Honored Heroes are ambassadors for Take Steps and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation as a whole. As patients and healthcare professionals, they are the voice and face, the heart and soul of our walks.
In September 2020, I crossed a milestone: 20 years since my diagnosis with Crohn’s disease. Over these two decades, I’ve gone through many phases, both physical and emotional, regarding my condition. The past six years have been marked by more outward conversation about Crohn’s and by my participation in Take Steps. I’ve led Team Belly Laughs since 2015 and am proud to bring a growing team to the event each year, raising more funds and awareness. But I certainly have not always been this vocal.
In the fall of 2000, I was a freshman at USC, and I wanted to disappear. At a time when I was eager to spread my wings and establish my identity as an adult for the first time, instead I curled up in isolation. Rather than making new friends, I cloaked myself in a dark hoodie so nobody could identify the freak staggering across campus bent over in pain. In high school I had loved class and often sat in the front, but suddenly I was a loner huddling near the door counting the seconds until dismissal (and often darting out early). My intestinal distention was so severe that I could poke one side of my belly and manually move stuff to the other side. Forget parties and dating and the rites of passage for college freshmen. Instead, I lived with my mother, picking at plain bread and sipping clear broth, hoping to keep something down. I felt like a helpless baby only when I didn’t feel like a grotesque monster. But guess what, I’m not those things.
I’m grateful that, as we found treatments that worked for me and I told close confidantes about my illness, I slowly came back to life like a wilted flower finding sunshine. There was a process of adaptation and learning what my body needed. I found people whom I trusted not to judge me, and here’s the twist: I’ve found that the fear of judgement was far more oppressive than any actual judgement I’ve felt from anyone. Eventually finding the community and outlet of Take Steps let me reframe Crohn’s and turn it into something positive, which is why I named our team for one of the best feelings in the world.
Today I am not only a Crohn’s patient. It’s far down the list of identities. I am a filmmaker, writer, and actor, who graduated magna cum laude from that school. I have a loving, wonderful, supportive wife and many friends. I’m able to travel, and snorkel, and eat food. I enjoy drawing, painting, and hiking. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more open about Crohn’s. 20 years after starting this journey, I’m still pushing myself to accept it more openly, and I know that sharing what was once a dark secret makes me feel stronger, not weaker. Take Steps empowers me to do that, as will serving as an Honored Hero, I suspect. Thank you to the Los Angeles chapter for this distinction, and cheers to your devoted work in helping those affected by IBD.
Kelly Issokson, MS, RD, CNSC
As a young and impressionable dietetic intern, I entered the doors of Cedars-Sinai 12 years ago and I met some of the brightest and kindest professionals in the nutrition field — women who would later become my dear friends, but who would also inspire me to make an evidence-based approach to GI nutrition the centerpiece of my dietetic practice.
Erin Feldman, who specializes in Pediatric IBD, introduced me to the vital role that dietitians play in the health and well-being of those with IBD. At that time, 12 years ago, there was no dietitian in the adult IBD clinic, and, her important work helped me see what a difference nutrition can make in the treatment of IBD.
Today, I am very fortunate to work with people I deeply admire and respect. In my current role as Clinical Nutrition Coordinator for Digestive Diseases, I have dedicated time for research and teaching, and I am able to provide direct care to patients and caregivers. The multi-disciplinary team that I work with at Cedars has some of the best doctors, nurses and support staff in the country, and I’m so lucky that I can continue to learn from them and build on my knowledge base each and every day.
Take Steps is important to me because it is a fun, great way to connect with the community. It brings awareness to the 3 million Americans living with IBD, all while raising vital funds for IBD research and education. I’ve been captain of our team IBD Eliminators from Cedars-Sinai for a few years now, and each year I have such a great time seeing the physicians, nurses, and all the people (and dogs!) on our team come out and support those with IBD.