What goes on in the bathroom isn’t always a comfortable topic of conversation. But if you’re one of the 1.6 million Americans living with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you know that openness can be a good thing. You are most likely between the stereotypically ‘healthy’ ages of 15-35, and may not look obviously sick. But you’re struggling with intestinal inflammation, and potentially abdominal pain and bleeding. In other words, frequent and unpleasant bathroom breaks – for a start. Making it a whole lot harder to connect with others going through the same thing.
So what gets people talking openly about IBD? A safe space, and a bit of fun. That’s exactly what you’ll find at community events like Take Steps Western Washington, an annual 5K run and walk put on by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and supported by partners like BRI.
This year, Take Steps is celebrating ten years of raising funds for Crohn’s and colitis research – and, just as importantly, bringing people together in the IBD community. Milling around the shimmering green of Seattle’s Lincoln Park are families, friends, doctors, organizers. Many of them are living with Crohn’s or colitis themselves. Despite the standard drizzle of rain, it’s all smiles and proudly hilarious posters of team names like The Number 2 Crew and The Grumpy Dumpers. At BRI’s booth, our staff wear t-shirts emblazoned with Royal Flush.
As Jennifer O’Connor, Regional Director of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, explained, “These can be really isolating diseases, so it's a really good opportunity to connect with another patient, caregiver, and resources. We work with patients that are toddlers and patients that are seniors, seeing this vast group of individuals come together for a common goal is really impactful, and empowering.”
Also in attendance was Jennifer White, who has three autoimmune diseases and has been closely involved with these events for almost seven years. Speaking about her IBD diagnosis, she shared, “There's this stigma behind it being embarrassing, which I think is why a lot people either don't talk about it or don't get diagnosed. Meeting other people that have been open to talking about it really encouraged me. It lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.”
If the connections and positive vibes weren’t enough, participants at the event have the unique opportunity to sign up for BRI’s biorepository, an opportunity to contribute to groundbreaking research for a cure to these diseases. Dr. James Lord, a gastroenterologist at Virginia Mason and researcher at BRI, spent the day walking alongside some of his own patients. According to him, “These events allow people who have a common cause to network with one another, understand what the resources are, and develop a passion and a sense of empowerment to do something about this disease, such as participate in our research efforts.”
At the end of the day, if you’re living with Crohn’s, colitis, or another autoimmune disease, it’s the community that counts. Your support systems. The people you meet who help you see you’re not alone.
That’s why, come rain or shine, people keep coming back to Take Steps every year. As Jennifer White says, “What a great thing to do, on a typical Seattle, maybe sunny, maybe rainy, maybe both at the same time, kind of day. Give support, get support, and have a lot of fun.”
June 19, 2018
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This blog does not provide medical advice, nor is it a substitute
for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.