Mother and daughter living with the same disease work to break down the stigma of Crohn’s disease
by Olivia Condon
When it comes to poop, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to have an open and frank discussion about the topic. It’s a bit awkward, it can be embarrassing and most other people don’t want to hear about your own experiences with it. Fortunately, Alison Jones and Dani Polsom, a mother and daughter duo from Airdrie, they have one another. The two have been battling with poop issues of their own, both shared and unique for the majority of their lives. Both suffer from Crohn’s disease but their journey to this diagnosis was anything but simple.
Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is an umbrella term for disorders that impact the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main ones.
Each occurrence of IBD is as unique as the person living and battling with it. But one common thread is that it’s not a visible disease in that it doesn’t necessarily present outwardly and therefore can be difficult for others, and even those suffering from it, to understand.
“I guess I started having serious tummy issues when I was 16 or 17 but even when I was younger I would have emergencies not like other kids,” Dani said. “It was embarrassing… I didn’t know I had a disease coming on I just thought it was childish.”
According to Crohn's and Colitis Canada, some of the common symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis include abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, nausea and vomiting, diminished appetite and weight loss, gas, bloating, fever, anemia, fatigue and sores in mouth and around anus. Realistically, these symptoms only just scratch the surface of what a person living with IBD could experience on a daily or hourly basis.
Both women were diagnosed with colitis first, eventually given the Crohn’s diagnosis at various stages in their lives, both after they’d had their children.
Between them they’ve seen dozens of doctors, endured invasive and painful surgeries and been on more prescription medications than any healthy person could imagine.
Eventually, both women had the diseased portion of their colon removed and had j-pouches installed. A j-pouch is much like it sounds: an internal colostomy in the shape of J that holds about two to three ounces of feces at a time. You can still go to the bathroom normally but it’s far more frequent.
“I went to a party once and I was using the bathroom upstairs in the house and I brought those little drops with me (to contain the smell) and I accidentally left them upstairs,” Dani said. “Somebody actually came downstairs and called me out on it… It was so embarrassing because they knew I had a disease.”
“A lot of people don’t understand Crohn’s disease, they see it more as a joke because to them it’s a pooping disease so they don’t see everything else that comes with it.”
As Alison’s disease progressed, and her j-pouch failed, doctors told her she would have to have an ileostomy, a procedure where the entire small intestine is removed and an external pouch is installed to hold the feces.
“So now, I poop into a bag,” she joked. “I’ve had quite a few blockages with mine and I start throwing up and the pain is really bad… so there are certain things I don’t eat, like grapes. It takes me a lot longer to eat dinner than somebody else.”
As a disease that can’t be seen, Alison and Dani have faced judgement from friends, family and strangers who are quick to offer opinions rather than ask questions.
“It’s actually very defeating when people come to us and say ‘oh, it’s because you don’t know how to eat properly,'" Alison said.
“Let’s talk about diet because I’ve gone to every naturopath, homeopath, I’ve done a celiac diet… when I was sick I did every diet you could think of,” Alison said, adding she would make her own bread and yogurt in an effort to curb her symptoms. Nothing worked.
“I ate all of those diets my mom was on and I still got it,” Dani said, laughing.
“Exercise has really helped my body be stronger and it definitely helps me mentally,” she said. “It helps with a little bit of energy too because you get those natural endorphins but sometimes if I work out too hard, the next day I’m totally zapped.”
Alison has also taken her health seriously, exercising with a trainer to keep her motivation up.“It has made a big difference for me mentally but my joints still hurt all the time,” she said.“We go to training and they’re like ‘what’s hurting you today?’ and I’m like, well I don’t want to be a broken record but my knees, my ankle, my foot… but we still get through it because it’s a part of life. You get up in the morning, you hurt.”
When it comes to relationships, both women have had their fair share of ups and downs but Dani isn’t afraid to say that building relationships has been a struggle. As a young woman living with a disease who is also a survivor of sexual abuse, she’s got the cards stacked against her.
“It has been pretty hard on my relationship being sick all the time and also still bringing up a lot of my trauma into our relationship too,” Dani said. “Even with friends, I’m afraid they’re not going to accept me for my past and for what’s going on with my body now, everything can be too much for people to deal with. It’s almost like you don’t trust your own body. You’re in this fight all the time and you try to take yourself as not being the disease and you’re not the trauma or the abuse, you’re just an individual but it’s really hard to separate yourself.”
Above it and through it all, both women have an incredible sense of humour about their disease and the not-so-awkward-anymore topic of poop.
“Whenever we’re going on a trip I’m always like ‘do we have toilet paper?’ ‘how many bathrooms are there?’” Dani said.
“We talk about poop all the time,” Alison said as they both laughed.
“In Cards Against Humanity, there’s a way to decide who gets to go first and it’s like who was the last person to poop? And I always say, ‘I’m probably pooping right now!'"
Follow Ladies out Loud to read more about Alison and Dani’s shared and unique stories of 'living after and through trauma' in the new year.
Photo Credit Dani Image: Lance Hampton, Insane Shots Photography
Art Credit Dani Body Paint: Shawnee Hoffman, Artsy Fartsy Studio
Photo Credit Dani & Alison: Olivia Storey
For more information on Crohn's and Colitis (IBD) go to https://crohnsandcolitis.ca