The life of a university student can be difficult and stressful. With student loans and paying rent, not to mention the looming presence of a pandemic, it can be hard to balance schoolwork with personal and financial obligations. For students with Crohn’s and colitis, that struggle can be even more pronounced.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are part of a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which affect the body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. They are lifelong conditions that affect about one in every 140 Canadians and can make aspects of everyday life more challenging, as they can cause pain, fatigue and other symptoms.
Every year, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, a national volunteer-based charity aiming to find cures for Crohn’s and colitis, gives away 10 different $5,000 scholarships to students living with the disease from across Canada. This year, two of the recipients are students from the University of Manitoba, Ann Weber and Dennis Drewnik.
Drewnik, who is currently pursuing a bachelor of science in cellular, molecular and developmental biology with a minor in chemistry, says “it’s a challenging disease to have,” but it won’t stop him from succeeding academically and off campus.
He hopes to pursue a master’s degree in molecular neuroscience, with goals of eventually working in research or becoming a professor. Drewnik is also currently the president of the Winnipeg chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada community.
“I’m interested in helping people,” Drewnik says. The disease “has definitely given me a broader outlook on life. It opened up a lot of different opportunities for me.”
The scholarship, which is made possible through a grant provided by AbbVie Canada, is a huge help in unloading unnecessary stress, according to Jenn Ackerman, the scholarship’s project manager.
“Stress can amplify the disease,” Ackerman says. “A lot of people have to work a part-time or full-time job while going to school, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time to take care of yourself and your disease.”
Ackerman, who will have been with the program for two years this November, says the scholarship helps build a cross-country community that helps both students and anyone who has been impacted by Crohn’s and colitis.
“They can lean on one another ... everyone is so thankful for the opportunity,” she says.
Students from across Canada are able to apply, as long as they are entering or returning to a postsecondary institution.
Crohn’s and Colitis Canada also has other initiatives, like the Gutsy Walk, an event to raise funds and awareness for those with IBD, and Camp Got2Go, an overnight stay for children suffering from the disease.
“It’s great seeing where the impact has hit the most,” Ackerman says. The program is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2021, and she encourages anyone who’s new to the community to apply and make the most of their local chapter.
Drewnik’s advice to anyone newly diagnosed or looking to get involved is to be patient and explore new opportunities. “It does get better,” he says.
Anyone looking for more information on Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and the AbbVie scholarship is invited to visit crohnsandcolitis.ca. The Winnipeg chapter is open to all ages.
Published in Volume 75, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 22, 2020)