Probably the most important first step in finding a cure for a particular disease is knowing the cause of that disease.
That’s a luxury not granted to researchers and scientists trying to help those suffering from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Almost a quarter-million Canadians, including about 6,000 children, live with Crohn’s or colitis, the two main types of what is sometimes called inflammatory bowel disease.
The diseases, thought to be autoimmune illnesses, are characterized by relentless attacks on their victims’ digestive tracts. They can cause painful ulcers, internal bleeding, severe malnutrition, and chronic pain. Sufferers sometimes must undergo removal of the colon, and a possible side effect of one drug sometimes used to treat the ailments is a rare and aggressive cancer.
Children hit especially hard
Children are frequently hospitalized for long stretches, must miss school, and can't visit friends. Some of them get their food through a tube. They experience nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, abdominal pain and cramping, and sometimes episodes of frequent, severe, and bloody diarrhea. In the case of Crohn’s, they are at elevated risk for colorectal cancer.
For some reason, Canada has one of the highest incidences of these diseases in the world. What’s worse, the illnesses are on the rise in Canadian children, who have one of the globe’s highest childhood-onset rates. The number of children with Crohn’s has doubled since 1995. Those kids are almost 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those without Crohn’s.
Fortunately, researchers have been able to come up with some drugs that appear to be able to help control flare-ups for some of those suffering from the chronic malady. Unfortunately, they only aid a percentage of the victims, and their effectiveness sometimes wanes, with no cure yet in sight. The exact cause (or causes) remains elusive.
A real chance to help
On June 8, you can do something concrete to help those who are striving to gain ground on these insidious diseases. That Sunday, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada holds its annual nationwide “Gutsy Walk” fundraiser, now in its 19th year. (In B.C., walks take place in Vancouver, Victoria, Surrey, Abbotsford, Kamloops, and Nanaimo. You don’t have to participate in a walk to donate or volunteer; see the bottom of the page for a link to more information.)
Consider a donation, however small, as an investment in finding the diseases’ cause. From there, scientists can zero in on areas that look promising as research avenues to a possible cure.
Another way to look at the Gutsy Walk fundraiser is a pragmatic one: economics. The diseases cost Canadian taxpayers almost an estimated $3 billion every year, not to mention the untold suffering and human cost. A seemingly small advance in a research project funded by the Gutsy Walk might be the breakthrough needed to race to a cure and end the financial burden as well.
Need motivation? Provide hope to kids
But the best way to approach such fundraising efforts is to think of the welfare of those afflicted with colitis or Crohn’s, especially the rising numbers of young children.
Will they be doomed to an existence in the shadows, living with chronic pain and the possibility of a life prematurely shortened? Or will they grow up with hope, knowing that aggressive, ongoing research will, inevitably, find that breakthrough that will lead to a cure?
That kind of hope makes it possible for people to withstand the inconveniences, pain, and depression that accompany colitis and Crohn’s.
But that kind of hope also requires the support of everyday Canadians to make such research happen.
How to make a difference
Go here to find out all you need to know about how to donate to this most worthy of causes. You can form your own team of walkers, sponsor others, create your own “virtual walk”, or just donate to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. (As of publication, the foundation had attained only 43 percent of this year’s modest nationwide fundraising goal of $3.1 million; the Vancouver walk had hit only 28 percent of its target of $151, 500.)
If you stop to think about it, with so many Canadians directly affected by Crohn's and colitis, you probably know one of them, work with one, or have a family member who does. Wouldn't you want to do something tangible to help improve their future quality of life? Imagine being able to go back to school or hold a job after years away.
The “big” diseases (heart, lung, cancer) get the lion’s share of donations, attention, and exposure in this world, but there are some illnesses out there that affect a very large number of people for which some basic, well-funded research could deliver an astounding result.
You can afford more than you think—you just have to think!
Maybe think of it this way: if you regularly purchase one or two (or even more) specialty drinks at your local coffee shop near your home or work every day, you’re spending between $25 and $75 a week on a very forgettable luxury.
Put just one week’s worth of that coffee money (or even just a day’s worth!) toward curing a disease whose victims are never able to forget what they are living with.
The odds are you’ll see a payback within your lifetime. More importantly, those kids might have a normal one.