IBD on the College Campus: The Challenge of Academics

You’re sitting in class. The abdominal pain starts drowning out the words your professor is saying. You have the urge to go to the bathroom, but you’re embarrassed because you literally just got back to your seat from excusing yourself minutes before. You’re struggling. E85DEFFBEA08446AAED0650FA09CCB0DYour disease is making the simple task of sitting in class alongside your peers an ordeal. While you may feel alone in this moment, thousands of college students around the world living with IBD can relate to this overwhelming stress and strain.

When I put a call out on Twitter and asked the IBD community what worries and challenges impacted college students, here are some of the responses I received pertaining to academics:

“Trying to balance wanting to do well vs. taking care of myself. I would try to push past a flare to study or go to class and would end up in the hospital (15+ ER visits and 5-6 hospital stays). In the long run, pushing past it was not the best idea. IMG-0787Balance is key. Health comes first,” said Aaron Blocker, a Crohn’s patient and IBD advocate. “It sucks to have to pause college because of your health, but school will always be there, and your health is important for long-term success.”

Kristin Harris has ulcerative colitis, one of her biggest worries was offending teachers by leaving multiple times to go to the bathroom. “Knowing I may dash out of class gave me major anxiety. I always tried to secure a seat next to the door. I was terrified I’d have to run to the bathroom during a test and that made me so anxious—which only made my symptoms worse.”

The same can be said for Rasheed Clarke. He too lives with ulcerative colitis and is a vocal advocate in our community. “Biggest worry was making it through each class without having to scoot to the bathroom. Somehow, I managed to make my bathroom trips in between classes…most of the time. I also kept spare underwear with me in case of accidents, and let’s just say I’m glad I did.”

Breaking down your walls and being open with professors

Similar to personal relationships and friendships, those on campus can only offer support and help to you if they are aware you have IBD. By openly communicating with your school’s disability office and getting the proper accommodations in place, along with informing your professors, you set yourself up for greater success.

“The hardest part for me was sharing a letter written by my GI with my professors explaining my medical situation and requesting classroom accommodations. IMG-0789As a straight A student, now struggling to pass classes due to an awful flare, I was devastated that I needed to ask for help. I was appreciative of my professors’ extreme kindness and that I was granted accommodations (deadline extensions, attending a different lecture on bad days, rescheduling exams, etc). This was a profound moment that taught me it was okay to ask for help,” said ulcerative colitis patient and IBD advocate, Jenna Ziegler.

Alex Beaudoin was diagnosed with Crohn’s during her academic career. She learned the benefits of communicating with professors. “I was shocked at how understanding everyone was. IMG-0788Ask for extra time, ask for a note taker. Get in touch with your school’s office for those with disabilities. Access the support you need to be on equal ground.”

Key accommodations to discuss with your school’s disability office

As people living with IBD, most of us strive to overcome our personal limitations. At the same time, it’s important to understand your achievements and accomplishments are not diminished when you ask for help and assistance. If anything, accommodations will help you reach your goals and get to where you want to be.

According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act), public, government-funded institutions such as state and regional colleges and vocational programs, are required to make reasonable modifications and adaptations for students with disabilities that significantly impact their education, learning, or physical ability to participate in programs. Click here to learn more about disability services and your rights as an IBD patient. This pertains to all school-age children and adults, click here to check out the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundations Guide to Educational Equality.

I asked for disability accommodations which at my school, last one year and then you’re re-evaluated by their social worker for whatever your needs might be. For me, in writing-intensive classes, I was allowed extra time to submit papers. For classes with exams, I received extra time to complete the exam. IMG-7331I also can use the bathroom frequently without question, eat in class without any questions and I’m allowed more than the usual 2 absences allowed in most classes,” said Tina Aswani Omprakash, Crohn’s patient and IBD advocate. “If there are group projects and I can’t partake; I ask the professor if I can do something on my own.”

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Mid-America Chapter is gearing up to a host a webinar tomorrow (Thursday, September 26, 2019) from 7-8 pm CT to address managing IBD while furthering your education along with finding the appropriate accommodations. Click here to register and stay tuned for Part Three of my series “IBD on the College Campus” next week.

My Cause My Cleats: How Chicago Bear Anthony Miller is Representing IBD

When Chicago Bear standout rookie wide receiver, Anthony Miller laces up his cleats to take on the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday, his cleats will tell a story. A story many may not be aware of. Anthony’s longtime girlfriend, Alexandra Pounders, has battled Crohn’s disease for nearly 10 years. She was diagnosed at age 14. IMG_4488

This Sunday (Dec. 9), Anthony will participate in the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign, as a way to spread awareness for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and show support to his girlfriend. Anthony’s cleats will feature the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

“Being able to bring awareness about IBD through football means a lot to me. When I wear these cleats against the Rams, I’m not only going to be representing my girlfriend Alexandra, but also the millions of people across the globe who suffer from this disease,” said Anthony.

This is the third year for the My Cause for Cleats effort. It’s a way for NFL players to take steps to visually show their support for causes near and dear to their hearts. Anthony and Alexandra have been together almost five years. Alexandra says Anthony has been there for her every step of the way, whether it’s attending doctor visits or motivating her to stay strong during setbacks.

“It feels amazing to know there is someone by my side who cares so much for me that they want to spread awareness about this illness. IMG_4487Anthony has seen me fight for so long. It makes me feel like I’m not going through this alone,” said Alexandra.

“We are thrilled to see several NFL players, including Anthony Miller, raise awareness of Crohn’s and colitis through this year’s My Cause My Cleats campaign,” said Michael Osso, President & CEO of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. “More than 3 million Americans live with these diseases, and, like Anthony, even more are touched by them as loved ones of patients. Using their platform as professional athletes to speak out about Crohn’s and colitis not only helps educate the public about the seriousness of these diseases but also underscores how wide-reaching these diseases are and how important it is to have the support of loved ones.”

Alexandra’s advice to the IBD community is to put your personal needs first and try to keep stress to a minimum, while accepting support from others.

“Surround yourself amongst people who may not completely know what it feels like to be in your shoes, but people who are willing to be patient with you and love you on the days that aren’t so great. Focus on being the best possible you that you can be in every aspect…mentally, physically, emotionally and surround yourself amongst people who truly care about you, it’ll be so much easier to overcome the obstacles you face with this disease. Stay positive. Hold on tightly to your faith. And don’t let this disease define you,” said Alexandra.bears

Chicago is my hometown and where the majority of my family lives. As a Bears fan and as a Crohn’s disease patient advocate who was diagnosed in July 2005, seeing professional football players put causes like the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in the spotlight means a great deal. Check out the #mycausemycleats hashtag on social media to learn more about the cause.

6 ways to get involved in the IBD community: Advice from a fellow Crohn’s advocate

Social media often gets a bad rap. But, oftentimes in the advocacy and chronic illness space, it’s an incredible connector. A few years back over Facebook, I came to know Linde Parcelslinde Linde graduated from my high school and later moved to St. Louis. She currently resides in Atlanta, where she works for the CDC and does Policy work for the division of lab sciences.

We’re 11 years apart by age, but share many of the same experiences as women who battle Crohn’s disease. We’re both passionate about using our voice to show others they are not alone in their IBD journey. This week—Linde talks about the importance of standing tall, owning your illness and getting involved in your community to make a difference.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of six. Eighteen years ago, diagnosis was difficult for pediatric patients. After more than a year of tests and declining health, my family was given an answer and a lifelong commitment to caring for my Crohn’s Disease.

I’m 24 now. I just moved to a new city for my first full-time job. One of the first things I did when I moved was plug into the regional chapter of The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and see how I could get involved. Linde's story

I wasn’t always an advocate for Crohn’s and Colitis though. In fact, I never attended Camp Oasis because I wanted to go to “normal” camp where I wouldn’t be surrounded by reminders of my disease. I regret not experiencing Camp Oasis and making friends who “got me” when I was that age.

It took years to realize that sharing my story and spending time with people with inflammatory bowel disease (and their caregivers) could bring me so much peace, confidence, and ownership of every part of who I am, including how I was made.

Some people receive their diagnosis and jump into headfirst. They advocate fiercely for a cure any way they can. I’ve seen others resolve to live “normally” and spend many years outside of the IBD community, attempting to absorb the struggle and live their life without leaving a trace of disease.

With over 1.6 million people in the United States with IBD, and as one of the estimated 1 in 200 who have IBD, I would argue that with this diagnosis comes with a responsibility to advocate. For everyone with IBD, and selfishly for myself, I want better research. Better treatments. Better services. Better health.

And it’s not a lost cause.

Here are 6 things I’ve done to get involved that you can do too!

  1. Take Steps

These uplifting Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation charity walks happen throughout the year, all over the country. It’s a great way to rally your friends and family to take steps by your side to raise awareness and drive research.

2. Volunteer for fundraiser events through your regional Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

I helped gather raffle baskets, advertise, and organize volunteers for the themed Trivia Night in St. Louis three years in a row with a great planning committee. I attended with my family and friends for the past three years!

3. Follow influencers on social media and leverage your own profiles to raise awareness!

Here are some of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow:

@CrohnsColitisFoundation (stay in the know)

@rockswithsass (crystals/mental wellness and proceeds go to The Foundation!)

@Natalieannhayden (of course!)–Thanks, Linde! 😉

@CrohnsCooking (recipes for IBD)

@ileostomy_crohn_princess (model and mom with an ileostomy)

4. You can be a listening ear or a venting pal –make your availability known if you’re comfortable with someone sharing your name with others who might want to talk. 

Some parents have referred me to their high school aged children with IBD or a friend of a friend. You can sit with someone during their Remicade treatment or Humira injection. A lot of college students and young professionals may not have family in town and it’s more tolerable with company. Try to be vulnerable. I openly talk about the realities of office life, dating, and farting, (yes, I just said all three of those things in one sentence).

5. Team Challenge! 

linde runI’m training for a half marathon and taking on the biggest fitness and fundraising goal of my life! I run every Saturday with Team Challenge ATL, they are the best!

You don’t have to raise thousands of dollars for research or share your most traumatic digestive adventure on social media…but for the sake of this community and for yourself, please own it. Own your patient journey in a way that furthers science and connects people. Because as much as I want to be your Crohn’s friend, I’d rather just be your friend 10 years from now.

You can connect with Linde on Instagram here: @thelindecity.

Linde is running the 2018 Savannah Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon November 3, for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. She’s looking to raise $2,800. Click here to help her reach her goal!

Taking on IBD one step at a time: Getting empowered through Team Challenge

One of the many benefits of getting involved with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation is finding people locally who understand and live your reality. I became friends with a woman named Angie last year. facebook_1529431731870She’s a resilient person with a positive attitude. Her energy is contagious. This week, a guest post about her involvement with Team Challenge and how it’s enabled her to find community not just in St. Louis, but throughout the United States. I’ll allow Angie to take it away…

My journey began with inflammatory bowel disease began in April 2011. For me, symptoms went from non-existent to emergency surgery within a month of first waking up with cramps and diarrhea. I had been a healthy active person up to that point and I was a month shy of my 46th birthday.

I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, but that diagnosis was later changed to Crohn’s disease. Due to reoccurring abscesses, my GI doctor ordered some additional tests that showed I have Crohn’s. When I was first diagnosed with IBD, I had never heard of Crohn’s disease. There was so much to learn and absorb, but I was so sick, it was hard to take it all in. My emergency surgery resulted in a total colectomy. I had a perforated bowel in 4 places. Once the surgeon opened me up, he discovered things were much worse than he expected and I had sepsis. Those early days in the hospital were hard, but I was committed to staying positive and hopeful.

One of my favorite ways to stay active had always been power walking. If I could walk somewhere vs getting in my car and driving there, that was my path of least resistance. So, getting to a point where I felt well enough to get back to exercising was a goal of mine. Ironically when I first asked my doctor when he thought I’d be well enough to power walk again, he recommend I not walk too far because he knew I’d probably need to use the restroom. In those first couple years living with Crohn’s, I was taking 20+ pills a day and probably using the restroom 30+ times a day. I was fragile and got short winded quickly, even walking to the corner in my neighborhood was a challenge.  I stayed hopeful that brighter days were ahead. I was very fortunate to have a very supportive group of friends and family around me.

Fast forward to the fall of 2015. I was feeling much stronger since being on Humira for about a year. facebook_1529431766690I saw a post on Facebook about Team Challenge and an upcoming Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon that was taking place in February 2016 in New Orleans. I didn’t hesitate to sign up and commit to doing a Half Marathon and fundraising to find a cure for Crohn’s & Colitis. Almost immediately, one of my childhood girlfriends decided she was going to do the Half with me and she too joined Team Challenge. I’m not sure we knew what we were getting into, but we were 100 percent committed. Two ladies, soon to be 50, and neither had even done a 10K, let alone a Half Marathon! In full disclosure, we always knew we were going to walk, not run the Half. We might be crazy, but as they say, we were only “Half Crazy”!

Team Challenge has been one of the best decisions of my life. It has been a truly life changing experience. I am about to start training for my third Team Challenge race taking place in November in Savannah, GA. Team Challenge is a few hundred people who share one common goal, which is to find a cure for IBD. Once you sign up, you commit to a fundraising goal, but Team Challenge provides the coaching and training to not only complete the race, but to reach your goal and have fun along the way.

Race weekend is amazing! There are opportunities throughout the weekend to meet with your individual team, as well as the entire Team Challenge family. The night before the race there is an inspirational pasta dinner.

The evening is filled with tears of joy and we celebrate our combined mission of finding a cure. Some are parents running or walking for a child, some are friends and family running in memory of a loved one lost, and some are like me – a Crohn’s patient determined to not let Crohn’s hijack her life!

My advice to anyone looking to feel empowered against IBD would be to get involved with Team Challenge. I have made so many new friends and I’ve gained so much confidence through my involvement. I guarantee you’ll leave race weekend with a feeling of accomplishment and you’ll feel the love from the Team Challenge tribe that is now an extended family and support system of your own.

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with Team Challenge.

Finding strength through your IBD tribe

Back in the fall, I had the privilege of sharing the stage with a fellow IBD advocate in the St. Louis area during a Crohn’s and Colitis event. Her name is Kelli Young. Kelli has battled Crohn’s disease for 28 years. She’s a veteran to the game, and has incredible perspective about how IBD not only shapes our lives, but dictates the kind of people we become. This week—a guest post from Kelli about why finding your tribe—an empathetic support system—makes a world of difference.

It took over a year and a half of being prodded and poked in every orifice of my body to receive the diagnosis of Crohn’s. I received the devastating news eight days before entering my sophomore year in college. IMG_1076The excitement of knowing “I’m not a hypochondriac” was overshadowed by the fear of having a “poop disease”. You see, my first year of college, I became best friends with my Suite mate. Ironically, she too battles Crohn’s. I was 20 years old, diagnosed with a disease that had no cause and therefore no cure…how can that be? Why me? What am I going to do?  I didn’t even know how to swallow a pill. I was never the sick kid! Now, I had to take 24 pills a day, which sometimes would take me an entire hour to swallow one dose, throw up, re-swallow again. Three times a day. It was as if I had entered “hell”.IMG_1077

Six month after diagnosis, I came home from college for winter break.  Tipping the scale at a whopping 75 pounds, my body was too weak to undergo surgery. For 45 long days, I received all my nutrition through an IV. This was so my bowel could rest as I prepared for a colon resection. The surgery was my only hope for living a more productive life.

What I’ve learned after nearly 30 years with IBD

Fast forward nearly three decades—and through the years, I’ve been labeled as “the complicated” patient. I’ve undergone multiple surgeries which include: three colon resections, gall bladder removal, appendectomy, countless ERCP’s and fistula repair. Can’t forget the life-saving blood transfusion I needed after my colon ruptured, causing me to lose half my blood volume. I dealt with TPN (Total parenteral nutrition)/bowel rest for each of the three surgeries. 45 days was my longest duration on NPO(no food). 30 days was my longest hospital visit. For the last 28 years, my body has had medication dumped in it.

My generation was taught differently. IMG_1078Which made my journey with the disease a little different than today. I was raised to think “only the weak complain!”  “Someone always has it worse!”  “Suck it up butter cup”.  “If you want the job done right, do it yourself”. This made me look at the situation as this was “my” disease, “my” problem and I don’t want to make anyone worry about me or feel sorry for me!  I became a master at hiding the disease and a master at hiding the byproducts of the disease.

It has taken me decades to evolve. Six years ago, I realized, I had to create a better “village” for myself. And my voice was starting to be heard. I just wanted my peeps to treat me as an equal, no matter how many bowel movements I’ve had that day. And most importantly, yearning for support and compassion, not to be mistaken for pity or despair! During my evolution process, big sacrifices had to be made. As a mother of two, I had more than just myself to think about.

The power of transparency

Today, transparency has set me free. Free from the misconception that I’m “lazy”. Free from the labels placed on me because of my thin statured frame. Free from the worry of how others view me. And free to live my life.

Today, I am able to share my journey with an audience that might share a similar experience or with an audience that has a loved one with Crohn’s Disease. I share my story, with the hope of inspiring others and showing anything is possible.

My disease has made me who I am today. It has taught me that I am strong, determined, confident and secure. kelliI’m a proud mother to two amazing children. I carried and gave birth to both of them with zero complications. I’m a business owner of a successful insurance agency, which I established 4 years after diagnosis. I didn’t allow my disease to derail my professional aspirations. I’m an active mother and manage to find time to be a room mother and Girl Scout cookie manager.

As a patient advocate, I serve on the board of the MidAmerica Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, in addition to other professional boards. I value the good days! I reflect on my bad days and listen when my body tells me to slow down and get rest.

My advice to you

If you’re newly diagnosed or in the thick of the battle, it’s important that you realize… “this is your normal”. Embrace it! Accept it! Own it! Speak about it!!  Get a “village” that gives you positive support, not to be mistaken for negative attention. If I can get thru this crazy game of life with Crohn’s disease, so can you!  Don’t let the disease define you.

While I know my journey will include the daily struggles from the disease, it no longer is my hidden secret. My village knows and loves me for me. They understand the disease and ask questions to understand it better. This is not just my “problem” any more. As we all patiently wait for a cure, it is important we speak up, join together and help one another.