Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Rasheed Clarke is an optimist. He’s quick to look for the silver lining in a situation – and his commitment to seeing the good has served him well through his often-challenging journey with ulcerative colitis (UC).
“Perhaps I have been naïve, but along the way I always believed it would work out ok. There were definitely dark days but there have also been a lot of hopeful days when I’ve thought ‘I can do this’. As it turns out, I can.”
According to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, ulcerative colitis is one of two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); the other is Crohn’s disease. These diseases inflame the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and disrupt your body's ability to digest food, absorb nutrition, and eliminate waste in a healthy manner. These are lifelong diseases and people can experience acute periods of active symptoms (active disease or flare), and other times when their symptoms are absent (remission).[i]
Rasheed’s UC journey started 14 years ago and he will be the first to tell you that UC can take you by surprise. “I was 27 years old, training for a half marathon, happy with my job and life in general and began experiencing symptoms including needing to go the bathroom sometimes up to 30 times a day.” In 2018, more than 270,000 Canadians were believed to be living with IBD. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 403,000 Canadians (1 in 100 people).[ii]
Rasheed shares that despite the urgency and frequency of his trips to the bathroom, he experienced very little pain. “I know from talking to others that sometimes there is a great deal of pain associated with IBD and UC. That hasn’t been my experience but I can certainly empathize with how disruptive the symptoms can be. In my experience with UC a flare up for me can impact my normal routine”
The on-again-off-again nature of his condition made it difficult to diagnose. It was almost two years before Rasheed had confirmation that he was living with UC. “I wasn’t afraid of the diagnosis, I was relieved. I had done enough of my own research to suspect I had UC, so it was just good to know for sure.” Rasheed’s diagnosis, however, was only the beginning of a long road. After innumerable attempts to manage his condition over more than five years, Rasheed opted for surgical intervention. While Rasheed experienced some serious complications related to his surgery, his recovery has offered him an opportunity to reflect on the journey.
“My life is different now, but different can be good. I’ve recaptured a sense of normal. I can work and be active. I feel a sense of gratitude every day. I can now appreciate how I am benefiting from all of the work my healthcare team and I put into understanding and addressing my UC.” Rasheed shares that continuing to do his own research, being prepared for doctor’s appointments and being confident when advocating for himself were important parts of understanding his condition and what was to come. “I sometimes worried about being perceived as difficult, asking so many questions, but at the end of the day I needed as much information as I could gather to make decisions about my life and my health.”
In the years since his diagnosis, Rasheed has volunteered with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, a national, volunteer-based charity focused on finding the cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and improving the lives of children and adults affected by these diseases. He also writes about his experiences with UC online. He does this both to help him stay connected to a community of people who “just get it” and have become friends, and to share his own experiences in an effort to help anyone else who might be struggling with symptoms, diagnosis or the everyday reality of living with a condition like UC.
“I want to share my sense of hopefulness with others. I know how challenging it can be. Navigating a disease like UC can make you feel alone. But I know better days are possible. It’s realistic to believe things can get better; there are options available. And if you’re feeling defeated or alone, please reach out to family, friends, or an IBD group online. There’s no reason to face your disease alone.”
[i] Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. About Crohn’s and Colitis. https://crohnsandcolitis.ca/About-Crohn-s-Colitis/What-are-Crohns-and-Co...
[ii] Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. About Crohn’s and Colitis. https://crohnsandcolitis.ca/About-Crohn-s-Colitis/Are-you-at-risk