Imagine if you lost a decade of your life.
And not just any ten years, either. We’re talking about those formative years between high school and college, when you’re carving out your personal identity and developing a network of friends. It’s when you learn how to date, socialize, and exist in the world.
That’s what happened to Brittany Detrick, who lives in the Bay Area of northern California. “From the time I was 15 until just this year, I was always in and out of emergency rooms and hospitals,” says the now 27-year-old.
For most of her childhood, she suffered from mysterious gastrointestinal issues that baffled her doctors.
“I would poop once a week,” she says. “And the doctors told my parents,‘Well, if she’s healthy and active, doing gymnastics and soccer and stuff, there’s nothing to worry about.’ They thought it was anxiety.”
During her early teens, she was told by therapists and doctors that she was probably anorexic. “I spent three years believing that I hated myself and that’s why I was getting sick all the time,” Detrick says. “I never had body image issues, but when that gets drilled into your head over and over again, you start to believe it.”
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By the time she got to college, Detrick was passing out so regularly that she was becoming a liability to her school and dropped out to take online classes.
“I thought I was doing them a solid by bringing hot fireman into the dorms,” she says with a laugh, remembering the many ambulance visits during her tenure at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. “But the college didn’t see it that way.”
When she should have been studying and partying with friends, Detrick was zig-zagging between hospitals across California and having countless tests. She was, she says, “a glorified lab rat in cute pajamas.”
But her doctors finally got to the bottom of it, determining that she had gastroparesis. Which led to more tests and MRIs, and soon Detrick was also diagnosed with chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, dysautonomia, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, mast cell activation disorder, and a pituitary tumor.
“I had to get acclimated to living a new normal,” she says. “But it took years to get to this point.”
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The Transformative Power of Good Nutrition
Her new normal involved getting all of her nutrition from a jejunostomy tube, or J-tube, and medications and other treatments through the port in her chest. It soon became second nature to her. “I can do it blindfolded,” she says. “I can set up my tubes in a car going down a bumpy road.”
Slightly trickier has been learning how to pick up where she left off before being sick became a full-time job.
“Tell me how to go out to dinner where everybody is eating except for you and not make it awkward,” she says. “They don’t teach you that stuff. First dates are usually, ‘Let’s go get a bite to eat and see a movie.’ Well, that’s great except that I’m allergic to the world. If you put me in the movie theater, I’m going to get the stomach flu two days later.”
But Detrick refused to be the outcast. Talking to her, you’d never imagine that she spent most of her formative years being deathly ill. She’s a fireplug of energy and enthusiasm, the first one to laugh at the humor in everything she’s endured.
She credits Kate Farms with helping her get back on her feet. An ICU dietitian first suggested she try it, when Detrick says her health was getting so bad that “I was basically on my way out.”
But within a week of using Kate Farms—she opted for Kate Farms Pediatric Standard 1.2 vanilla—“I had completely turned around,” she says.
“I was awake and doing things, and my doctors think it’s because I was finally getting nutrition.”
Without the nausea or severe dehydration, Detrick’s body was able to do something with the antibiotics she’d been prescribed. “I actually had the strength to fight,” she says. “I’ve been on Kate Farms ever since.”
She’s finished with hospital rooms and medical tests and hoping doctors can finally get to the bottom of what’s making her sick. “I’m able to go out and live my life and meet friends and gain back the ten years that I lost,” she says.
Finding Illness-Life Balance
Detrick makes it sound easy, but obviously there’s more to it than just jumping back into your old life like you haven’t missed a beat.
The trick, Detrick says, is to not make your illness the center of attention. “If I’m out with friends and I need to take meds through a tube or a port, I just say, ‘I’ve gotta do this real quick,’” she says. “If I don’t make it a big deal, they won’t make it a big deal.”
It also comes down to complacency. If the world no longer seems designed for you, Detrick says, you can either stay at home and feel isolated or find ways to make sure you’re still surrounded by friends and loved ones.
“You have to get creative,” she says. “I’ve had movie nights at my house, and we’ve projected movies on the garage door and my friends and I watched from the lawn. Nobody thought, ‘Oh, we’re only doing this because it’s flu season and she’s worried about getting sick.’ They were all like, ‘Yeah! What a great way to hang out together!’”
Detrick isn’t just making up for lost time. She’s got big plans for the future and she’s not about to make any compromises.
She’d hoped to have kids and a husband by now, and though it wasn’t in the cards, that doesn’t mean she’s given up on those dreams.
“I’m really excited to adopt a kid someday, hopefully somebody who has a tube just like me,” she says. “I can’t wait to be the badass mom who knows exactly what she’s doing because I’ve done it for most of my life.”