Langley resident Yvonne Ehrenholz is the honorary chair of the Fraser Valley West’s Gutsy Walk For Crohn’s and Colitis. Ehrenholz was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 11 years old and has been living with the disease for 17 years. The Fraser Valley West walk happens Sunday, June 3 at Fleetwood Park 15802 80 Ave. Submitted photo

‘My journey is not something to be ashamed of’

Fraser Valley West Gutsy Walk’s honourary chair shares story of Crohn’s diagnosis at age 11

Yvonne Ehrenholz has grown accustomed to, as she puts it, her “new normal” — life with Crohn’s disease.

The honorary chair of the Fraser Valley West’s Gutsy Walk For Crohn’s and Colitis is sharing her story about living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and how participating in the Gutsy Walk can make a difference in the lives of those living with Crohn’s and Colitis.

The Fraser Valley West walk happens June 3 at Fleetwood Park 15802 80 Ave. Registration is at 8:30 a.m. followed by a warm up at 10:15 a.m. and a start at 10:30 a.m.

Leashed dogs are welcome.

The walk includes lunch, face painting, a ‘selfie’ station, ‘Gutsy Market’ and other family activities.

To register and for more about the local walk, visit www.gutsywalk.ca, click on the Locations button, and then Fraser Valley West (Surrey/Langley).

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada notes that Canadians have more reasons to be concerned about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis than anyone else in the world, with nearly 250,000 people in this country living with these diseases.

As well, the number of children under 10 with Crohn’s disease has doubled since 1995 and families new to Canada are developing Crohn’s and colitis for the first time – often within the first generation.

Seventeen years with Crohn’s

Ehrenholz was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 11 years old.

“It’s difficult to remember what life was like without the disease,” said the 28-year-old Langley resident, who was nominated as honorary chair by the Fraser Valley West organizing committee.

Ehrenholz doesn’t remember any lead-up symptoms prior to her initial ER visit.

“I remember being really confused about what was going on and why people stopped treating me as ‘normal,’” she said.

For many years Ehrenholz kept her medical issues to herself, “and I still do,” she says.

“Since I was young at time of diagnosis, one thing I remember was being adamant that I wasn’t ill, and hiding the disease from those around me. I didn’t tell anyone about my symptoms or treatments and treated it as a closet disease. As an adolescent I was confused and fearful of other people thinking I was different.”

But with growing awareness about IBD, Ehrenholz finds she is meeting more people with the disease, and her relationship with the illness is becoming “‘healthier.’”

For the first nine years after the diagnosis, Ehrenholz was severely sick and didn’t want anyone to know.

Now that she’s been in remission for roughly eight years, Ehrenholz has come to realize that the disease doesn’t control her as much as she thought, “nor is it a negative,” she said.

The disease consumed Ehrenholz when she was between 11 and 19. Her days were filled with countless blood tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, CT-scans, MRIs and other tests.

“It was a challenge to maintain a normal life outside of my medical treatments and self-care,” she said.

At 16 years old, Ehrenholz was asked to make a choice between having surgery or trying a relatively new drug, Remicade, where the long term side-effects were not yet fully known.

“After choosing Remicade, I still required to have part of my colon removed,” she said.

Suffering from IBD and the complications it brings hasn’t kept Ehrenholz from pursuing an BBA in Marketing Management and settling into a successful career.

She’s travelled to Peru, Europe and Mexico and often hikes or runs on the North Shore Mountains.

“These are things that seem impossible when dealing with a flare up,” Ehrenholz said.

After becoming involved in Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, Ehrenholz realized she wasn’t alone.

“The monthly meetings have helped me meet people who are also suffering from IBD and experiencing the same challenges as me,” Ehrenholz said.

“This has helped me remember that no man is an island and my journey is not something to be ashamed of.”

Looking ahead to the Gutsy Walk, Ehrenholz said she’s “thrilled to except the nomination, as I’ve been involved in Crohn’s and Colitis Canada since 2016.”

This year she has volunteered to be the committee’s digital outreach captain and registration captain.

Fountain of Youth

A familiar face at the Gutsy Walk is 102-year-old Mary Foote, Canada’s oldest Gutsy Walk participant.

• SEE RELATED STORY

Mary, who turns 103 on Oct. 25, had a fall in March and had to have surgery to put a pin in her leg, but is back home already on her own and up and walking.

“She is ‘training’ for the Gutsy Walk so she can still participate,” said Mary’s granddaughter Krista Olson, who suffers from ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers (sores) in a person’s digestive tract.

Her granddaughter is the reason Mary takes part in the walk, year after year.

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