H. Pylori is "spiral-shaped bacteria that grow in the digestive tract and have a tendency to attack the stomach lining." Essentially, H. Pylori kills all of the good bacteria in your stomach and makes it difficult to breakdown your food. By far, H. Pylori was one of the most difficult personal things I've had to deal with in my couple decades alive, but I can also say it really taught me a lot. I'm not thankful that it happened to me per se, but I can say there's quite a bit of good that's come from it.
So that being said, here's the story of my struggle with H. Pylori:
First of all, we'll flashback to 2013. During this year, I lost about 35 pounds and fell in love with running and how centered it helped me feel. Over that summer and fall, my love for running increased and so did the distances I was running. When I started running 5-6 miles quite a few times a week (for FUN), I decided I'd try training for a half-marathon; the one I ended up doing was April of 2014.
During this time, I was in fantastic shape! I gained about 5 pounds back (half-marathon/marathon syndrome...thinking you can eat whatever you want!), but I still felt happy, healthy, strong and confident. Unfortunately, following my half-marathon, I started having issues with bloating. It was small at first - if I wore certain shirts or dresses, they just became unflattering throughout the day. I avoided certain styles, just thinking it was something I was eating, or maybe because I wasn't exercising as much, and that it would pass (if only!).
After a couple weeks of bloating, I started to see a change in my bowel movements - I became constantly constipated. I tried taking fiber, a few laxatives... to no avail. I saw my doctor at the end of June (2 months in), and was referred to a GI specialist in the county I grew up in. Unfortunately, due to my summer employment, I had limited availability to be seen there and had to wait another month.
During that month, I was absolutely miserable. My body was starting to break down from its stress of fighting an intensive infection that just kept growing. I was never sure if I was hungry due to constant debilitating bloating and a completely irregular digestive tract. The worst part, for a 20 year old girl who had just recently lost quite a bit of weight, was that none of my clothes were fitting correctly. When I picked out a shirt, I had to make sure it flowed just right to cover my stomach. I wore 2 pairs of shorts the entire summer, because they buttoned just right and squeezed my stomach in so it didn't look as obvious that it would triple in size throughout the day. I was constantly self-conscious of my appearance, and if I was seen by anyone I didn't know at the end of the day, I swear they would've thought I was pregnant. It was just absolutely humiliating. Unfortunately during this time, I also suffered from a very psycho-somatic symptom (aka - it was all in my head). I started to feel like I was unable to swallow pills. I thought they were getting stuck in my throat, and had myself convinced it was tied to my stomach issues.
So, in early August, I saw a GI specialist. I also saw a OBGYN, because excessive bloating and distension in women can also mean ovarian cysts and things like that. I had an ultrasound from that appointment that came back clean. Great - no cancer, but no answer either. When I saw the GI specialist, he was rude, terse and dismissive of me. He was not the actual doctor, but his assistant. He asked me my symptoms, felt my stomach and dismissed me as having IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) with an emphasis on constipation - which at this time had actually subsided as one of my major symptoms. He gave me a pill and sent me on my way.
I was SO relieved it was nothing serious... but I should've known better! He didn't conduct a single test or do anything except listen to me talk (and he listened poorly and cut me off often). I had a pill that I had to take 4 times a day and took it religiously and saw no change whatsoever. I was frustrated, sad and felt doomed for life. But - I fell back on my swallowing issue!
The end of August I moved to a new city, an hour from home. I sought out an "ear nose and throat" specialist, who referred me to a specialist for swallowing. Upon conducting tests, she found that I was swallowing fine despite what I was feeling. I was crushed. Okay, so nothing was wrong with me. Fantastic.
During September and October was truly the darkest time of all of this as my body just deteriorated inside and out. My body was suffering from such an intensive infection for such a period of time that it just started to quit on me - I was constantly and endlessly fatigued. I had zero motivation for anything, and having just started graduate school, I thought I just wasn't cut out for it. Whenever I walked up a single set of stairs, my heart would beat out of its chest. Running was completely out of the picture. With no energy, no exercise and my body fighting hard, I shot right back up to the weight I was before the weight loss. 20 pounds packed on in just a few months. I lived in leggings and big hoodies, depressed and ashamed. During this time, I also had an episode of severe dehydration, strep throat, and an upper respiratory infection that lasted for three weeks. My body was just beaten down - I literally was sick more during last fall than I had been in years! My back constantly ached because my stomach was just massive. I was ashamed and depressed by my weight and completely debilitated by an illness that I didn't have a name for.
Finally, I decided enough was enough and made an appointment to see another GI doctor, this time in my new city. When I went to this appointment, I met with the ACTUAL doctor. We talked through my symptoms and he decided to test my blood for its counts, test for lactose intolerance and test for H. Pylori. HALLELUJAH - I finally felt like someone was doing right by me! This was one of the biggest things I learned from this journey. You have to educate yourself and be willing to stick up for yourself in the medical world. As much as we'd like to think our doctors are always doing the best they can for us, not all of them willing. It was a sad lesson to have to learn. Do NOT listen to what someone's telling you if doesn't sit right with you - especially if the guy is also a total jerk! The lack of compassion and concern for this "another body coming through the office" deplores me as a human - how you can go into medicine and not care enough to run some simple tests is beyond me.
So, obviously, I was tested for H. Pylori and tested positive. I also think it just generally messed my stomach up, because I also came back positive with having severe lactose intolerance. Obviously, this isn't where this ended - an infection that intense doesn't just leave when you put some medicine in you!
I was on 2 antibiotics, twice a day, for two weeks, along with being on acid reducer. Afterward, I was recommended to take fiber and probiotics, which I still do to this day (H. Pylori truly messed my stomach up - I tried a month this summer without the fiber/probiotics and started feeling not quite right again). After about a month after taking the medicine, 6 inches came off my stomach almost immediately and my body quickly dropped 7 pounds (thank goodness!), but it really took about 4 months to start feeling somewhat normal again.
The second half of 2014 was not at all a fantastic time. Luckily, one fantastic thing did come out of this. While I'd previously had a commitment to running and physical activity, I ate pretty well, but not great. H. Pylori affecting my stomach so intensely and leaving me with severe lactose intolerance (a bit of butter and I get bloated...yep) has forced me to do my research about eating well. We (me and Daniel) now eat organic produce and meats, organic almond milk and plant-based butter, consume strictly whole wheat products, sweeten with honey and maple syrup versus refined white sugar, and heavily limit the processed foods we intake (or even buy). Most recently, we've started limiting our added sugars in our diet - trying to avoid buying pre-made things that we can easily make ourselves - salsas, pasta sauces, etc. We even signed up for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) box this fall and have tons of fresh, local vegetables from it every week! I think this may have been something that would've come to our attention eventually, however, having such stomach troubles really did accelerate it and make it something I am incredibly passionate about now.
I've had a few people ask me about what H. Pylori was like for me, along with having several people witness different parts and struggles of this journey. Being that it's almost a year later, and that I have lost 24 pounds since I was at my sickest, I felt ready to share my journey and what it taught me. I am grateful that I learned strongly about sticking up for myself in the health care system, along with my attention to what I'm putting in my body. Would I change the turmoil I went through the last two months? Absolutely, but I am lucky to be healthy now and moving on.
Honestly, one of my absolute biggest triumphs through all of this was being determined to not let it get the best of me! I am not a quitter and once I was on the track to recovery, I embraced it. I even trained for another half marathon (and ran it 15 pounds heavier than the one in 2014), and finished it faster than the one in 2014! Take that, H. Pylori!
Here is the current difference from when I was sick until now as my "outside" is still recovering despite my inner healing strides, for anyone who's curious. The left is right after finishing my treatment, and the right was 6 weeks ago (I've lost 4 more pounds since then).
Basically, I really just wanted to get my story out there and let everyone know - whatever comes your way in life, you CAN overcome it. Even if you think you're completely broken down at the time, you'll come through it and be better for it!