photo of marijuana spilled over a prescription

Massachusetts Court Rules Employers Can't Discriminate Against Medical Marijuana

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On Monday, Massachusetts’ Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot discriminate against employees who take marijuana medicinally as authorized by their physician.

According to court documents, Cristina Barbuto was fired by her employer Advantage Sales & Marketing, LLC after she tested positive for marijuana on a work-mandated drug test shortly after being hired. Barbuto told her employer she would fail the drug test because she took marijuana medicinally for Crohn’s disease.

In 2012, Massachusetts’ voters approved a ballot initiative for medical marijuana. Under the law, Barbuto was certified by her physician to legally use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

After telling her employer she would fail the test, Barbuto was told her lawful use of marijuana would not be a problem. Barbuto started her first day of work and then, after the results of her urine test were in, was fired for testing positive for marijuana.

Advantage Sales & Marketing justified Barbuto’s firing stating they were following federal laws as opposed to Massachusetts’ state laws, despite Massachusetts being where Barbuto lives and works. Barbuto also testified that she did not use marijuana at work, and therefore, it did not affect her performance.

Because marijuana did not influence her performance and because it is legal in Massachusetts, the court justices ruled Barbuto was protected against discrimination under Massachusett’s state law. Marijuana, they continued, is a “reasonable accommodation,” and the company would have had to provide Barbuto with a medication equally effective to justify their firing.

The court’s ruling does not protect all employees. If Barbuto was a federal contractor or if marijuana affected her ability to perform her job, the court would not have ruled in her favor.

“The decision is not surprising, because of the unusual circumstance here that Barbuto’s marijuana use seems not to have affected her job performance at all,” Mark W. Batten, JD, wrote in The National Law Review. “This decision thus follows the Court’s similar treatment of alcoholism, which is a protected disability as a matter of status, but does not preclude employers from taking action if an alcoholic employee’s illness causes problems at work.”

The court’s decision is considered the first of its kind, which will likely come up again as more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana.

Thinkstock photo via TheCrimsonRibbon. 

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What to Keep in Mind if You're the Friend of a Crohn's Warrior

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To the friend of a Crohn’s Warrior:

Being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease is a life-changer. One that, if not handled properly, can be fatal. Many do not understand the effects of the disease. Some say and think, “Oh, it’s just a pooping problem.” But dear reader, it is not. And others will say, “At least it’s not cancer.” Correct. But it is an incurable disease that progressively worsens and has severe and life-threatening complications. This disease makes one find out who their real friends are. It makes friend groups go from 20+ to not more than five. I, dear reader, am a Crohn’s Warrior. All of this you are reading is true.

 

Being called a “Crohn’s Warrior” is a proud statement; however, it also comes with its own problems. Being a Crohn’s Warrior means you have sat through incomprehensible amounts of pain. Exploded either on or near a toilet (sometimes more than once). Bleeding by the ounce into the toilet. Constant fear of when the next flare will hit. Anxiety from not knowing where the nearest restroom is. And being around people who cannot simply understand without actually having firsthand experience. But being called a Crohn’s Warrior means you are badass. You are able to sit through a full 15 out of 10 pain scale straight-faced. Being in excruciating pain and being able to hide it. Being able to fake being normal. Even though we all (us Warriors) know we are the opposite of normal.

Enough with the meaning behind Crohn’s Warrior. Dear reader, let me tell you what it is like to have Crohn’s.

The problem with Crohn’s is that it is an autoimmune disorder. Meaning that the immune system that is supposed to keep you healthy is literally trying to kill your digestive system. An additional problem with Crohn’s is the disease is invisible. You have passed people in public that have had Crohn’s. You just don’t know it. The only way you know is if the Warrior tells you. The only visible signs to you might be weight loss, loss of skin color, fatigue and the general ill look. The visible signs for the Warrior in addition to the previous listed might be foul smelling and/or bloody stools, diarrhea, joint and eye pain, severe stomach cramping and pain, using the restroom too many times to count. But these aren’t what every single Warrior has. It varies by severity. The Warrior writing to you has Crohn’s from his mouth to his anus. That’s as involved as it gets.

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Dear reader, if you think going through that is bad, try not knowing what is wrong for months (I went six months), and having countless tests done all coming back negative. You give up. But that one final procedure figures it out. Months later, a colonoscopy. But even after you are diagnosed, you’re not out of the woods yet. You still need countless tests and medication. That’s if the medication works. You go on a steroid, and you get better. But Imuran that’s supposed to take over doesn’t work. You get worse. Maybe hospitalized. Your doctor wants Remicade. You go on the $18,000 treatment. An IV in your arm every few months and something finally works. It’s about time because the pain medications aren’t working and all you feel is straight pain and diarrhea.

Since you are nearly symptom-free you think you are out of the woods. But you’re not. Friends leave and you get lonely. The ones you do keep rarely have time for you.

The one symptom nobody talks about. Not even many Warriors. Depression. Crohn’s makes you realize who your friends are. And even those “friends” don’t always make time for you. Dear reader, when I got to this point I relied on my dog. The one “person” who I knew wouldn’t leave.

Reader, if you haven’t stepped into your Warrior’s shoes, please do so now.

Imagine having a disease that has complications that can kill you. That’s right. Death. Complications from Crohn’s can kill you. If that doesn’t, then the treatment could. Remicade is an immunosuppressant. While on Remicade you are at a very high risk for getting hospitalized and/or cancer. The simple chest cold to the normal person is pneumonia and fighting for my life in the hospital for me. I have to avoid sick people; it is my new job that I’m not payed to do. But that’s nothing compared to cancer. Colorectal cancer, skin cancer, lymphoma… Now, dear reader, imagine having that in the back of your mind every second of every day. Not knowing if today is your last.

Now that you have seen their perspective, think to yourself, “Would I need support from my friends?” The answer is likely yes. Once a Warrior gets lonely, they may be afraid to reach out to people, for they feel they are a hassle. But in reality they are calling for help.

So do the following for your Warrior:

Check on them, whether in person or over the phone (because they might be crying in the corner like I was). Plan a get-together with them. If they aren’t up to the weather, go to their house and help them feel better. And most of all, don’t let them get lonely. Having to fight your own body is bad enough; don’t let them fight alone. Also try to understand them. Research Crohn’s, ask them questions, ask them what you can do for them. But understanding is the biggest part. Understand they are in pain, anxious and can’t hold their bowels.

Now reader, I can’t tell you everything. Ask your Warrior. Tell them you are there for them. So go find them and hug them (but not too tight) and tell them “I love you.” It will put a smile on their face.

Sincerely,

A Crohn’s Warrior

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How I Experienced Anger in a New Way When Diagnosed With Crohn's

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Since being diagnosed, there is one emotion I have experienced that has surprised me the most out of all the emotions on this roller coaster ride. That emotion is anger.

I have never been an angry person. I’m usually always pretty positive and happy. Even when I’m having a bad day, my first inclination is towards sadness, not anger. It really takes a lot for me to get to the point where I am angry. I very much consider myself an introvert, so I tend to bottle things up and then I need to let it out every so often. Blow off some steam. Not gonna lie to you – that is where curse words can be therapeutic! A lot of you may not understand that, and that’s OK. But it has always been quite a therapeutic tool for me. And when you are in a flare, you gotta curse at something. It’s just how it is.

One thing I have always been hard on myself. I hold myself to unreasonably high standards. I’m a perfectionist in certain aspects of my life. I always tend to beat myself up first before assuming anyone else is to blame. Needless to say, when I was diagnosed back in 2015 and I started experiencing this very real anger inside myself… I didn’t know what to do. It was very new to me – and it felt unhealthy. I was worried about what was going on with me. I was ashamed that I couldn’t put myself above it or let go of it easily. I expected better of myself. I did not like it and that made the anger even worse. Anger is not something I happily invite into my life, but apparently it was something I needed to go through at the time.

What do I mean when I say “anger?” I mean I was angry at myself and blaming myself for everything that was wrong in my life.

Why didn’t I do things differently? How could I have stopped this from happening? Did I make bad choices and this is karma biting me in the butt? Do I deserve this?? I forgot to take my pills! I can’t do anything right! Why do I suck at life??

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I was just angry that I had to deal with this disease in the first place. I didn’t want it.

It didn’t stop there. I was angry at the outside world too. Here I thought I was dying and no one seemed to really notice or even care. How dare the earth keep spinning.

The world stops for no one and everyones lives kept going forward, while it felt like mine had come to a halt. People were having babies, getting married, buying houses, getting new jobs. The list goes on, while I felt stuck in a medical trap. How was I supposed to move forward ever again? I would never have a “normal” life again. It didn’t seem fair that everyone else got to just go about their daily lives like normal, like nothing even happened. I felt like all the people around me were taking the simple things in life for granted. They are lucky and they don’t realize how blessed they are to be healthy. I was angry at the world.

Sometimes the emotions would literally surge through me and I would have to physically let it out. I’d want to punch a pillow or just throw something across the room. However, I would usually just tighten my muscles, mainly the legs and feet. Sometimes I’d ball up my fists really tight too.I would tense them up as hard as I could and then release the tension. Usually followed by teary eyes and a very audible “RRRRrrrrrrrr” sound out of frustration.

The writer showing her feet tensed up.

Loss of control at its finest.

One night I’d just had enough. A ton of little things had been going wrong all day. I was at my breaking point and then I received a text message from family. They were very blatantly giving me a guilt trip, because I wasn’t doing what they wanted me to do. That was the final straw. I actually smashed a small nightstand to pieces in the basement.

I was completely ashamed of my behavior, but I felt better getting that bad energy out of me. Afterward, I just curled up in a ball in the corner and cried. My husband just quietly came downstairs to the basement to see if I was OK, and then grabbed a broom and dustpan. He cleaned up the mess. Once he saw I had calmed down he said, “Ya know, if you didn’t like the table you could have just said so.” Of course I laughed with tears and mascara running down my face as we hugged it out.

Looking back now, I know it was just a part of the process. I was grieving. My entire life had just changed and I didn’t have one bit of say in the matter. Old Jana’s life was gone. This new Jana was being re-born and she had to figure out what was going on. What was this going to mean? How exactly was my life changing? And that is all something that just has to be figured out as you go. Especially since this disease effects everyone differently. But I can say with certainty that I never in a million years thought that I’d see myself go through anger like that. It’s amazing what this disease will bring out in us. Just know that you are human, and it’s only normal to have an emotional reaction to a big life change like a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.

I sought professional help when I felt things got too hard emotionally. I was in therapy to work through a lot of the feelings like this that came up during my diagnosis. If you experience anything similar to what I have mentioned in this blog post, I strongly recommend seeing a medical professional and/or mental health professional. You don’t have to do this alone, and you shouldn’t. You deserve a better quality of life.

What is the most surprising emotion that you have experienced during your diagnosis?

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Thinkstock Image By: Tatomm

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When a Doctor Dismissed My Crohn's Diagnosis Because I 'Looked Nervous'

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I went from the best care…to being discounted.

I finally got insurance after my college graduation and I think my body decided for itself “now you shall discover what has always been wrong.” I have suffered from “stomach issues” (digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea, etc.) my entire life. Thankfully, I found a wonderful gastrointestinal specialist who listened to me. He prescribed tests… Endoscopy, colonoscopy, barium x-rays, CT-scan (which I found out the hard way I was allergic to the contrast), sonograms…to no avail. He could not figure out what was wrong. He suggested a small bowel enteroclysis.

 

Dr. M. prepped me by saying it’s not the “nicest” of exams but he thinks it may lead to answers. He was right, on both accounts. The exam was awful. The scope hurt. It burned my nose…it was painful. Due to my digestive problems, the barium did not fully digest. To assist the barium’s movement, the doctor, the assistants and nurses shifted the table, scope in place, positioning me upright. I felt like Frankenstein. And rather than the estimated two to three hours given to me pre-exam, the enteroclysis in all, took eight hours.

It was worth it! Dr. M. discovered Crohn’s in my ileum. Finally I had an answer. I had a chronic autoimmune disease with a name. And I finally had treatment options. Dr. M. listened to me, had great bedside manner and helped me – the definition of a great doctor. I stayed with him for years.

Unfortunately, the time came when Dr. M. decided to give up private practice and go back to hospital work.  This meant I had to find a new GI doctor. And at this same time, my insurance changed and I was right in the middle of a Crohn’s flare and needed a GI specialist, ASAP. A nightmare for a person with Crohn’s disease. I found out soon enough it was just the beginning of the awful dream.

My PC recommended a new GI within the practice, Dr. G. This new gastroenterologist was perfect…on paper. Problem was from the start he did not believe me. The moment he set eyes on me he pre-determined everything. Even with my records, he did not believe me. Dr. G. said I was so visibly nervous, I must have a delicate system. He diagnosed, without examining me, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as opposed to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

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I was terrified by this easy dismissal of my pain, which in turn, made me more nervous. Dr. G. even dismissed the enteroclysis test results from Dr. M., my former doctor, because, he said, “That exam is archaic.” Dr. G. scheduled a capsule endoscopy so he could examine my ileum.

For the results, I brought my husband into the office with me. I felt the doctor treated me differently with my husband present. Never in my life had I been made to feel so defenseless with a doctor. And then things changed. When the outcome of the capsule endoscopy backed the original diagnosis, Dr. G. apologized to me. I was actually crying with relief. But I also felt empowered again.

I took my newly re-diagnosed self and found a newly competent on all levels doctor… Dr. K.

I wish I had been healthy enough to put Dr. G in his incredibly insensitive place but fact was I needed him. At one point, when he said to me, “Are
you always this nervous?” I said to him, very pointedly… “You know, I had a baby by C-section and this pain from the Crohn’s is much worse than that.” Dr. G. had no answer. He had no reference. I wonder if in his mind he thought childbirth was archaic too. It is one of the worst feelings when the person who is supposed to help you makes you feel worse.

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Thinkstock photo via HASLOO.

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When a Nurse at the Infusion Center Asked Someone Why I'm 'So Skinny'

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Words hurt. They cut deeper than we often give them credit.

I have had a very rough year. It started with a C. Diff infection that we didn’t discover until February. My health went downhill fast. I was then hospitalized. They found more problems. Ulcers. Bleeding. All of this because of my Crohn’s disease.

 

And all the while I would go to the cancer center to get my infusion. That’s when the words hurt.

She was the registration tech behind the counter with false smiles and polite tone. She asked someone I know, “Why is she so skinny?”

I wish I didn’t know there are people who wish for those comments. Yes, over the six months plus that this tech has seen my face, I’ve lost weight. A scary amount of weight. But in that moment I felt reduced to nothing more than a number. My worth downgraded to a number on a scale.

I know I’m too skinny. I’ve faced the reality. But in that moment I decided to fight for others and myself who felt judged and confined by society’s idea of weight. That it’s acceptable to make unwanted comments.

I wanted to remember I can get better. That all bodies are beautiful. And healing take place when there is support and positivity.

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

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My Fighting Words for Crohn's Disease

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Once I received the news of my diagnosis, my life view began to change. The disease was turning my life into something I didn’t want to live and me into someone I didn’t want to be. I had to call off work many times due to sickness. I was missing a lot of family gatherings and social outings with friends. I spent a lot of time at home just trying to deal with all the symptoms and side effects that each new day would bring.

I was experiencing anxiety about just leaving the house for fear I would need a bathroom and not be able to make it to one. But what bothers me the most was that I couldn’t keep my commitments or do the things I enjoyed doing. I’m a very independent, self-sufficient person to begin with and I value sticking to my word. But then enters Crohn’s, ready to teach me a life lesson –  I’m not in control.

Crohn’s was making me focus my attention on all things medical, leaving little room for anything else. That can get really depressing, really fast.

I remember looking into the bathroom mirror one day at work and I didn’t recognize who was looking back at me. I didn’t recognize myself at all, in fact, I was sure I was seeing someone else. My color was gone, cheeks shrunken in, and deep dark circles under my eyes. I looked like death. It felt like I was dying before my very own eyes and there was nothing I could do but watch. Almost an “out of body” experience. It was horrifying!

Truthfully, all I could think was, “This isn’t what I asked for! This isn’t what I wanted my life to be like!” Even when I was in the hospital, both times with the most excruciating stomach pain ever, I remember saying out loud, “I don’t want it! Make it go away!” Looking back, I laugh. As if for some reason, saying the words, “I don’t want it!” really would make a difference. Psshh! Like the inflammation in my body cares what I want!? Silly Jana! But, I realize now, those are fighting words. As long as I am saying, “I don’t want it!” I know there is still fight in me and I intend on giving this disease a run for its money. That’s all it takes –  that one little ounce of fight in you.

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Woman looking down seriously.

So, I began spending all of my free time researching Crohn’s disease so I could understand as much as possible about what was happening to my body, and in turn, my mind. I wanted to learn everything I could in hopes of having a better quality of life. I used the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation website as my go-to resource for everything as my doctor suggested. I requested all their materials on treatments, diet, etc. and I joined their online support group to hear from others about their experiences.

I saw something I didn’t want to see in the mirror that day and it was terrifying. But it took that scare and it took all that pain I’ve been through to get me where I am now. It’s those moments that motivated me to seek knowledge about my disease and support. It also motivated me to be a more active participant in my own healthcare. I would call the nurse when I was experiencing symptoms or side effects and we would address the issue head on. I began working with my team of doctors, keeping everyone in the loop about my condition. It’s the best thing I could have done for my health, and for my peace of mind too.

This disease may take us through a really rocky ride – depths of depression, breaking points of pain, and it might even make you face your fears. I truly believe that it’s only during those lows that we find our strength time and time again. So, next time you feel those familiar feelings of sadness and disappointment that come with a flare, say to yourself, “I don’t want it!” You might laugh, which is good – but you might also find your fight… And that is something I wish for all of us. To keep fighting and pushing for that better quality of life that we all deserve.

Follow this journey on The Jana OWLF Blog.

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Thinkstock Image By: ANessiR

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