What's in the name "She Chooses Joy?" I believe that in life, our greatest power is our power to choose. I haven't had the easiest time in my almost-thirty years, but the fact is that no matter how difficult life gets, I can always choose my response. My goal is to always choose joy. There are so many great and good things in life, and we miss them if we let our disappointments take over. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I will help people going through a similar journey of food allergies, autoimmune disease, etcetera...
I started this blog in the fall of 2010 as a place for me to keep track of my allergy-friendly recipe successes, and to share my journey as a survivor of liver transplant and autoimmune disease. The recipes here have transitioned from originally just avoiding gluten, dairy, soy and eggs, to completely free of gluten, dairy and soy, and for a season, free of eggs, grains, legumes, nightshades and refined sugars as well.
As you can see from my little bio on the right side of the page, I am a survivor, wife, mom, DIYer, and foodie. Let me expand on that using my favorite form of information organization: bullet points...
- I was in the fourth grade when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. With medication it went into remission for over ten years, then started flaring in 2006, and I haven't found remission again - yet
- I was 15 when I found out I had Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis and a severely damaged liver and would need a liver transplant
- I received an incredible gift - a second chance at life - when I got a new liver a few weeks before my 17th birthday
- Because of my liver transplant I have been able to do so many things. I married my best friend in 2007, and we had our miracle baby girl Victory in summer 2011
- My doctors tell me that the PSC has returned in my new liver, and has already progressed to cirrhosis. Despite that report, I am determined to live a long, healthy life, and I am on a mission to reclaim my health. Faith and food are big parts of that
- PSC is an autoimmune disease - the body attacks the bile ducts like they are a foreign invader - and in my own research I've found that PSC is being tied to Celiac and gluten
- We're pretty sure I have Celiac, an autoimmune disease also called gluten intolerance. Everything checks out for it up to the biospy part. I'm not willing to eat gluten again to do the procedures to "be sure;" and my awesome doctor totally gets that
- Due to a leaky gut and overactive immune system, several years ago I developed allergic-like reactions to many foods. Wheat, dairy, soy, chicken eggs, garlic, pineapple... I can't remember them all, and I seemed to be developing more reactions. Leaky gut is not fun! Thankfully, due to a wonderful, brilliant nutritionist we were introduced to by one of those only-God-could-do-this encounters, we found out I had some MAJOR toxin and mold overload in my body, and as I've worked on detoxifying, I have been able to add back in nightshades, GMO-free grains, eggs, pineapple, and sometimes dairy! This was a HUGE deal :)
- I recently found out I have polyenthesitis, an inflammatory condition kind of like arthritis and tendonitis combined. "Entheses," the places where ligaments and tendons attach to my bones, get inflamed and cause pain and stiffness
- I was in and out of the hospital for a solid nine months from October 2012 through June 2013, and received over twenty blood transfusions during that time. Doctors removed a lymph node from my neck and did a bone marrow biopsy, and some other testing, concerned that I had lymphoma - something long-term transplant patients have a risk of developing. I had enlarged lymph nodes all over my body, and a very enlarged spleen. Eventually we found that I was dealing with one of the most aggressive cases of ITP (autoimmune thrombocytopenia) that my doctors had ever seen, and a flare up of Ulcerative Colitis at the same time, resulting in major GI bleeds that would not stop due to the low platelets.
- My last major hospital admittance due to UC and ITP, I was put in the Critical Care Unit due to hemmorhagic shock. It was quite an exhausting season of life! There are various medical treatments for ITP, but my body was stubborn and did not respond well to any of them, so we lived on faith, sun-stand-still prayers and the incredible giving of anonymous blood donors who happened to have the same blood type full of antibodies that I developed, so I survived!
- Since leaving the hospital in June 2013, the ITP seems to be in remission, and we enjoyed watching my platelet levels climb every week improving on every lab report. Yeah God!!!
- In summer of 2013, my liver enzymes started climbing on the lab reports (ALT, AST, Alk Phos and sometimes Bilirubin), and I had an update MRCP/MRI and transjugular liver biopsy. Thiese tests confirmed that the PSC in my new liver was progressing and I developed my first complication of the disease in September, an episode of cholangitis.
- We continue to deal with different challenges on a daily or weekly basic, including finding out that under our home there is black mold growing on every floor joist in the crawlspace. We are displaced right now, "house-less," but God is faithful, and we'll get back in our home and back to making memories there as a family. In the meantime, I am choosing joy every day, as there's no other way to live!
- I've played around with eliminating different foods for several years, but nothing was quite doing the trick. Completely eliminating gluten and dairy made a big difference in my pain and inflammation levels but I still didn't feel "well"
- In December 2011 I read Robb Wolf's book The Paleo Solution and it changed my life. I had been familiar with the Paleo Diet (also known as "Ancestral eating") via Dr. Loren Cordain's book several years earlier, but got intimidated. Robb Wolf's book was the encouragement I needed to pursue this lifestyle 100%, to see if my autoimmune diseases improve
- With my amazing husband leading the way, we are a Paleo/Primal clean-eating family. For us this means no gluten or refined sugars, and about 70% of the time, no grains, dairy, or legumes. See my Shopping List for more details.
- In just a few months of strict Paleo in early 2012, I saw wonderful results. I have increased energy, gained weight and muscle, and feel satisfied with food - no crazy cravings. My UC was totally under control. My liver enzymes were down. My enthesitis pain improved. I still have rough days - that's the nature of autoimmune disease. But eating clean absolutely helps, doing more than any prescription drug has ever done for me. That is a big deal!!!
- What started all of this healthy food stuff? Well, I've been around the prescription drug block a few times, particularly to treat UC. A few years back, I was on Entocort and Prednisone (both are steroids), and also infusion treatments of the biologic Remicade for about eighteen months. After a while, my body wasn't responding to the steroids or Remicade, and I decided that the potential long-term risks of those drugs were not worth it. Around that same time, I was given some books about diet and disease by my husband's coworker. As a newlywed, I watched a lot of Food Network and Top Chef. That ignited my passion for cooking. Through reading those books, and having some rough doctor/hospital experiences, I realized this huge game-changer: medications and surgery aren't going to solve my autoimmune problems, but FOOD makes a difference.
- I remain on Apriso for UC, but my goal is to wean off of it some day when my guts have healed
- I have been a cloth diapering, breastfeeding mom to a miracle
- I won't buy something if I can make it myself, and I prefer "previously loved" over new, especially if the item was made in the USA!
- I love to be creative and enjoy especially sewing, and cooking and baking gluten-free dishes for loved ones to enjoy with me