being stricken with ulcerative colitis when she was in high
school, Megan Starshak is now an advocate for the Crohnís
and Colitis Foundation.
Starshak of Milwaukee, the symptoms of ulcerative colitis began when
she was a junior in high school. The disease, an inflammation of the
colon, often causes frequent and urgent trips to the bathroom and
severe abdominal pain. "At first, I thought maybe I had a
virus," says Starshak, 26. "I was doing high school track at
the time and thought I was overworking."
pain and cramping got worse over time, and her body was becoming
unable to absorb nutrients and water. Family and friends were
concerned, and she often had to assure friends that she was not
anorexic or bulimic. She went to several doctors, but did not get a
definitive diagnosis of ulcerative colitis until the summer after she
graduated from high school and was looking forward to her freshman
year in college.
huge transitional time," Starshak says, and not only was she away
from her parents and making her own decisions, she was also trying to
define her own identity. She was meeting new people and trying to get
involved in sports. Starshak realized that everything she did was
going to be affected by her condition. She wasnít sure how much to
tell people about her symptoms and knew that some just would not
you grow up a little bit faster," she says. "In college, you
have all the freedom in the world and none of the responsibility. If I
go out for a night of drinking, I could be sick for a month."
The course of
treatment called for Starshak to take 12 anti-inflammatory pills per
day, including a steroid, which tamed the symptoms, but did not
completely stop them.
When a new
intravenous therapy called Remicade became available, Starshak decided
to give it a try. Remicade works with the immune system to combat the
disease. Starshak says she noticed a difference three days after her
first treatment. "After six years of being sick and dealing with
symptoms, and being mentally exhausted, it was like waking up a new
person," she says.
weeks, Starshak spends three hours at Froedtert Hospital undergoing
Remicade therapy. She says she looks forward to that time, and uses it
to relax and recharge.
completed her MBA at UW-Milwaukee and landed a position in marketing
for a local manufacturer. She is an avid cyclist and would eventually
like to race competitively. Every year, Starshak cycles in a charity
ride for the Crohnís and Colitis Foundation, and her mother
volunteers on the sidelines.
Iíve been in remission for two years. I can eat salad, drink Pepsi
and run again without issues," she says.
Voices of UC, an educational and awareness program, has helped her
understand ulcerative colitis by providing information and resources
for patients and their families.
website is a really great place if youíre newly diagnosed and kind
of just learning," she says. "Youíre arming yourself with
She was one of
1,000 people with ulcerative colitis who participated in a recent
survey sponsored by Voices of UC. The survey was intended to identify
gaps in the way patients and physicians discuss treatment, and it also
gave patients an opportunity to share their insights about dealing
with the disease.
Starshak says an
important way to cope with ulcerative colitis, which has no cure as of
yet, is to talk with others who are experiencing the same issues.
"I think itís important also to remember that even though itís
a terrible disease with awful side effects, sometimes it changes you
for the better," she says. "Through colitis Iíve also
realized that Iím so strong and I can handle more things than Iíve