When I began college in the fall of 2000, I expected it to be similar to what my siblings had experienced or what I had seen on TV: making friends, having fun, enjoying a massive amount of freedom, and even going to class.
I didn’t expect to fight an illness that brought me as close to death as I’ve ever been. I was a sophomore in college when I was hospitalized for five days and a doctor diagnosed me with granulomatosis with polyangiitis.
Unfortunately, my illness kept me home, and I missed the last month or so of that fall semester. I was an excellent student, and I worried I would lose my full-tuition scholarship. I had never heard of my disease. My family was there for me, but these were uncharted waters for all of us.
I definitely went through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The last one took a long time to reach.
I didn’t know how to handle anything at first. What 19-year-old would? I didn’t want my family to worry, so I acted like everything was fine. I made way too many jokes as a defense mechanism, and I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. I thought maybe the doctor would call and say they made a mistake, and I had something curable.
I got angry with life, God, and the world. Why me? I was too young. Now what was I going to do?
I tried to figure out how this happened. Was the diet pill I had taken a factor? (I only took one.) Was it the fact that I lived around a bunch of smokers? (I did not smoke.) Was it stress? Could it have been the horrible flu I had a couple years earlier? Was it my weight?
Then, the “what ifs” crept in. What if I had lived with nonsmokers? What if I had taken better care of myself? I am no closer to answering any of these questions today than I was in 2001.
I wanted to know about my condition, but the internet was not yet the resource it is now. What I found was more scary than helpful. My doctor wasn’t available all the time for questions, and I didn’t even know what to ask. I tried joining a support group, but everyone there was at least 50 years older than me. I was lost, hopeless, and helpless.
But I am also very stubborn. And I was determined not to let this illness run my life or ruin it. I was determined to finish college. Dropping out was never even an option. So I assessed my classes to see what I could do and discovered I was extremely fortunate.
I attended a small college, which made it so much easier for me to sort things out after getting sick. Most of the classes were no larger than 20 students, so the professors knew who I was: a hard worker and a good student. They knew I was actually sick and not trying to get out of anything. In the end, only one professor was not open to working out a solution.
As for the classes, I had taken tennis, which ended earlier in the semester, so I didn’t have to worry about that. I had computer science and editing and layout, both of which I was able to do from home. I had newspaper class, for which I had turned in extra assignments before I left. And I had a history class, which the professor graciously allowed me to finish the following semester.
And you know what? The semester I almost died, I had a 3.6 GPA (three As, one B, and one C). I didn’t have to retake any classes. I didn’t lose my job as a resident assistant. And I was determined and ready to go back for my spring semester. Slowly but surely, I was starting to feel normal again.
Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.