Published: November 8, 2021
For many in the United States, November marks the start of the holiday season—a perfect time of year to reflect on what we are thankful for. As IBD patients and caregivers, it can often seem like the odds are stacked against us. So, what do we do to keep pushing through hard times? How do we thrive when we or our loved ones are feeling sick? For me, one of the secrets to coping lies in gratitude, in finding something to be thankful for, even while living with the lows of IBD.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was eight years old. I endured years of pain, different medications, and hospital stays; I wondered why the carefree years of childhood had been stolen from me. 12 years later, I’m still fighting the physical battle that comes with IBD, but how I cope with and view my Crohn’s has changed dramatically. My chronic illness is the biggest hardship I've ever faced, but it also led me to so many friendships, life lessons, and a well of incredible strength and passion that I didn’t know was within me.
Throughout the years, my Crohn’s disease has connected me with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve met many patients and caregivers through the Crohn’s & Coltis Foundation’s National Council of College Leaders (NCCL), and each of these IBD fighters have taught me new ways to be thankful and find strength. Though we are all different from one another and face unique challenges, we’ve formed unbreakable bonds and lifelong friendships. I am thankful that my Crohn’s has allowed me to work with and learn from such inspiring people.
My IBD is also helping me carve out a future for myself. The dreaded “What do you want to do with your life?” question that college students hear countless times from relatives, teachers, parents, or coaches can be quite daunting, but I got lucky; I know exactly what I want to do with my life. Since the very beginning of my journey with Crohn’s, I felt destined for a career in healthcare. While the hospital is one of my least favorite places in the world, a part of it has always been inspiring to me. From my nurses who would stay after hours just to talk to me, and my doctors who worked tirelessly to save my life, I knew that one day I would rewrite my story in the hospital and view it from the perspective of one of those incredible healthcare workers.
Like many patients, I've developed several food allergies and intolerances as a result of Crohn’s disease. My diet is now severely limited, and has required me to become a scientist in the kitchen—altering classic recipes to fit a specialized diet. While some might see this as a tiresome task, from these restrictions I’ve discovered a passion for nutrition and food science, which has inspired me to work in the Diet and Nutrition Lab at my college, the University of Virginia. What started long ago as a disability has turned into actions that I can take to help myself and others. For that, I’m so thankful.
Finally, I can’t forget about all of the little things to be thankful for that help me get through each day: the check-in texts from friends and family, an article or webinar about new research on IBD, a friend who understands when you say you don’t feel like doing anything today, and who comes over to watch movies with you so that you don’t have to leave the house. If you’re struggling and have not yet found something to be thankful for today, I hope this inspires you to remember something—big or small—that brings you joy.
Macy Stahl is an Crohn's disease patient and a member of the Foundation's National Council of College Leaders.