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To My Younger Self on the Soccer Field Before I Was Diagnosed With Crohn’s

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Right now, you are effortlessly running up and down the soccer field without a care in the world — other than having fun, winning and supporting your teammates. But, in just five years, you will receive a life-changing diagnosis that will change the way you feel, change the way you experience everything from diet to exercise and change your perspective about the world around you.

Natalie Hayden with her brothers, Greg, left, and Peter

Five years from now, you will be told you have a chronic disease, a disease for which there is no cure and truly not much explanation. Down the street from where you grew up playing soccer, you’ll be hospitalized and diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

When you hear those two words, they will hit you hard. The feeling will be similar to when a soccer ball gets kicked right in your stomach and the wind gets knocked out of you. But, just like when that happens, the pain will subside in time and you’ll be able to regain focus and move onto the next challenge or task at hand.

Running up and down the field for 90 minutes was such a breeze. Sure, much of that can be attributed to youth, but you’ll notice as you battle Crohn’s that you will feel tired. It’s a fatiguing disease and some days — whether it’s for work or play — you’ll need to sit on the sidelines and get your rest. That breather will best serve the team (family, friends and co-workers) and help you be the best you can be.

Don’t ever feel like you are letting your team down. The exhaustion is part of the brave fight. Your body has to work harder than others to function. Keep your head up and know — just like in soccer tournaments, tryouts and games — you can’t win them all. All you can do is give 100 percent, stay as positive as possible and learn along the way.

Think of every day not as a sprint but as a journey. Take time to learn ways to calm down when you’re stressed, focus on eating foods that energize you and improve your health and be a team captain for the cause. Serve as a leader so that others fighting the same fight can look to you for inspiration. That captain’s band you wore on the field may not be visible in your adult life, but you’ll be reminded of what being a captain meant when others find comfort in your words, when you give hope or guidance to someone struggling to find a diagnosis and when you overcome personal challenges along the way. Whether it’s learning to give yourself a Humira injection or going through your first colonoscopy — those are all wins.

Just like you used to seek out the give-and-go or the through pass on the soccer field, look for opportunities to make the most of your situation. While some days or weeks you may get denied repeatedly, don’t give up. While Crohn’s is a tough opponent, you can manage it.

Rather than thinking of Crohn’s as the rival team, think of it as something that challenges you and makes you a better person. It’s not your identity, but it’s part of you. This mindset will enable you to better defend yourself from symptoms and become mentally stronger.

As you encounter flare-ups, hospital stays, dreadful side effects from medication and possibly surgery, those experiences will be incredible learning opportunities. You’ll not only learn about yourself, you’ll also learn which team members in life are the ones who will have your back when you need it most.

Just like there’s chemistry on the soccer field, that same chemistry can be found in the real world. Focus on the relationships that make you a better player in the game of Crohn’s.

Follow this journey on Lights Camera Crohn’s.

Originally published: August 4, 2016
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