Spotlight on Kaitlin Luongo: A Beauty From the Inside Out
I met Kaitlin last semester in one of my favorite classes, Social Work With Families. During my most painful semester yet, Kaitlin was a bright spot in my days. She made it easier to get out of bed and much more fun to attend classes. We shared some amazing laughs and found out we had many similarities (a central one being our mutual love for dogs!)
When I was younger, I tended to rush right into friendships and open myself up quickly and completely to that person. Whenever my disease reared its ugly head and I was unable to do many of the things I had previously enjoyed, these people often left as quickly as they came into my life. As I grow older, I realize how precious my energy is and what an important word friendship really is. As the semester wore on, Kaitlin showed me many wonderful sides to her - the hilarious and fun-loving part, but also a profoundly empathetic side. As my grandma would say, she is a "friend with a capital F."
When I was enduring the whirlwind of confusion, pain, and terrible side effects that I've referenced, Kaitlin was a caring and constant figure in my life. When my doctor accidentally wrote 3 times the amount of medication on the bottle and I nearly passed out in class, Kaitlin was there. She got me water, reassured me that I'd be okay, and made sure I was safe as she helped walk me out of the building. She is a gem and you need only meet her for a few seconds to know that. In addition to being an amazing person, Kaitlin also suffers from extreme gluten intolerance. Please read more about her story and feel free to comment on this post if you wish to be in touch with this lovely lady.
What is the year you were first diagnosed? How old were you?
I found out I was gluten intolerant in 2008 at age 21. However, I have not yet been formally diagnosed with Celiac Disease. My doctor recommended I go on the gluten free diet as long as it was making me feel better. I did, but now that I’d like a formal diagnosis, I am unsure if I will be able to be accurately diagnosed. Being on a gluten free diet may skew the results of the test. Therefore, I am working with doctors and reading a LOT to determine the best way to do this!
What would you tell someone who has been newly diagnosed with your condition and/or a chronic illness in general?
Breathe. There are foods that taste good that won’t make you sick. And be assertive with your doctor- you deserve a definitive answer from the start. If one doctor isn’t listening, find another. And read a lot about whatever it is you think you have, people have told you you have, or you have been formally diagnosed with. Understand your body and your needs so you can really advocate for yourself.
Please explain a bit about how your condition affects you.
If I eat anything with gluten, anything at all, I feel really sick. My stomach hurts so badly I cannot walk and I break out into hives all over my legs, elbows, and stomach. The hardest part is the inconsistency. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and I can eat something gluten filled and feel okay. Then the next day it hits me! Or I will never get sick that time, but the next time I try to eat the same thing, body beware. I will feel so sick. Since being diagnosed, I have grown increasingly sensitive and allergic to more things and have had more severe reactions. I’ve also learned a lot more about it, which has helped in understanding why my body is reacting that way. I feel tired a lot and sometimes I’ll feel famished because my body has not absorbed any of the nutrients I’ve taken in.
What are 3 things you couldn't live without?
The people I love, dance, and my camera. All three keep me alert and present.
What are you most proud of?
I've realized I am a pretty competent person- I can handle crises fairly well and I’ve learned to balance a lot. The disease hasn’t stopped me from being able to figure out how to balance what I need to do and what I want to do. In fact, rather than stopping me, it has taught me how to create this balance.
Where do you get your strength?
Laughter. If I can laugh, I feel cured. Even at my sickest, a good laugh carries me far (and luckily i entertain myself nicely!)
If you could send one message to medical professionals around the world, what would it be?
Listen. Your patients are as smart as you. We know our bodies better and what feels right for us. If you have ever in our position, you know how much a listening ear and a kind spirit can mean to someone who is struggling. But also, know how strong we are. And smile.
I'm living in New York, studying social work, and making time to be Maya: a daughter, a sister, a fiance, a friend, a writer, an animal lover and someone coping with 2 medical conditions (Spondylitis & Fibromyalgia). Every day I'm learning to live and love not despite chronic illness, but because of it. I treasure my readers, so please comment or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for stopping by!