Photo: Troy Parsons
I do not look sick. My symptoms are hidden for the most part, unless you’ve been there to witness my disease when it rears its ugly head. Playing sports, training in the gym, being active, and continually striving in fitness is not something you would typically expect from someone who is sick.
I am an aspiring 25 year-old geologist from Qualicum Beach, B.C. I recently graduated from the University of Calgary with a BSc. and I have Crohn’s Disease.
For most of the seven years since my diagnosis, I’ve struggled to hide my disease, hoping I could continue on like nothing is wrong. I have always thought people may think I am weird, or contagious. I thought people would not understand my disease because they couldn’t see or experience the symptoms for themselves. I wanted others to see what I feel on the inside, hoping they would understand. I wanted to be considered normal.
I did not believe I could pursue my passion for fitness because I had an incurable disease. Boy, was I wrong. There are many people with auto-immune diseases doing amazing things, from Olympians and bodybuilders to professional athletes. It took me years, but I finally realized that I am not like everyone else and that is OK.
People never truly appreciate what it is like to feel good until they experience serious health issues. A blessing and a curse, I make the most of every day I feel good, providing motivation to pursue my goals and aspirations by not letting ill health hold me back. Yes, I have good days and, sometimes, I have bad days, but I am grateful for each day I am able to get up, go exercise and function like most people.
Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, can be somewhat managed with medication, nutrition and supplementation, but not without complications.
Nutrition and exercise has been the biggest factor in helping me control my disease, aside from medication. Eating the wrong thing can send me to the hospital with bowel obstructions. Through trial and error, I’ve found the foods that seem to work for me. I have a very restrictive diet that causes nutritional deficiencies and makes dining out challenging.
Fitness always came easy to me. I was always active in sports until being diagnosed in 2009 at the age of 17. Now, exercise plays a major role in boosting my immune system and allowing me to continue living an active lifestyle. It motivates me to continue pushing myself physically and mentally.
I currently take Humira, an immunosuppressant biologic medication that I have to inject weekly. It works by reducing inflammation in my intestines by dampening the body’s immune response, but not without immune related side-effects. With Crohn’s, I constantly battle chronic pain and fatigue, infections, deficiencies and weight loss along with many other symptoms. It often derails my fitness program.
I am not alone, IBD affects one in every 150 Canadians, which is among the highest rates in the world. My goal is to increase awareness and show what is possible for people with inflammatory bowel disease.