Someone once said “dancing is like dreaming with your feet” and for Crohn’s Disease sufferer Daniella Badenhorst (24), her dream was realised in December 2009 when she won the Dance for Life ballroom competition.
The dance competition, sponsored by Abbott Laboratories, is aimed at motivating and inspiring patients suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis and Crohn’s Disease, proving that life can be enjoyed to the fullest, even when living with a debilitating condition.
Daniella Badenhorst (winner), Anneline Moodley (Abbott spokesperson), Annari Palmer (Abbott spokesperson) and Katlego Khanou (professional dancer).
Daniella, from Cape Town, proudly claimed first place alongside her professional dance partner Katlego Khanou. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 200 at the age of 14. It is a particularly nasty auto-immune disease that attacks the digestive tract.
“Basically, the body's immune system is over-active and ‘eats away’ at the body, causing ulceration. This in turn can result in high inflammation, anemia, chronic fatigue, nausea, rapid weight loss and nutritional deficiencies,” she explains.
Living with Crohn's Disease
“At the moment my life is only affected from secondary sources, rather than the disease itself, as I am in remission. So I inject myself with a biological every 14 days, which also suppresses my immune system - I therefore have to be overly cautious about with whom I am in contact.
“TB and the H1N1 virus (swine flu) are of particular concern, as well as other viruses and illnesses such as chicken pox and the likes so I have to take special care to have minimal exposure to airborne illnesses,” she says.
Not an easy task given how easily things can be passed in the air. But Daniella is clearly not one to let ler life be ruled by her disease and flatly states that “before my remission, Crohn's dictated my lifestyle, but never my life”.
Daniella with her professional dance partner Katlego Khanou.
When she was first diagnosed she says she went from being very sporty and outgoing to almost constantly bed-bound and her life revolved around hospitals.
“I didn’t have the strength to walk up a short flight of stairs; I was chronically fatigued, underweight and anemic. All decisions were based around my accessibility to emergency units and my specialist.”
And unfortunately as is the case with medication sometimes, the cure often seemed worse than the cause. “Many medications had adverse side effects - such as acne, heart palpitations and weight gain, which was humiliating at an age when body image was particularly important,” she says.
However, those days are firmly in her past now and Daniella has taken back control of her life – boldly stating that “Today, Crohn's Disease is merely an aspect of my life-I have never allowed it to characterise me and now I can physically be the Dani I have always felt within”.
The importance of diet
Most Crohn’s sufferers have to follow very strict diets to control their symptoms, as did Daniella for the eight years she actively had the disease.
She explains how she had to follow a very strict diet and was at one point on a purely liquid diet as any food caused an adverse reaction and exacerbated the inflammation.
Following that she was put on a rather limited diet that excluded all gluten, wheat and dairy as this helped to alleviate the symptoms to a small extent.
“Today, I follow a relatively "normal" diet, but try eat as healthily as possible and avoid preservatives and any processed foods,” she says.
Make no mistake, Crohn’s Disease is a very unpleasant condition and challenges even the strongest willed person. Daniella admits that at times it was unbearable and says that some of the hardest things to deal with were those which a healthy person takes for granted.
"Losing my freedom was hard - being confined to bed and not being able to partake in my sports about which I was so passionate was really hard. Socialising with my friends was minimised and I had to come to terms with the physical changes my body went through.
“It was also really difficult when I had to undergo countless procedure and watching the stress my condition caused my parents made me feel desperately helpless – they were doing everything humanly possible to support and encourage me so it was sometimes painful for me to see them go through that.”
Dealing with the physical and emotional side of a condition like this is something that can either make you or break you, and fortunately for Daniella, she found she had the strength to pull herself through it and was lucky enough to have a strong support system at the ready.
“I quickly learned who my true friends were, as some treated me as though I was a leper, while others visited me, encouraged me, supported me and called me everyday-as well as offered comfort to my parents.
“Relationship wise, I was blessed by having an incredible boyfriend at the time, whose love for me was never dependant on my “healthy days” - he was a true pillar of strength for me and testament to unconditional love.
“My parents took strain, however, the trials through which we went as a family, only further solidified our already strong bonds, faith and love for one another. My family are the wind beneath my wings and at times when I forgot how to fly, they were always besides me-guiding, comforting, encouraging and supporting me.”
Advice for others
Daniella has been through some tough times, but has proved she is a fighter and is a stronger, happier person for it. Her advice for others who have this condition, or suspect they might is that Crohn’s Disease need not be a life sentence.
“This disease does not have the power to define you if you so choose,” she syas, and adds that speaking openly about one’s condition and joining a support group may aid the healing process and reaffirm the hope that one can lead a ‘normal life’, with the correct treatment and care for one’s body.
She also strongly recommends finding a specialist “whom you trust implicitly and stay with him/her are vital in working together as a team to fight the disease”.
Again she reiterates that the power of the mind is key to controlling this disease: “Changing one’s mind-set to being optimistic and not viewing oneself as a ‘diseased’ person, I believe is very powerful.
Daniella lives life to the full and doesn't let her condition rule her life.
“I accepted my condition at the outset of being diagnosed, which allowed me to focus my energy on fighting it and healing my body, because my mind was able to do so. Not dwelling on unhealthy days, but reliving happy and treasured moments; continuing to dream and set goals; actually living life and not wallowing; appreciating those around you and making the most of one’s time, all serve in being a survivor and not a sufferer.”
(Amy Henderson, Health24, January 2010)