It was the summer of 2000 when I first started feeling the symptoms. I would go to the bathroom in the morning and, seemingly, as soon as I finished the urge would start up again...two, three, even four times. Then, driving to work, it could start all over again. I began to have to learn exactly where the accessible bathrooms were on my daily trips.
Then I noticed the blood in my stool. Sure, your body can go through changes when you hit 40, but nobody told me it would be like this. The urges to go could happen at any time, and it didn't matter if I was in public, in rush hour traffic, on the subway or making a presentation at work: I had to go, and nothing else in the world mattered. My doctor referred me to a gastroenterologist, and on January 2, 2001 I went through my first colonoscopy. And that's when I found out that I had a mild to moderate case of ulcerative colitis.
Things would get worse before they would get better. I kept having "incidents" and would lose about 40 pounds. People kept saying to me how I did it and how much better I looked. I would smile and say thank you, but I knew better: diet and exercise had nothing to do with it.
Eventually, I found a new gatroenterologist who prescribed a different medicine for me. I changed my diet -- for example, no more baked beans, and ice cream only rarely. Gradually, the flareups became less frequent. I gained back about 20 pounds. For the last seven years, I have basically been in remission. I have had several colonoscopies since, and my colitis is now limited only to my rectum, and not in my colon proper. My polyps are also checked, and I am pleased to say that there are absolutely no signs of cancer as of yet. (Colitis is not a fatal disease; however, there is a somewhat higher risk of developing colorectal cancer later in life for those who have colitis than among those who don't have it.)
That's the good news. Here are the not so good parts: first, there is no cure, except for having a case so severe that you need to have your colon removed. And going around everywhere with a colostomy bag is not my idea of a cure. I take a lot of medicine every day -- three balsalazide pills, three times a day, more if I'm not having a good day. I still have to watch what I eat, although that will vary from patient to patient. And just when I start to feel cocky, maybe once a month or so I'll have one of those days with lots of urges, as if to remind me what I'm still up against. Even on the good days, I'll still spend a lot of time in the bathroom first thing in the morning -- a good day means I won't have to go again for the rest of the day.
I'm not writing this to get anyone's sympathy, because I don't feel I have a right to complain too much --it's not like I have cancer or AIDS or something life threatening. But I hope this will give some insight into what Angel Pagan's world is like. I don't know how severe his condition is compared to mine, but at least I have an inkling of what he has to go through every day. Forty years ago, Ron Santo told baseball fans about his life with diabetes, a condition which was swept under the rug until then. Maybe Angel can become a leader in the fight against colitis.
If you want to know more about colitis and a similar but unrelated illness called Crohn's Disease, I would suggest visiting the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America's website at www.ccfa.org.