Marathon #47 – 26.2 for Jen


Jen’s Story:

A few years ago, I began experiencing odd GI symptoms that arose seemingly out of nowhere and quickly escalated in severity. In those months of acute symptoms, I recall feeling that my body was out of control, as if it was rebelling against me. I was thrown into pain and uncertainty. Until then I had taken my health for granted, and now my only desire was to be healthy again. The most difficult part was not knowing what the problem was.

As I developed more symptoms, I began to suspect that I had Crohn’s Disease, partly due to my healthcare background but also partly due to a “gut” feeling. After a few months, a colonoscopy confirmed my suspicion. It was a relief to finally know what I was facing. Even though the cause of Crohn’s and its cure are unknown, my diagnosis gave me direction forward.

I was determined to do everything that I could to find my way back to and stay in remission. I dove straight into learning everything I could. I reviewed my school notes, watched videos, read articles, talked with patients, attended a Crohn’s and Colitis symposium, read the clinical guidelines, read the drug prescribing information, searched PubMed for scientific articles, and talked with several doctors to hear their treatment recommendations. Fortunately, it only took 2.5 months to receive my diagnosis and another few months until I began Remicade infusions and went into remission. From what I’ve heard of others’ experiences, mine was thankfully a very short time from flare onset to diagnosis to remission.

In addition to strong support from my family and friends, I have navigated my way through Crohn’s with sisu. Sisu is a Finnish term for which there is no direct translation into English. But it is comparable to grit, a never-give-up attitude, resilience to meet life’s seemingly insurmountable challenges. I’m part Finnish and have heard about sisu since I was a child. But you don’t need to be Finnish to have sisu; everyone has sisu! With my Crohn’s experience, I felt that life challenged me to dig deeper into sisu, to see how strong I am and how strong I can become. 

Another way I have navigated through Crohn’s is with Team Challenge. Last year I decided to join Team Challenge and run a half marathon. I had been researching ways to become more resilient, and most information pointed to physical sports challenges. So I decided to train for a half marathon and at the same time raise money for Crohn’s research. A half marathon sounded like such a long distance; I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around running 13.1 miles at once. It was exactly what I needed to do to challenge myself.  This is when I met the wonderful Team Challenge family. Coaches Marc and Lori were extremely generous dedicating their time and giving advice to the runners old and new. The whole team had determination and a positive attitude. I’ve found surrounding myself with uplifting/positive people to be so important for health and well-being.

By race day, I completed my training and was expecting that I would feel pretty good throughout the race. My race goals were:

  1. finish the race
  2. run the race non-stop (this was a goal I had made to challenge myself even more)
  3. run without music (so that the only thing motivating me would be myself)
  4. finish below 2 hours (I had read that it’s often viewed as a challenging time to make, so I thought I’d go for it!) 

It turned out that the race was even more challenging that I expected. I unintentionally started running the race at a faster pace than I had in training. Consequently, after mile 6 my quads/hamstrings started feeling very painful, to a degree that I had never previously experienced. But I kept going; I had resolutely decided that I wouldn’t stop when I was tired, I’d stop when I was done with the race. I slowed my pace and finished the race without stopping, thus achieving my first three goals and coming fairly close to my fourth goal.

I’m glad it wasn’t an easy race. I wanted the race to be as challenging as it could be. I wanted to test myself, to push myself, to reach what I thought was my limit and then go right past it. That’s where sisu came in. When my legs became painful, that was a legitimate excuse to take a walking break. But I didn’t want to and refused to do so; I made the choice to keep going, and my body followed suit.

I am so very thankful to be in remission and at the same time I still experience bumps in the road to health that I find challenging to navigate. I’m not cured from Crohn’s and like many others live with the uncertainty of this disease. That’s why finding a cure is so important. So until a cure is found, I will continue to focus on the positives. This is what I have heard referred to as “the gift of adversity,” to see the good that can come from obstacles. Initially I focused on what I thought I had lost; now I focus on what I have gained from my experiences. I have grown to be a stronger person. I can only benefit from thinking positively, and no good can come from thinking negatively. So why not choose the positive route? In some challenges it certainly takes me longer to choose that route, but I resolve to always revert to that brighter and hopeful perspective. After all, it’s the sisu way.

Marathon 47 – Recap

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