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We need to be more compassionate with each other: Daniel’s outlook on living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Meet Daniel S, who lives with ulcerative colitis. He is a past recipient of the AbbVie IBD Scholarship, and currently a nurse living in Calgary.

Can you tell us about your experience in the early years living with IBD?

I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 14, when I was in junior high school. I don’t really remember how long it took until I had a formal diagnosis. I do remember having a lot of symptoms, going to the bathroom a lot, and having horrific pain. I went through a lot after being diagnosed – I tried several treatments and experienced a cycle of flaring and then remission through to early adulthood.

When I was about 20, I had a really bad flare and ended up in the hospital for a week. But since then, I have been very stable with my colitis for the past decade.

During the past ten years, I have experienced several other immune-mediated conditions. My skin became very inflamed and itchy (atopic dermatitis), which then led to alopecia — complete hair loss from head to toe. I have also dealt with auto-immune conditions of the heart and the liver. It’s been a rollercoaster journey with lots of ups and downs, and a portfolio of diseases. 

Tell me about receiving the AbbVie IBD Scholarship. What did it mean to you?

I received the scholarship in 2019. I had previously finished my mechanical engineering degree but realized that was not for me, so I had gone into nursing. I was in my first year of an accelerated nursing program in Calgary when I found out I had received the Scholarship.

Receiving the Scholarship was a huge deal for me. I was so proud of my application. And when I received the letter telling me I had won it, I first assumed it was a rejection letter. But when I read it again, I realized Crohn’s and Colitis Canada was awarding it to me. I was thrilled to receive it.

I know that in my year, there were a lot of applicants. It was a very competitive scholarship. And once the full list of recipients was announced, we organized a few Zoom get togethers for all of us to meet and connect. Hearing everyone’s story was very inspiring. They were all amazing, cool people.

Receiving the Scholarship has been inspirational for me, motivating me to keep being involved with the chronic health community and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada in particular.

The financial support was significant to help me avoid needing too many loans. The nursing program is so intense that it is not possible to work while you are doing the program. So, while I did finish my studies with some debt, it has been manageable to pay it off. I know the Scholarship really helped relieve some of the financial burden on me.

Can you please tell us about your involvement with the IBD community?

I was not very involved in my teens. But after being hospitalized and then going into remission, I started getting involved with Kids Cancer Care. I tutored a survivor, and then was involved with some of their camps.

When I applied for the AbbVie IBD Scholarship in 2019, I started becoming more involved with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. I was the honorary Chair for the Gutsy Walk fundraising event that same year.  I have built a strong community thanks to my involvement. It is a good group of people to be in touch with.

I’m a boxing and yoga instructor here in Calgary. I’ve been able to host fundraising classes at my studios in support of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. I try to use my platform as a fitness instructor to advocate for both physical and mental health.

If you could go back in time and give advice to your 14-year-old self, what would you tell yourself?

When I was first diagnosed, I wish I would have known how important it is to manage stress, and to manage expectations of myself. I was hard on myself growing up. I got anxious and stressed easily. But positive coping strategies are key. Life is going to throw a lot at you. How you handle these unexpected things is important!

It is very easy to be sad or down in the dumps. But how do you pick yourself up? What can you control? How do you mitigate your stress so you are not beating yourself up more than what your body is doing to you? It is important to recognize what you can and cannot influence. Not everything is under your control. This mindset is a learned skill.

What is the most important thing you want Canadians reading your story to take away?

We are all going through our own health struggles. And chronic health issues are usually interconnected with mental health issues. This can be a lot for people to handle. We all need to be a little more compassionate with each other. If we can all be a little more understanding and forgiving, we will all be better off.