The Florida sun shone down on the school hallway on yet another hot and humid August day. It was my fourth first day of school.
“Can I please go use the bathroom?” I asked my third grade teacher.
“We’re about to go inside,” she retorted. “I’m sure it can wait five minutes.”
Feeling a little shut down, I stepped back into the line consisting of the rest of my classmates. I could feel the goose bumps rising on my skin, my heart pumping and the shakiness beginning, knowing what was about to happen. Wanting to be as polite as possible, I hesitantly stepped forward a few feet, leaned over and let the vomit spew from my mouth.
Moments like the one above have consistently occurred throughout my life since I was a toddler. Although symptoms began before I can remember, there are countless memories in my mind of the days I spent lying on the cold bathroom floor with a pillow under my head and my fuzzy pink blanket covering my shaking body. There are countless memories of sitting in the back seat of multiple cars with a bucket in my hands, or more unfortunate times when a bucket wasn’t available. There are countless memories of becoming a burden on my family and friends when I ruined a family vacation, missed school or happened to be sick on a Christmas morning.
After numerous unsuccessful doctor visits and horribly disgusting and sometimes painful tests and procedures, my mom and my 8-year-old self traveled to a specialized doctor. We hoped to put an end to the mystery of what had been dictating my life for years.
In a tiny square room above the skyline of Chicago looking down at the surrounding city, I was diagnosed with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, which is a stomach condition that is triggered by excitement, stress, lack of sleep and physical exertion. The condition is linked to the mitochondria in my body, which cannot replenish my energy supply quick enough, and results in nausea and excessive vomiting to the point of dry heaving.
The first hurdle was getting a diagnosis for something most people have never heard of. I began taking medicine, and after a few years, what the association calls “vomiting episodes” had significantly lowered, yet I still had trouble during early mornings. Time progressed and I began experiencing migraines. It turns out that symptoms of Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome usually turn into severe migraines as a child grows into adulthood.
The journey with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome has not been an easy one, nor has it been very enjoyable, but it has been a learning experience. When I was a child, I used to ask my mom, “Why me?” To give me perspective, she would gently remind me that so many people suffer from even worse conditions that were life-threatening, not just life-debilitating. Although she would offer that reminder, she never suggested mine wasn’t hindering my life in anyway, because it was.
I thought more and more about this “life-debilitating” reference toward the condition. I had always hated referring to a condition I had as “debilitating” or saying I “suffered” from this condition because I lived a relatively normal childhood. I refused to acknowledge that it impacted my schooling and everyday activities. Although it took time, I came to the realization that these words are used for a reason. I had suffered from Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, and I didn’t want others to have to go through similar struggles. Something that had such a negative impact on my life deserved to be addressed.
With my family’s help, I eventually created The Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association Golf Tournament to raise money and awareness for the condition. Over the past three years, I have given the association more than $20,000 to research a cure and have raised awareness by being featured on my local news station. Finally, acknowledging my condition openly and facing it head-on made all the suffering OK. I knew I was making a difference, however small it may be.
Finally accepting my condition and knowing that I can use it to help others has put me at peace that it is part of who I am.
I don’t have to sit here and suffer like I once did and can openly acknowledge the debilitating effects of the condition. I am no longer embarrassed to talk about it with others as I once was. I have taken the opportunity to turn something negative into something positive and bigger than myself. My friends know about my condition, so if I don’t have the energy to talk or hang out with them, they understand why. Although I still suffer from a different form of Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, I have come a long way from lying on the cold tile of bathroom floors for days on end. I will continue to talk about the condition and fight to find a cure so that others who will one day become diagnosed after many tests will be able to live a normal and healthy life from early childhood into adulthood.
Danielle Campbell, ’18, is an assistant news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]