I’m often asked if I believe ulcerative colitis has changed me for the better.
It’s a tough question. I can’t go back in time and see how my high school years would have played out otherwise. There is no me, as I am now, without ulcerative colitis.
Has ulcerative colitis changed me for the better? The simple answer is no. My disease has not changed me outside of my intestines. I am the same girl with a few extra pills. The more complicated answer is yes* – with the asterisk. It’s based on a technicality. No, UC has not changed me for the better, but living with UC has.
It starts with another girl: one named Tara. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease during her second year of medical school. A few years later, Tara had chosen to pursue a career in pediatrics and found herself on the inpatient rotation at my children’s hospital in April ’08 – the month of my diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization.
You can guess how this plays out.
I was the “I’m okay” kid in the hospital. I felt so good on steroids and so relieved to have a name for my disease, my answer to most everything became standardized. Did I want a visit from the art therapist? “I’m okay, thanks.” Did I want another blanket? “I’m okay, thanks.” It was my standard answer, so if asked if I wanted to participate in a mentoring program, I would have probably answered predictably: “I’m okay, thanks.”
Tara was the mentor this “I’m okay” kid never wanted. She stayed one day after rounds to share her story. A day past diagnosis, I hadn’t yet started to think about what a future with IBD meant. Thanks to Tara, I never doubted my potential. From the get-go, I knew Tara’s story. If she could continue to pursue her passion with IBD, my possibilities were equally endless. Until I met Tara, I didn’t realize mentoring is not an emergency measure; it’s a survival skill. Her confidence inspired my confidence.
Being a good mentor is not about knowing the “right” thing to say or the “right” moment to say it. There will be moments when you don’t know what to say, and there will be moments when it’s best to stay quiet and just listen. Being a good mentor is not about the story; it’s about the storyteller. The best storytellers – and the best mentors – realize that every story matters – and every story can change another story for the better.
Until I met Tara, I never believed a single patient voice could matter. Clearly, as I’m here blogging, I do now.