Coping With Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis at School
Finding Love With Ulcerative Colitis: Megan’s Story
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Megan Starshak knew Andy Stewart was the one for her when she told him about her ulcerative colitis symptoms and he didn’t even blink.
Starshak, 31, and Stewart, 36, first met seven years ago, when they were colleagues at a bike shop in Milwaukee. Starshak, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis before starting college, let her health condition out of the bag soon after they met, at a time when they were still just friends. She was participating in an ulcerative colitis fundraising event and asked Stewart for support. He was happy to help.
But what really struck Starshak was that Stewart asked questions about her ulcerative colitis. “His attitude was that he wanted to learn more,” Starshak recalls. “He wanted to know what it was like for me and what the hard parts were. He didn’t think it was gross, and he wasn’t feeling sorry for me.”
When their relationship headed toward romance, Starshak asked, “Why don’t you kiss me already?” — and she asked it with confidence. She knew that he wouldn’t let her ulcerative colitis stand in the way of what felt right, she says. They've been going strong ever since and have lived together for the last few years.
Getting Past the Challenges of Ulcerative Colitis in a New Relationship
When they first started dating, Starshak was experiencing significant fatigue. But Stewart was awesome, she says. He didn’t mind if their dates were watching movies at home. “We went to Blockbuster all the time,” she recalls.
Eating out was often a no-go. Like most people with ulcerative colitis, Starshak has to stay away from certain foods or risk a flare. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, common food triggers for people with ulcerative colitis include raw fruits and vegetables and seeds. If Starshak had to nix a restaurant or skip a date night out, Stewart was understanding and accommodating. “Because he saw me every day, he knew what I was going through,” she says.
Starshak knew she had put her heart in the right hands when Stewart told her he was impressed with how much strength she showed in front of customers at the bike shop, despite the pain she was in. He noticed how she was able to fight through that pain at work. “That comment was more important to me than if he had said typical guy things at the beginning of a relationship, such as ‘your eyes are so beautiful,’” she says today.
And when Starshak experienced an ultra-embarrassing ulcerative colitis moment, Stewart rose to the occasion. Starshak was on a 40-mile training bike ride around the city. Stewart offered to follow her in his car and, when she stopped for breaks, refilled her water and made sure she was doing okay. At one of the stops, he gave her an energy snack, a brand she had never tried before. “As soon as I took a bite, I knew it wasn’t going to be good,” she recalls. A couple of miles later, she needed to get to a bathroom, pronto. Starshak dashed into a store but didn’t reach the ladies room in time. She called Stewart from the bathroom to ask him to bring her clean underwear and shorts. He did so willingly. “That’s not something that most couples encounter,” she says with a laugh.
Dating Goes Best When Ulcerative Colitis Is Controlled
Dating doesn’t need to be an issue for people with ulcerative colitis, says Mukund Venu, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Illinois. “When the disease is controlled, people with ulcerative colitis can lead normal lives without any limitations,” he says. When it’s uncontrolled, it can result in unpredictable situations that may involve diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. Even then, the solution isn’t to curl up and hide. Rather, “follow up with your gastroenterologist, who can help you successfully navigate your illness,” Dr. Venu says.
Starshak, who now runs her own marketing services company, controls her ulcerative colitis with a biologic, and Stewart often accompanies her to infusions. Her advice to others about dating with ulcerative colitis is to first remember that the dating world can be tricky no matter what the personal circumstances. "Everyone is trying to find that one person," she says. "If you start dating and it doesn’t work out, get it out of your head that it’s because you have ulcerative colitis and that no one is ever going to love you. That’s just not true."
"Your disease is just one part of who you are," Starshak says.
Video: Ulcerative Colitis
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