Profiles in Education
Name: Catherine Marchetta
Fighting the Illness
School: Princeton High School
Activities: Field hockey; singing in "Around 8," an a cappella group; member of Teen Advisory Group of Corner House; music conductor at St. Paul's Church; and volunteer with the Chrohn's and Colitis Foundation of America
Most Memorable Book: My Antonia, by Willa Cather
Person You Admire: "My mom [Maureen Marchetta]; we have six kids in our family and she's been such a great role model for all of us. She's such a warm and loving person....I want to be just like her."
Catherine Marchetta, 17, is a senior at Princeton High School who is active in both her school and in her community. However, there is one thing about this student that makes all of her accomplishments, both large and small, seem exemplary: she wakes up each day battling a chronic illness known as ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The illness, which has no known cause or cure, allows Catherine to accomplish more than the average student on some days, while on others, she is too fatigued to even do her homework.
First becoming ill at the age of 13, Catherine went through a difficult year, experiencing severe abdominal pain that her family at first believed was caused by lactose intolerance. By the end of seventh grade, she had become extremely weak and anemic.
"It just continued to get worse," she said, noting that her pediatrician at first mistakenly diagnosed her with food poisoning, and put her on a banana and rice diet.
That summer, while visiting her aunt, a pediatrician, she finally got the help she needed.
"I had lost 20 pounds. It was really a dramatic difference," she said of her appearance, which caused her aunt to have her immediately taken to the hospital, where she was put on an IV for two weeks.
"It was really hard for me emotionally. I didn't really know what to do," said Catherine, remembering her feelings when she was first diagnosed.
"I remember thinking, 'How can I face the kids at school?' I didn't think I was normal anymore," she said, recalling how hard it was to walk the hallways in junior high, particularly on days when her face was bloated from one of the medications she was taking.
After the school nurse suggested she get in touch with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), Catherine attended CCFA's IBD Education Day in Philadelphia, where doctors talked about new research that is being conducted on the illness, and a panel discussion was led by patients who helped answer others' questions and concerns. It was her first opportunity to meet other people who were going through the same thing.
"I realized it's not the end of your life, it's just a new part," she said, adding that she found the panel discussions so helpful, she is now a panelist herself every year.
The following summer she attended her first camp ever, Camp Oasis, for youth with Chrohn's and Colitis, where she made many friends she keeps regularly in touch with.
"They really embraced me and took me in....I had so much fun," she recalled, adding that last year she served as the youth ambassador for the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Chapter of CCFA. The one-year position allowed her to speak to others about her illness, as well as address CCFA's annual gala and IBD Education Day.
Now, taking a daily dose of 17 pills to stay healthy, Catherine still has good days and bad days. Although she often wakes up in the morning fatigued and with abdominal pain, she is able to fight the illness by drinking plenty of water and staying on a strict diet. She also visits the doctor every two months to receive a five-hour infusion of a drug called Remicade.
As captain of the PHS field hockey team, she felt especially frustrated by her limitations recently when she developed foot sores and arthritis, which caused her to miss one of the first practices of the season.
"I loved sports before I was diagnosed and I still love sports," she said, noting that she will be participating in the CCFA Philadelphia 5K Run/Walk on October 1, which helps raise awareness and funds for the life-saving work of CCFA. This will be Catherine's fourth year running in the race. The first two years she won the gold medal, and last year she won the silver. In 2004 she was able to raise ˚8,000, and this year she is looking toward a goal of ˚10,000.
Catherine and her mother also recently helped further CCFA's cause by urging New Jersey State representatives to help pass a government act that will increase state funding to research toward a cure.
"I used to ask 'Why me?' but now I say 'Why not me?'" said Catherine, adding that she feels she has the ability to make a difference by helping others understand her illness. "I help put a face on the issue."
Every Day Obstacles
Growing up in a household with three sisters and two brothers, and two very supportive parents, Catherine said that while her family can't fully comprehend the obstacles she must overcome each day, the support she receives from them makes all the difference.
She added that her friends and teachers are also understanding of her limitations, particularly on days when she isn't well enough to complete her school work.
Looking to the future, Catherine has lined up several schools she would like to attend following graduation, including Wellesley College, Rutgers University, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, and Princeton University.
"I'm really not sure what I'll major in," she said, adding that she is most interested in pursuing a career in medicine. "Doctors and nurses are heroes in my mind. They help people live the lives they want to live."
Reflecting back on what she has learned since being diagnosed with her illness, Catherine said the most important thing in life is to be optimistic.
"I've learned to smile a lot, laugh a lot, and have a good time. We need to look at the good things we have....I don't take the simple things in life for granted."
To help support Catherine in the CCFA 5K Walk/Run, visit http://ccfa.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=111332, or send a check made out to "CCFA" to: Catherine Marchetta, 54 Crestview Drive, Princeton.