Tag Archives: Ulcerative Colitis

Looking Back to Move Forward

Every now and then I like to look back at this piece I wrote for a forum of support for people with Crohn’s or Colitis called IHaveUC.com. It was written when things were at their worst – about a week before I had surgery. It feels appropriate to share today, nearly 2 years later; especially because of how prophetic some parts feel to read (and because I quoted Joe Dirt).

Happy New Years everyone!

 

MARCH 2014:

In 2012, I was 20 years old. I was in my junior year of College at UC Berkeley, running on a full ride scholarship for the cross-country and track and field teams. I ran personal bests in every event that I ran, and was as healthy as could be. In fact, things were going so well that I travelled to Europe to run in competitive races throughout the summer. It’s 2014 now though, and I just turned in paperwork for a medical leave of absence from my final semester at school due to severe Ulcerative Colitis.

Around February of 2013, I started noticing things in my body were not right. They were minor, but I’ve spent a majority of my life being well in-tune with the way I am feeling, and I could tell something was off. I was still running at this time, and actually quite well, but I couldn’t help but feel there was something holding me back, like a tire on a bike that wouldn’t stay fully pumped. It was around that time that I started seeing blood in my stool (gross, I know).

There were no other symptoms, and the doctors told me that I had hemorrhoids; no big deal. I kept running. But after a couple months without change, I started to have more issues. The frequency in which I had to use the restroom increased, and my body continuously felt more and more out of whack; that tire had to be refilled more and more often. As a response, I trained harder and ran further. It was the only way to maintain the improvement that I’d seen the year before, or so I thought.

My season ended in a pretty lack luster fashion. I failed to make the NCAA national meet, and I went home disappointed asking myself ‘what had happened to the Collin from 2012’? After some time, I started the long process of summer training, a ritual any distance runner knows well. I slowly regained confidence and fitness as the summer progressed, but my symptoms remained and I needed to find out why.

“According to web MD, hemorrhoids don’t last this long”, whispered my inner hypochondriac, “But Cancer does”. This stint of online research, along with some very strong urges from my parents, led me to go to the doctors to get checked out. Thankfully, after a sigmoidoscopy (the colonoscopy’s tame little brother), I found that I did not have cancer. Instead however, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. After a second bout of online research to figure out what Colitis was, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found, given the circumstances. I was nowhere near as bad as the testimonials I read online. Pain? That wasn’t happening. I was still running – and running a lot! I thought I’d be able to knock this thing out no problem, and even better, I’d finally found an answer to why I’d been feeling off; that deflated tire would finally get patched!

This however, is not the way my Colitis story goes. Within a few weeks of my diagnosis, the pain started. I was put on some anti-inflammatory drugs, and given a ‘low residue’ diet plan to follow, but the pain persisted. Over the course of the next few months (September through November), all of the UC symptoms started to appear, and my pain became more and more of an issue. This of course, meant that my running was taking a serious downturn, eventually to the point where I was unable to run at all.

The relationship a competitive runner has with running is extremely unique. On one hand, it is a huge source of stress. Competing and training at high levels, with exceedingly high expectations make it difficult to handle at times. But at the same time, running is the ultimate stress relief. It is an outlet we use to unwind, relax, or let go. Its funny how one day a bad workout can put you in a terrible mood, but an easy run the next can put you totally at ease. Personally, I’ve found that running has always been more of a release for my worries. It’s not to say that it doesn’t stress me out at times, but for the most part running has always been my therapist, my answer to difficult questions, my go-to in times of trouble. The reason I’m saying this is because since Thanksgiving, I haven’t been able to run at all. Suddenly this balancing force in my life has been taken away from me.

I can say with certainty that the last 3 months have been the worst days in my life. Each day I am in seemingly more and more pain, and my body is slowly withering away. I have gone from 160 pounds to 140, and can barely walk to my classes. I sleep less than 5 hours a night due to pain, and worst of all, I can’t talk to my therapist, running. It has all been quite depressing to say the least. For weeks I wouldn’t leave my bed, partly because I couldn’t, and partly because I wouldn’t. Up until a couple days ago, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. But I’m not here to write a sob story, and I’m certainly not fishing for any sympathy (although hey, I’m not going to turn it down either). What I am here to say is that in the last couple days, I realized what this experience means to me.

My favorite professor here at Cal told our class that, “Only challenge produces opportunity for greatness”. I believe that until this diagnosis, that I have never truly been challenged. Much of what I consider to have been challenges in my life were somewhat artificial, in that I made them out to seem much bigger than they actually were so that I had obstacles to climb. I needed to fabricate challenge in my life to push myself, but that didn’t prepare me for when a real one came along. Now, I am presented with a real challenge, one that so far has beaten me into submission. But I realize that I need to seize this opportunity and recognize its potential greatness.

In less than a month, I will undergo a series of surgeries to have my large intestine removed. For a time, I will have an ileostomy bag hanging from my side for my poo. I will not be a happy camper. But thankfully, I am going into it all with a new perspective: when I am healthy again, I will have grown to be a much stronger person, and in particular, one who can really appreciate what he has. My entire life has been an absolute dream; it just took a little reality check to make me see that. From this cave that I’m in, I look back on my past, and it brings me to tears thinking about how wonderfully fantastic everything has been. My friends, my family, my home, running… you name it. And it brings me an indescribable amount of joy to know that I still have those things, even if I can’t do them all right now.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that this terrible disease has given me the ability to truly see what I have. Colitis may have taken away some things, but it isn’t permanent, and this knowledge combined with my new ability to appreciate all of the other amazing things that I have going for me is my greatness. It is a veil being lifted, and as I move on with my life I will be able to see all that I have with so much more clarity; And even though I’m in a pretty spectacular amount of pain right now, I’ve never been happier. (Norco might be helping with that too 😉 )

To all the other UCer’s out there: don’t lose sight of what you have, and in the legendary words of Joe Dirt, “Keep on, Keepin’ on”.

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The Bad, the Good, and More Good

The last week of my life has been quite busy, so for this blog post I’m going to start with a bad news/good news scenario, and then delve into some other things that have been going on.

THE BAD NEWS: long story short – I missed the sign up for club xc nationals which was held in San Francisco this past Saturday and couldn’t manage to get entered late. It was disappointing to miss this race, since I feel that I’m ready to run pretty fast right now and the field was essentially a who’s-who of distance running. Running in a race full of the people at the top of the game would have been a great experience, but there is no use in crying over spilled milk. I goofed up and have to live with the consequences of that mistake…which leads me to –

THE GOOD NEWS: I ran the Walnut Creek Half Marathon as a workout in place of club nationals, and ended up winning my first half marathon! Now, I know that most of the people who would have been serious competition for the race were running the club nationals race, but once I had learned there was no way I was getting entered into the race, my coach and I decided that it would be best to just do a hard workout rather than a full race effort. The low key race was perfect opportunity to do it!

QUICK RECAP: The race started, and I ran in 2nd place for the first 4 miles, averaging around 5:37 pace according to my GPS watch. I kept the same average until mile 6, but due to the monstrous hill that lasted from 4 to 6 miles, the effort increased dramatically and I found myself in the lead by a considerable amount. After taking the steep downhill in 4:45 to mile 7, I started my tempo rCJ Half Marathonun and averaged around 5:10 mile pace to finish up the race. Despite going the wrong way for about 20 seconds and having to turn around to get back on course, I ran 1:11:00 (my watch had around 69:56 for 13.1). Given the size of the hill, and how controlled and relaxed the effort was overall, I was very pleased with the day!

The good news doesn’t end with the half marathon however. As of very recently, I started working towards creating a company with a couple of (for the time being, anonymous) investors that share my interest in starting a company to help people return to – or start – living an active lifestyle after major surgery or medical hardships. There are an enormous amount of potential directions this could take me, and because of how uncertain everything is at this point.. thats all I can say about it for now!

Aside from it being an amazing opportunity for me to make a career out of my newly found passion for helping people get through life changing surgery, it also allows me to dedicate more time and energy into my other passion, running! Starting in January, I will no longer be training around a structured 35 hours a week of work, but instead will be devoting my time to building a company, and running as fast as possible – and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

As some of my more track-savy readers may have seen, the new (and slightly slower) Olympic standards for Rio 2016 were released last week. The one in particular that is of interest to me was, of course, the 3k steeplechase. The time to hit: 8:30. When I read that this new standard, I was immediately lost in a flurry of daydreams. While 8:30 is quite fast for a steeple and my best steeple time since returning after my surgery is a mere 9:04, the time feels like a time I am capable of running this year (given of course, I set my goals in the right way). Training to get to the Olympic Trials is still the primary goal, but the possibility of running fast enough to make it beyond that point is incredibly motivating.

The Olympic dream is a far-fetched one for anyone who sets their sights there, but three people in the steeplechase are going to realize that dream next year, so I say: why not me Cthulu+why+not+zoidberg+_d21921398f15182f12a18fa163b3b0a4? To my knowledge, there isn’t some omnipotent track lord who decides who those three will be; it’s decided by who is talented, lucky, and driven enough to make it happen.

Training is on an upswing, and indoor track season is around the corner. I’m in the midst of starting a company, and have enough funding to train (almost) entirely unencumbered of financial worries. It’s funny, but whether things are going terribly or things are going great, the good or the bad tend to come all at once; I’m either climbing or falling. In 2013 and 2014 I was falling, but 2015 so far has been great, and 2016 is gearing up to be absolutely incredible; and I can’t wait to see where I can climb.