I have Crohn’s disease; Crohn’s disease doesn’t have me

Andrew smiling and playing hockey

My name is Andrew (Andy) Mac Isaac, and I have had Crohn’s disease since I was nine years old.

My IBD stats are 33 colonoscopies, 12 different medications, 2 surgeries and 6 extended hospital stays.

To know just about everything else, you’ll need to read my story…

My Diagnosis
The world of inflammatory bowel disease, is leaps and bounds away from when I was officially diagnosed back in 2006, which plays a role as to why it was like moving mountains to try and figure out what was wrong with me.

The eight months before doctors gave me the word of my condition, I had several other doctors tell me I was overly-stressed, had an eating disorder, or my favourite… faking it and looking for attention.

How or why an eight-year-old would “fake” going to the bathroom 10+ times a day, lie on the bathroom floor to endure stomach pains or throw-up anything they ate… is beyond me.

What a lot of people don’t understand when talking to someone with a chronic illness, is how much they are forced to grow up and mature quicker than their peers. Before my symptoms first started, my parents were going through a divorce and I had a front row seat to a lot of the ugliness that came with it. That experience, coupled with living with Crohn’s disease, led to me growing up at a very young age.

I knew what it was doing to my family, seeing me suffer every day, so I did my best to hide a lot of my symptoms or “episodes” so that I could at least pretend and not have to worry about seeing my mom cry because she couldn’t fix me.

It was March 2006 when, I finally started to act like a ‘normal’ young kid again. Crohn’s disease took away my social life as a child, it took away my extra-curriculars like hockey and soccer and it took away the joy I was supposed to be having as someone who still didn’t have all their adult teeth in yet but the magic of western medicine had me kicking ass on the ice, pitch and making friends again… there was finally a light at the end of this, so I thought.

1 Treatment, 2 Treatment, 3 Treatment… OK We’re Running Out of Options
When I finally started my treatment, it was rocky, I was put on steroids and couldn’t handle them orally which led to a whole ordeal where I had to accept them through intravenous. (Fun.)

As great as my first round of treatments seemed to work, they weren’t permanent, which meant trial and error with other possible medications to try and keep me healthy.

I was a VERY GOOD student… even throughout the eight months of hell… like I got straight As without even trying, the idea of failing a test or assignment was completely unheard of to me. So, when my doctors were telling me I was failing drug after drug, I was incredibly distraught.

Every medication failed to work – it was beyond frustrating and left us at a complete loss for words. At one point, I was taking upwards of nine pills a day. It wasn’t until I was 11 (two years later) where we finally found a treatment that would stick.

Finally, a period of time where Andrew was Andrew for more than two weeks at a time.

Before all this nonsense entered my life, I was known as the funny kid who was smart, could play the odd sport and keep a smile on not only my face, but everyone else’s… life was looking up and I was ready to finally be me again.

You Plan… God Laughs
Entering high school, I was stoked. It meant growing up, new friends, maybe a couple girlfriends, everything a teenager dreamed of. But very quickly into freshman year my Crohn’s disease decided to give me a metaphorical double middle-finger and say “Ya, so you thought.”

I lost 30lbs in a month and could barely stay awake in class. I tried soldiering on and managed to keep up with good grades and playing hockey when I could but when my new doctor at McMaster took one look at me he said, “We need to act, and we need to act fast.”

That is when Andy Mac (my nickname in high school) learned how to incorporate his braces and NG Feeding Tube into his school uniform. For three months, I was tube fed because my intestines were so inflamed and sick, they couldn’t digest food without slowly killing me.

This was the lowest I had ever been. How was I going to get a girlfriend when I had a tube up my nose? How was I going to be normal when my meals consisted of me being tied to an IV pole? Why won’t this damn disease just leave me alone?

Even after my tenure with my tube feeding ended… it didn’t work and I was forced to go under the knife for the first time. Three feet of my digestive track gone, thrown into a biomedical waste heap and I was now off to start a new chapter in my life – I began injection-based treatments to keep my Crohn’s in check and ended up having a pretty awesome remaining three years of high school.

So… Now What’s Up?
So… now I am 26 and still not really in a remission.

As a lot of us with IBD know, we constantly have ups and downs and that’s how I’ve lived my life. Since high school, I’ve had a second resection surgery to remove some more gut and then went on and got my degree as well as a graduate degree.

I battled through some flare ups along the way, but trucked along just as I’ve taught myself to do.

With all things considered, I am very thankful with where things are at. I have my hiccups for sure, will have to be careful with what I eat every day but with everything this disease has thrown at me, I ended up on the other side. I refuse to stay down and have continued to return the double middle-finger back at my Crohn’s at every occasion.

I’m me again… which is weird to say because I feel like this disease has made me a different “me.”

If you were to now ask me who I am, I would tell you I am a very laidback, goofy individual that knows when to get serious and look at things maturely – I’ve merged my two sides kind of like having the best of both worlds – but I’m not defined by my disease, I’m defined by how I’ve gotten up each time after being knocked down.

I’m not here without my support group – my friends who I made before, during and after the “tube phase,” my family, or my incredible team at McMaster Hospital.

My mantra with this disease is: “I have Crohn’s disease; Crohn’s disease doesn’t have me” and I’ll live by those words until I no longer have to.

My Message to the Community

For all those who are newly diagnosed... there’s a lot more out there and a lot more hope for remission and eventual cures than there was in March 2006… listen to your body, listen to your doctors and lean on your support groups.

For those struggling right now with Crohn’s or colitis… know you’ll get out of it and don’t lose sight of yourself. There is another side, sometimes that side is a couple hundred metres away, sometimes it’s a couple kilometres.

To everyone in the IBD community… You have IBD, IBD doesn’t have you.

READ MORE IBD STORIES!

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  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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