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I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease eleven years ago. I still remember waking up from my colonoscopy and my doctor telling me my diagnosis. That young woman had no idea what was to come. She could not have anticipated the medicines, tests, pain, insurance battles, isolation and emotional trauma she would endure in the years to come. She also did not know there are people out there who can relate and provide a powerful community.

I am fortunate to have a lot of support around me. My parents and siblings have been with me every step of my journey. I can talk to them about how I’m feeling, both physically and emotionally. But I’ve always craved a deeper understanding, a space where I didn’t have to explain anything. I found all this and more with Girls With Guts. I heard about the retreat and instantly knew this was what I had been hoping for.

Words cannot do justice to how I felt that weekend in Rock Hill. It is such an incredible and powerful experience to be around women who truly UNDERSTAND. I didn’t have to explain or ask, we all just KNEW. I could tell that every person I met had been through really tough times with IBD and they knew I had too. I cried with them when we shared the worst struggles and cheered for them for their ability to keep going. Throughout each activity and during down time I had amazing conversations that I will always remember and draw on when I need them. We talked about how every single one of us has a different IBD story, different symptoms and treatment paths. But we are able to empathize and support one another in a way that is free of judgement and comparison. It’s a beautiful feeling that I’ve spent years searching for.

A woman on the high ropes course climbing across a net!One morning we participated in a high ropes course. I was really excited to try it but also knew it would be difficult for me physically. My body has been through a lot the last few years; I’m not in great shape and my body feels different than what I’m used to. The course went really well until I got to the cargo net. I was more than halfway across when my arms gave out on me. I started to panic, hanging there in the air with a bunch of women waiting on me so they could complete the course. I thought for a moment that this was so embarrassing, that I just wanted to get down and go back to my cabin. But now I remember it as one of the highlights of the weekend.

The support I received from my fellow Girls With Guts blew me away. I have never experienced so many people cheering for me and telling me how strong I was. One of the workers came and pulled me to the platform and we all celebrated together. When I made it to the ground everyone encouraged me and said they were so proud of me for getting up there and doing it. I share this story because it is a prime example of the support and understanding that was present all weekend. I know the next time I have an ER visit, a tough IV, or a stressful doctor’s appointment, I will hear those women cheering me on.

Having IBD is hard. It just is. There are always going to be ups and downs on this journey. But there are things that can make the difficult times feel less overwhelming. I know that my Girls With Guts are only a text away to remind me I am not alone and that I will get through each challenge. The women I met during the retreat are incredible in their own way. I learned about their struggles with their IBD, but I also learned about their cool jobs, their beautiful families, their witty sense of humors and their contagious zest for life. They reminded me that while IBD is a big part of our lives, we can still enjoy life and pursue what we love. I left Rock Hill with new friends and that profound feeling of being understood.

Thank you to the directors for creating a safe and welcoming community and to all my fellow Girls With Guts for your love and friendship. I admire each of you so much and carry you with me always. My younger self receiving her diagnosis eleven years ago is so grateful I found you.

 

Megan O’Connor is an 11 year Crohn’s warrior. She resides in Milwaukee, WI with her calico cat, Teaspoon. Megan loves reading, sports and reality TV.

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