As an Army wife with a husband deployed in Afghanistan, Victoria Bowers learned how to be self-reliant. But then Crohn’s disease added a new complication for her and her family.


Victoria Bowers’ mysterious symptoms started just as her husband, 1st Sgt. Edward Bowers, came home on leave from Afghanistan for Christmas in 2011.
At first, doctors suspected that her bloody diarrhea was from food poisoning. They gave her antibiotics, but that didn’t help. “My husband had to leave again the day after Christmas not knowing what was going on with me,” she says. Bowers was left at home in Fort Benning, Georgia, in extreme pain and with full responsibility for their two young children, then ages 4 and 3.
“When your husband deploys, you worry about him coming home safely, and here I am, fighting for my own life,” Bowers says. “I needed to play both mom and dad, but I couldn’t do either.”
Bowers was eventually diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and prescribed two immunosuppressant medications to manage the condition.
Her husband came home in May 2012, but he was overseas during the worst of her Crohn’s disease. While he was away, Bowers had many nights when she was in so much pain that she had to wake up the children and take them to the ER with her. But it was in her children that she found the strength to fight and get well.
“As a parent with Crohn’s disease, you look at your children and want to do as much as you can to help them and be part of their lives,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t just sit in bed and give up. When you’re the only parent at home, you find a way to manage and are grateful it isn’t worse than it is.”
Today Bowers’ symptoms have improved, but she still has frequent bouts of diarrhea.
Finding Inspiration From Your Children
Bowers’ children are also her motivation to stay strong when she’s tempted to cheat on her Crohn’s disease diet. Because she’s become lactose-intolerant, like many people with Crohn’s disease, she makes dairy-free treats for everyone. “I don’t want to serve my kids their birthday cake and have them ask me why I’m not having any. So I make a cake we can all eat,” she says.
Her kids have had to make some sacrifices, too. They can’t ride bikes unless her husband can be with them because she can’t be too far from a bathroom. If she’s playing with them in the park, they may all have to suddenly run home if she has to get to a toilet.
Bowers tries not to scare her children when she’s not feeling well, simply telling them that her stomach is making her sick. “They have lots of questions, and I’m grateful I can explain it, but you don’t want to worry them,” she says. That proved difficult when she had to have emergency surgery for a fistula and an abscess after her husband’s return from Afghanistan.
“While I was being prepped for the operating room, my husband left to pick them up from school and take them to my mom,” she says. “It’s tough to be in the hospital and not able to see your children. It’s hard knowing your children are worried about Mom and you can’t comfort their fears.”
There’s something else that worries her, too. Bowers knows that Crohn’s disease runs in families. “It concerns me that my children might be at greater risk,” she says, “but my doctor said it’s not a big percentage unless both parents have it. Knowing that it’s just me who has Crohn’s helps. ”
Parenthood, Pregnancy, and Crohn’s Disease
Bowers isn’t alone in her struggle. Raising young children and having Crohn’s disease can present some real challenges, says Wilson Jackson, MD, a gastroenterologist at Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. “If the disease becomes more aggressive and Mom is in the hospital, kids can view it as a traumatic event,” he says. But like Bowers, many parents who are coping with a chronic illness find ways to keep it in perspective and everyone at ease.
Dr. Jackson also says that women with Crohn’s disease shouldn’t be discouraged from becoming pregnant. “There are drugs that are effective and can help a woman with Crohn’s disease through pregnancy safely,” he says.
In fact, Bowers and her husband are trying to have another child. They’re having trouble conceiving, and her active Crohn’s disease may be contributing to the difficulty. Now the couple is trying in vitro fertilization — and staying optimistic.

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