We’re so inspired by your story and courage in sharing your journey. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your story.

My husband and I had just graduated from UCLA, gotten married, and moved to a new town—a huge transition and an extremely exciting adventure. We were happy, healthy, and nothing could stop us. We were on cloud nine! 

Little did I know, my body was about to embark on its own new adventure. About six weeks into our marriage, I started to notice abnormal GI symptoms that I had never experienced before. I went in for a colonoscopy (which would end up being the first of many) and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The vow we took to love each other in sickness and in health became very real, very fast. 

Over the next two years, I would experiment with different medications, diets, and lifestyle changes, but none of it brought my disease into remission. At my worst, I was running to the restroom 30 times a day, I wasn’t able to eat anything, and I was in so much abdominal pain. Eventually, I had to be hospitalized. Within a matter of weeks, I lost 30 pounds and 60% of my hair from malnourishment and heavy medications. I had no option but to have my colon removed. On July 24, 2017, I underwent a total colectomy—and that would just be the beginning. 

What did your post-surgery recovery look like?

My post-surgery recovery had its highs and lows! I had significant muscle loss from several weeks in a hospital bed. I wasn’t able to put clothes on by myself. A short walk down the street took so much energy. I was still in quite a bit of post-operative pain that I had to keep that under control. 

On top of it all, I had a new little friend—my stoma, who we called Stella. Wow, talk about a transition. When my colon was removed, the small intestine was re-routed through an opening in my abdominal wall. I wore an ostomy bag on my stomach for eight months. Learning how to manage that—how to empty and change the bag, what clothes to wear with the bag—was quite difficult. I’m so grateful for my incredibly supportive family and medical team who made the experience as positive as possible. 

Though I would never choose to have a stoma, God truly did bring healing through it. Without my colon, I was able to eat whatever I wanted (Chick-fil-A was my first meal out of the hospital) and gained back much-needed weight! I didn’t always have to worry about where the closest restroom was, because I wasn’t running there anymore.

Eventually, I grew strong enough to undergo the two additional surgeries required to transition from an ostomy bag to a J-pouch. A J-pouch is formed from the small intestine to mimic the colon, allowing me to live a relatively normal life colon-free.

Throughout each recovery, we’ve learned that laughter truly is medicine for the soul. One of my surgeries was during the Winter Olympics, so to keep us occupied in the hospital, we filmed our own version—Hospital Olympics (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkCA2A0mmag).

Do you have any plans for this upcoming July 24th?

What a coincidence that July 24, 2017 and July 24, 2018 ended up being huge days for my husband and myself, right?! On the day I celebrated my one year colon-free anniversary, my husband took the Bar exam (and ended up passing on his first attempt!). After months of studying, it was a joyous day in our house. 

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if something notable happens on July 24, 2019. Whether it does or not, you can be sure we will be celebrating health and thriving careers! You’ll likely find us at the beach with Chick-fil-A milkshakes—two of our favorite things. :) 

We love your candidness and authenticity in how you approach bringing awareness to this condition. What’s one thing you wish everyone understood about ulcerative colitis/IBD?

IBD awareness has grown immensely over the years! Because most people have at least a general understanding about the disease, I don’t feel ashamed or misunderstood because of my symptoms and limitations. 

Though I don’t have a colon anymore, my body still has an autoimmune condition, so I still struggle physically. I’ve had a total of six surgeries (with more in the future), and I receive regular infusions of various medications. Although life is so much better without a colon, this is still a life-long battle. Along with the physical struggles, my emotional and mental health struggles. At times, I feel frustrated and defeated. I didn’t sign up for this disease, nor did I ever think I would be managing a chronic illness. And, I’m learning that it’s okay to not be okay. 

It has been so life-giving for me to be honest about what I’m feeling through processing my emotions with a counselor, family, and friends. I honestly look forward to my weekly counseling sessions. Bringing my fears and frustrations to the light take away their power. When I get out of my own head, I can be reminded that God knows my struggles, He feels my pain, and He is using this pain for good. Through that, I find peace—peace that passes all understanding. 

To those of you struggling with a chronic illness: know that it’s okay to not be okay. Managing a chronic illness while striving to live a normal life is tough work. It’s okay to feel broken and helpless, but don’t stay there. Seek out a listening ear whether it be a counselor, family, or friend. Process your emotions, rather than shoving them deep down.

And to those of you who know someone who is struggling with chronic illness: be that listening ear. Don’t feel like you have to fix anything. Just be there to acknowledge that this situation is really tough. Simply being present is a huge gift.

And finally, what’s on your letter board right now?

1 2 3 4 

Tell me that you love me more 

“1234" by Feist played while we walked out of the chapel right after we got married, and we still love that song! This line is so sweet and playful, and I don’t mind that it gets stuck in my head every time I look at our letter board. :)