and just got a good feeling from it. I thought about going part time in the evenings, but realized that giving up shows for 2 years would be very hard for me and I thought that it would be incredibly challenging to manage a 9 to 5 job PLUS shows PLUS school twice a week.

Over the summer I was offered the opportunity to begin training in the HR department to cover the HR Coordinator’s maternity leave. It seemed like a great opportunity for me to learn another aspect of the business and keep me busy between our quarterly finance crunch time. In August I decided that I really wanted to go to nutrition school, but I also wanted to fulfill my obligations with my role. I decided that I would work for the full year and then enrol in nutrition school in September 2010.

Would you laugh if I told you that I started a countdown of 365 days on September 1? I wish I was joking.

As the days started to pass, the more I realized what I really wanted to be doing in my life and the more I realized how unhappy I was becoming. Doing both roles was challenging, stressful and overwhelming. While I work well under pressure, I was not happy with all that I was doing 5 days a week. I thought that the stress would pass, yet I still found myself making never-ending to-do lists and crying myself to sleep at night. In addition to the constant support of Joey, my friends and family 2 things kept me going were my weekly Weight Watchers meetings and the prospect of nutrition school in 330 days and counting.

I finally realized that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. I had worked so hard to achieve great health in the last year, and I didn’t want to screw it up with stress. Stress + Crohn’s are a bad combination and I knew that what I was putting myself through was not healthy. I also recognized the joy I found in my meetings each week. After coming home week after week, bragging to Joey about the great meetings I was having and the success of my members on the plan (all the while riding hihgh on my happy-little-Ashley-cloud) I started to plan.

With the deadline for the January enrolment looming, I knew that I need to move quickly. It was either figure things out quickly or wait it out for another 10 months as originally planned. I moved with the speed of light.

After a lot of behind the scenes legwork, I told my boss during my yearly review last week. I felt like I was going to vomit for most of the morning, but in my heart, I knew I was making the right decision. I described the changes I had gone through in the 2 years I had worked there (from starting as a WW Leader to being diagnosed with Crohn’s and discovering my passion for health and nutrition) I started to cry as I expressed how overwhelmed and conflicted I had been feeling over the last two months as I realized how stressful doing both roles was and how I realized that being an Executive Assistant isn’t want I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.

He took the news better than I ever could have imagined and applauded me for my courage. He told me that I should live without regrets and that he could absolutely see me in this new role.

I enrolled in school the following day.

In January,  I will be leaving my role as an executive assistant and beginning the new year as a holistic nutrition student and Weight Watchers Leader. Words cannot express how excited I am.

Last year was a year of self-discovery and healing. This year I embark on a new journey, of learning, opportunity and following my dreams.

Life is sweet.

Healing the Best (And Only) Ways I Know How

This is the third instalment of Crohn’s Week. For a continuous version of the story please check out parts 1 and 2.

I now knew that I had Crohn’s Disease. With a name for the pain I had been feeling, I knew I could do something about it.

I had already started feeling less tired as a result of the B12 and iron supplements I was taking to combat my anemia. For such a long time I had taken for granted that sometimes I felt tired and/or dizzy and always assumed that it was because I was so busy. This was not the case at all. The iron and B12 gave me more energy and the dizzy spells went away. Isn’t it amazing how a small imbalance in our body can truly affect our day to day lives?

The medications Dr. A had recommended had helped a little bit, but I was still going to the washroom fairly frequently, with a lot of urgency, and there was still blood and pain. While I was following his advice of a “healthy, well-balanced diet” and taking my pills like a good girl, I knew there had to be more to it than that. I didn’t want to put a band-aid over my problems and work towards going on bigger, more powerful medications and potentially surgeries (as I liked my colon on the inside), so I followed my gut. After a little Nancy Drew-like stealth, I made an appointment with a naturopath that one of my WW members had recommended. This decision changed my life.

I liked Dr. M from the first day I met her. She was kind, caring and down to earth. Even from my very first day she gave me some small suggestions to implement in working towards healing. I compiled an extensive questionnaire and food dairy for her and on our second visit she walked me through her recommendations including:

  • Increase intake of warm, cooked foods to enhance digestive healing
  • Increase foods naturally rich in iron & b12
  • Take a probiotic (HMF Forte by Genestra) as well as other supplements and teas
  • Physical therapies including the use of castor oil packs and abdominal massage
  • Decrease dairy, sugar & caffeine
  • Food sensitivity testing

I started the supplements slowly, followed her other recommendations and made the decision to do food sensitivity testing. On one of the worksheets she gave me there is a quote from Hippocrates that reads:

Let food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food

I say that Dr. M changed my life, because with her guidance I drastically changed my eating habits and then I started to feel like me again.
My bowel movements calmed down.
The runs to the washroom slowed down (and I no longer had to get off busy subway cars to use the disgusting washroom in the station for fear I wouldn’t make it to work “safely”)
My stomach cramps diminished
and I stopped seeing blood on the tissue after I wiped

It was amazing.

These changes did not happen overnight, nor did I magically wake up one day feeling better. It took a lot of work, but the rewards were so great that it was absolutely worth it. I came off the Flagyl because after I started taking it I began getting terrible night sweats. Dr. A was concerned that I was running fevers in the middle of the night (which is a sign of inflammation) and once I stopped taking the antibiotic the night sweats disappeared.

Following my initial visits with Dr. M, I went gluten & dairy free in March and over the summer went vegan. I feel fantastic. I’ve had a couple instances of pain and 1-ish flare up (which I blame the brown rice protein powder for entirely), but otherwise it has been clear sailing. Eating this way is second nature to me now and it really comes down to feeling good vs. feeling bad. I like feeling good, so I will continue on this path I have formed for myself.

While food and supplements were a giant component in my healing, there were other pieces in the puzzle as well. Joey was a constant rock for me throughout everything that happened. November 11 is my mom’s birthday and is traditionally a challenging day for me. Last year on November 11, it had been about a week since I had been diagnosed. I was feeling crappy physically and emotionally in the morning, but had to get to work because I had a busy day ahead of me. I called him later that morning nearly in tears because I was in a lot of pain and I was feeling pretty sad and missing mom. Around lunchtime the receptionist called me to say that a package had been dropped off for me:

IMG00076-20081111-1254 with this card

SANY2352“I’m here for you always. Love, Joey xoxo” 

It was such a thoughtful gesture that was amplified by the unconditional love and support he gave me all along. I have been so blessed to have him in my life. My friends and family also have played huge roles in my healing. Everyone was so caring and kind throughout my diagnosis and supported me in all of my decisions along the way. These people have helped me to stay strong, even in moments when I did not feel that way and I thank my lucky stars for them each and every day.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk about the last element in my healing, which has been achieving balance in my life. I’m going to share the news I was alluding to last week, tell you how this disease has changed my life for the better and explain why I’m so thrilled for January.

A Paradigm Shift Accompanied By Answers and PegLyte

This is my second post for Crohn’s Week, which details my trip to the gastroenterologist following more than a year of pain, blood and a few too many trips to the washroom.

It didn’t take long for my attitude towards a diagnosis to change. I started to read more about IBD and had resigned myself to the fact that I probably had Crohn’s. All signs were pointing to yes, and after 14 months of pain and a 3 week stint of diarrhea, a diagnosis was going to mean answers. You might say that a paradigm shift occurred as my anger and sadness turned to relief, acceptance and positivity.

Up to that point I had faced my fair share of obstacles in 24 years. My parents separated when I was 5 and then again when I was 12 (after a reconciliation in the middle), my mother committed suicide when I was 13, and my father faced his own demons in life. I never felt great about my body and it wasn’t until I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 that I attained healthy weight and perspective. Many people would look at these things and spend their lives feeling sorry for themselves. Not me. With all of the challenges that I have faced in my life, I have moved forward with a positive attitude and a smile on my face. My life has been a beautiful gift and I try to live each day to the fullest (hence why my blog is called ‘Dancing Through Life’) and I decided that my visit to the gastroenterologist would be no different.

The administrative assistant who handled referrals at the clinic called me the following day and scheduled an appointment with Dr. A less than a week later. In his office, I once again told my story of unexplained illness, diarrhea, blood, urgency, lethargy and anemia. I even got to drop my pants and have the second man (in less than a week) poke at the fissure on my anus. After recounting my whole story, Dr. A seemed fairly certain that I had IBD, but wanted to perform a colonoscopy to be sure and get a sense of how badly damaged I was on the inside. Just prior to my appointment there had been a cancellation, which meant that it was only going to be 5 days before I had a camera in my behind.

Peglyte-4L For those of you who have never prepped for and endured the joy of a colonoscopy, I’ll start off by saying that the prep is 1,000 times worse than the actual procedure. The day before my procedure I was not allowed to eat anything, only clear fluids. I had some nice juice and broth throughout the day, which was fine. That evening I had to drink 4L of PegLyte, 1 cup every ten minutes until it was gone, to clean everything out.

PegLyte is absolutely disgusting.

While Peglyte may smell like fruit, it does not taste like fruit and has the consistency of half-set jello. The first few cups were okay, the next few were bearable, but somewhere I around litre 2 I started to feel awful. Every cup was a chore to choke down and at litre 3 I was in tears. Poor Joey had to urge me to continue drinking it, at which point, I told him where he could shove the PegLyte. After trying a sip himself, he understood my pain. I finished roughly 85% of the stuff, gave up and went to bed. I spent most of the night making trips to the washroom as the PegLyte did its job cleaning out my bowels.

Joey took the day off to accompany me to the hospital. My appointment was first thing in the morning and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I read Twilight while we sat in the waiting room and listened for my name to be called. After putting on a hospital gown I was led to a bed where the procedure was explained to me and the anaesthesiologist and I chatted about what his children were for Halloween. The next thing I terminal ileumknew I was waking up and a nurse was asking me if I wanted juice. I (thankfully) missed the whole part in the middle where the camera was inserted and Dr. A had a look around. As I was sipping my juice he came over to my bed to tell me that I had Crohn’s Disease.

He explained that Crohn’s can affect a person anywhere from their mouth to their anus. He brought over a diagram and showed me that my disease was located in my terminal ileum. The terminal ileum is where the body absorbs B12, which explained my B12 deficiency and subsequent anemia. He mentioned that there was a small tear close to my anus that wasn’t healing because it was probably re-opening whenever I had a bowel movement (which at this point was 2-3 times each day, so you can imagine how little healing this tear was actually doing). Dr. A pulled out his notepad and scribbled a prescription for Pentasa (an anti-inflammatory, for my inflamed ileum) and Flagyl (an antibiotic to help heal the tear and prevent further damage and infection) I thanked Dr. A, changed out of my hospital gown and went with Joey to enjoy my first real meal in 36 hours.

We actually had a really nice lunch, although I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I would be. We talked about the procedure and diagnosis and I felt pretty at ease with the whole thing. We stopped at a bookstore on my way home and I picked up Crohn's and Colitis: Understanding the Facts About IBD. I had some stomach cramps throughout the day but spent most of the afternoon sleeping them off. I woke up in the evening and realized that while I had been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease earlier in the day, it meant that I had an answer to why I had been suffering for the last 14 months. The answer also meant that I could now become an active participant in my healing and work towards getting back to feeling good again.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss the strategies I’ve employed in my path to healing

A Mysterious Illness & 14 Months of Pain, Blood and Poo

Welcome to Crohn’s Week!

My intention this week is to raise awareness of Crohn’s and IBD by sharing my story and the stories of others. I’m going to preface this post by saying that some of what I’ll be discussing will be graphic. I think part of the reason IBD falls under the radar is because people don’t want to talk about poo. We do it all the time, yet no one wants to talk about it, and that’s part of the reason my symptoms went on so long before I spoke up. So here we go, poo and all.

I was a fairly healthy person growing up. I had chronic earaches between ages 4-6, had the Chicken Pox when I was 10 (and proceeded to spread them to my entire class and family) and had a concussion when I was 13 (fainted in gym class). Beyond the typical colds, occasional flu and rounds of antibiotics there was never anything really wrong with me growing up. I began taking the birth control pill around age 17, but other than that had taken no regular medication.

As I’ve previously discussed, in 2006 I decided that I wanted to lose weight. I got to goal in February 2007 and became a Lifetime member in April 2007. I felt great. I was happy with my weight and was absolutely making better choices and taking care of my body. In June 2007 I performed in a recital with my singing group, Ashnaba. It had been a long day and I developed a migraine-like headache by the end. Joey and I walked home and I went to bed early so that I would be ready for work the next morning.

When I woke up the next morning, my headache was gone but I was not feeling well. I began to have diarrhea and called in sick to work. There had been a lot of people in my office the previous week for district meetings and there were quite a few people at the recital. I thought perhaps I had picked something up from someone or had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. I tried to leave the house to go to Shoppers Drug Mart for some juice, but the diarrhea was so bad I was unable to get out the door.

The diarrhea continued throughout the day and was accompanied by horrific stomach cramps. I was doubled over in pain and spent a lot of time in the washroom. By this point there was nothing left in my system because I was unable to keep food down. When I tried to eat I either had more diarrhea or vomited. By the following day, nothing had changed so I stayed home from work again. Joey was calling me every couple of hours to make sure everything was okay. He called me late in the afternoon to see if I wanted him to pick anything up on his way home. I asked him to pick up a thermometer because I felt like I was running a fever.

Joey brought home the thermometer and when we took my temperature we realized it was 104 degrees. I hadn’t had a fever since I was a child and both Joey and I were pretty freaked out. We weren’t sure what to do and at this point still had no idea what was causing my illness. We called the Telehealth nurse to determine our next course of action. The Telehealth nurse said that if it reached 105 we needed to go to the hospital, but until then we were to wait for it to break.

It was so scary. Joey was so calm that whole evening, but later confided that he was incredibly scared. Adults don’t just run fevers of 104!! My fever broke about an hour later and I fell asleep for most of the night. I woke up on Wednesday to more diarrhea, stomach pains and vomiting.

By this time the lethargy had started to kick in. My body was so tired and I hadn’t been able to keep anything but popsicles and gatorade in (and even those were exiting my body fairly fast) Joey took me to the walk-in clinic because I didn’t have a family doctor at the time. While I waited for my turn, I was lying on the floor of the clinic crying because I was in so much pain. It felt like we were waiting forever!! When a doctor finally saw us, I described my symptoms of the last few days to which he didn’t really have an answer. He told me to take some Pepto-Bismal, drink lots of fluids and sent me down to the lab to give a sample of my stool.

The stomach cramps and vomiting finally stopped the following weekend, but I continued to have diarrhea for 3 weeks. I kept taking the Pepto-Bismal, but stopped after a pharmacist told me that there was no point considering my diarrhea had gone on so long. I started eating again and started to get my energy back. After not eating for a week and another 2 weeks of diarrhea, I lost at least another 10 lbs. This was a little scary since I had just gotten to my goal weight, but gained a bit of it back once I started eating properly again.

Over the next year I would have a variety of day-to-day problems. Looking back on everything now I can see a pattern and also see that they were connected to my original illness, but like I said at the beginning: nobody wants to talk about poo. I suffered from terrible stomach cramps on the toilet and off, blood in my stools and urgency when I had to go to the washroom. I was also tired quite often and felt faint or dizzy a few times a week. For 14 months I let everything go on in the background. Everything was great in my life, I had started a new job, had become a Weight Watchers Leader, was performing in shows a couple times a year and was in a great relationship. I was 23 or 24 and therefore healthy, right?

In August 2008 I went in for my yearly physical. We went through the normal stuff and at the end the Dr. asked if I had any questions. I said yes, and proceeded to spill my guts about the pain, blood, urgency, tiredness and horrific tendencies of the last 14 months. He inquired a little more and examined my bum. He commented that there was a fissure/skin tag, which may have been causing the bleeding. We talked a bit about my mysterious illness from the previous summer at which point he realized the wrong test had been done with my stool sample, so nothing was found. He prescribed some antibiotics and ordered me down to the lab for some blood work.

Two weeks of antibiotics did nothing for me and the blood work revealed that I was anemic. With the symptoms I had described, the fissure and now the anemia, the Crohn’s and Colitis warning bells were popping up. He prescribed daily iron supplements and B12 for the anemia and set up an appointment for me to see a gastroenterologist. The doctor assured me that there was a chance it might be Colitis, but said it was probably nothing and seeing the gastro was just an extra precaution.

It was around this time that I started to feel upset and angry. I remember going back to my office that morning after the appointment and my boss nearly sent me home because I was so ticked off and on the verge of tears. I didn’t want anything to be wrong with me and I certainly did not want to have a Disease.

Check back tomorrow to read about my first visit with the gastro and the tests that followed.

Congratulations Kate!

Another reason to smile this weekend…kategoal

After losing 80.2 lbs, Kate reached goal yesterday!!! I am so proud of this beautiful girl. She has really dedicated herself to changing her life and has done so with an amazingly positive attitude and a lot of smiles. It’s so amazing to be a part of these moments every single week in the meeting room!!

She has been shrinking away and yesterday celebrated her truly amazing accomplishment with other members, friends and her mom! Her mom made all of us cry and it was an incredibly beautiful moment for all of us to share. I love my meetings for this very reason. Where else do you get to spend your Saturday morning with compassionate, inspiring and loving friends who share common goals and dreams?

Be sure to stop by her blog to check out her amazing stats, before & after photos and wish her congratulations!!

Why Am I Smiling?

SANY2593

I can’t tell you just yet… but I promise that I will soon. If you’re anything like me and hate waiting, check out this post from back in May for a little hint. I can’t wait to share the news with you. All I can say is that I’m so excited for January!!

Until then let’s talk about some yummy food, shall we?

I hauled out my crockpot and remembered how much I love it. It seriously makes my life so much easier, especially when I’m doing a show!! I made this indian inspired spinach and tofu dish SANY2587Joey and I both liked it, but agreed that it wasn’t the best thing we’d ever eaten. It was good, but needed a little extra something. I may give it another shot because I think it has potential! I also made (but haven’t tried) the sweet potato chili but Joey messaged me at lunch to say that he loved it. This coming from someone who doesn’t love the sweet potato, so it must be a hit!!

If you’ve been neglecting your crock pot, dust it off and give it a whirl. I love just throwing everything and coming home (or waking up) to a house that smells like someone has been working away in the kitchen for hours! Stephanie O’Dea has some amazing recipes on her site and in her cookbook Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. Or if you’re a Weight Watchers member who was able to take advantage of the 50% off cookbooks sale this month, the Momentum cookbook has a whole chapter on slow cooker favourites! It is perfect for those days that you know you don’t have time to cook, but want a home cooked meal.

I really don’t think that there’s a single bad recipe in Eat, Drink and Be Vegan. Either that or I just have really good luck!! This week I tried my hand at four new Dreena recipes: orange-sesame tofu with coconut rice and simple swiss chard SANY2580 with a bowl of perfectly ripe mango slices for dessertSANY2581and the black bean and corn tortilla lasagna SANY2584

Everything was brilliant. The tofu, rice and swiss chard were actually the perfect meal. Each component complimented one another and Joey even exclaimed that he likes swiss chard more than kale. Yay for green veggies!! The black bean and corn lasagna caused him to proclaim that “it’s meals like this that make me forget that you’re gluten free and vegan”. Isn’t that awesome??

I had someone innocently ask me yesterday if I could take pills so that I could eat dairy or gluten. I responded by saying that I work on eating food that makes me feel good and I don’t want to be putting more crap into my body in order to eat the foods that make me feel bad. That seems like a lose-lose situation to me. I too used to be in the mind frame that I couldn’t live without cheese, ice cream, bread or regular pasta but I’ve really come to realize that I don’t need those foods, nor do I crave them. We eat tonnes of good food in our house, and it just happens to be gluten free and vegan.

I’m so excited for next week’s Crohn’s Week posts!! It’s been really interesting to reflect on the year that has passed this week and I hope to raise some awareness for IBD and share my other bit of exciting news with you.

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday so I wanted to say Happy Birthday to him!   dad

My dad is so sweet and supports me in everything that I do. I am very lucky to have him!! Dad, I hope you had a great day and I look forward to seeing you soon.

I feel like everything is falling into place and that is certainly a reason to smile. Happy Friday my dear bloggies!

2009, 58 Days and Counting

Last week I asked you to think about what you hope to accomplish before 2010 comes around. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as of late (as you might guess from all my posts on taking care of yourself, finding balance and taking risks) and I thought it would be good to write out some of my goals to take me through to 2010.

  1. Eat mindfully – I came to a realization the other night, that I have a tendency to eat out of habit. Sometimes I think I should be eating, so I’ll make a snack. Or I feel like a snack would somehow make me feel “better”, because I’ve often used food as a comfort. I want to focus on eating purposefully. While I’m proud of the way I eat and the foods I put into my body, I want to work on listening to my body’s needs. I will do this by taking the time to stop and ask myself whether I’m actually hungry or I’m eating because of boredom or another emotion. I can absolutely do this, and I think it will help me to get in touch with what I actually need in each moment.
  2. Love my body – It took me more than a year to come to terms with my new weight and body, and this year I’ve worked really hard to tone and shape. For one of the first times in my life (that I can think of) I am proud of my body. It’s so easy to focus on our flaws and be negative, but I want to keep my head up and stay positive with this. I have another belly dance recital coming up in December and I know that I’m going to feel confident and gorgeous in my cropped top and feeling that way is an incredible accomplishment.
  3. Move more - While I didn’t exercise/go to the gym as much as I had hoped last month (20 days/31 rather than the goal of 24 I had set for myself), I did do something 20 days and I think that’s great!! I hit the gym for bodyflow, zumba and a couple of runs, went to bellydancing, walked a bunch and took a lyrical class. Finding the time is much more of a challenge when I’m doing a show, but this month I hope to continue making activity a priority. I will do this by scheduling workouts, going with a buddy and making time to go to the gym in the morning at least once a week.
  4. “Stop talking yourself out of the life you want most” – Tina posted this quote on Carrots N Cake last night and truly resonated with me. On Monday I was feeling very negative, stressed and scared about the decisions and challenges that lay before me, but after talking with Joey, wonderful friends and doing The Work, I was really able to turn my negative thoughts around. I am sorry to be so cryptic, but I promise that everything will reveal itself in due time. I can honestly say that 2010 is going to be an amazing year, and thinking positively is absolutely going to help me get to where I want to be.

As you think about what it is that *you* would like to accomplish over the next two months, I encourage you to consider this quote:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!
Live the life you've imagined.
(
Henry David Thoreau)

Whatever it is you’re working towards, be passionate about it and give it all you’ve got. Think about the steps you need to take in order to reach your goals, and get to it! Only you can stand in your own way of the fantastic life you’ve dreamed of.

November?

I feel like every month I exclaim “I can’t believe it’s _____” but it’s usually true. I feel like this whole year has passed by in a blur, and I’m ultra excited for the year to come.

November is usually a tough month for me, but I have a lot of exciting things coming my way so I hope that these events will help me to keep my spirits up. November 11th is my mom’s birthday and with the poppies everywhere, I find it impossible to avoid thinking about the day. Don’t get me wrong, I will always hold my mom’s memory very close, but sometimes it’s harder than others.

This month also marks the one year anniversary of my Crohn’s diagnosis, and it also happens to be IBD Awareness Month. In honour of my diagnosis and raising awareness, next week is going to be “Crohn’s Week” here at Dancing Through Life. I am going to share my story of being diagnosed with Crohn’s and give information on the steps I have taken to get to where I am today. I can honestly say that I feel 100% better physically than I did last year and am looking forward to sharing more of my story with you. I also interviewed some fellow IBDers through a survey and be sharing their stories with you as well. I will also be sharing some exciting news at the end of the week, so stay tuned!!

This weekend was action-packed, but absolutely a lot of fun! On Saturday I hosted a food drive at my Weight Watchers meetings in support of the Lose for Good campaign.

SANY2566 SANY2565 I was floored by the generosity of my members who brought in a total of

245 lbs

in non-perishable food donations!! Isn’t that amazing??? I’m so proud that we could make such a great contribution. With meetings all across the country having food drives of their own, we’re helping so many people who need it. Such a great feeling.

On Saturday night Joey and I went to a house party for some Halloween goodness. You know you went to musical theatre school when you can create a costume from the contents of your closet. I dressed up as a saloon strumpet. I didn’t get a full length picture, but I was wearing a black & pink corset, full black skirt with some fun accessories including black satin gloves and a gigantic feather in my hair. I took the opportunity to get another picture with Iris. That poor cat. SANY2569We had a lot of fun at the party and met a lot of really interesting people. I love talking to new people!! SANY2575 I had some great conversations about food & nutrition and was even introduced to another girl with Crohn’s who manages her disease through diet. It was really fun to go out with Joey again. I know we live together, but the last couple weeks have been so busy that we haven’t had a ton of time to socialize together, which made it even more fun!

Did you have a good Halloween? What did you dress up as?