There are aspects of my medical story, my life, that I’ve touched on only briefly; things mentioned or referenced without a great amount of detail, not because I’m unwilling to discuss, but because further elaboration would require, and warrant, a stand-alone exploration.
This has allowed for a careful, meticulous chronicling of the latter portion of my medical journey, providing the opportunity to introduce and expand on the non-intestinal aspects only if/when necessary. And, as was the case when endocrinology intersected with the gut, if it weren’t for this devastating blindside, the dental/oral aspect would have remained but a footnote.
Had the planned means of financing this crucial, final treatment not collapsed, the cost to me would never have been discussed, nor would I have reached out for help. It would have been a burden, yes, but a manageable one, as it would allow for a thorough, completed treatment, ensuring a definite, unqualified recovery.
Further, if not for Project Smile, I would not be appearing publicly before the recovery is complete; would not allow myself to be seen before all weight was regained, hair regrown; not until the still-healing-gut triggered bouts of eczema over my face and body were longer a recurring nuisance.
I’d planned to keep my appearances limited, movements restricted to appointments, the gym, and the dog park, until I was again as healthy on the outside as I finally am on the inside.
This approach, however, is no longer an option, and as difficult as it is, I know for Project Smile to succeed, I must put myself out there before I’m ready – before I’m healthy – and trust people will forgive my current, temporary (and rather unattractive) appearance; will understand I can look unwell without being unwell, and will continue to see me as I am, as I’ll be once again, instead of forever pegging me at this current stage of recovery.
I’ve been through this before, as the images I’m about to share will illustrate. I will rebuild again, will fully recover, but it’s a very slow process. And though I hadn’t planned to make these images public (though a few I’ve shared before), I feel it’s important to do so, if only to allow for a greater understanding of what I’ve been through, what I’ve overcome, and help serve as a point of reference through the rest of the rebuild/recovery.
My medical journey – A visual timeline: (descriptions appear quite small, but are found at the bottom of each photo)
Year: 2002 – a friend and I at a fancy event.
Year: 2003/2004 – Intestinal illness onset and, being untreated, clearly ravaging the body. I believe this was my final final gymnastic appearance.
Year: 2004/2005 – 58 pounds, state of emaciation as the stigma of a past eating disorder (suffered when I was a child, even before my gymnastic years) led to a refusal of medical help, the assumption I had merely relapsed, scoffing at the idea of anything medically wrong. This is how many back in Ontario saw me last, and they rightly thought it would be the last they saw of me.
Year: 2010 – After the move to Calgary (2005) and proper medical diagnosis, beginning of treatments (first 2 of 5 intestinal surgeries in ’05/06 and ’06/07), after the successful GI rehabilitation to restore function of the small intestine and subsequent rebuilding/recovery, my sisters and I reunite after 5 years apart. They thought the next they’d see of me would be in a casket.
Year: 2010 – Same reunion, a wonderful day.
Year: 2011 – My first real foray out after regaining intestinal function and all weight + fitness I’d lost. The Underwear Affair (raising funds for cancers below the waist), I ran the 10k and won Best Superhero for my Captain Awes(t)ome(y) costume. Here I’m revealing my ileostomy, and telling my backstory/reason for running (father and maternal aunt both died of colon cancer)
Year: 2012. Brio and I. *This* is me.
Year: February 2013, snowshoeing at Troll Falls. This picture was taken just months before that fateful surgery in May, which would set off the series of unfortunate events leading to where I am today. Weight: 130 solid pounds. Fitness: back to elite-level training. Life: awesome.
Date: May 2013, after what was to be the single, final surgery (total proctocolectomy, small bowel resection, stoma revision), dealing with some seemingly minor post-op struggles. I was discharged (and readmitted that same day) shortly after this picture was taken.
Date: May 2013 – this is what the intestinal surgeries look like. (This main incision would be cut through 3 times in total)
Date: June 2013 – After having been readmitted with an assumed ileus (normal post-op complication), an exploratory scope perforated the bowel (because it wasn’t an ileus – it was a twisted and now dead piece of small intestine); Waiting for emergency surgery, face/body swollen with edema as the organs begin to shut down.
Date: June 2013 – post emergency surgery (small bowel resection and removal of the ischemic/dead bowel), full of fluid/edema; on TPN (IV feed directly into my heart), PCA (morphine) pump; IV lines maxed out; receiving one of three blood transfusions.
Date: June 2013, same as above.
Date: June/July 2013 – The rebound begins, organs start to function, body purges the excess fluid/edema, as the daily weight loss (in kilos) shows.
Date: Jan 2014 – After 6 months of working hard on recovery post discharge in July 2013, physical gains beginning to show. Shortly after this picture was taken, my intestine would prolapse again, leading to the third (and final) surgery in late-February 2014, where more small bowel would be removed. All the gains I had made would be lost once again — and more.
Date: May 2014 – In hospital for a massive post-operative obstruction. The situation was critical, as the blood pressure shows.
Date: May 2014 – After all was said and done, after 3 intestinal surgeries in under a year plus the final, massive obstruction, my weight finally hit bottom – 85 pounds – as the intestine struggled to recover from so much trauma in such a short span.
Date: May/June 2014 – At 85 pounds, my starting point of the rebuild.
Date: October 2014 – Picture taken by a dear friend for her 90-days-of-fitness project; Weight at at 95 pounds, muscle and strength gaining by the day.
I’m not going to upload a current selfie; I can’t bring myself to take one (I even refused to Skype with my family this Christmas). To see me as I am today, where I’m at as the recovery continues – weight just shy of 100 pounds now, still another 20-30 to gain – watch for the interviews. I’ll update this post and link to my appearances as soon as they’re made available.
I’ll write more later, as I have so much to say about Project Smile and the overwhelming response, but at this moment, I’m spent.
Direct link to my donation page, for those who are interested in/able to contribute: http://www.gofundme.com/apsmile
Update: The only thing worse than this stage of recovery is being seen in this stage of recovery. Unfortunately, the CBC report was rather inaccurate/inadequate, and there is a lack of clarity regarding the causes of, and treatments required for, this situation, due to the complicated medical history and overlapping medical issues discussed throughout the interview, so I’ve updated the Project Smile page with a more-comprehensive/thorough overview.
One thought on “Operation Smile”
You’ve been through so much, my heart goes out to you. I wish nothing but the best for you to reach good health again and gain all that has been lost. My sincerest and best wishes to you in your recovery and may many reach out to help you in your time of need. Much love.