Inflammatory bowel disease is not an easy subject to talk — or write — about, but Janelle Ocrane says it’s an important conversation for university students to have.
“A lot of people are being diagnosed in their late teens and early 20s, so a lot of people in university are being affected,” she explained.
Ocrane is the Saskatoon chapter president of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, and one of eight University of Saskatchewan students on the chapter’s board of directors. She said she thinks the high diagnosis rate for college age people is part of the reason there are so many U of S students on their board of directors.
“Three of those eight have IBD and were diagnosed when they were in university,” said Ocrane. “Our other U of S students who make up the executive are good friends of people who have Crohn’s or colitis.”
According to information from the CCFC, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are similar conditions that are grouped as IBD. The disease affects the digestive system, causing intestinal tissue to become inflamed, form sores and bleed easily. Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue and diarrhea.
The disease is surprisingly widespread; one in every 160 people in Canada are affected, which works out to about 6,000 Saskatchewan residents.
Ocrane was diagnosed when she was 10. She got involved with the CCFC during her second year of university six years ago.
“It can be such a negative illness,” she said. “It’s important to harness the bad energy and do what you can to turn it into a positive. [By volunteering] I’m exerting some control over my disease; it’s like I take back some of the control that I lose with my disease.”
The CCFC is a voluntary non-profit medical research foundation. Their mission is to raise money to help fund the search for a cure and to educate the public.
As for adhering to the CCFC mission, the Saskatoon chapter is doing a great job. They were recently given the award for excellence for the second year in a row from the CCFC and, in November, Ocrane was given the regional award for “Gutsiest Canadian.”
“Someone nominated me and I didn’t even know,” she said modestly.
They already have a few fundraising events planned for 2011, including a gala on April 7th called “A Gutsy Affair,” their annual barbecue in May and a walk-a-thon in June.
The chapter was recently chosen to be the charity for the 2011 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering Annual Charity Road Hockey Tournament March 19 and 20.
“We raise a lot of funds towards research but we also think education is important.”
To that end, they host a monthly information session for newly-diagnosed IBD patients and try to include awareness events in their yearly plans. In November, they hosted an awareness event in the Arts Tunnel, asking passers-by to write their names on pieces of toilet paper to show support.
Ocrane says it’s important to have fun with the fundraising and awareness events, even though IBD is a serious issue.
“This [disease] kind of sucks but let’s have some fun with it or let’s highlight some courageous people,” she said. “I have Crohn’s disease and I think… it doesn’t have to be such a stigma-associated disease.”
image: Mark H. Anbinder/Flickr