(FOX 2) - Thirty-one-year-old Natalie Madison is happy to finally get back on her feet, literally. Rollerblading is one of her favorite hobbies. The waters of Lake St. Clair and the winding paths at Metro Beach provide the perfect spot for her.
She relies on exercise now to stay healthy, which has been a top concern for her since high school when she struggled with an invisible illness.
Natalie was losing her hair, she had unexplained weight loss and her energy was low. Doctors couldn't pinpoint the diagnosis. "It was devastating. It was my whole 11th and 12th grade of high school, so I didn't get to be a regular teenager. I wasn't out going to parties with friends or hanging out on the weekend," she says.
Finally, after multiple tests and treatments it was determined Natalie had Crohn's disease, a rare bowel disease that inflames the lining of the digestive track.
"A lot of people when they think of Crohn's they think of diarrhea, and I didn't have diarrhea I actually had the opposite which was the constipation and so that didn't line up. A lot of people with Crohn's also talk about how they have pain, or how they felt sick all the time, which I didn't have that either. It was just more so, what was happening at the time that had me in and out of the hospital. Other than that - I felt great! So those classic symptoms didn’t line up with me," she says.
Now as an adult Natalie recognizes how hard it was for her high school self to deal with such a deflating disease.
While her friends were celebrating graduation and headed off to college, she stayed home.
"I had gotten really depressed. I had gotten into this state where, when I mentioned I felt like I lost myself, I really did. I was sitting at home one day and I didn't even realize what music I liked to listen to anymore, and that kind of hit me. When you feel like you're just a shell of a person."
Crohn's can't be cured, and the cause isn't clear.
Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, or antibiotics. Surgery is sometimes needed.
After a combination of those treatments and a long 14-year fight - a year ago a Henry Ford doctor finally told Natalie that her Crohn's disease was in remission.
"It was the best feeling you can possibly imagine. I was beyond ecstatic."
Natalie now embraces life. She's happily married and happy to be active. She shares her story to help others understand that a rare disease doesn’t define you.
"When you get the diagnosis, it's not like this is it; you can make the best of it and feel like yourself," she says. "You will have the days that hit you and you're not the best and you just feel like laying down in bed, but that's just one day. It's not your whole life."
Natalie is the honored hero at this year’s Crohn's and Colitis walk. The Take Steps Walk is happening this weekend, June 8 to raise awareness money to find a cure for irritable bowel diseases. You can get more information below or online here.
Saturday, June 8th
9:00 am Check in and Festival start
10:30 am Walk start
Southfield Civic Center Complex