Edmontonians Katie Chamberlain and Matea Norsic were diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease as children. Now young women, they’re living well with the disease, and using their love of fitness to take control of their health. Here are their stories, in their words.
I first started having “tummy trouble” when I was six years old. My parents took me to our family doctor and they referred me to a gastroenterologist. The wait for the specialist was several months long. When the time finally came for my appointment, my issues had subsided. The specialists couldn’t find anything abnormal. I was a regular kid again.
My second flare up happened when I was nine. I got sick quickly. I was in hospital for three weeks, but my parents worked hard to keep my routine as normal as possible. I did my homework, I had my favourite stuffed animal and favourite books. My piano teacher even gave me lessons in the hospital on a piano in the visiting area. My friends from school would come to visit me, but I hated it because I didn’t feel or look like my normal self. An IV drip put medication in my body. My face was swollen from steroids. But I was thin because my body couldn’t handle food.
The doctors diagnosed me with ulcerative colitis.
I was still sick when I got out of hospital. I cried when my mom crept the car over speed bumps because even little movements hurt my stomach. I couldn’t eat what everyone else ate. I always had to be close to a bathroom. Every sleepover was at my house, so I could control the environment. Doing anything active was out of the question. I was taking five pills, three times a day. The last thing a nine-year-old wants is to be different – and I was different.
Different was hard, but now I know that different made me better. Growing up I did everything I could to be just everyone else. A kid wants to fit in. People didn’t know I had colitis unless I told them, and I rarely told them. It was my secret for over a decade.
But not anymore. My disease forced me to make my health a top priority. I exercise regularly because for a long time I couldn’t. I eat healthy because I know what it’s like to only have a few things that don’t hurt your gut.
I’ve come a long way from that hospital bed, and I’ve been a spin instructor for the last three years. I’m lucky to be able to motivate a room full of people who also want to push, and celebrate, their bodies and their health.
I’ve had flare ups since I was diagnosed, and odds are I’ll have more in the future. But until then, I’ll continue to do everything within my control to keep my body healthy and happy.
- Katie Chamberlain
After 13 years of living with Crohn’s disease, I somehow feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
Confusion. Uncertainty. Fear. Courage. Appreciation. Empowerment. I choose these words to describe living with an unpredictable, often invisible, autoimmune disease.
In light of the 13-year milestone, I thought I’d share a bit of my story to solidify understanding of a common, but misconceived, illness. I diagnosed with Crohn’s when I was nine. I had absolutely no clue what that meant, or how drastically my life was going to change.
What makes inflammatory bowel disease so complex is that it’s a resilient affliction, eager to build immunity to therapy, which made finding successful long-term treatment a challenge. I spent the majority of my adolescence struggling with this, and I missed out on a lot of experiences and opportunities as a result. But none of that compares to what I’ve gained. I matured faster, gained perspective, and ultimately acquired humility and gratitude.
Flipping my perspective from “why me?” to viewing my diagnosis as a blessing in disguise was easier said than done, but it liberated me from feeling sorry for myself.
So, my best advice to anyone struggling with this disease is to embrace the inevitable speed bumps, be patient and courageous, and turn your tragedy into a platform.
- Matea Norsic