Armstrong Student Sheds Light on “Invisible Illness”
It is Crohn’s And Colitis Awareness Week. The digestive diseases are chronic and anyone can get them. The invisible illnesses are most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. In Part 2 of our series, an Armstrong High School student shows how she doesn’t let the inflammatory bowel diseases stop her.
“I Get Very Tired”
Alia Rocha lives to dance. She practices at least four times per week. The captain of the Armstrong dance team is light on her feet, twirling around to Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.”
To look at her, you would never know she is fighting an inflammatory condition called Crohn’s disease. Doctors gave her the diagnosis when she was in fifth grade.
“At first, I was like, ‘wow. Am I going to die?'”
The digestive disease sometimes knocks her off her feet.
“I get very tired. I don’t want to do anything and it impacts me at dance and at school a lot,” Rocha explained.
Painful Physically and Mentally
When Rocha develops flare-ups, painful stomach cramps and throwing up sideline her. She would go home from school two to three times a week. When she does make it to class, Armstrong officials accommodate her illness. The school nurse allows her to use the bathroom in the nurse’s office.
Rocha not only fights physical symptoms. The 12th grader deals with the mental agony of battling a chronic condition.
“At first, I was like, ‘why me? Why did this happen to me?’ When everything settled down, she educated herself on the disease.”
Rocha also encountered stigmas often associated with inflammatory bowel diseases. For instance, peers think it is contagious.
“A lot of my friends are like ‘oh, like what?’ ‘No, it’s not like that, it’s not contagious,'” she tells them.
On other occasions, some people made fun of her when she was on steroid medication.
“My cheeks were super chubby and all of my peers and some of my friends were like, ‘oh, your cheeks are so chubby.’ It made me feel bad,” she said.
Many Crohn’s Patients Under 18
Dr. Jake Matlock with Hennepin Healthcare says treating mental symptoms of an inflammatory bowel disease is just as crucial as controlling physical symptoms. That’s especially true when dealing with young patients.
“They’ve come into this as a healthy young person with no medical history and this is their first diagnosis of a chronic disease. And that mental shift to, thinking to one’s self, at least a part of one’s identity, becomes I’m a patient,” explained Matlock.
Rocha is not alone in her struggles. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, there are about 25,000 Minnesotans have inflammatory bowel diseases. Many of those patients are under the age of 18.
“It Has Made Me Stronger”
Meanwhile, Rocha is determined to live a productive life despite having Crohn’s. She’s a member of the National Honor Society. She’s also part of the Spanish Honor Society. And this summer she was crowned Miss Robbinsdale.
“It’s not really holding me back,” she said proudly.
Rocha says she’s now more confident and Crohn’s has given her strength in other areas of her life.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. It has made me stronger, made me overcome a lot.”
She wants people to know that Crohn’s is more than a so-called “bathroom disease.” Crohn’s can also affect your eyes, skin and other areas on the body.
For more information: visit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation website