April 6, 2009

Starting From the Beginning...

Oh. I guess I should have begun with how I came to know I had Celiac. My symptoms began when I was about 15 years old. I would have terrible stomach pains with lots of bloating and stomach rumbling. I was missing a lot of school because I was either: a) in terrible pain or b) so anxiety stricken that my stomach would be so loud. (Sitting in a quiet classroom and having my stomach rumble was SO embarrassing! And trust me – it was LOUD! You could probably hear it across the hall and two doors down.)

When I was 17, I went to a pediatric gastroenterologist and had several appointments, blood tests, and an endoscopy. He could not find anything wrong with me. I believe he diagnosed me as having an ulcer. Not being able to help me, I continued to suffer.

My “ulcer” and I graduated high school and I went away to college which was an even bigger nightmare. Total stranger roommate, communal bathrooms, and a rhetoric class with twelve people where we SAT IN A CIRCLE! (Seriously?! No back corner to shrink away in?) It was BAD! At this time I was also coming home every other weekend to see a regular gastroenterologist. More tests and a lovely colonoscopy later, I left with an “it’s probably Irritable Bowel Syndrome – watch the broccoli” diagnosis. Watching my broccoli and still miserable, I headed back to school and lived off “light, dry” foods – toast, bagels, saltines, and Sprite. I was sicker than ever. I stopped going to my classes, avoided anything social, and eventually withdrew from the university and moved home.

In the midst of my homecoming, my mom was discussing my situation with a friend of hers. Her son had a boatload of health problems, including Celiac. She told my mom my symptoms sounded like her son’s and I should probably get a blood test to rule it out. Figuring I had nothing left to lose, I had my GP test me and sure enough, I had Celiac. I remember getting the call from my doctor’s office. It was morning and I was eating cinnamon toast. They gave me a quick rundown of the do’s and don’ts over the phone. Avoid bread, anything with flour, cookies, cakes, etc.; don’t lick stamps; and go out and get Bette Hagman’s book, The Gluten Free Gourmet, to help me figure out what to eat.

For the next few weeks, I ate nothing but white rice and bananas. (Bette’s book did not suggest this and looking back, I have no idea why I did this.) About three days into my new life sans bread, my parents asked me how I felt. My exact words were, “I feel like a million bucks!” Apparently a million bucks feels like a quiet stomach without bloating and the reassurance of knowing that I will no longer have to live my life in pain and anxiety. I felt like I got my life back. I felt great!

And here comes the happy ending: I went back to school and became so studious that I even took summer school to catch up on the year I lost due to undiagnosed Celiac disease. I was able to finish on schedule and graduate with honors. Over the years I discovered food beyond rice and bananas. In the past couple years especially, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with gluten free cooking and baking. Having more products available has definitely helped. I love finding new gluten free products and spreading the gluten free love!

I am BEYOND grateful for my mom’s friend that helped to diagnose my celiac disease. I hope my story helps anyone suffering undiagnosed like I did, so they can get their life back and begin feeling like a million bucks.
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