This is the story of an energetic college student who became a confused and exhausted drop out until the proper diagnosis of Celiac Disease came to the rescue.
As a junior in college, I should have been enjoying the time of my life having fun with friends, getting ready for my graduation and simply doing the things that a normal 21-year-old does. I, on the other hand, was sleeping 10-12 hours a day, dropping classes and was in-and-out of the University’s hospital. As a young adult away from my parent’s supervision for the first time, I was able to perform the minimum maintenance requirements on my body and it was beginning to show. Although my peers and I would often keep the same schedules, I could never seem to recover from the late night study session and never-ending pizza and soda consumption.
Although I was sick often, I was unable to see how in the two years away from my home had done a 180 on my behavior, body and attitude. The one-time vibrant cheerleader and high school student had disappeared since embarking upon a college career. I was now a tired, grouchy basket case who could barely make a 12:00 noon class. Adding to the confusion, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at age 20.
The disease that laid dormant for most of my life had suddenly emerged and had overtaken my life. I could ignore the change no longer.
After three months of constant menstruation and cramping, I decided to see the first of many specialists. After taking blood tests, inspecting urine samples and performing numerous pap smears, the specialist suspected that I had the early stages of ovarian cancer. I was devastated by the news and waited anxiously for the tissue test to confirm or disprove the suspicions. After a week of believing that my young body was infected with cancer, they recanted the diagnosis and replaced it with a still damaging yet non-life-threatening condition called endometriosis.
The conclusion was perfect. It explained why my body would cripple during my cycles, why I could barely move in the mornings due to violent cramps and how I had periodic mood swings. However, like ovarian cancer, it was dead wrong. After three years of constantly missing school due to pain and having a wasted academic career because of it, I waved a ceremonial white flag and retreated home to Houston to seek guidance from the Texas Medical Center.
Nine doctors, two years and three diagnoses later, I was finally given the answer. A homeopathic doctor, who believes in treating the whole body versus the disease, told me about Leaky Gut Syndrome. When he read the symptoms for Celiac Disease, it was as if I were listening to an autobiography of the last four years of my life.
Elated by the news of how fitting this disease was, I decided to dive head first into treatment. And then there it was…a diet without gluten. I will never forget when he handed me the long list of foods that were deemed inadequate for someone with Celiac Disease. I had joked with him and others how he should have given me the foods that were okay to eat since that list seems to be much shorter in comparison!
Within two weeks I could already tell a difference. And, then I went a full month without having to go to the emergency room. The diet had lifted the black cloud that had plagued my life for four years. Feeling as if I could take on the world, I re-embarked upon my academic career. In 2003, I graduated from the University of Houston, co-authored a textbook about Health Communications, worked 40 hours a week to help defray the cost of tuition, and even became active on Student Council all while maintaining a gluten-free life.
Even though I enjoyed my victory over the unmasking of my disease, I didn’t feel completely satisfied. After reading about others who also have this illness, I learned of people who lost much more than three years of college. Some had lost jobs. Some had even lost their lives.
That was when I decided that I could do more than just being a writer and help spreading the word. I also could help those who have slipped through the health care system, like me. Currently, I am applying to law school to become a healthcare lawyer. I am looking forward to helping not only those with Celiac Disease but other illnesses that are overlooked too often.
I deserved better four years ago and so do they now.
Does this story sound similar to your or a family members? You might have celiac disease. Find out now, take our celiac disease symptoms checklist.