Gutsy kids make a stand for Crohn’s and colitis awareness and support
Imagine being asked why you missed school when the embarrassing truth is you had severe abdominal pain and needed to run to the bathroom to pass bloody diarrhea multiple times a day. This is often a sad reality for people living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis when they experience a flare-up, says Mina Mawani, president and CEO of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.
Having a “bathroom disease” can contribute to people feeling isolated, which then increases the risk of anxiety and depression. And the stigma that prevents them from speaking out means these “invisible diseases” don’t command the same public attention as other health issues. Crohn’s and Colitis Canada is working to address these consequences by raising awareness and creating a network of support for people living with Crohn’s or colitis and their families.
Sam Doucet, who is 13, and Logan Huttunen, who is 12, are joining these efforts as national honorary chairs for the 2019 Gutsy Walk, an annual fundraiser held in over 60 locations across Canada.
“Sam and Logan met at a support group at BC Children’s Hospital and they connected right away. Soon after, they announced that they would do the walk together,” recalls Kerri-Lynn Doucet, Sam’s mom.
Sam, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease four years ago, values having friends who are going through similar experiences. “I met great people like Logan by going to support groups and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s Camp Got2Go,” he explains. “If I had to give advice to others living with [Crohn’s or colitis], I would say it is not going to be easy, but keeping positive has helped me with my challenges.”
Logan, who learned that he has ulcerative colitis when he was eight, has a similar attitude. “Yes, I experience symptoms,” he says. “But I stay positive because the disease does not define me.”
Both are passionate about sports; Sam plays hockey and rugby, and Logan likes baseball, basketball, skiing and mountain biking. “Cross-country running is one of my favourite things to do,” says Logan, “which is why I race as fast as I can towards the finish line at the Gutsy Walk.”
Since Logan first took part in the Gutsy Walk in 2016, it’s become a family affair in which even the grandparents have joined in, says Jennifer Huttunen, Logan’s mom. “We are quite passionate about fundraising to support research for more and better treatments,” says Jennifer, who explains that Logan was quite sick at the time of his diagnosis but now has a therapy regimen that allows him to lead an active life.
“He makes the most of every day, and we encourage him to be just a regular kid,” she says. While Logan has a kind and supportive group of friends at school, connecting with people living with Crohn’s or colitis brings extra benefits, says Jennifer. “For example, it may be difficult to tell your peers that you’re feeling tired or have a stomach ache. When you talk to someone who can understand something like that, you know you’re not alone.”
Kerri-Lynn also states that her family has gained much from resources provided by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, including “support groups, talks, webinars, online resources and a buddy system for newly diagnosed people.”
Belonging to a community makes it easier to face challenges like “not knowing when you’ll have a bad day or having to cancel things you’re looking forward to,” says Kerri-Lynn, who adds that her family takes part in the Gutsy Walk to support Crohn’s and colitis research.
Mawani says, “We are steadfast in our commitment to improve the quality of life for people who are impacted by these chronic lifelong diseases. We are also the world’s second-largest health charity funding Crohn’s and colitis research. Our ultimate goal is to find the cures.”
This goal is something Sam and Logan support with enthusiasm. “Going to the walk means we are able to make a difference by joining together to raise awareness and funds for research that will help find the cures,” says Sam.
Logan adds, “I want people living with [Crohn’s or colitis] to know that they are not alone. We are all here to support each other. We are in this together – this is why I walk.”
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