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I have Ulcerative Colitis. This is My Story.

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I have Ulcerative Colitis (also commonly referred to, or confused with Crohn’s). There is a big difference between the two, but they are commonly discussed in the same conversations. Today I will be sharing my personal and private story with you and the rest of the world, and how it’s affected both my personal and business life.

Before doing so, I must first say thank you to everyone close to me that has made living with this condition possible. Especially my wife Reena, my immediate family and the IBD team at Mount Sinai. Outside of them, not many people even knew I had the condition.

In addition to thanking those who have helped me along the way, I hope by sharing my story, I can help others find some information, resources or hope for their UC/Crohn’s (IBD) issues as well, as this is a silent disease that isn’t seen on the outside and not commonly openly discussed by those who live with it. This can be attributed to the shame and stigma that may come along with having an IBD diagnosis.

Before we jump into my own experience with Colitis, I recommend you watch the short video (yet detailed) video below that explains what it is, how it affects the body and the current options for remission and surgery in the world today.

My Story and the Stigma of Ulcerative Colitis

For the most part, UC is a horrible auto-immune disease and one that people usually do not talk about. You’ve likely also seen commercials for UC medications on television, pushing drugs like Humira and Entyvio. I’ve had the pleasure of being on both; Humira worked for a while, but I had no positive effects from Entyvio after 9 months at all. Even while being on these medications, I was still taking probiotics and various amounts of prescribed Prednisone daily, between 20-40mg. Yes, I’ve also tried the holistic route and clean organic eating, with little to no success. I’ve tried them all… and will go into detail on all of that in this post today.

I’ve personally been diagnosed with UC for over 17 years now, and there is no cure (except surgery to remove the lower portion of the colon) — there is only the hope to go into remission. While there is ‘no cure’, there are several medications on the market to try and control the disease. The option is also there to get an intensive surgery to remove the lower portion of the colon and rectum (thus, removing all of the inflammation being caused by colitis), but this is usually the last resort and not one that I (or my doctors) feel I am at yet. This is not also simple surgery with a quick recovery, you will need multiple surgeries which takes place over a 9-to-12 month time period.

It’s also a tricky disease, as it’s one not really seen on the outside of the body, but is continually attacking the colon and digestion system of anyone who has it. In my own scenario, I’ve constantly been bleeding and getting sicker and sicker for the past 12+ months and my body feels as though it is attacking itself, leaving me constantly in pain. With little improvement in sight and lots of recommended remedies/medications continually failing, it’s been quite a strenuous and debilitating process.

Living with UC is a complete nightmare in itself, as it’s not just a matter of constant internal bleeding, it’s also an extremely weakened immune system while also taking a ton of medications in the process. For myself, it’s been somewhat tolerable, as I have the luxury of working from home, but I can’t imagine what it would be like for anyone with a 9-5 job or not having easy access to a bathroom at any given time. If this wasn’t the case, I would likely have already done the colectomy surgery to remove a portion of the colon.

Not only is UC something that controls how you live, eat and think, it actually controls every single aspect of your life. You need to prepare and know where you are going, how long you will be there, what type of bathroom access you might have and what type of food will be available. Even when in remission, a flare up can happen at any time — without any cause or reason (though it’s often associated with stress and eating habits).

One of the most common and upsetting things for people with UC or Crohns is how other people see (or don’t see it). Without having or understanding the disease, it’s easy to think it’s simply an ‘eating’ or ‘life choices’ issue, but it’s actually not. Yes, everyone has ‘stomach issues’, but UC and Crohn’s are a completely different story, and it’s tough to relate to anyone that has it if you haven’t experienced it firsthand.

This could break into a whole new story on its own, but I won’t go into it at this time.

On a Mission to Find Remission

It was well over a decade ago that I first started experiencing the symptoms of UC. I remember being on an Affiliate Marketing cruise and shockingly seeing blood in the toilet after going to the bathroom. Of course, when seeing something like this, you hope it quickly goes away and that’s that. However, that wasn’t the case, and it was only the beginning.

From here we would visit a wide range of doctors over the years. Some would put me on 12-18 pills of Asacol per day, while other holistic doctors would try their own remedies and infuse me with vitamins and medicines (which would only seem to provide temporary 24-48 hour solutions). For the most part, none of these would work. Then I came across an over the counter medicine called Digestive Advantage, which worked really well for a while, but was then discontinued. Even if it was still around, it would have only been a temporary solution.

This process went on for a while and it just seemed like I was dealing with the problems of UC, while occasionally going into remission and hoping for the best.

A few years ago I met with a new local GI (gastroenterologist) and they recommended putting me on a biological treatment, Humira, a self-injection I would have to take each month. This actually worked quite well for roughly 2-3 years, then ultimately my body became immune to it as well.  One of the risks of these biological treatments is that your body can build up antibodies at any time, which makes the medication stop working. After that, we recently tried Entyvio, which had to be taken through an hour-long infusion every 2, 4 or 8 weeks depending on how well it was working with one’s body. In my case, I was on Entyvio for roughly 9 months and never experienced any relief, thus leading me to feel sicker as each month went by.

It’s also important to mention here that it’s not just a matter of being in pain and constantly bleeding, the main concern is the increased risk of cancer as a result of the untreated inflammation brought on by Colitis.

Just a couple weeks ago I had a new issue arise. It was a severe case of hemorrhoids (or so I thought). It got so bad that I had to go to the local hospital and my GI doctor — both leaving me with little guidance on what the real underlying problem was. I was getting extremely bad fevers, horrible pains in my stomach and the effects of UC were still getting worse on top of all of this.

Since no one local had an answer, it was time to call my contact at Mount Sinai. After doing so, Dr. Ungaro (my doctor), contacted me immediately and said to come into the ER at Mount Sinai and have everything looked at by the IBD team.

The connection to Dr. Ungaro and the Mount Sinai team would prove to be of utmost importance. In addition to being an expert in IBD, everyone at Mount Sinai always went out of their way to answer any questions I had, and always spent more than enough time to make sure I was always confident in what they had to say.

Connections are Everything

Before jumping into the next phase of my progression and trying to find remission from UC, we must first cover how I ended up at Mount Sinai (the best IBD center in the world) and the importance of always having connections and making the right decisions to go with only the best when it comes to your health.

Just like in business, if you want to work with the best, you need to learn from the best. The same holds true for your health and getting to the right health physicians. Of course, there are always going to be great local doctors, but there are also going to be hotspots for the best doctors in the world. A good way to think of this is that your local doctor probably sees hundreds of cases that might be similar to yours, however, when you go to one of the best centers in the world, they likely see thousands or even millions of relatable cases. When it comes to IBD or anything relating to the digestive system, Mount Sinai in New York City is the place to be.

In addition to the outstanding expertise of Dr.Ungaro, Jean-Frederic Colombel, MD, director of the IBD Center and a world-renowned doctor with over 20 years of experience in IBD, would also be looking over my case and meeting with me while in the hospital.

How I gained a connection to a doctor at Mount Sinai was quite unique. My wife works as a drug and alcohol counselor and the psychiatrist she works with has a son-in-law in the IBD space, who knew a doctor at Mount Sinai. Roughly two months ago when I was having a really bad flare up, we had a call with him and he generously contacted the MS IBD team and set up an appointment. This is when I first met with Dr. Ungaro and the IBD team.

Among the many experts and doctors on the Mount Sinai IBD team, I also had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Greenstein, who was very active in my case and time at the hospital as well. You can read an article on his expertise and studies in a recent NY Daily News article. (more on my visit to Mount Sinai to follow…)

Long story short, we were able to get a phone call and meeting together and that was the start of an extremely important connection and process.

My Latest Visit to Mount Sinai

With my current flare up already in a pretty bad state and several misdiagnoses on the hemorrhoids issue, it was time to visit Mount Sinai Emergency Room in New York. Timely enough, I also had a breakout of shingles that morning (which is another fun auto-immune disease that attacks the body when it’s usually in a weakened state).

We arrived around noon to MS and the first several hours were pretty rough, as this was just the general ER area. The one surprising thing was that an IBD doctor was sent over after we were admitted, as she was notified by Dr. Ungaro that morning that I would be coming. This type of super dedication and teamwork is key for the IBD team at Mount Sinai, which is why they are the best in the world at it. Several doctors would be examining over me in the ER, then I would later get a CT-SCAN.

It wasn’t until later that night I was moved to another room (private room because of the shingles diagnosis as well) and was told I would need to take prep for a colonoscopy tomorrow (if you’ve had one, you already know the horrible drink process to clean out your system). That night I ended up having a 102 fever, which I believe was as a result of the prep process on my body and also the medicine from the CT-Scan I also had to take.

The following morning, the colonoscopy took place and afterward I was in another isolation room with Reena and my Father while we waited for a room to open up. Dr. Ungaro happened to stop by and was able to discuss the results of the colonoscopy. He said the average inflammation of a person is around a 5, and mine was around 190. I knew my colitis was pretty bad and something I dealt with on a daily basis, but it was definitely good that I was in the best hospital in the world to take care of the current situation.

With the CT-Scan and colonoscopy now done, along with several discussions and diagnosis from the IBD team (literally 8+ of the world’s best doctors and surgeons), it was recommended to put me on Remicade (another alternative to Humira/Entyvio, but with a good history of success). However, they still had to take care of the shingles first and do some other testing in the process. I was then moved to my own isolation room, where the process would soon take place and Remicade would be given through an infusion over the next two days.

Quick side note… all of the nurses at Mount Sinai have also been amazing. Having stayed at the hospital for several days, you never know how quickly things can change with a new nurse switching every 12 hours. A good/bad nurse makes all the difference in the world, and I was fortunate enough to have some of the most amazing and attentive nurses while I was there. Special thanks to Elizabeth, Ora, Susan, Alex, Corie, Heidi, Arjay, Paula and Ralston to name a few — all on the IBD floor.

As I’m writing this now, I was just released from the hospital less than 24 hours ago. This was after being told my inflammation levels are down to around 40 (after being near 200), and I’m personally feeling a lot better in the process. The Remicade is now in my system and appears to be going well. I will be working closely with the IBD team at Mount Sinai to stay on top of the issue at all times. It’s definitely great to be back home again, while also knowing their team is there should things worsen again.

Life, Entrepreneurship, Colitis, and Family

So what… I have colitis. What does that mean? At the end of the day, it means I have a condition that I need to take care of and monitor it closely. This isn’t a sob story or a way to try and gain attention… instead, it’s an outlet to share my story with the rest of the world. At the same time, I’ve been given a powerful outlet through this blog and can reach thousands of people in the process. By sharing my own story, I hope to inspire others with Colitis and Crohn’s to let them know they are not alone and to not stay silent if they have these same struggles.

AND… when it does come to getting help, make sure to get as many diagnoses as possible and try to work with the best doctors in the world to find a solution. Never settle with a single diagnosis, as not all doctors are the same, nor is their experience or the knowledge of the teams working around them.

On the entrepreneurship side, as I mentioned earlier, I never would have been able to live with UC if I had a real 9-5 job or worked outside of the home. I’ve been fortunate enough to work from the comfort of my own home, which truly means so much more than just being your own boss or having different financial opportunities. Life simply wouldn’t be the same, nor how I would be dealing with the disease over the past several years.

At the end of the day, your health and family are really all that matters in the life. I know a lot of bloggers and marketers will show off their expensive cars and lifestyles, but that is something I’ve never really cared about — even less after everything we’ve been through after Superstorm Sandy. Family and friends are everything and they have all been here for me through this crazy process.

Having now shared my story with the world, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have. I’ve always used this blog as a platform for not just my business, but also my life and it’s happenings. You never know who is ready, and hopefully, this provides some light not just for those with UC/Crohn’s, but for any horrible health conditions and problems that might be out there.

I’m definitely not cured of UC and it’s a long journey ahead. However, I’m extremely excited and happy to be in the place where I’m at right now while feeling better each day. In addition, being confident that I’m in the best hands and working with the most experienced and empathetic team of doctors in the world.

Thank you, everyone.

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Black Friday is always a great time to take advantage of the huge holiday sales rush. Not only is this true with retail locations, it’s also MASSIVE for online businesses and shopping as well.

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Quick and Effective Tips to Maximize Speed of your Website or Blog

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Few things are worse than when you click over to a new website or blog, and then it’s loading slow as anything. With everyone having an extremely short attention span, and so many options for other websites and entertainment online, a fast loading website is a must for every blogger, brand, or business on the internet.

There are also many benefits associated with a fast loading site, beyond just user experience. Google is now penalizing sites that take too long to load, and boosting up other sites that a mobile-optimized and running super fast.

Depending on how technical your design or WordPress skills might be, the process of speeding up your site and maximizing it’s optimization might vary. To help with this process, I’ve listed a few of the best working methods below.

Optimize your Homepage to Load Quickly

With the homepage being one of the most vital parts of your website or blog, you should be doing everything possible to make sure it loads quickly. Different things can be done to speed up your homepage such as lowering the number of posts on the main page, minimizing applications and widgets from third-party sites, and also optimizing your images so they are either loading as a smaller sized file or through a CDN service. It’s also a good idea to use an SEO friendly theme or template, as these are more often cleaner with their coding and already optimized right out of the box.

Use an Effective Caching Plugin

If you are using a CMS like WordPress or blogger, then using an effective cashing plugin can contribute nicely in the process of making sure your site is loading as fast as possible. Since caching is an apparatus for a temporary storage of web pages to diminish bandwidth and to improve page loading performance as well, it saves the server’s time to make web pages load faster. Caching plugins are easy to install and use. All you need to do is perform some research online to see which plugin is best for your site, then click a few buttons to have it installed right within WordPress. Once this is done, it’s usually just a matter of copying the account number of your CDN and letting the hosting provider and WordPress plugin do its work.

Use CDN (content delivery network)

We’ve already referenced content delivery networks or CDNs, a few times now. The way these solutions work is that they host a version of your site on their server, and then loads the content from another server that is closest to that individual’s location. More and more site owners and bloggers are using CDNs not only to improve page load speed but to provide users with a great experience to make them stay longer on the website. Also mentioned earlier, this can help with how well a site ranks in Google, while also moving your site above the competition. Moreover, if one of your server locations is overloaded due to huge traffic and visitors, then users can automatically be switched to a new server location to enjoy fast loading website experience.

Improve Your Hosting Plan

If you have a slow loading website or blog, it’s likely due to your hosting plan. If you are pushing a lot of traffic through your site and making money in the process, you should definitely upgrade from a shared server. Shared hosting is often fine for new site owners and bloggers, but as your site gains more attention, backlinks, and traffic, it will also likely be using more server resource. On a shared server, your site is also sharing the server resources with many other sites — sometimes hundreds, or even thousands! Upgrading your hosting plan to a VPS or dedicated hosting package can greatly improve the performance of your site as well. So, if you are still using a cheap web hosting plan with an average price below $5/mo and receiving massive traffic from search engines, then it would be the right time for you to upgrade your hosting plan with a better one to speed up your website loading speed.

Use Optimized Images

Big images take up a lot of space and resources when it comes to loading data from your site. This is especially true with very high-quality images. While these images are going to play a big role in the beauty and engagement on your site, there are still ways to optimize such large images so they load faster and put less stress on your server. There are many plugins are available that can drastically reduce the file size of an image without reducing the quality. Image optimization will not only help you boost website load time but will also save disk space for more files and media. If you really don’t want to overload your website with plugins, then you can also use online image reducer apps and software to optimize image before uploading to the media library of the site.

Minimize HTTP Redirects Requests

How and where content is being loaded on your site can also affect its overall performance. You may need to use redirect requests to redirect the web browser from one URL to another. There are a variety of reasons as to why you might want to do this, such as to specify a new URL location, to track visits and clicks on the site or to connect different elements of the website with each other. Since redirects might be necessary to enhance overall UX of the website, you should only be using the redirect requests that are most important because excessive redirect requests can have an ultimate impact on the loading speed of your website/blog.

Don’t Leave Your Audience Hanging

When browsing the internet, few things are more annoying than accessing a slow loading website. It’s hard enough to get someone to visit your site, let alone stay for a few seconds. Don’t give them a reason to leave right away because your site isn’t loading as fast as it should be.

Follow each of the simple and effective site speed optimization tips above to make sure your site loads as fast as possible, ranks higher than the competition and also doesn’t disappoint your audience when they hit your site.

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7 Examples of How to Rank Higher in Google for Your Name

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Your name is important and when someone searches for it online, you want to make sure they find your correct information. This isn’t just about reputation management, it’s also about looking your best and delivering a great first impression.

The key thing to remember here is no matter what someone is searching for online, they are likely going to start with a simple Google search. Since most people share their name with hundreds or even thousands of people in the world, having your content rank for your name might be quite a challenge. This is especially the case if you share a name with a popular celebrity, politician or well-known personality.

The good news is that when it comes to ranking for your name in Google, anything is possible. Implement each of the seven methods below into your content creation and marketing efforts to see your own site and content start ranking higher for your personal name.

Create a Website or Blog with YourName.com

The most effective way to rank in Google for your name is to simply create a website or blog and have the domain as your personal name. ZacJohnson.com is a perfect example of this.

It’s not just about creating a site and putting it out there, it’s also about making sure the site acts as your main hub for everything you do online. This means you should be creating original content for the site, linking to your social media profiles and also referencing back to your site when contributing to other sites or getting quoted/referenced.

zac_johnson_-_Google_Search

Once you have a platform in place, it’s something that will continue grow and develop with your personal brand over time — while also gaining in authority and SEO power as well.

Promote Your Social Profiles

Speaking of social profiles, Google loves to rank sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter right at the top of their search results. Depending on the competition around your name, your social profiles might already be ranking at the top of Google, even above your own websites.

You can see an example of what currently ranks in Google should you search for “Taylor Swift” below.

 taylor_swift_-_Google_Search

With millions of sites and new content pieces covering Taylor Swift every single day, it’s her social profiles (Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) that continue to dominate the search rankings.

This same method works for all names and not just celebrities. If you want your social profiles to rank higher, just keep sending more links to them using a variation of your name as the anchor text.

Boost Profiles and Authority Sites

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, ranking at the top of Google for your name is important if you want to deliver the best and most accurate information. If you are having trouble ranking your own site or want to focus on ranking other high authority content in addition to your own, this is a perfect option to explore.

For example, let’s take a look at Warren Stephens, who is an entrepreneur and has multiple bios and articles written about him online. His Wikipedia profile ranks first, then a bio on Forbes and another based around “Warren Stephens net-worth” on TheRichest. While Wikipedia and Forbes are both mega-huge outlets, TheRichest is still quite powerful to be ranking number three for his name.

Warren_Stephens_-_Google_Search

Celebrity networth sites have quickly been gaining more and more attention lately as they continue to ramp up the number of celebrities, entrepreneurs, and well-known personalities they continue to cover. Even if you don’t think your one of the most famous people in the world, your profile could soon quickly be picked up by their platforms and covered in the media.

Just while doing a quick search through their Google listings I was able to easily find thousands of entrepreneurs including Kevin Harrington and Gary Vaynerchuck.

Celebritynetworth_-_Google_Search

How long before we see these “networth” sites ranking on the first page for many average individuals, YouTube stars and entrepreneurs?

Guest Blogging and Author Profiles on Other Sites

While you might already have a site of your own that is ranking well for your name, it’s always a good idea to try and rank for multiple positions with other relevant content. If you are an expert in your industry, a great way to secure even more page one rankings for your name is to contribute content to other high-authority sites.

We can see this working extremely well for Neil Patel, who is a well-known entrepreneur and marketer through his blogs at QuickSprout.com and NeilPatel.com.

Not only does Neil have his own sites, he is also a contributor to many big media outlets like Entrepreneur.com and HubSpot.com. Doing a quick search for his name in Google will result in not only his main sites and social profiles ranking for his name, but also each of these contributing bios on other sites as well.

neil_patel_-_Google_Search

Once again, a perfect example of how you can deliver a great first impression (and your best content) when someone searches for your name on Google.

Rank with Other Content Sharing Sites

As covered in a few of the examples above, a great way to quickly rank at the top of Google for your name is to do so with other well-established sites. In this example, we are going to look at Jeff Bullas, who is one of the most well-known bloggers and social media influencers in the world today.

His site at JeffBullas.com already ranks number one for his name, then his social profiles follow afterward. However, when you move further down the list you will see his profiles with SlideShare.net and WordPress.com also make it on the first page of Google.

jeff_bullas_-_Google_Search

Even though Slideshare and WordPress.com are two extremely popular sites, not many people consider them when trying to rank for multiple positions for their name. These are definitely two free options everyone should consider when trying to dominate the whole first page of Google for their name.

Do Interviews and Media Outreach

A common theme in this article has been the power of using authority sites and media outlets to quickly rank at the top of Google. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through interviews and getting mentioned or covered by relevant industry sites that rank well.

A quick example of this can be seen if you search for my name in Google. A few years ago I was interviewed for IncomeDiary.com, and that post still ranks extremely well for my name today.

zac_johnson_interview_-_Google_Search

The same holds true for even big name celebrities or entrepreneurs who do interviews or get covered for stories based around their success and fame. If you do a search for “Lori Greiner” of Shark Tank, you will see interview-based stories from BusinessInsider.com, Inc. and Entrepreneur.com all ranking on the first page for her name.

Lori_Greiner_-_Google_Search

Not sure how to get media coverage on sites like Entrepreneur or Inc? Simple… just look for the author bio section in each article. Share their content, build up a relationship and maybe your story is a perfect fit for their next article.

Don’t Forget About the Power of Video

Video is a fascinating beast in itself, yet one that is often overlooked by content creators that mainly focus on “text” based articles.

Here’s two quick things you need to know about video.

  1. People love to share and reference videos
  2. Google loves to rank video since they own YouTube

Now that you know that, you should definitely be using video in your content outreach and SEO practices.

It’s also not just YouTube video that ranks well either. Sites like Vimeo and DailyMotion rank very nicely as well.

Still not sure how effective video ranking can be? Richard Branson is one of the most well-known and successful entrepreneurs in the world, with billions of searches for his name annually. With all of that competition in play, do you think a video would rank for his name on Google? — The answer is yes, and even more surprising… it’s not even a YouTube video!

richard_branson_-_Google_Search

Don’t Just Rank #1 — Rank for All Ten!

The ultimate goal for everyone trying to rank in Google for their name shouldn’t be to just grab that elusive number one position, but instead to rank for multiple (if not all) page one locations.

Run through the above seven working methods again and see what type of content you may already have ranking in Google. It’s much easier to improve your rankings with any existing content that you already have ranking on page 2 or 3 pushed to page 1, versus trying to come up with new and original content of your own.

In the world of SEO and ranking at the top of Google, it’s all about getting your content in the right places and building authority links and references around them

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