When I was first diagnosed, Feb 27th 2014 (anniversary tomorrow, woo...), I didn't realize exactly what it meant. I knew the basics about IBD from schooling, I knew it was autoimmune, but since I never was very sick before, I didn't think I had a bad case at all. I felt relatively fine aside from my 3 hospital stints in the first few weeks.
Then, I decided, of all things, that since I needed to take a break from medical school (cannot miss weeks of med school then just go back!), I would enter a pageant. OF ALL THINGS, a pageant. And let me tell you, it was nowhere near as easy as people think it is, especially with an autoimmune disease that wasn't under control yet, and I didn't know how bad it was when I signed up...
I entered this pageant on a whim, it was a "local", which means if you win, you get to compete for a state title. I picked a dress, not knowing what was "pageanty", and picked a talent that I hadn't worked on for years, playing the piano. However, I excelled so much in the interviewing process that I won them over and actually WON a pageant for the Miss America Org., which was unreal to me. It usually takes people quite a few tries before a win. I was Miss Ramapo Valley 2014, and I was damn proud.
However, I believe only 48 hours after my win, I was in the hospital AGAIN with an obstruction, and it was all down hill from there. I was back nearly every single week, it was hell, it was painful, it was grueling, but I kept my spirits high and have no idea how the hell I did that. Sometimes, you just become strong when you need to be.
Imagine this (run on sentence much)...trying to work out to tone up for the fitness/bikini portion, practice my piano talent, and my evening gown walk, to compete in a major pageant for the title of Miss New Jersey to compete for MISS AMERICA while being consistently in and out of the hospital for the entire length of my preparation period. I was putting in probably 50 hours a week preparing for this thing, not including time in the hospital. I worked my ass off!
It was hard, it was damn near impossible, and I have no idea how I did it when I look back now. I think a lot of it came from denial. I wasn't "that sick" and I can still do anything I could do before, nothing would stop me. And the rest came from the competitive streak that has always coursed through my veins. I thought I was a great candidate, well educated, medical student, love volunteering and fundraising, opened my own business at the age of 22, maybe I was a bit too cocky, thinking back...
I persevered for the two months I had to prepare for my big show, missed a lot of meetings with my pageant director because I was in and out of the hospital constantly. But..on the bright side, my body looked great thanks to the no eating...sarcasm, but it still helped me look awesome in a bikini nonetheless.
By the time the pageant came around, I was as ready as I could possibly be with all the obstacles in my way. What I wasn't ready for was spending a week with 20 some girls. I was never the sorority type, most of my friends in HS, college and med school have been guys, so this was entirely new to me, and quite frankly overwhelming. Not to mention trying to hide my issues, because if you don't know, pageant systems don't like when you are sick...Let me explain...
That's where it got very upsetting. I actually had someone say to me, "If you weren't sick, you would have been a great Miss New Jersey, even Miss America." Essentially, by me being open and bringing awareness to my illness on social media and with my platform, I sabotaged myself.
That really effing stung. I worked my ass off to compete for this. I even put my health at risk for this "greater purpose" I felt was calling me. To wear that crown to bring attention to my platform of Health Education & Preventative Medicine, with a focus on Crohn's disease. But to know that I was viewed as handicapped for my Crohn's disease was a punch to the gut that I never expected. Some people made comments to me that they thought I would get pity votes. That is NOT what I wanted, but I definitely didn't want to be voted against for having an autoimmune disease that is out of my control.
...But I guess that is the way of the world, there will always be ignorance, there will always be discrimination, whether its based on race, religion, or even disease and disability. I would say we should just get used to that, but no thats not in my blood. I will continue to try to raise awareness and spread the message about our disease, and I will always fight for equal rights for us, it's just who I am.
Even though I am not Miss New Jersey, I am damn proud of what I accomplished while being so sick. Working out, getting toned, even in so much pain. I did that. I did that all by myself. And that is enough for me.
Love & Thanks,
PS - I was Miss New Jersey People's Choice & won the Miracle Maker Award for raising the most funds!