Chronic illness a lifetime burden


COMMUNITY PROFILE: Sophomore struggles after suffering rare internal disease.

Janet Leon felt abdominal pains, nausea and fatigue one week in March. Thinking she had the stomach flu, she took the usual medication, and brushed it off.

By the end of the week, however, the pain in her abdomen was so intense, it left her hunched over in agony and she was rushed to the emergency room.

“I didn’t want to go, partly because I had no medical insurance,” Leon said. “I also had school to think about.”

Upon arrival at UCI Medical Center, doctors hooked her up to an IV.

“I pretty much blacked out. I only remember the nurse giving me pain medication, but other than that I don’t remember anything,” Leon said.

After numerous lab tests and a colonoscopy, doctors concluded that she had ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine and the colon in which the lining of both become inflamed, resulting in open sores or ulcers. Caused by an abnormal response from the immune system, it mistakes food, bacteria and other substances as invaders, causing massive inflammation, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

The flare-up was severe enough to hospitalize the Santa Ana sophomore for a month. To date she has lost 50 pounds because of her disease, 30 of which were lost in a month.

Her condition has to be closely monitored through monthly doctor visits and weekly lab tests.

“When they told me I was going to live with this for the rest of my life, I wanted to give up on myself. It’s unfair,” said Janet, “All I kept thinking was why me?”

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No one can predict how the disease will progress once diagnosed. Some people go for years without having any symptoms, while others have more frequent flare-ups of disease, said Ayesha Williams, senior information specialist of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America said.

Janet was busy last spring holding down two jobs, an internship and full-time student workload, majoring in criminal justice at SAC.

Since the diagnosis she’s learned to limit her stress level, watch what she eats and take eight prescribed medications.

It is has been a huge adjustment to her lifestyle, but she isn’t going through it alone. Janet attends a support group and sees a personal therapist once a week.

“It is always helpful to speak with people who understand what you are going through,” Williams said.

Leon still maintains a busy schedule.

“I don’t really let it run my life. I keep myself really busy to not really think about it but it ultimately determines if I have a good or bad day,” she said.

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