When Cherylann and Bayley talk to one another, they don’t need to explain anything. The young Torontonians live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and their shared understanding of the illness makes it easier for them to talk about their experiences.

That isn’t always the case for people living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the two main forms of IBD. Crohn’s and colitis are chronic autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation in all or part of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms that can be difficult to discuss: cramps, bloating, fatigue, and frequent and urgent bowel movements.

“The symptoms are hard enough to live with on their own, but because they can be seen as embarrassing, it’s understandable that some people don’t want to talk about what they are going through,” says Mina Mawani, President and CEO of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

Nearly 250,000 people across the country live with Crohn’s or colitis, and one Canadian is newly diagnosed every hour. Researchers believe the diseases are caused by a combination of elements, including genetics, environmental factors, and abnormal immune system responses.

“We hear all too often about people who feel isolated because of their disease. When that’s the case, the public as a whole may not hear much about Crohn’s or colitis,” says Mawani. “But with prevalence rates in Canada among the highest in the world, there’s a good chance you already know someone living with one of these diseases.”

The Gutsy Walk, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s largest annual fundraiser, helps to combat the isolation by bringing people impacted by IBD together to foster connections and create communities. Cherylann acted as the Toronto Gutsy Walk’s honorary chair in 2017, and Bayley will fill that role for the 2018 walk.

Learn more about Crohn’s and colitis, and the Gutsy Walk, at crohnsandcolitis.ca