'Poo' should not be taboo

Bonnie Learning
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Learning to accept — and live — with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, one woman wants people to be more comfortable talking about their digestive health

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Maria Murphy of Happy Valley-Goose Bay (right) takes part in the Gutsy Walk every year with her friends. After being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2006, the young woman has learned to live with her illness one day at a time.

As a teenager, being told you have a chronic condition and that you will have to take medication for the rest of your life can be pretty surreal.

That was certainly the case for Maria Murphy of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

In the spring of 2006, Murphy — who was just 18 at the time — was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. She knew something was wrong, experiencing symptoms of unexplained weight loss, tiredness, and loose stools.

But when she began passing blood, she knew something was seriously wrong.

“I was having symptoms for awhile but just thought they would go away and that nothing serious was going on,” recalls Murphy. “One time, I passed a lot of blood one and knew then that it was time to see a doctor.”

Murphy made an appointment at the local hospital, where she underwent blood work, stool samples and a sigmoidoscopy.

“The doctor (in Goose Bay) said he thought it was Colitis and then referred me to St. John’s, where I again underwent some tests and was officially diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.”

Murphy said it took her some time to fully comprehend the seriousness of her condition after her diagnosis.

“After I first learned what it was that was going on, I didn’t really think much of it. It was like I didn’t fully understand that I would have this forever,” she said. “I guess at 18, it was just a lot to take in. I think my specialist could sense this and made it clear that I would most likely be on medication for life. It took me awhile to really accept it and when I did, I had some bad days of wondering why it happened.”

Murphy went on to learn as much as she could about Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and in particular, about her own condition. She explained there are two major types of the disease, one being Crohn’s disease and the other being ulcerative colitis.

“These two diseases are related but do differ a lot,” she said. “Ulcerative colitis is only found in the large intestine (colon), while Crohn’s disease can appear anywhere in the digestive system.

Murphy said IBD is a lot more common than she had thought.

“Canada has the highest rate of IBD in the world — it affects about 1 in 150 people and it seems to appear more in northern regions. Essentially what I have learned is that my own immune system is attacking my body. They haven’t been able to say exactly what causes IBD and there is no cure for it. Medication can be good for managing the disease, and for attaining remission.”

Support

Murphy said she has a great support system in place that have helped her through her diagnosis and living life with Ulcerative Colitis.

“My grandfather was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease before I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis so we are able to relate a lot,” said Murphy.

“Before being diagnosed with this disease, I really knew nothing about it and I don’t think a lot of people know much about it unless they are close to someone who is affected. So it’s good to have him because he can understand what I go through sometimes.”

She added her ‘biggest’ support system has been her mom and dad.

“Mom has been there with me since the day I went to the hospital for my first appointment; she has gone to all my tests and most of my appointments and has educated herself so that she understands about the tests I have done and the symptoms that I can experience,” notes Murphy.

“The rest of my family and my close friends have been really great, too. They know that sometimes I am going through a flare up and are there when I need to talk. I am also a member of a Facebook group for people with IBD, and this group is a big help for asking questions or advice from other people with the same disease.”

Murphy said living with her condition has been both good and bad.

“It’s bad because I can’t always do the things that I want, I couldn’t really have the ‘normal life’ of a 20 year old,” she said. “It also made school hard, but I did get through it and finished college and university.”

On the other hand, she said, it has been good because it has made her listen to her body more.

“My health comes first now no matter what and I always distance myself from stressful situations because I know that won’t be good for me. It also has made me appreciate my health as it is — I know so many people who experience this disease so much worse than I do, so I am just thankful that I haven’t gone through the worst of it. “

Murphy also finds support with the Lake Melville Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, which she has been involved with for a number of years. She encourages others to get involved, or simply contact them for more information should they have questions or need support for themselves or a family member or friend.

She also stresses the importance of people talking about IBD more freely, which would help bring about awareness and help people be more comfortable with the disease.

“I don’t expect anyone to know everything about it, because no one can know everything about every disease. ‘Poo’ seems to be so taboo and if it wasn’t, then people who are suffering from it would talk about it more and wouldn’t have the anxiety of thinking about what other people thought of them because they suffer with IBD.”

Awareness

November is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month across Canada and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC) will host a public education symposium in St. John’s on Sunday, Nov. 10.

Regional Chapter Development Coordinator for Newfoundland and Labrador, Kathy Power, says the event will be of interest to not only the thousands of people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the province, but also their friends, family, healthcare providers, and the general public.

“We are very pleased to be able to hold this important educational event again this year,” says Power in a recent press release.  “Our province has one of the highest incidence rates of IBD in the country and IBD rates in Canada rank in the highest worldwide. Therefore, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and, indeed, all Canadians have more reasons to be concerned about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis than anyone else in the world.”

The symposium is an interactive event that will feature several guest speakers.  They include Dr. Bharatti Reddy, GI ‘Get the gutsy truth about Inflammatory Bowel Disease’; Dr. Mark Borgoankar, GI:  ‘What YOU should know about your Crohn’s disease’; Brad Priddle: ‘LivingwithCrohn’s disease’; and Jamie Peddle & John Bennett, Investors Group: ‘Disability insurance when living with IBD.’

The symposium is free of charge and open to anyone who would like to learn more about Crohn’s and colitis, which affects more than 233,000 Canadians – over 5,000 in Newfoundland and Labrador.  

Kevin Glasgow, CCFC’s Chief Executive Officer, says during Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month, the CCFC focuses on working to make more Canadians aware of IBD so those who may be or already are sick can live better with the disease.  

“We want to help more individuals and medical practitioners identify Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis symptoms earlier,” said Glasgow, in the press release. “People living with IBD too often face their conditions in silence and we want to encourage patients to speak up about their symptoms so that we can work towards quicker diagnosis times and earlier treatment.”

Anyone wishing to attend the Crohn’s and Colitis Education Symposium — which will take place at theRamada Hotel in St. John’s  — is asked to pre-register due to limited space. You can register online at www.ccfc.ca/2013symposia or call Kathy Power at 579-3700.

 

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