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Living with Invisible Illnesses

(Posted March 4, 2014)

Ross Madden, '14

Some people may not be visibly sick, but suffer from chronic illnesses that present challenges, discomfort, and stress in day-to-day living. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, by the year 2020, up to 137 million people in America may have a chronic illness, such as arthritis or an intestinal illness. In fact, some people experience more than one. Ross Madden is a Juniata senior from Richmond, Va. who was named the 2013 Sports Imports/AVCA Men's Division III National Player of the Week. He also suffers from two illnesses that are difficult to diagnose . I talked to him to find out how he copes.

Q: What illnesses do you have? Could you describe them?

A: I have two. I have auto-immune hepatitis, which means my immune system attacks my liver. I've known about that since I was 10. I also have ulcerative colitis, which happened later on in my life, but it is ulcers in the colon. It's like a weak stomach issue.

Q: When did you get colitis?

A: It really started coming on my senior year of high school, but I didn't know what it was and I didn't get help for a while. My freshman year of college I started figuring it out. I stopped consuming milk and butter and yogurt, all dairy. I stopped eating whole wheat because the sugars are too complex. I don't drink coffee.

Q: Do you experience the auto-immune condition when you are sick?

A: No, it's not really when I'm sick. It's just an over-activity of the immune system. I don't notice any difference when I'm sick. Sometimes I just have liver pain or [shoulder] pain, which is actually liver pain, but it's not that bad now. I used to get prescribed medicine for it. The medicine was prednisone and azathioprine, which is a steroid, so it's not for long term use. And I noticed that it made me impulsive, really impulsive and I would have angry impulses. I would notice them, but I would just want to throw things. It was weird.

Q: How is it having these illnesses but also being an athlete?

A: They sometimes get in the way of each other, but I love volleyball, so I put up with it. It's not that bad. It doesn't interfere that much. But if I didn't take care of myself, it would.

Q: Do people understand why you can't eat certain things?

A: I mean, people understand I don't eat dairy. It's pretty simple. You can just tell them and that's it. It helps me to think about it as poison because I don't want to eat it. I don't consider it food.

Zachary Lemon '14, Juniata Online Journalist

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