Living with Invisible Illnesses
(Posted March 4, 2014)
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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