Abbotsford teen speaks out about Crohn’s disease

Shelby Friesen is the honorary chair of this year's Gutsy Walk, taking place at Trethewey House on June 9.

Shelby Friesen is speaking out to raise awareness of Crohn’s disease.

Shelby Friesen is speaking out to raise awareness of Crohn’s disease.

Living with Crohn’s disease can be difficult and embarrassing to talk about, but an Abbotsford teen is speaking out about the condition to raise awareness and support.

Shelby Friesen, 16, a Grade 11 student at Yale Secondary, is the honorary chair of this year’s Gutsy Walk for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada.

The event takes place Sunday, June 9 at Trethewey House (2313 Ware St.) in Abbotsford. Registration is at 9 a.m., followed by the walk at 10.

Shelby said she agreed to be the honorary chair because she is now healthy and wants to give back to all the people who have supported her since her diagnosis five years ago.

“It is important for me to continue to raise awareness and understanding of the disease so people will be more sensitive to those suffering in this way,” she said.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to anus. Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and lack of energy.

Shelby first began experiencing symptoms – including intense pain that she said is like having knives in her stomach – at about the age of eight or nine.

She was diagnosed at the age of 11, but it would take some time for a suitable treatment program to take effect. In the meantime, her physical symptoms impacted her mental health, leading to her becoming depressed and withdrawn.

“As the disease increased in severity, dealing with daily stomach pain also increased and she dreaded meals and the pressure of having to eat,” her mom Marlene said.

Flare-ups of her condition resulted in increased pain and bowel issues, leading to Shelby having to go on liquid diets of Ensure and Boost. Her growth and development were impacted.

Advances in medical treatment have resulted in Shelby being in remission for three years. She is now on a combination of two drugs – Imuran, which she takes orally, and Remicade, which she receives through an IV infusion every seven weeks.

Marlene said Shelby now has a “very normal life.” She has to watch her diet closely, but has caught up to her peers in height and weight, does well at school, has a busy social life, and loves horseback riding and camping.

She hopes to continue to raise funds for a cure through her participation in the Gutsy Walk now and in the future

“She knows her medication could stop working and there aren’t a lot of options left,” Marlene said.

For more information or to register for the Gutsy Walk, visit gutsywalk.ca, or contact Nina Watt at nina_watt@rocketmail.com or  779-552-5510. For more information about Crohn’s disease and colitis, visit ccfc.ca.