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These Six Women Show There Are No Limits to Life with Crohn's and Colitis

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By Manda Barger

Equality leads to empowerment which leaders to enabling.

Since 1911, March 8 has been acknowledged as International Women’s Day. And every year, leaders spanning from small organizations to large nations have taken the time to celebrate women’s achievements while encouraging equality. This message is especially important to our Girls With Guts since we fight against discrimination based on gender and chronic illness/disability.

To commemorate International Women’s Day – which is worth celebrating every day – we decided to highlight six women who have shattered the prejudice that being a woman with an invisible illness keeps you from reaching your goals.

1. Cynthia McFadden

Credit: NBC Universal

Cynthia McFadden grew up with frequent abdominal pain but it wasn’t until college when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Through her determination, she refused to let it keep her from graduating. She also credits humor along with supportive friends who dubbed her IBD “George.”

Shortly after college, McFadden did need to have a portion of her bowel surgically removed. She took off from there to build an incredibly successful career in journalism all while being a working mom. Her life is filled with achievements including an Emmy, Peabody, duPont, Sigma Delta Chi, and Foreign Press awards.

McFadden is currently the senior legal and investigative correspondent for NBC News. She also works to bring awareness by advocating for the Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis Foundation.

2. Katelyn Ohasi

Katelyn Ohashi performing at a meet

Katelyn Ohasi knows pressure. As an eight-time All-America and four-time member of USA Gymnastics Junior National Team, you have likely seen viral clips of her perfect 10 routines.

Ohasi has also grown into a bold advocate. Most people have heard her speak out against unhealthy practices in the world of gymnastics. But she has also written about her chronic illnesses, including ulcerative colitis.

“I am sharing this in hopes of comforting others that may be able to relate…”

 “I kept having blood in my stool, as my conditions progressively worsened. I started having uncontrollable bowel movements, where I would have to carry a second pair of clothes with me, times when I was so close to the restroom but not close enough, and times I was incapable of going to the gym, afraid I would have an accident during one of my tumbling passes. I went on like this for months without saying a word to anyone, terrified of not knowing when it would happen again.”

Despite all this, Ohasi not only achieved perfect scores but she also graduated from UCLA, received two ESPYs, and uses her public appearances to speak about positive self-esteem and body image.

3. Amy Brenneman

Amy Brenneman on the red carpet

Many of our ostomates give their stoma a name. For actress, writer, and producer Amy Brenneman, she called her temporary stoma “my little friend.”

Brenneman was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in the early 2000s and ultimately needed surgery in 2010. This working mother didn’t stay down for long though. Brenneman said that she took off three episodes of season 4 in “Private Practice”- a sure sign that she had the strength to recover quickly.

Throughout that whole time, Brenneman has starred in several television shows including “NYPD Blue” and “Judging Amy” along with movies “Casper” and “The Jane Austen Book Club.” She is also a proud advocate for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation as you can see in the PSA below.

4. Kathleen Baker

Kathleen Baker swimming

Kathleen Baker remembers that she first began feeling unwell right before her 13th birthday. Within those early years, Baker found the tenacity to handle the ups-and-downs of deciding the right treatment.

Oh, and train to be an Olympic swimmer.

Baker earned a gold medal and silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, but she’s not stopping there. She is also a three-time World Championship medalist and has broken multiple records. She says she manages her IBD with a biologic while allowing herself flexibility and rest.

Baker says she wants her full story to come out to provide kids diagnosed with Crohn’s an athlete to look up to and a source for parents and caretakers.

5. Anastacia

Anastacia on the red carpet

Entertainment in the early 2000s was marked with women showing off their midriffs but for singer and songwriter Anastacia, it was more than just fashion. Revealing off her stomach meant she had accepted herself, her Crohn’s disease, and a surgery scar.

Anastacia says when she was 13 years old, she found a lump in her abdomen. She was able to have it surgically removed but was ultimately diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. At one point, she says she suffered an intestinal collapse (bowel obstruction) that put her in the hospital.

Surviving Crohn’s disease was just part of Anastacia’s path to stardom. She fought for her big break in her 30s and ultimately became an international pop icon with hits Sick and Tired, Paid My Dues, and her favorite- I’m Outta Love.

6. Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias

Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias is likely the most amazing athlete you have never heard of.

Born in 1911, Zaharias was an extraordinary athlete at a time when women were supposed to be quiet and delicate. She spent her life challenging the status quo- and often came out the victor.

While Zaharias appeared to excel in about every sport, she is most known for her skills in golf along with track and field. She won two gold medals and a silver medal (later credited as a first place-tie) in the 1932 Olympics. It was during the games when she was introduced to golf.

Within the next eight years, Zaharias learned, trained, and played to break expectations. Along with being the first woman to play in a PGA event, she helped start the LPGA and won 14 tournaments in a row (a record that remains today).

Zaharias was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1953. In that same year, she underwent surgery and had a colostomy. While some feared she wouldn’t be able to compete again, she recovered and went on to win seven. more. tournaments.

Her cancer eventually spread and Zaharias passed away in 1956 at the age of 45. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. Her biography on the Hall of Fame’s website states Zaharias was also awarded:

  • Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year: 1931, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1954

  • Associated Press Woman Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century

  • Associated Press Top Woman Athlete of the Century

  • Sports Illustrated’s Individual Female Athlete of the Century

The Babe Didrikson Zaharias Foundation was created in 1969 to preserve Zaharias’s legacy. The organization also funds cancer research and women athletes.

2019 Newbie Retreat

2019 Newbie Retreat

As we continue to celebrat International Women’s Day year-round, let us remember our mission at Girls With Guts is to empower women with IBD and/or an ostomy. Whether it is celebrating a woman’s achievement, supporting her in crisis, or simply having her back- we are all Girls With Guts in a sisterhood of love and respect.

Images via Wikimedia Commons and NBCUniversal

Originally published: December 4, 2020
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