INTRODUCTION: This week, I’d like to introduce you to photographer Erika Montoya. I was so touched to read Erika’s story. Her first colonoscopy was at just 15 years old!!! Like too many others, she has been through many trials as she was placed on this journey with ulcerative colitis. The judges have claimed her as the 2nd Place Winner in the #IBDninja Prize Pack Contest. Erika, I will be mailing your Prize Pack out on Monday, so keep an eye out for it!!! Be sure to follow her on Instagram here and here. She can also be found on her website (check it out here). Please join me in welcoming Erika’s Story…
A Small Price to Pay – Erika Montoya’s Story
My name is Erika, I am a photographer living in Rhode Island and I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2006. I remember vividly how nervous and scared I was after being diagnosed. My symptoms worsened over a short period of time, and after my first colonoscopy at the age of 15, I knew I was this disease was going to become a part of who was. Little did I know, that it would spiral out into a journey that has taken me to where I am today; a 25 year old UC patient with a J-pouch. Like a lot of IBD patients, I went through not only many different medications, but lots different doctors and hospitals as well. And while I could go on and on about every little detail of my hospital stays, medication names and symptoms, I feel most compelled to write about why I made the choice to have a total colectomy and what my life is like now, 7 years later.
I suffered for 3 years in and out of the hospital (more in than out) before I started Remicade infusions at the age of 16. Remicade is an IV infusion immunosuppressant drug that is used to treat a few different illnesses, one of them being UC. I began with 6 hour treatments every few months, and eventually it turned into once a month. However, my treatments became closer in time I was informed that my body was no longer accepting the medication. Ultimately, this lead to my doctor talking to me about alternative types of medicines.
“What else could there be? Another IV infusion drug? More pills?” I thought to myself.
I was under the impression I had exhausted all options. I was presented with 2 choices: Humira, a self-injection medication, or a total colectomy. Both had its pros and cons to me. Humira – non surgical, but an injection of medication that my body may or may not accept. Colectomy – a long surgical procedure with lots of risks, but once it was over and healed with I could be “cured”. It took me a month or so to come to a decision, and it was probably one of the scariest choices I have made in my life. I knew that my quality of living was not what it should be, and decided to go with the surgical option. My surgery came just after my 18th birthday on July 13th 2013, the day that I started my new life.
My surgery came in 3 stages, the first and longest was 5 hours to remove my colon, construct the j-pouch (or the tiny make-shift colon as I like to call it) and put a temporary ostomy. After 2 months of healing, I had the ostomy removed and was able to use the bathroom “normally” again. While all of this sounds like it was a smooth process, it did have its complications. I had a very scary 7 days in the ICU, a few blood transfusions, and not to mention quite a bit of pain. But with all of that behind me, I was starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel; my angry colon had been removed, and it was time to start my new life.
The whole experience from diagnosis until today has made me a stronger person, with a completely different outlook on life. While I am just realizing now, 7 years later, that a colectomy was not the “cure”, I would not have changed a thing. I still have to continue a thorough maintenance of my gastrointestinal health, and still keep an eye on what I am eating, but that is a small price to pay compared to the days when I had an angry colon. Hospital stays are never fun, but the bond with my family and a few close friends only became stronger. I appreciate life more because there was a point where I was not sure if I would see the next day. And not to mention, through all of this I have some pretty awesome scars to go along with my story.