When I was diagnosed with UC, I was 21 years old, heading into my final year at UC Berkeley and I loved to run! I had just finished my best season of competition ever (clocking personal bests in every event from the 1500m up to the 5-K, winning the Pac-12 steeplechase title (the steeplechase is an obstacle course and during the course of the race you must clear 28 ordinary barriers and seven water jumps. It takes the strength and agility of a gymnast and the power of a sprinter) and earning second-team All-Pac-12 and All-West Region honors in cross country. My entire identity was centered around the sport that I loved.
What was your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is that I would never be able to run competitively again and that was the heart of who I was. Getting sick and having a serious surgery made me question if it would ever be possible to do again.
Was there something you were worried you would not be able to do after your ostomy surgery?
Run and compete in the sport I loved. My doctors and nurses assured me that people who had ostomies could be active again, but I doubted they understood what I meant when I said I was an athlete. I was very worried about hernias and my body’s ability to stay hydrated during competition.
Did those fears become a reality or were you surprised you could actually do what you were worried you couldn’t?
My fears, while valid, ultimately did not come true. While I haven’t returned to the same level of competitiveness that I reached in college, I have been completely free to live my life the way I choose. I’ve run the Boston Marathon, and even set a personal best in the half marathon distance as well!
How has your ostomy changed you?
After going through everything that I did, my perspective has completely changed. The reasons I put on my running shoes each day and line up for races now comes from a place of deep appreciation and gratefulness, where before it was entirely a competitive endeavor. I’ve come to realize just how lucky I’ve been to have the opportunities that I’ve had, both in my running career and life in general. In a strange sort of way, getting sick was one of the best things that could ever have happened to me.
What helped you most during your recovery?
First and foremost, the support of my friends and family. I struggled with depression while I was sick, and it took a long time after surgery for me to get through that time in my life. I had lost a part of myself during that time, and it wasn’t easy filling that hole back up. If it weren’t for the consistent positivity and support of the people around me, I’m not sure where I’d be.
Did something help prepare you for your operation? If so, what was it?
Given the circumstances of my illness, I didn’t have much time to prepare. I just remember thinking that I was glad there was finally something else I could do to relieve the constant pain.
What do you wish someone had told you before your ostomy operation?
I’d been told by a couple people throughout the process, but I wish someone had pressed harder for me to talk to a therapist while I was sick and depressed. I think I made things much harder on myself than they needed to be because I was stubborn.
Was there a specific WOC Nurse or a doctor who helped you that you’d like to thank? (Name/hospital, city, state)
Dr. Finlayson of UCSF performed my surgery and did a great job. I’ve had very few (if any) issues in the 5 years that I’ve had an ostomy.