My name is Mallory Chislett, I am the VP of Engagement at Happy Human Project. I am very happy to be sharing my story with you in hopes of bringing awareness to the disease that I was diagnosed with, suffered through, and continue to battle today. In December 2021, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis after suffering the effects of the disease for over a year. While I felt relief in knowing that with a diagnosis comes treatment, I also knew this was just the beginning of a journey I would be dealing with the rest of my life, and with that came a lot of fear and uncertainty.
Ulcerative Colitis (the sister to Crohn’s disease) is an autoimmune disease which causes inflammation in the digestive tract and causes severe pain. There is no cause and there is no cure. In the year leading up to my diagnosis I had been dealing with chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, not to mention the starvation I dealt with due to the very restrictive diet my doctor had me on. I began losing weight, became extremely anemic, and the physical pain I dealt with was unbearable at times. I was sent for so many tests; bloodwork, ultrasounds, x-rays, scopes, and lots of consultations. As Ulcerative Colitis is very much an ‘invisible’ disease, most people (outside of my family and close friends) wouldn’t even have been aware that there was anything going on with me. On the outside, I was an Honours with Distinction student, played on two division-one volleyball teams (school and club), worked part time at Dairy Queen, volunteered at the hospital, was on multiple committees, and was very social! But on the inside, I was suffering. At my job, I would take orders with a smile on my face even though the physical pain on the inside made me nauseous and barely able to speak. On the volleyball court, I was so weak that I wondered if ‘this’ was going to be the time that I passed out in front of everyone. I’m sure you can imagine, there are many symptoms of this disease that are embarrassing and socially limiting at times. This disease didn’t know, or frankly care, if I was in the middle of an important lecture, at the gym, or out with friends. Ulcerative Colitis is typically diagnosed in young adults like me, which can create setbacks in what should be a very promising time in life. While this has not been the case for me, I do not want to diminish or minimize the fact that it very much is the case for others, and I can only imagine how very difficult a reality that must be for them.
As I mentioned, with diagnosis comes treatment, and the first thing my doctor did was put me on a very aggressive steroid called Prednisone. Within a week, I literally felt cured. I had no more symptoms! But, Prednisone is only to be used in short time spans, or in my case, until my doctor could get me in to see the only gastroenterologist (GI) in Nova Scotia who could create a long-term treatment plan for me. Every time my doctor tried to wean me off Prednisone, the symptoms would return. Three months in, I was still on Prednisone and still awaiting a call from the GI. I became very anxious and depressed to the point that I found myself crying multiple times a day and did not want to leave my room. I developed insomnia, dizziness, and extreme fatigue which caused me to take multiple naps throughout the day. The worst side effect of all was that Prednisone causes weight gain, especially in your face (aka Moon Face), which caused me to feel very self-conscious about my body.
What was supposed to be such an exciting time in life, my first year of university, quickly turned into the lowest I ever felt in my life. In March, I decided that the bad that came with Prednisone outweighed the good and began the process of weaning off it; a much longer process now that my body had become addicted. Shortly into this process, I finally got a phone call from my GI, Dr. Petropolis. While he didn’t necessarily agree with me weaning off Prednisone, he supported me with the condition that I would have to go on a complete liquid diet. As you can imagine this isn’t a very ideal diet and restricted me from going to meal hall, out for food with friends, and didn’t give me enough energy to live the active lifestyle that I so desperately wanted to live with my friends. But I was committed, and I was getting off that drug no matter what. Finally in May, just before I would complete my first year at Dal, I began treatment for my Ulcerative Colitis. I started going for an infusion of Entyvio and iron every four and six weeks respectively. I have been on this treatment plan for a year now, and I am finally in remission (no active disease, although it never completely goes away). I am in the works of switching from my infusions to self-injections as these are a lot more convenient and I have become very comfortable with needles; something I thought I would never say! I am hopeful and staying positive that this treatment plan will carry me through the foreseeable future without any further issues.
Although this has been the most challenging obstacle I have ever faced, I still made my education my number one priority, and with the overwhelming love and support from all my friends and family, my mental health was quickly on the mend. I persevered through the pain, fatigue, depression and loneliness that this disease tagged along with me while trying to navigate my first year of university during a pandemic/lockdown! In June, I shared my story with the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada community and participated with my family and friends in their annual Gutsy Walk. We raised over $2,100 to help find a cure. And, this June, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joined with the love and support of the Happy Human Project family in walking for my second Gutsy Walk! You can check out my donation page for this year, here.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. My advice to anyone experiencing similar pain, or even if your story is completely different from mine, is to take care of yourself. Do not feel guilty for taking a break, and don’t compare yourself to how others are doing because giving yourself some slack and not overworking yourself will help you feel better both emotionally and physically.