It’s not glamorous, but if you’ve been a good friend of mine for any length of time, you likely already know I have GI issues because…they affect my life! It’s not exactly anyone’s favorite topic, and I try not to discuss the details, so what you might not know is that I’ve struggled with what we believe are IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) flares for about 13 years now. (***I call my issues IBS in this post because that’s what we’ve believed them to be for the past 13 years. As you’ll read near the end, I’m also being tested for a more serious condition. IBS itself can range from mild to severe.)
IBS is one of many “invisible” illnesses, where a person looks completely healthy, but never the less has a condition that affects their daily life. While I’ve written about my chronic pain in the past (which I’m currently experiencing basically ZERO of right now, praise God for healing that has let me take care of my precious Ember girl!) I’ve never shared publicly about IBS because…it’s a little embarrassing! But with 25-45 million American’s affected by it, it’s something we should be willing to discuss. I’m sure every person’s experience with it is unique, but in the interest of raising awareness for how much even a more mild GI issue like IBS can affect your life, here’s what it looks like around here:
While even “routine” IBS isn’t easy to live with, during a flare leaving the house in the morning is especially challenging for me. During flares I try to schedule important appointments in the afternoon since mornings are my worst time of day, but flares are unpredictable and I get complacent when things are easy. So then I end up having to reschedule when I realize there is no way I can make that morning appointment I made during a non-flare time a month ago. It makes things like signing my child up for day camp or volunteering at VBS challenging. Will I be able to make it? Once I’m there, will I need to keep visiting the bathroom? When I show up 10 minutes late, I nod at the jokes other moms are making about how hard it is to get kids out the door, but the reality in my house is, I’m the one making us late and that makes me sad.
Over the past 13 years I’ve had several flares so bad I’ve lost a concerning percentage of my body weight during them. Once the scale hits a certain number, I find I feel weak, tired and cold most of the time. On top of that, no matter what I do or how I change my diet, until the flare is over, it’s very hard for me to stop the weight loss process. I’ve gotten low enough in the past people have asked me if I have an eating disorder. During these times it’s very hard for me to do anything remotely physically demanding. Carrying laundry up the stairs, taking the kids to the park by myself, weeding the flower beds, even going to the grocery store is too much some days. On top of the general crummy feeling being underweight brings, IBS causes fluid loss so if I try to do these things before I build that back up, I may find myself flat on my back due to low blood pressure.
I’ve mentioned “flares” a lot. You might be wondering what causes them. Meeee too! Let me know when you find out 😉 . Seriously, though, sometimes I can identify that my IBS was triggered by stress or hormones (which usually subside once the trigger is gone) but the flares like I wrote about in the above paragraph last for weeks and weeks with no obvious cause or solution and resolve just as mysteriously.
Over the last few months, some new and concerning symptoms developed and while I’m pretty used to challenges in this area, I knew it was time to talk to my doctor. So last month she had me take a test I’ve done several times before, which has always come back negative. Except this time, it was positive. Which meant I’d just won my very first colonoscopy appointment.
So today, after a far easier prep than I was expecting (thank you for all the prayers). I found out I had a large polyp (which he removed) that was causing at least the most concerning symptom. He also took biopsies to check for inflammatory bowel disease (a more serious condition than IBS that can masquerade as IBS) We have to wait for the biopsy results on the polyp to see how often I’ll need to go through this wonderful process again (likely every 3-5 years) and to know for sure if I have IBS or IBD, but today, I heard that I do not have colon cancer and I am so incredibly grateful.
IBS is not an easy issue to live with and IBD would be even more challenging, but I’m extremely grateful for how much health I *do* have. Every time I face one of these scary health times, it reminds me that our time on earth is so very short and I want to use it well. So often, I live as though I believe I’m the main character in this story. That’s a lot of pressure and I crack under it. What if it is cancer? What if my kids have to grow up without me? But the reality is, I’m just one little, very loved person in a very big story all about a God who loved the whole world so much, he sent his only Son to redeem us and bids us, “Come.”. I have 2 seconds here. I don’t want to spend it trying to make much of myself. I want to spend it making much of Him. I want to spend it being his hands and feet to my husband, to my children, to my family and friends. And I know that no amount of GI acronyms will thwart that plan for my life. And that is a very good story indeed.