Cambridge Medical Center offers new Crohn’s disease, colitis support group

Bonnie Gutzkow-Bowman
CMC Resource Center Coordinator

It started out as a stomach ache, one unlike any Nicholl Schleusner had ever experienced before. Schleusner was just 20-years-old in 2003 when she was hit with tremendous stomach pain and had to go to the bathroom a lot, sometimes 20 times a day.  She also lost about 40 pounds, was tired, dehydrated and rarely left the house.  It has been a long, difficult journey for Schleusner, from Isanti, who was diagnosed with colitis.

Nicholl Schleusner, of Isanti, was just 20-years-old when she was diagnosed with colitis.

In 2009, Schleusner decided to make the difficult choice to have her entire colon removed so she could have her quality of life back. Although she says it is sometimes tough to deal with the ilieostomy (an opening in the abdominal wall allowing waste to pass through the body), she feels the surgery was worth it.

“Having surgery was the best decision I made during this journey. After a couple months, I was good as new again,” said Schleusner.

As a 37-year-old, Nichole Young of Harris has spent much of her young adult life in medical facilities trying to figure out the source of her pain. Her journey has been a long struggle and has included multiple scopes, scans, procedures, and multiple surgeries, including a total colectomy (removal of the entire colon) to help her cope with Crohn’s disease.

Colitis is an inflammation of the colon and symptoms can include abdominal tenderness/pain, weight loss, changes in bowel habits (increased frequency), fever, bloody stools, diarrhea and distension. Crohn’s disease has similar symptoms but can affect any part of the gastrointestinal system as well as areas outside of the digestive tract. Both are considered an autoimmune disorder and together affect roughly 1.4 million Americans.

Both Schleusner and Young are enthusiastic about a new Crohn’s disease/colitis support group being offered in the area.

Nichole Young, of Harris, has been dealing with Crohn’s disease most of her young adult life.

“The nature of this disease makes people want to suffer in silence,” said Schleusner. “Like most things, it feels good to know you’re not alone in your struggle.  I want to give support to others because I know how much it would have helped me during my journey.”

“The hardest part of my journey has been learning to ask for help when I need it,” added Young. “It’s nice knowing you’re not alone.”

The Crohn’s disease/colitis support group will be offered through the Harbor Room at Cambridge Medical Center. The Harbor Room is best known for providing support to cancer patients, but is expanding its services to support patients with a wide range of chronic conditions.

The support group will be held on the fourth Tuesday of every month from 12:30 to 2 p.m. beginning July 26. Anyone affected, in any way, is invited to attend.

The facilitator of the support group is Bonnie Gutzkow-Bowman, Harbor Room coordinator, who has years of experience facilitating support groups.

“This group will help people close to the Cambridge area find support without having to drive a great distance. There is solace knowing you are not alone and the connections made in support groups are life changing,” said Gutzkow-Bowman.

Gutzkow-Bowman plans to invite speakers to the group, such as a registered dietitian and an ostomy nurse from Cambridge Medical Center, to discuss specific issues related to Crohn’s disease and colitis.

“You do not necessarily need to be the one with the medical condition to attend,” said Gutzkow-Bowman. “If you are supporting someone affected by Crohn’s or colitis, you are also welcome to attend.”

Registration is not needed and there is no cost to attend.

“Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, while they can be severe and chronically painful and debilitating, are also known for being silent and embarrassing diseases,” said Maggie Mau from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA MN and Dakotas Chapter).

Being able to form friends and confidantes through support groups is often extremely helpful for newly diagnosed individuals. Individuals with these diseases can ask the ‘embarrassing’ questions in a safe and closed atmosphere.

The nature of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is that the diseases do not affect everyone in the same way.  Being able to ask others about their own experiences with medications, surgical options, or other alternative therapies is a great way for patients to learn about their prospective treatment plans.”

For more information about the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and what they have to offer, visit ccfa.org.

To find out more about other support groups and classes at Cambridge Medical Center, visit cambridgemedicalcenter.com.

For information about the Crohn’s/colitis support group at Cambridge Medical Center, call Bonnie at 763-688-8415.

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