Jenna is a university student, fitness instructor, handstand guru and Crohn’s advocate. She is leading the way by promoting the importance of living a healthy lifestyle with IBD. She motivates and inspires daily and I am proud to call Jenna a friend. Big things coming in the future from this fellow Crohn’s warrior.
I am consistently amazed at how much I can relate everytime I talk to someone with a chronic disease. From being diagnosed, to figuring out the symptoms/triggers or being treated differently because of our illness. Although everyone is different, so many of us have similar stories dealing with chronic diseases. If you’ve been following my blog, you may know my story and will see how strangely familiar Jenna’s story is.
Without further ado, here’s a little history and advice from IBD inspiration Jenna Pettit!
My name is Jenna Pettit and I am from Southern California. I am a graduate from California State University Fullerton with my Bachelor of Arts in Communicative Disorders. I also teach group exercise.
I have my certifications in INSANITY which is a high intensity interval training class (HIIT) and another format called PiYo. PiYo is a strength training class that uses Pilates and yoga inspired moves.
When were you diagnosed?
I was officially diagnosed in February of 2016. For years, I have had on and off digestive issues. In late 2015, I started noticing nonstop inflammatory bowel disease symptoms. I went 6 months in agonizing pain and discomfort. I thought my digestive issues were related to some kind of food allergy maybe some kind of stomach virus so I did not act upon my symptoms.
In January of 2016, I became extremely sick, in pain, and malnourished to the point I did not have the energy to leave my bed and I needed to be hospitalized. I went from doctor to doctor and ER to ER. No one knew what was wrong with me and it was extremely heart wrenching to hear from family members and doctors, “it could be women issues or it’s all on your head”. After being tossed around and blown off by so many medical professionals thankfully, I was able to see a gastroenterologist (GI) 3pm on a Friday, after I fought my primary care physician (PCP) for several referrals to see a specialist immediately. The GI was able to get me a priority MRI at 5 o’clock in the afternoon on a FRIDAY. Not even ten minutes after leaving the imaging center he calls to tell me I have Colitis but he’s not sure what kind. He mentioned that I needed to schedule a colonoscopy immediately and prescribed painkillers and antibiotics to get me through the weekend. This doctor was my saving angel. It’s now the weekend my symptoms did not subside from the antibiotics and my symptoms got worse. I ended up calling the GI Sunday morning at 3am. He told me to go to Hoag Hospital, they have the best GI specialists there. My mother rushed me to the hospital and I was hospitalized for a week while they ran almost every “oscopy” they can down almost every orifice on my body (comic relief), I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy. I remember waking up from anesthesia groggy, anxious and scared to see my GI who did my colonoscopy. The first words out of his mouth as he was showing me the images of my intestines were, “you have Crohn’s Disease.”
Were you into fitness and nutrition prior to being diagnosed?
Fitness and nutrition were important aspects in my life prior to my diagnosis. I became health conscious and started educating myself about exercise and dietetics in my late teens – early 20s. After being diagnosed, fitness and nutrition became key staples in managing my symptoms for Crohn’s.
Fitness is a way for me to destress and it allows me to regulate how I feel. It’s a way to release the negative energy from my body while also enjoying the benefits of exercise both physically and emotionally. As for nutrition, food is fuel. Treat your body like it’s a Ferrari, it needs premium gas to run optimally.
I will not let this disease/disorder take a hold of my life and how I feel. Stress and diet are major triggers and can be especially problematic if I don’t manage them. For me, everything goes to my gut therefore, it’s vital that I keep my mindset strong and happy while also giving my body the food it needs to run efficiently. When it comes to fitness, nutrition, and a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, I have learned balance, to really practice what I preach, and to not cause added stress on my body both physically and mentally.
Did you find it hard to talk publically about your disease after recently being diagnosed?
After my diagnosis, I was very uneasy about publically expressing what was going on with my health. I missed a lot of school and about a month of my fitness classes. Therefore, my classmates, members, family, friends, and so on knew I was in the hospital. At first, I just wanted people to think I had a bad case of the stomach flu. I did not really know what inflammatory bowel disease was and it was embarrassing because most people think it’s a pooping problem.
However, I have a mentor that I met through fitness instructing and she encouraged me to share my story because I had so many people who cared about me and stay connected with me through my social media. She mentioned how sharing my story can help so many individuals.
It was extremely frustrating after I was diagnosed because I was first told I had Crohn’s, then I had an IBD panel done it came back stating I had Ulcerative Colitis (UC), and then I had a pill endoscopy and it was confirmed I had Crohn’s. But when we finally had an “official diagnosis” from the IBD panel that I supposedly had UC, that is when I shared my story on social media. I was so hurt by the comments after I opened up about what I was going through. Comments included: “I am so glad it is Crohn’s, not Ulcerative Colitis”, “Your Uncle (who has IBS) can now joke over pooping stories”, ”My second cousin, twice removed has Crohn’s”, “I heard gluten causes IBD.” Needless to say, I have heard them all.
Any advice for someone that is newly diagnosed?
- Recognize that you have a chronic illness and you will face A LOT of ignorance. However, listen to the intent of what someone is saying instead of what they are actually saying. Most of the time they mean well but their approach is off because it’s not a common situation they encounter. Therefore, they lack the knowledge and communication skills when IBD come up as a topic.
- I went through stages of grief my first year of being diagnosed. There will be many ups and downs especially in your first year of your diagnosis.
- Find yourself a community. I found mine through Instagram by sharing my story.
- Fight for your health and educate yourself on nutrition, exercise, and complimentary alternative medicines i.e. apple cider vinegar, turmeric, bone broth, probiotics.
- Don’t give into your disease. Find ways to overcome and combat all the emotional and physical pain you may be going through. It seems so unfair I get it. But always try to look for the positives. I am so blessed for the community I have. I am so blessed I can help others by sharing my own struggle. I am so blessed for the lives that I touch and for those that send me a message just thanking me for my positivity or to open up about their story.
- It’s okay to tell people you have an IBD. There have been times where I have been in a flare up and I still had to teach my fitness classes. When that happens I address the situation up front and mention before I start my class that I need to take it easy because I have Crohn’s Disease and I am currently having a flare up. They are very understanding and a few times I have had members come up to me and ask about my disease/disorder. I actually had a fitness instructor that instructs right after my class that told me she suffers with UC. From my experience, whenever I open up about my IBD, someone knows someone with an IBD, are curious about, or they themselves have an IBD. That is why I share my story. We are better together than alone.
What can we expect to see in the future from Jenna?
My goal is to become a flight attendant. I am also considering pursuing my masters for speech language pathology in a few years. But as of right now I am ready to explore, self-reflect, and grow. However, I also have a heart to serve and help others. At this point, I don’t see myself ever giving up my fitness classes. That is my way of giving back to others. Making a small difference in the lives of my members through exercise and my positive energy.
As for my involvement in the IBD community. I plan on doing a walk. I plan to keep spreading positive vibes and sharing my story on Instagram and Facebook. I also plan to visit the IBD warriors that I call friends. These individuals helped me get back on my feet when I was first diagnosed and still until this day we stay connected and we keep each other strong. They came to my side, reached out to me to see how I was doing when I felt so lost and they showed me that everything will be okay.
Any last thoughts?
You got this. Don’t lose hope. I have never met a strong person with a weak past.