Molly Dunham-Friel, MPH - My IBD Story

By Molly Dunham-Friel, MPH | September 20, 2021

Name: Molly Dunham-Friel, MPH

Year of Birth 1988

Lives: Atlanta, GA, USA

Type of IBD: Ulcerative colitis

Diagnosis Date: 2012

Symptoms at Diagnosis: Abdominal spasms, diarrhoea, bloody stool, mucus in stool, abdominal pain, abdominal and rectal cramping, fatigue, gas, urgency, and frequent bowel movements.

Details of Surgery: N/A

My name is Molly. I began having abdominal cramping, urgent diarrhoea, fatigue, frequent bathroom visits and bloody bowel movements in 2012. When I started pooping blood, I really knew something was  wrong and went to my primary care doctor, to get referred to a gastroenterologist. After a not so fun rectal exam I was told I needed a colonoscopy, which showed that I have ulcerative colitis (UC). 

Finding out that UC is incurable was devastating. I had a very hard time wrapping my 23-year-old mind around having a disease for the rest of my life and learning that I would likely need to be on medications, forever. It felt like I was the only person dealing with these embarrassing symptoms and this chronic disease I had never heard of before receiving my diagnosis. It was scary, isolating, lonely, and embarrassing among other things. 

I have taken many different medications and supplements for the treatment of my UC. I have been on mesalamine pills since my diagnosis and have tried various brands. I have also been using mesalamine or hydrocortisone enemas on and off for nine years and counting. I have also used budesonide (orally and rectally), and hydrocortisone enemas and suppositories. I feel thankful that I have responded well to most of the medications I have tried except for mesalamine pills alone, they did not help very much without adding in the enemas.

“I was a shell of a human, the fatigue, brain fog, nausea,  cramping, stabbing pains, rectal soreness among many other symptoms are simply unforgettable.”

My most severe flare kept me housebound. I was going to the bathroom around 15 times per day. I felt like my insides were coming out of my butt hole. I was a shell of a human, the fatigue, brain fog, nausea, cramping, stabbing pains, rectal soreness among many other symptoms are simply unforgettable. The stabbing pain was at an all-time high for me, so I went to urgent care. They took an x-ray and told me I was just having a flare, like it was no big deal since I already had an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) diagnosis. Urgent care gave me a prescription for an anti-diarrheal and sent me on my way. I later called my gastroenterologist's office and asked for the first available appointment and to be worked into the schedule if possible. I wasn’t taking no for an answer, and took the first appointment, even though it wasn’t with my gastroenterologist. They put me on a few different types of steroids in addition to my mesalamine to help get my flare under control. It took time but eventually I slowly began to feel better. Gradually making less trips to the bathroom, seeing less blood, and gaining more strength.

IBD has changed my life and affects everything. It impacts my body, mind, relationships, career, finances, plans, and my choices. There is no part of my life that IBD hasn’t touched. I wish we had a cure. I wish this debilitating disease didn’t exist, but it does, and I have it.

That being said, IBD has made me into who I am today. My ulcerative colitis gave me my purpose and  sent me on a mission. I am now on a mission to: 

• Spread IBD awareness.

• Advocate for better care.

• Fight for a cure.

• Make patient voices what drives the future of IBD treatment and care.

• Provide patient centred IBD education. 

• Lift up IBD patients by building a strong and powerful community, able to create real change in our world.

What tips do I have for other IBD warriors? I would say; advocate for your own health, connect with other people living with IBD, give yourself grace, see a therapist and keep organized medical records. 

You can follow me on Instagram @betterbelliesbymolly, to see how I spread IBD awareness and advocate for better IBD care and education, plus practical tips and advice.  Please reach out anytime.

Molly Dunham-Friel, MPH

Molly was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2012. She uses her own experiences of living with a chronic illness to help raise awareness and advocate for IBD education and cultivate an IBD community.

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