Ryan Nesbitt, a local filmmaker, produced his student short documentary, Gutsy, to help shed the stigma about inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s and colitis. The short focuses on Nesbitt and Jessica Grossman’s experiences with Crohn’s disease, from their diagnoses in childhood to the present day. For those who live with Crohn’s disease, this sentiment will be very familiar. For the rest of the unaffected population, however, the details Nesbitt and Grossman share may come as a shock.
It’s estimated that approximately 270,000 Canadians live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), roughly 135,000 of whom specifically suffer from Crohn’s. Crohn’s and colitis can be diagnosed at any age, but the symptoms typically present in adolescence and early adulthood. Some of these symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, internal bleeding, and frequent dire trips to the bathroom.
Crohn’s is a disease that can affect any part of your digestive system, making it impossible to eat certain foods. These foods may change over time, and without warning. It can be an extremely debilitating disease, sometimes making it impossible to lead a normal life. A lack of understanding amongst the general public means those who live with this condition often have a difficult time describing it to others.
“When I tell people I have Crohn’s,” Nebsitt says, “they usually have no idea what I’m saying, or they repeat it a good two or three times.” This was part of Nesbitt’s goal with Gutsy, and also part of why he wanted to involve Grossman in particular. Diagnosed at nine-years-old after starting to show symptoms at eight, Grossman had to have ostomy surgery at 13.
The United Ostomy Association of America refers to ostomy surgery as a life-saving procedure “that allows bodily waste to pass through a surgically created stoma on the abdomen into a prosthetic known as a ‘pouch’ or ‘ostomy bag’ on the outside of the body[...]” Ostomy surgery can be a necessity for a variety of reasons. In Grossman’s case, she had to have a large part of her intestines removed, necessitating the ostomy surgery. She spent nearly two years from the ages of 11 to 13 bedridden in the hospital, losing much of her childhood. This procedure saved her life.
“Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are vastly misunderstood by the general public,” said Wendy Share, Executive Director at Share Lawyers. “Because of the lack of understanding, the stigma that surrounds these conditions, and the embarrassment most people experience with any inflammatory bowel disease, their well-being is often compromised.”
The general public doesn’t know a great deal about Crohn’s disease, which is part of why Nesbitt and co-producer, Rebeca Ortiz, wanted to make this short film; to educate and help shed the stigma. Grossman has been working towards this for nearly a decade through her own organization, Uncover Ostomy. Their mission has been to “break the stigma surrounding the ostomy, to spread positive awareness of the life-saving surgery, and to encourage body positivity for those with ostomies.”
People who live with Crohn’s are often embarrassed to talk about their condition, especially if they have an ostomy bag. Together, Grossman and Nesbitt hope to change the way we think about Crohn’s, colitis, and ostomies by educating the public and shedding the stigma.