Finding Support as a College Celiac

August 11, 2014

Finding Support as a College Celiac

Casey Cromwell, sophomore at Point Loma Nazarene University, shares her story of living with celiac disease in college and how campus support got her through a difficult diagnosis.

By Casey Cromwell AKA “Casey the College Celiac

Outside Point Loma University I never pictured myself as a damsel in distress. Too dedicated. Too stubborn. And, most importantly, too determined to keep my recent celiac disease diagnosis from skewing my plans. If freshman year taught me anything, though, it’s that college is a beast with #2 pencils for teeth. And, in order to slay a dragon, you need plenty of knights by your side.

When my sneakers first hit campus, I was oblivious to the bumpy sidewalks up ahead. “Celiac disease has nothing on me!” I thought. “The caf has a salad bar and allergen-friendly zone. I’ve talked to the chef. My parents live close by. I’m ready to go!”

And then reality set in. The days of orientation activities where my hands, bereft of the free pizza and ice-cream, immediately set me apart. The extreme fatigue from an accidental Halloween glutening. And, finally, the hospitalization after weeks of attending class as a zombie, underweight and vitamin deficient from celiac disease complications.

Casey and friends on Halloween

Before my accidental Halloween glutening

While it was happening, I hated celiac disease for stealing class and college time from me. As if a Casey in recovery freshman year of college isn’t already hard enough! As I look back, though, I can’t help but be grateful. Without celiac disease in the picture, I never would have turned to my peers and teachers for support. And I never would have discovered just how amazing that support can be.

My fellow students shocked me with how quickly they flocked to my side. At the time I left for the hospital, the girls on my hall barely knew me. Even so, they held me as I cried and welcomed me back with a huge poster on my door. When I struggled with the everyday challenges of celiac disease in college – like turning down the spoils of a midnight burrito run – they tried to understand. And when they couldn’t, they simply accepted my “weird” behavior. What more could a gal ask for?

As for my teachers, they were beyond understanding. As soon as I emailed them about my hospital trip, they immediately assigned a different kind of homework: feeling better. The class work could wait. I even found a fellow celiac in my Bible teacher, who later took my car-less self shopping for gluten-free food one particularly hungry Saturday. Months after my hospital stay, my teachers still asked how I was recovering and offered prayers.

Dorm room poster: We miss you Casey

The girls in my hall were amazing throughout
such a tough time!

The support continued from my school’s Wellness Center and the cafeteria chefs. The nurses nearly drove me crazy with well-meaning concern, checking up on me by the week. As for the chefs, our daily conversations when I picked up my special meals always made my day. And if I felt sick one day and canceled a meal – they worried over me like I was their own daughter!

Casey and friends group photo

I feel so lucky to have such great support
on campus!

As I prepare to head back to college in the next few weeks, I can’t help but remember my beast of a freshman year. College can be a challenge for anyone, dietary restrictions or not. With celiac disease, it’s easy to view it as a dragon that’s impossible to slay. But, as I’ve discovered after one year, with the right knights in shining armor, anything is possible. Even having the best time of your life in college while eating gluten-free!

– Casey
AKA Casey the College Celiac