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Adi Bodenstein, age 22, graduate student and intern at the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America in Los Angeles
"I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was 19. I had symptoms - including constant diarrhea and blood, stomach pain and cramping - for two years, but I was living in a dorm and eating dorm food; I just thought the food wasn't agreeing with me. The first doctor I saw told me she thought I had AIDS - talk about scaring a young college student to death! My uncle, who is a surgeon, said he thought my symptoms sounded like ulcerative colitis. He arranged for me to have a colonoscopy, and I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in the left lower side of my colon.
"I was very relieved that it wasn't AIDS, but I wasn't really sure what to do with this diagnosis, either. My doctor prescribed Asacol [mesalamine] and my symptoms improved very quickly, but I knew the disease wasn't going away entirely. My doctors never really had any suggestions for how to make it easier on myself or what foods to eat and not to eat. They said I would figure that out over time."
Smart Lifestyle Choices
"Eventually I did figure out that limiting wheat and dairy products really helps me. So now I drink calcium-fortified soy milk or rice milk, and I have discovered lots of alternatives to traditional bread products, such as corn tortillas, rice cakes, brown rice pasta, quinoa and quinoa pastas, and I really like almond cheese. I also make a point of exercising every day by working out on the elliptical machine. As a graduate student trying to earn a master's degree in 16 months, I'm under a lot of stress. Too much stress can lead to flare-ups of my symptoms. Daily exercise helps me handle stress better. When I was first diagnosed, I was in too much pain to exercise, so I had to build up slowly and re-introduce my body to exercise.
"Before I knew how to manage my ulcerative colitis, my flare-ups would last a few weeks. Now I won't allow them to last more than a week without calling up my specialist. Usually with an adjustment to my medication, we can get my symptoms under control within a few days."
Love and Work
"When it comes to my romantic life, I've been lucky. I have a wonderful boyfriend who has been an incredible support to me throughout my disease, and who really understands when I can't be intimate because I'm in too much pain. One of the reasons I think we're so compatible is because I can talk about what I'm going through with him, and sometimes that means talking about poop. It sounds really funny, but I don't think I could be serious with anybody if I couldn't talk about poop with him.
"I'm getting my master's in social work with a focus on nonprofit management and community organization. I think that the nonprofit work world is a little more flexible with their employees who might have special needs. In the for-profit business world, I think it would be harder to explain to an employer why I, as a 20-something employee, have to go to the bathroom all the time.
"People who are diagnosed with ulcerative colitis shouldn't feel like it is the end of the world. It is a manageable disease. It's something that you have to learn to work with, but it's definitely workable. I would encourage people to take their medicine as their doctor prescribes and to find a diet that works for them. Some doctors told me that it didn't matter what I ate, but other people with ulcerative colitis had told me that changing their diet helped them, and I think it has helped me. Talking to other people who have the illness is important because it helps to know that you're not alone with this condition and that there are strategies that work to make it better."