Little did she know, when University of California, Berkeley senior Maggie Fuller set out to travel abroad in a remote Central American village, Crohn's Disease was ravaging her body.
Fuller spent most of her trip debilitated by horrible
undiagnosed symptoms -- without the help of pain medication (not even
one ibuprofen!). She soon learned the culprit was Crohn's
-- an incurable autoimmune condition.
Now, following an extensive surgery to repair the damage, this feisty student is vying for a spot on an internship team that will take her around the world -- a dream she's had since she was a child.
momlogic sat down with this amazing young adult to find out more about her fight -- and how we can help vote her around the world!
momlogic: What was the hardest part of enduring the effects of Crohn's disease while in Costa Rica, and how did you get through it?
Maggie Fuller: I'd get flare-ups about once every month, and I could always tell when they were starting. It's extreme pain. I always try to describe it as an inward-twisting feeling in my lower abdomen. But I've been dealing with it for so long that I was kind of used to the routine by the time I got to Costa Rica. I always knew about three to four hours ahead of time when a flare-up was going to occur, and they always happened at night -- so I'd just make sure that my iPod was charged, because I knew I wasn't going to sleep. I was hard having to deal with this pain alone at night, but I knew it would be over by the morning, and like I said, I've been having these flare-ups for years, so I was used to the routine. The worst time was coming back from a weekend trip to Jaco with some of my friends. It actually happened during the daytime on a three-hour bus ride back from the beach, and there was literally nothing I could do but sit there and clench my fists and breathe deeply. And even though I was with friends, I didn't want to worry them, because, again, there is nothing to do about it.
ml: What do you want people to know about the disease?
MF: Honestly, I'm still learning about it myself. I wasn't officially diagnosed before I went to Costa Rica, so it's only been about six months that I've accepted the fact that I have it and will always have it.
Crohn's is an autoimmune disease that falls under the inflammatory-bowel-disease umbrella. Very basically, it causes a buildup of scarring inside the intestine, which leads to inflammation and more scarring, which ends up blocking the intestine. I recently had surgery to remove a part of my small intestine that had a buildup of scarring and almost closed off a section. I am incredibly lucky to have what my doctors call a moderate case. Crohn's disease can be controlled, but it can't be cured. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America has made some incredible strides in treatment for these diseases. The thing is, dealing with gastrointestinal problems, I've come to learn that there are so many people out there who have some sort of inflammatory bowel disease and don't know it.
ml: What has been your favorite international destination in your travels thus far? And what place can you not wait to visit next?
MF: I truly love Paris. I love the literary and art history that has become such an important part of the city. I love the cafés and the architecture. But most of all, I love that every time I've visited Paris, it feels familiar and I feel comfortable. I also really love Panama. Everyone I've met in Panama is friendly and laid-back and genuine. Panama City is incredible: It's half Miami and half Antigua. I just can't get over the fact that literally half of the city is sleek and modern and the other half is filled with history and old European-influenced architecture. It's absolutely beautiful. And the islands around Panama are some of my favorite places. I love the culture and the surfing in Bocas del Toro, and the diversity of the different islands in the archipelago. Also, the San Blas Islands are the quintessential island paradises: white sand, palm trees and crystal-clear blue waters. I really can't wait to visit the Mediterranean in general, and Morocco in particular. I've never been to a Mediterranean coast, and the area became my goal a few months ago.
ml: How did you find out about this contest, and what did it feel like to realize there was a scholarship for something that was exactly what you wanted to do with your life?
MF: I actually stumbled on this internship by accident. I was playing around on the Internet, following links to other sites, and I ran across a San Francisco Facebook group where another applicant had posted a link to his video. I followed it and as soon as I figured it out that he was applying for my dream internship, I started my application, right then and there. I still sometimes have to remind myself that, yes, this does really exist and I do really have an opportunity to do something that I love as a job. I have always known that I just want to travel. When I'm traveling, I'm in my element; everything feels like it fits perfectly. I love meeting new people who share that wanderlust, and I love that feeling of awe and appreciation that I find every place I go. Travel-writing always seemed like it would be the most perfect job, not only because of my need to travel, but also because I absolutely love to write. So the fact that I have an opportunity to actually start doing something I love and to reach a much wider audience than my friend network is just incredible. It's one of those things that I just want so badly that I get giddy thinking about it and start giggling. Or have to pause and collect myself when I'm telling people about it, because that buildup of excited emotion starts to choke me up.
Want to vote for Maggie? Do it here!