Local honorary chair Vanessa Stewart cutting the ribbon to officially kick off the Gutsy Walk around Riverside Park. (Photo/Colin Macgillivray)

First official Vanderhoof Gutsy Walk a success

Community rallies for Crohn’s and colitis awareness

On June 3, nearly 100 Vanderhoof locals braved the wind and rain for a walk around Riverside Park, all for the goal of raising awareness, increasing advocacy and raising funds for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

Although in years past, locals have been travelling to other communities to participate in the event, it was the first official Gutsy Walk for Crohn’s and colitis for Vanderhoof and Dr. Suzanne Campbell, a massive advocate and supporter for the event as her daughter suffers from Crohn’s disease, was thrilled with the staggering amount of support and donations received this year.

“If we look at Vancouver, who has a population of around 2.5 million, if they raised anywhere near as much as we have, they would have raised five to eight million dollars,” says Campbell. “Their goal for today, not to take away from Vancouver, was to raise $115,000. So, to put it into perspective, per person we will have raised 65 to 100 times of what Vancouver has raised.”

The initial goal for Vanderhoof was $10,000 raised. However, by the end of the day on June 3, the community shattered that goal and raised over $15,000, around $3 per person population wise in Vanderhoof.

Campbell explained that the majority of Gutsy Walks that take place around Canada are in major, urban locations, such as Toronto or Vancouver, so she was ecstatic at the level of commitment and support displayed by the small community.

“One of the other great reasons that an event like this is happening in a small town is the fat that when you have a chronic illness and you live quite far from the urban,city centres, it makes it quite a bit harder in some ways,” says Campbell. “You have to travel 1000 kilometres to go to the doctor in Vancouver, you have to travel a lot more, spend more money, miss more time from work.”

“But there are a lot of positives as well and just the fact that we are able to have a walk in this community is one of them. You have such community support from your friends, family, teachers, all parts of the community know and support each other, so it’s a real bonus,” says Campbell.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that attacks the gastrointestinal tract of the human body. With a plethora of symptoms ranging from sever abdominal pain to eye inflammation, Gutsy Walk’s across Canada are trying to fundraise to hopefully one day find a cure or medical procedure that can cure the disease.

Currently, one in 150 Canadians suffers from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, as Canada has an unusually high percentage of people living with the disease. This includes Vanessa Stewart, who served as the honorary community chair for the Vanderhoof Gutsy Walk.

“The funding that we get and fundraising that we are doing helps us learn as to why we are dealing with this,” says Stewart. “Nearly 250,000 are living with Crohn’s and colitis in Canada and we’re actually seeing that with people who are moving here, within their first generation, are actually being diagnosed with Crohn’s and colitis.”

Stewart, who has lived with Crohn’s disease since she was a young child, actually wasn’t diagnosed with the disease until her mid-teens, something she said that use to be fairly common for those who suffer from Crohn’s disease.

“As a child in the 90’s, it was very hard for me to actually get diagnosed,” says Stewart. “Back then, it really wasn’t known as a disease. It took me 10 years to be finally diagnosed after experiencing symptoms for essentially a decade.”

Luckily, due to increased awareness, Stewart states that there is an increased rate of children under 10 years old being diagnosed with Crohn’s and colitis, which ultimately means they are receiving the treatment that they need from an earlier age.

Stewart says this is especially important as being a child suffering from Crohn’s disease is no easy task.

“Living with an inflammatory bowel disease means life is full of disruptions,” says Stewart. “I didn’t get to go to school. I couldn’t concentrate when I was in the classroom. I can’t think and retain memories for long periods of time. As a child, I didn’t expect normalcy. I didn’t get to do to the things that other kids were able to do. I had to make sure that I was inside, near a bathroom almost all of the time.”

From stomach cramps to loss of appetite, Stewart experienced a wide range of symptoms before ultimately being diagnosed at the age of 14. Yet, living in a small town prohibited her from getting the help she needed at the time.

“I actually didn’t go to the doctor for four years, because I was so discouraged that I couldn’t find a doctor as they actually didn’t have any gastroenterologists in the area for a while,” says Stewart. “It was very discouraging, because it would mean I would have to travel extremely long distances just to go see a doctor.”

“It really is such a struggle to live like this,” says Stewart. “Not being able to always do the things we want to do and to live with fatigue and have numerous bad days. It can be brutal.”

Now, after a relatively successful surgery and the ongoing support from her family, Stewart says she has more good days than bad, but acknowledges the continued need for fundraising and awareness.

“With the awareness and fundraising, comes researching of treatments and studies that give further insight into our conditions,” says Stewart. “The more we fundraise, the more relief comes and maybe someday we’ll have a cure.”

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