My high-school experience was amazing and unforgettable. After living with ulcerative colitis for more than 12 years, the most valuable thing I learned is that absolutely anything is possible.
Some would say I am a success story, considering that after living most of my life with severe ulcerative colitis and resulting complications, I was able to graduate as a part of the top-20 of my class of 600. But these past four years in high school have been my choice to live like I didn’t have ulcerative colitis. My “successes” and “failures” in high school have been driven by the idea that colitis would be a part of me, but I would not be a part of it.
My detailed story with ulcerative colitis can be found here.
Recently, I was selected as a Coca-Cola Scholar and an Eli Lilly Scholar, meaning my college experience is paid for. Behind this scholarship is an unforgettable journey of triumphs and defeats. I was told, when my major flare-up started in sixth grade, that each day would be new and that I would need to take it easier than my classmates. I didn’t understand why at the time, but as my disease progressed, and as I started calling the hospital my home, it became apparent. Instead of letting my disease be a reason for me to get out of some assignments, I began to feel a sense of competitiveness with my disease – I would not let it slow me down. And so I didn’t. Throughout high school, I would take tests the morning of a procedure that required me to remain on a liquid diet for 24 hours, and I would finish homework before I was called into procedures requiring anesthesia. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” my parents would ask, but it was a sort of need for me to prove that ulcerative colitis did not hold me captive. For me, graduating high school at the top of my class is not only an achievement, but also proof that ulcerative colitis did not keep me from my goals for so many years. Here is some advice I wish I had and what I have learned throughout high school.
Find your own way around, because you will have to be persistent to get opportunities.
When I came back from being severely ill, I faced a degree of unfair treatment my freshman year. I really wanted to become an advocate for individuals with chronic illnesses, specifically inflammatory bowel diseases, and to do that I thought I could go to my school as a starting point. When I kept getting denied due to my inability to be at school often, I knew that the only way for me to make a difference for individuals with chronic illnesses would be by myself. About three months after my colectomy surgery, as a freshman, I started the “Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times,” now a nonprofit that serves individuals with chronic illnesses around the world. I sought out opportunities beyond my school, but what was unfortunate was that despite my explanation and my increasingly better resume, I was still not chosen for any opportunity without a fight. The point here is that oftentimes your chronic illness will seclude you from society, and it is up to you to build yourself and follow your passions.
Your illness cannot be your excuse.
In middle school, many of my teachers tried to make the workload a bit less strenuous due to my partial schooling and deteriorating health. In high school, however, everything started to count and I began my journey of working as hard as my peers. After all, I took the same Advanced Placement tests and standardized tests and had to get the same scores – even if I did not have the same amount of sleep or even if I was just a couple of weeks out from a major surgery. Most chronic illnesses are invisible, and with that it is more difficult to explain your condition and receive the same empathy as someone who is visibly sick.
Share your story.
I never spoke a word about my disease until my freshman year – my entire life my best friends were the only ones who knew I suffered from ulcerative colitis, but I only told them a fourth of what I actually went through. It is imperative to tell others what you are going through so that you are able to explain why you cannot participate in something or are turning in an assignment late – because you will undoubtedly receive those questions.
It is quite impossible to describe how many times my sickness tested my mental ability to keep pushing. I still remember when I returned home from my first major surgery: the removal of my entire large intestine. Coming home with an ileostomy bag, I experienced a huge physical adjustment, but almost a week after I returned I took finals that I had missed due to surgery. Looking back, I was crazy for taking those finals while recovering and on pain medications. Remain resilient, because those are times that will pass, but a slip-up in your performance will stay. With that being said, pay significant attention to your health.
Keep your health above your goals.
While it seems as though for much of my high school I didn’t prioritize my health, I strongly suggest focusing on yourself before school. Some of the above advice may say the contrary, but truly pay attention to yourself before your tasks. The first step is fixing you, and I was lucky enough to have my parents constantly reminding me of this.
Stay passionate, focused and happy with what you have. Living with a chronic illness is difficult in a fast-paced society. Overcoming your obstacles with success just takes a little determination and grit to find yourself somewhere that was once unimaginable.