The “D” Word: Being Branded with a Diagnosis

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Five years ago, I experienced something very scary, something so embarrassing that I didn’t want to tell anyone, not even my husband.  For weeks, I was pooping blood, to put it very bluntly. After about 2 weeks of keeping this secret and building a horrific story of how I was surely going to die from cancer, I started experiencing excruciating abdominal pains that no longer allowed me to hide my secret.  One morning, I was gritting my teeth through the pain, getting kids ready and off to school and getting myself ready for my then 8-5 corporate job.  At the time I was a financial controller for a small, but expanding company in Denver. When the pain became too much to bear I faced my husband with tear-filled eyes and told him what was going on.  I immediately saw the fear in his eyes and I knew his thoughts had gone to the same place mine had been in the preceding weeks.  I drove myself to the ER, because anyone who knows me knows how great at hiding my true feelings and I was able to mask the pain enough to convince him that he didn’t have to disrupt his workday to sit in the ER with me all morning.

I arrived at the ER, fear in my eyes, but by then I had been able to hold it together enough to stop crying.  After about 20 minutes with the ER doctor and him taking a “sample” (I’ll spare you those gory details), the doctor called a local hospital to get me set up in a room in the oncology ward, great, oncology…cancer.  I was transported to the hospital from the mobile ER via ambulance and admitted to my room where my husband met me.  Over the next two days, I was seen by several doctors all trying to take a stab in the dark at what was wrong with me.  I had an upper GI scope, an ultrasound on my abdomen and then the dreaded colonoscopy, which isn’t really as bad as you think by the way.  After 2 days, I was sent home with no diagnosis, but they were pretty sure I didn’t have cancer, whew, well that was somewhat of a relief.  I was still passing blood and having intermittent abdominal cramping.  The weeks that followed were probably the worst two weeks of my life.  I ended up back in the ER in pain that far superseded anything I had felt while birthing my two children.  I remember crying in bed in the nights that followed thinking, “maybe if this pain makes me pass out, I’ll die, and then all of this will be over.”  Hoping for death in a life where everything else is fruitful and abundant is something I hope I never have to experience again.

I followed up with a gastroenterologist and a proctologist, boy was life fun.  With the help of those two specialist, I was able to relieve some of the pain and a bit of the symptoms with string medications and some really nasty medical procedures that took away any shred of modesty I had left in me.  Within about 4 weeks after some additional testing, I had a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis….yay, not cancer.  I was on high doses of Prednisone and given another medication which I would remain on for the rest of my life. Eventually, I got better.  I gained a ton of weight and a puffy face from the meds, but I was no longer bleeding from places no one should bleed from and the pain subsided.

Over the next year, I began letting the disease define who I was as a person.  It became almost one of my “qualities.”  In hindsight, I see this a lot in people with on-going diseases whether it be Crohn’s, Lupus, diabetes, depression, anxiety, you name it.  It becomes all-consuming and a really easy excuse to avoid a lot of things in life, but alas, it’s part of the process when you’re dealt a devastating reality check in mortality.

Fast forward two years after my diagnosis. I decided that despite doctors telling me I’d be on medication for the rest of my life, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I did what I do best, and I started reading and researching obsessively. I found there was a whole world of people out there who were surviving the same and similar diseases without medications and were thriving! They were following a whole-food, plant-based diet a phrase that has become more commonplace in the last two years. I began following a strictly plant-based diet and was off all medications and thriving within months. It has now been 5 years since my diagnosis and I wouldn’t change anything that happened to me. Despite all of the pain, humiliation, and being branded with a diagnosis forever, my life is truly better than it would have been without finding this lifestyle. Since recovering, I went on to become a certified Holistic Nutritionist so that I can help others heal holistically so that they can move away from their label and live a long, healthy, disease-free life.

Written by Mandi Benecke

For more discussion relating to this topic, check out the following podcast episodes:

Episode #07: Autoimmune Awakening, Mandi’s Story

EPISODE #09: SILENT TRAUMA, NAOMI’S STORY (PART 1 OF 2)

EPISODE #09 CONTINUED: SILENT TRAUMA, NAOMI’S STORY (PART 2 OF 2)

Episode #18: Drive & Determination w/Autumn Colon

Episode #19: PCOS Met Its Match w/ Toni Abbruzzese

Episode #21: Lupus Warrior w/ Justina Hinterberger

EPISODE #30: HEALTH INSURANCE: MANDI’S EXPERIENCE W/ MANDI & NAOMI

Episode #33: My Lupus Journey: Pain, Surgeries, & Victories w/ Cassidy Bowie

Episode #35: My Life with Genital Herpes w/ Bianca Hughes

Episode 37: Medical Misconduct Causes Me a Lifetime of Pain w/ LaQuita Parks

Episode #38: Whole Food. Plant-Based Nutrition w/ Toni Abbruzzese & Mandi Benecke

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