By: Christian John Lillis
During C. Diff Awareness Month, I’m so thankful to the Peggy Lillis Foundation for their work and the chance to tell you my story with the hope that I might be able to bring renewed energy to your battle against C. Diff. ~ Kristie
There is irony in healing. For me, healing brought tremendous feelings of strength, excitement, and genuine joy that radiated throughout my life in a way I had never experienced. But healing starts from a place of struggle, and for me, that was a place of sickness, sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness. I have C. Diff to thank for both of these extremes, and I don’t use “thank” facetiously at all. My healing journey from C. Diff brought with it new gratitude for health, a lesson in perseverance, and relationship with food that I wouldn’t change for the world.
“Antibiotics Have Very Few Risks,” He Said…
My C. Diff story began with a case of appendicitis treated with strong doses of intravenous antibiotics: Cipro and Flagyl. A few days later, I was hit with what I thought was the worst stomach bug. If you’re here, you already know the unpleasantry that is C. Diff, so I’ll skip the symptom specifics, but after two days and 30+ trips to the bathroom, I called my doctor.
Sure enough, my lab results revealed that I had C. Diff and given the severity of my symptoms I was prescribed Vancomycin. Despite my initial resistance to antibiotics, it seemed they were the right first line of defense against C. Diff, so back on the bacteria obliterating pills I went. For over two long months that involved hospital visits, dehydration, food repulsion, extreme weight loss, and an inability to function as a normal, let alone happy, member of society, I struggled through course after course of Vanco. Yet, the C. Diff won out, and I continued to relapse each time I tapered off.
When I first read the treatment options for C. Diff, I quite honestly prayed to God that I would never need a Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT), a procedure where stool is transferred from a healthy individual to a C. Diff patient to restore bacterial balance. Swapping poop?! The horror and embarrassment! But given its high efficacy rate against C. Diff, I mustered up the courage to get past the yuck factor, and today, I am genuinely thankful for this life-saving procedure. I celebrated my last day as a 27-year-old welcoming a new host of bacteria into my life. I’m not sure this is what was meant at our wedding when it was said my husband and I would become one?
Post FMT, I tested negative for C. Diff. Hooray! There was just one problem. All the symptoms I thought would disappear with the negative test, decided to hang out longer. Much longer.
Months of symptoms eventually turned into a year, I still needed the bathroom multiple times a day, and I was left with this relentless, “C-diffy” feeling in my stomach. Mornings, in particular, were a torturous mix of nausea and stomach churning, days were filled with nothing more than the work I had to do, and evenings often brought tear-filled phone calls to my parents as a grown adult. Not even sleep was an escape as my gut never failed to wake me up several times a night. I became guilt-ridden choosing the couch over family events and social activities with friends. I learned what it was like to just get through life, and I hated it.
My Failed Attempts
The doctors labeled my condition as “Post-infectious IBS,” and I was told there was no true treatment for it. Refusing to surrender to this way of life, I was determined to try anything to make it end. I saw a slew of specialists, had CT scans, MRIs, colonoscopies and a battery of other tests. I was tested for lactose intolerance, SIBO, Celiac, Leaky Gut, Pancreatitis, parasites, Crohn’s, and UC. I was prescribed atropine/diphenoxylate (extra strong Imodium), Imipramine (anti-depressant), Cholestyramine (a bile acid sequestrant), Rifaximin (more antibiotics), and oh so much Imodium. I tried every probiotic, digestive enzyme, or over-the-counter gut-soothing medication I could get my hands on. I put myself on the BRAT diet, a probiotic heavy diet, an anti-candida diet, the FODMAP diet, and many cleanses. Nothing worked. Not even a little.
Finally, after months of testing, pill-popping, and straightjacket diets, I finally just stopped. I stopped calling, researching, testing, medicating, and searching for a magical diet. And instead, I turned to something that could never be formulated, processed, or nutritionally engineered because it had to be grown. Plants. Beautiful, delicious plants.
Healing My Gut: The Microbiome Approach
I’m a marketer by trade, and the only science class I took in college was about rocks, so the inner workings of the human body, and especially the microbiome were utterly foreign to me. I realized though that after 28 years of ignorance it was time that me and whatever was left of my good bacteria got on the same page.
So, I turned to books and documentaries that fascinated me with the complexities of the trillions of bacteria which reside in the human gut. I realized my microbiome had become a war zone seriously lacking good contenders and somehow, I needed to find a way to restore balance. Lucky for me, I shared an office with a foodie fanatic who knew a thing or two about real food. And this is where my story gets deliciously better.
With some heavy guidance, I gained a whole new outlook on what real food is (think the produce and meat section at the grocery store) and what real food is not (basically everything else). I learned what our ancestors hunted and gathered and it certainly wasn’t processed or in a box. I learned what the healthiest cultures in the world consume, and what the cultures plagued by heart disease, diabetes, and obesity consume – that second group is us, by the way.
As I learned about healthy diets, I realized one thing always came through resoundingly clear whether I turned to the nutritionists, scientists, or the Michael Pollan’s of the world: we were meant to eat plants. Or said another way, perhaps my outnumbered cohabitants, the good bacteria of microbiome, were meant to eat plants. And, so, into my life entered the healing concept of whole foods, plant-based way of life. I cut out all sugar, dairy, processed food, and most meat. And instead, I filled my plate with vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.
My food philosophy transition was anything but instant. My wounded gut could not digest even a bite of veggies. But with the help of gut soothing and strengthening foods like turmeric and bone broth, supplements like Zinc, and a very slow transition plan, little by little, my gut started to adapt. And then, little by little, my gut began to heal. At first, I’d get a day here or a day there where my churning stomach wasn’t the primary focus on my brain. A few days would string together and eventually turned into a good week. After that, the momentum just kept climbing. Not only did my digestive system gain fortitude, but I also noticed my nails and hair getting stronger and my skin regaining a glow. Nutrients were being absorbed! I had to pinch myself every once in a while to be sure it was actually happening, but it was oh so real. I was able to introduce more and more into my diet, finally adding in dinners with friends and a glass of wine with my husband on a relaxing Sunday afternoon. I could go for runs, sleep through the night, and became re-invigorated with energy and motivation. I rejoined life, with eyes wide open, my senses renewed, my head cleared, and my stomach at peace. It was, and every day still is, simply beautiful.
Returning The Favor: KaleMeKristie
Despite the joys of healing, the feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and confusion that were so strong on my darkest days of C. Diff, stuck with me in a very lasting way. When I was at rock bottom, scour the internet to find C. Diff or IBS success stories that offered the solution that I pleaded for. Instead, what I found was thread after thread of people endlessly suffering through C.Diff turned IBS, without anyone ever returning to say, “Guys, guess what – I got better!” Despite a strong support system of family and friends, it felt like I had nowhere to turn for understanding or answers.
So, on the other side of my healing journey, I felt incredibly compelled to create a space where I could say, “GUYS, I GOT BETTER!” My goal was to create a place where those struggling with debilitating gut woes could find hope, sympathy, and perhaps a new food approach to healing that might inspire progress for them too. So, I began KaleMeKristie.com, which today, along with a journal of my gut health journey, has become a bit of shrine to the delicious, satisfying plant-based plates that fuel my health and happiness each day.
Before I started healing through food, I was steadfast in the belief that I couldn’t eat how I wanted (sugar!). As it turns out, any room for missing cookies or ice cream has been crowded out by an aw-struck admiration for the power of plants and my body to work together to bring me healing. Veggies no doubt did me solid – I strive to say thank you by sparking a new understanding and dare I say inspired enjoyment, of real food and its healing power for another.
None of this came naturally for me: the science, the cooking, the assertiveness to stand up for what I thought was right of my body. But, day by day I learned, and I know you can too. I’m here to say your struggle is not hopeless. You will be a survivor too. And if you need a companion, a spark, or some obnoxious enthusiasm about healing through plants, visit me!