Ever since I was little, I wasn't very active. I loved to sit and read a book from cover to cover. My parents would want me to play outside, which was a punishment to me. I was always so tired.
I missed a lot of school because my stomach hurt all the time. People thought I was making it up, so I just stopped telling them how I really felt. I started my period at a very young age and by the time I was in middle school was put on birth control because it was so heavy and would last for weeks. The cramps and pain it caused hospitalized me several times. I wouldn't be able to breathe. No one knew what was wrong.
During college, I was in and out of the hospital. Doctors would diagnose me with something, the test would show they were wrong, but the doctors would tell me the test were wrong. I was put on hundreds of medications to help the pain. Nothing worked. Then one day, I got the flu and couldn't eat anything. I craved my macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and everything else that I lived on to "give me energy," but somehow I felt better. When I didn't eat, I didn't feel sick anymore. I ate M&M's like they were going out of style. Everyone told me that would make me sick. The funny thing was, those candies were the only thing that didn't make me sick.
I was very anemic and put in the hospital again. This time, they removed my gallbladder and appendix. Two months later, I was in the hospital again with the same pain. By this time I was also getting migraines that would put me in bed for weeks. I couldn't even walk and had to be carried by my mom, step dad or husband. I tried to get disability because I was afraid to leave the house. I was getting weaker and couldn't even stand long enough to do the dishes.
I went back to the doctor once again to see what was wrong with me. They told me it was all in my head and I was depressed. I stopped going when I was sick because I had no insurance through this whole ordeal and had to file for bankruptcy.
I graduated with my two year degree (which took me four because of being sick all the time) and then went into child development. I was working at a Christian church as a lead toddler teacher. This job was amazing, but I started to get even sicker than before, so I had to leave. One of the mothers gave me a doctor's name to try. I took it with a smile, not really intending on calling. But something told me to do it.
That appointment changed my life forever. The doctor stepped into the office and said she knew what was wrong with me. She wrote the word “celiac disease” down and told me to follow the diet for one week and then come back to see her.
This was a new approach to me, and I was relieved to know that she didn't think it was in my head. I went home to look up that big word. I couldn't eat anything! I was so lost and had no clue what to do, but I made it through that week eating eggs, potatoes and drinking milk. When I stepped back into her office, she was amazed at how well I looked--and I was amazed at how well I actually felt!
I am now living a normal life, but have to be strict with my diet. I still fear eating, but manufacturers have made it easier with gluten-free products. Restaurants are trying, but need to be educated on cross- contamination. They hold the public’s lives in their hands.
The hardest thing to live with is not being able to conceive. My passion is working with children, educating them and watching them grow. This disease has made it impossible for me to have children. I know nothing is impossible, but I don’t know if my body would allow [me to carry a pregnancy]. It is hard enough to get the nutrients that I need, and then to have to share with a growing fetus for 9 months? I don’t think that’s in my cards.
I will continue to use the strength that I have to help educate our next generation of doctors. Who knows? Maybe they can come up with the celiac cure.