Guest post: Crohn's doesn't mean can't

It's been a while since my last guest post, but since it's December I thought I'd give you the gift of getting a break from me. As you may remember, earlier this summer I traveled to Birmingham for Social South, a social media conference. This post is made possible because of someone I "met" at the conference. Actually, we didn't meet in person. She just happened to read one of my posts with the Social South tag. A few emails and a few months later, I have a guest post in hand. Meet Alison Groves, 30, the Social Princess for Raven Internet Marketing Tools located in Nashville, Tenn. In August 2008, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. I was sick for almost a year before the diagnosis was made ... seems that my symptoms weren’t the typical ones for Crohn's sufferers, but that my colon was in such rough shape, several holes had begun to form. Crohn's is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system literally attacks your intestines, which you can imagine leads to a not so pleasant daily experience.

I started down this path to diagnosis in early 2008 when I got a call from my GP telling me that they got some blood work back on me and were alarmed at my level of anemia. I was three full units of blood short, and no one could figure out why. Little did we know at the time that my colon was so inflamed, I was literally bleeding from the inside. On my first visit to a hematologist, he said to me, "We'll get this figured out, but I can assure you one thing, you'll never run a marathon." Well, gauntlet thrown!

I've been an athlete my whole life; I played competitive softball from the age of 7 (one of my teammates went on to be a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the sport), and even played in college. But running was never something I was into. I could spend hours in a batting cage, but two laps around the field and I was over it. But one thing I can never back down from is someone telling me I "can't" do something. So when that doctor told me I'd never run a marathon, I immediately began running.

I began with walking really, mixing in a minute or two of running at a time. It instantly made me sick. My body, which was already being punished with not only a chronic illness but literally being poisoned every day with a low dose of chemo to knock down my immune system along with about 10 other daily pills and a weekly injection, was not having it. I spent about a month married to a toilet, but wouldn't give up on doing that hour or so a day of walking/running. I finally had an epiphany one day that my body was just so depleted of electrolytes, it was making me sick(er). One of the big issues of Crohn's is that your body has a very hard time absorbing nutrients since the intestinal track is constantly inflamed. So me spending an hour working out in 90-plus degree heat and not hydrating enough lead to body meltdown. Once I got that on track, I never looked back.

Now, I'm doing anything between a 5K to 8 miles a day. A 5K seems to be my running threshold at the moment, but just a few months ago I was only running in quarter mile intervals, so I feel like this is a huge hurdle. I'm training for a half marathon in April, and quite possibly a full in April 2011 in London. Not sure I’ll actually be able to run that entire distance, but for me it is more about finishing something that someone said just a year ago I'd never be able to do.

And there's good news on the health front -- the hematologist says my body has made those missing three units of blood back on its own and that from a blood standpoint I'm as healthy as I can be. And he actually attributes this to the running itself. Funny how that came full circle.