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Thriving Without a Cure

Sally Sandoval | Dartmouth College

I contracted Ulcerative Colitis a month before my freshman year of preseason for soccer. Leading up to before I got U.C., I was probably in the best shape of my whole 16-year soccer career. But, in Mid-July of 2015, I started having really severe symptoms which made me lose twenty pounds in three weeks, be unable to run or even walk, and be anemic, almost to the point of hospitalization. Once we had finally figured out the diagnosis, the next step to recovery was trial and error with a lot of medications. I think I went through about two and a half years and five different types of medicine before I found one that worked for me.

There seem like there are too many emotions to describe what I was feeling when it happened, and even now, after it. I think the one that culminates everything is just frustration, especially because that’s how I started my college soccer career and everything after that has been affected by it.

Recovery was frustrating because U.C. is a chronic illness which can’t be “cured” so there will always be a chance of a relapse. When I was first diagnosed, I was just really confused and angry. I don’t think many people understood what was going on, including myself, and starting college and college athletics is already nerve-wracking enough by itself, so add another layer and it’s terrifying. I think it was probably one of the worst things that has happened to me, physically and emotionally. But during recovery, taking solace in little improvements helped me a lot. As much as I wanted to, I knew I wasn’t going to get right back to where I was before I got sick. Concentrating on the smallest things, like being able to eat a full meal that day, kept me grounded.

The hardest moments for me were probably more recent in just thinking that, because I started out this way, everything after was tainted for me. I feel like my coach never gave me a real chance at the beginning because I was sick, and that set the tone for my whole college career. In terms of learning about myself, it really opened my eyes to the fact that there’s more to me than soccer. In a sense, soccer had been taken away from me and I was forced to think about what else I liked and was interested in.

Fortunately, I am still able to play, and the illness is much more regulated now. As for anyone else who might be going through something like this, I don’t necessarily believe that everything happens for a reason but if I had to think about dealing with this, it is really one of the greatest tests of adaptation there is, which I try to really think about whenever it takes a turn for the worst. Also, having great friends and a support system around you make a world of difference.

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