I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis on December 23, 2009—a day my life changed forever. I went from a healthy and active 14-year-old to a teen with some very concerning symptoms: frequent and sudden onsets of stomach pain, exhaustion and the constant urge to use the bathroom. The diagnosis of a blistered, swollen, large intestine was both a relief and an added stressor.
But my diagnosis was just the beginning of my journey.
For four years, I was constantly looking for—if not rushing to—the nearest bathroom. Avoiding pizza, spicy foods, certain fruits and vegetables. Swallowing upwards of 15 pills a day. Missing out on school, athletics and memories with friends.
Instead of being a real teenage girl, I was a full-time patient.
Although ulcerative colitis held me back from living my life to the fullest, it also made me a fighter. Another round of medications? I could handle it. A relapse of symptoms or flares? No problem. I was fighting a losing battle—one I continually convinced myself I could win.
When I was a freshman in college and living away from home, my family and my doctors, symptom management started to become impossible. Studying heavier coursework, making friendships and trying to become an independent young adult was increasingly difficult, so when I went home for Thanksgiving, my Boston Children’s Hospital gastroenterologist, Dr. Munir Mobassaleh, suggested a two-step, curative surgery.
Fighting so hard for so long, at first the idea of surgery seemed like an easy way out. I made it this far, why not push a little further?
I was as determined as ever to not let ulcerative colitis win the battle I had been fighting for years. I wanted to overcome my illness and thrive with it, even though the odds of that ever happening seemed unlikely. And giving up my entire large intestine seemed like giving up the fight.
At 18, the biggest decision most kids have to make is where to go to college and what to study. The biggest decision I made at 18 was to live my life and put and end to my fight with ulcerative colitis.
The more I thought about the benefits of surgery, the more appealing it sounded. My doctors, surgeons and family members spent long hours talking with me about risks, benefits and complications. I was incredibly confident with my care team and decided to go ahead with the surgery.
I had phase one of my surgery on May 31, 2013.
Boston Children’s surgeon, Dr. Craig Lillehei and his team removed my entire large intestine (5 feet!). A portion of my small intestine was then transformed into what’s called a J-Pouch, a replacement for my now missing organ.
The second step took place on January 3, 2014, after the J-Pouch healed, and the remainder of my small intestine was connected to the new organ.
My fight against ulcerative colitis was over.
One year after my second surgery, I took off from Logan International Airport to spend a four-and-a-half-month semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain.
While abroad, I experienced complete freedom. I tried all of the tapas on the menu in the cafe across the street from my Barcelona apartment. I ate goulash just around the corner from the John Lennon wall in Prague. I licked chocolate gelato off its cone in the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, Italy. I sampled Guinness straight from the factory, at the highest point in Dublin, Ireland.
I never found myself searching for or scrambling to the nearest restroom. I wasn’t in any pain. I didn’t have to worry about taking medications on time or how certain foods would affect my stomach. I was living my life completely untethered to chronic illness. I felt invincible.
The right decision for me
Choosing to get both surgeries was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and recovering from them was the most painful and exhausting thing I have ever had to do.
With love and support from my family, close friends and team at Boston Children’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, I am now living my life to the fullest. The surgical road was a tough one, but now that I’m experiencing life at the end of the struggle, I know my choice was absolutely worth it.
I am so thankful for everything these past two and a half years have given me: a greater appreciation for family, a better definition for the word “friendship,” an unforgettable experience abroad, and most importantly, increased confidence in everything I do.
Chronic illness was a battle I wasn’t winning but thanks to the outstanding care I received at Boston Children’s, I know that through surgery, I overcame my obstacles and ultimately came out on top.
Learn more about Boston Children’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center.
About the blogger: Megan Hourican is a rising senior at University of New Hampshire and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 14. She managed her condition throughout high school until opting for surgery during her freshman year of college. Today, Megan is no longer battling colitis. With her surgery behind her, she fulfilled her dream to spend a semester abroad and says she is now “living life to the fullest.”