It's Crohn's & Colitis Awareness Month!
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: in addition to being a really confusing time for weather in Chicago, May is also Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month. If you’ve been reading this blog, you are probably way more aware of Crohn’s disease than the average human, which is amazing. But since it’s the season for awareness, I thought I’d share a bit more detail about these diseases, who they affect, and why being “aware” is actually so important.
Crohn’s and colitis both fall under the larger umbrella of IBD. I know what you’re thinking–– that’s like IBS, right? And logically that leap would make sense, considering they’re so close in nomenclature and they both vaguely relate to GI problems. But IBS and IBD are actually wildly different beasts. IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, can be painful and a definite disturbance to a patient’s life, but IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, refers to medically incurable diseases that don’t just alter GI function–– they mess with your immune system as a whole and can cause many more all-encompassing symptoms like debilitating fatigue, eye problems, skin rashes, and arthritis.
Worldwide, over 6 million people have either Crohn’s or colitis. That may sound like a lot, but patients are often hesitant to talk about their disease. Sometimes this is out of embarrassment over symptoms (bathroom habits aren’t really “water cooler at work” kind of conversation starters), and sometimes it’s due to the stigma that being chronically ill carries. Because Crohn’s and colitis are largely “invisible” illnesses, some patients worry about being labeled as lazy or homebodies when they can’t work or go out with friends.
That’s why awareness is so important. I always thought it was kind of silly when someone said they were “raising awareness” about a cause. What do you mean? If we say it out loud enough it’ll be cured? And obviously raising money is what’s most helpful in actually funding research and finding cures for diseases. But in the meantime, raising awareness about those diseases can really improve patients’ quality of life.
Raising awareness means more people know what Crohn’s disease is. It means fewer blank stares when I say I can’t make it to an event because I’m in a flare. It means more genuine understanding when I try to explain my weird dietary restrictions. It means a sympathetic ear to a friend when they’re having a high pain day. It means feeling safe in your workplace because they commiserate with your many doctor appointments. It means feeling better understood and less alone, and it means more empathy all around, which is always a good thing for the world.
So if you’re feeling compelled to get involved in IBD Awareness Month, here are a few quick and easy things you can do:
Reach out to a friend with Crohn’s or Colitis! It doesn’t even have to be me, guys. When you’re chronic illness having, it’s nice to know the people in your life care and are checking in.
Put your money where your mouth is! Donate to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, which funds awesome research into cures as well as programs to help patients improve their lives. I’m currently in an online support group by the CCFA that wouldn’t be possible without funding. And aside from donating to the foundation directly, you can donate to my walk and all of those funds will go to the CCFA! I’m walking on June 11th in Chicago to raise both money and awareness and I’m super excited to spend the day with my supportive friends and family as well as other Crohn’s patients. It’s always really inspiring.
Put your time where your mouth(?) is! If you’re in the Chicagoland area, you can sign up to walk with me and my super awesome team in June. If you’re anywhere else, CCFA probably has a walk near you. Get your sneaks on and do some charitable strolling this summer.
- Do some charitable consumerism! If you buy one of these t-shirts for $16, a third of the proceeds will go to the CCFA through my walk fundraiser. In addition, you’ll get a t-shirt with some sick Biggie lyrics on it, so win-win? And then when people ask you about your shirt, you can explain the backstory, thus going a step further in the whole “raising awareness” thing. See how easy and fun that is?
So whatever you decide to do, whether it’s as simple as reading this blog and understanding a little more about a disease that affects the daily life of so many people or going as far as spreading awareness yourself, THANK YOU. You are the real MVPs.