Yes it’s terrible. In fact, I hate it. But I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. If anything, maybe I can stand out as a beacon of hope and a reminder that there is a reason for everything. If you live in pain, there are brighter days. I know. I’ve been there.
When Victoria Faith Thomson, or Tori as most know her, started school as a young child, her parents Bob and JoAnne began to notice she moved differently than other children. Her body movements seemed stiff and forced. She complained of pain in her knees and ankles, but doctors chalked them up to growing pains, claiming she would grow out of them. They were wrong.
At five years old, Tori was subjected to a battery of tests and diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. She was sent to a rheumatologist, though her joint and abdominal pain only increased. A doctor recommended an endoscopy and colonoscopy to investigate her intestinal tract. Tori’s intestines were scored, ulcerated, and inflamed. Tori had Crohn’s disease.
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that usually affects the small bowel and the beginning of the colon, but it can occur anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum. The body views the harmless, often beneficial bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract as the enemy and attacks them. This causes a normal immune system response of inflammation of the intestinal wall. However in Crohn’s patients the inflammation becomes chronic and can cause any number of symptoms including, but not limited to, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, low energy, abdominal cramps, and pain.
By sixteen, Tori had been on numerous treatments for her symptoms, and they would work--for a while. She’d been poked, prodded, and sedated so often by doctors that she simply asked her parents on the way into an appointment, “I wonder what I’ll be diagnosed with today?” Already Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia, asthma, and anemia added to her debilitating Crohn’s Disease.
Two years ago, at nineteen, Tori’s heel swelled up like a softball. She underwent physical therapy, was put in a boot, and iced her foot several times a day. Even with an ulcerated colon the doctors had her on 12 Ibuprofen each day for six months with no improvement to her heel. She was a student at Wright State University and yet reduced to crawling on their floor at home to the point of blisters on her knees. Unable to use either crutches or wheelchair, JoAnne drove Tori to her classes.
One sleepless night during that time, Bob wandered the halls of their home remembering all the evenings he had scooped his beautiful daughter off the floor and carried her to bed, often in tears, always in pain. “That night I fell on my face and prayed for God to take her pain away. I begged Him to give it to me.” The next morning Tori woke her parents at 7. She told her mom that her feet were feeling okay and that she didn’t have to take her to school that day. Bob’s feet, however, were throbbing!
Two days later Bob’s foot pain left and Tori’s returned. “I never heard God audibly,” Bob said, “though I know He said, ‘I hear your prayers and you have to trust Me.’ And that’s how we make it through. We trust God with whatever she’s going through. We don’t understand, but we trust Him.”
Tori’s next colonoscopy showed more inflammation, bleeding, and ulcers. Her heel was still swollen and painful. The doctors decided she needed surgery to remove her ascending colon and about four inches of her small bowel. The morning after her surgery her heel returned to normal size.
Two short months later the joint pain returned and Tori was placed on another treatment regimen.
“My friends have asked if I wish I were never born with this disease,” Tori admitted. “I tell them no. Yes, it’s terrible. In fact, I hate it. But I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. If anything, maybe I can stand out as a beacon of hope and a reminder that there is a reason for everything. If you live in pain, there are brighter days. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve had days I wanted to kill myself cause I didn’t think I could make it through the night. In high school I abused myself because I had no other way to express what I was going through. Yet God has a way of getting us through those days. The path might not be easy, but it shapes us.”
Through it all, Tori has never quit. She’s currently in her senior year of pre-med at Wright State and graduates this December. Her favorite illustration comes from 2 Corinthians 4. Tori sat up straight at the edge of her chair and used her hands to draw an imaginary jar of clay in front of her. “Life has its hammers. It beats and breaks you down,” she explained. “If you have the light of Christ in you, like a candle placed inside the broken jar, it shines out through those holes, through your brokenness, like a beacon of light. Light for everyone to see.”
Tori dropped her gaze to her lap and shrugged her shoulders as if what she has gone through her whole life and her God-glorifying response to it were somehow commonplace. “The majority of the time I’ve felt a sort of peace about everything,” she said softly. “I have those days where I’m upset and I’ve screamed, ‘Come on just end this!’ But even on those endless nights I’ve still felt a little inkling of strength. I know it’s Divine intervention. It says, ‘Keep going. You’ve got this. There’s something for you in the end. You have a story to tell.’ It’s what is getting me through the day now. And it is enough.”
Author: Carrie Kempisty
Photographer: Hilary Tebo