Written by Christina DeFeo Petrella, as narrated by Michelle Jordan
I come from a large Italian family of five where food and love were very important. I am the youngest of three children and the only girl. My two older brothers were very protective of me. As a child, I loved sports. I played field hockey, lacrosse, and ran indoor track. When I was five years old, I started skiing and loved being on the slopes with my dad.
After graduating from business school, I worked for a publishing company. I loved it, but in addition to my love of sports, I knew I had a passion for cooking and baking. My great-grandfather was a baker, so I felt like it was in my genes. I was obsessed with Martha Stewart.
This is why I didn’t expect cron to come. I’ve always enjoyed food. While I was working full time after college, I went to pastry school at night. My coworkers loved me because I was the girl who brought delicious food to work the next day. I had no clue that my relationship with food would ever change.
Is it cron?
My active lifestyle stayed with me as an adult. I’ve worked out regularly with a trainer and have run marathons. One day, I was at home dealing with a torn ACL when I started having strange symptoms. My stomach was bothering me and I was going to the bathroom – a lot. I thought it was a stomach bug and tried to get rid of it. Then my joints started to ache and my legs and feet started to swell. I sensed something was wrong but wondered if it had something to do with my recent surgery.
I have a high pain tolerance, but my symptoms were getting worse. My nutritionist friend suggested I try a low-FODMAP diet (one that has dietary restrictions to help with some digestive issues). We tried to troubleshoot and nothing worked. I couldn’t even eat the salads that I loved. Really, it seems like the only thing I can eat is bread or rice.
One of my worst days with symptoms was before my Crohn’s disease diagnosis. My doctor put me on two strong antibiotics to see if they would help my stomach issues. I was still breastfeeding my son at the time, so before I started taking it, I called my pediatrician to see if it was okay for me to nurse while I was on the medication. She advised me not to, which made me very sad. I was feeling sick and exhausted. Getting out of bed was a struggle, but taking care of my son was a source of great joy for me. The idea of having to finish it so quickly made me upset. I broke down. I cried for a while. I wasn’t willing to stop nursing him and didn’t think it was fair to stop without weaning.
I called my doctor just to see if there was anything else I could do. At the time, he suspected it was Crohn’s and told me I could stop taking the antibiotics because it wouldn’t help much. He said I could wait to see what the CT scan showed. I can’t tell you how comfortable I was. I cried tears of joy. Looking back, I’m glad I stood up for myself and my son and that my doctor was open to hearing from me.
Finally, an answer
I went to many doctors before I was finally diagnosed. By the time I got to the gastroenterologist, I had lost weight, had joint pain, and was so exhausted I couldn’t even get out of bed. I told my doctor that I had the same symptoms when I was pregnant with my third child. At the time the doctor thought it was an infection. Now, I’m wondering if that was a cron torch.
The doctor ran a variety of tests and did a blood test. But a CT scan that showed inflammation in my digestive system finally confirmed that I had Crohn’s disease. While Crohn’s wasn’t on my personal radar, I wasn’t completely familiar with it. My older brother was diagnosed years ago, so I felt a little prepared. However, the prognosis seemed bleak at first. I cried all the way home.
my new life
This new life has been an adjustment for me. I’m always on the go, but I’ve learned how to slow down and take care of my body. When I first heard that I would need to take medication for the rest of my life, I was scared. It was heavy. I don’t like taking medications, but I was able to talk to my doctor about reducing my meds depending on whether or not I had a flare. I’ve had a good conversation with my doctor, and I’m glad he’s supportive of me.
I’ve had some awkward moments with friends and family when they don’t understand my new eating habits, but overall they are very supportive. Little things still appear to remind me. I was recently out for dinner with friends, and had to pass on the sparkling water. I just said, “Oh yeah. I’m not doing this well.”
Overall, I have a great group of friends and family who understand. Many of them are dealing with their health problems. The biggest challenge comes when I go out to eat and the restaurant staff doesn’t understand why I’m ordering a certain way. I’m not a singer. This food I’m asking about can actually hurt me. I don’t think they are trying to be mean. It’s just a lack of education about certain diseases.
One tip: try to look at the menu before you go out to eat or call the restaurant ahead of time to ask questions.
Friendship with food
At home, I do a lot of meal planning. I add a lot of vegetables to every meal. I have to plan. I know there isn’t a lot of evidence that food can treat Crohn’s disease, but I did find some information about a vegan diet and how it can help with gut health. I’ve always tried to eat healthy, but now it’s even more important. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods. I have cut down on dairy and feel better. I’m trying to cut out sugar, which is hard for me as a baker. But I have found some sources for cooking without a lot of sugar.
My brother with Crohn’s has also helped me with my eating habits. I’ve found a few healthy recipes to try so I’m still able to enjoy my cooking passion. I’ve started a food blog on Instagram, and I’m working on a cookbook. I would love to have my own bakery or restaurant one day. I’m the same Italian girl who has a love affair with food. I had to make some changes, but I still enjoy creating new recipes. I still love the Food Network.
My goal is to set an example for my family. I try to show on my blog that while there are a lot of things that I can’t eat, there are also a lot of things that I can eat. As a wife and mother of three, I teach my family to enjoy food and not to regard it as good or bad. It’s all about how you feel.
Grateful every day
I’ve had a few flares my whole life, but I’m so thankful I didn’t get diagnosed until I was much older. My heart goes out to the people diagnosed early in life. Medications will be a part of my life from now on, and I will have to have colonoscopies and other tests more often. But my brother has been off medicine and without a flare for 15 years, so I hope I can have the same success. I guess I’m still trying to keep up with my older brother!
These days, I still exercise and stay active. I want to run marathons again when I’m ready. In the meantime, I’m taking a food photography class to help out with my food blog and website, and my friends want me to open a restaurant. Maybe I will, or maybe I’ll get a cooking show someday. Until then, I still enjoy cooking for my family. It’s my heritage.