Living, and coping, with an autoimmune disease at Loyola
By Zoe Fisher
A junior at Loyola University Chicago, Rachel Cundiff, 21, has navigated the rigor of college academics while living with an autoimmune disease for the past three years.
Ulcerative colitis, or inflammation of the colon, is one of several autoimmune diseases that affects people of all ages. Cundiff started a support group at Loyola to find a community that shares the pain, stress and limitations she deals with every day.
Zoe Fisher: Can you tell me more about what ulcerative colitis is?
Rachel Cundiff: Ulcerative colitis is just literally inflammation of the colon. It manifests in a number of ways. Probably the most common is blood in your stool. Having to go frequently, having to go really urgent. Like as soon as you feel it, you have to be in the bathroom like yesterday. Another symptom that affects me the most is abdominal cramping. At least five times a day, I get really bad abdominal cramping. Sometimes it gets so bad I have to curl up in a ball, but sometimes I can wave it off as nothing.
Fisher: Has there ever been a time when you felt professors weren’t accommodating?
Cundiff: Absolutely, I mean Loyola has SSWD and accommodation letters, but the teachers have no idea what you’re going through. They just don’t understand, they have so many students.
Fisher: What’s the hardest thing about your autoimmune disease?
Cundiff: It’s hard living with the disease in general, but it’s hard, too, trying to compete with half of the student body to get into medical school or graduate school because you have to do this, this and this. And there’s times where you absolutely cannot do it, no matter how badly you want to stay up until 4 in the morning studying for your exam like everyone else can, you can’t. You’re not gonna be able to function, you’re gonna feel sick. Who knows what else is gonna happen? There’s more consequences for you than there are for other people.
Fisher: How has the process of starting the group been?
Cundiff: You know, we were lucky. We found a number of people with various other autoimmune diseases who do know exactly what you’re going through. And it’s amazing to know the experiences you have are shared by other people in very different circumstances.
To hear more from this interview with Cundiff, see the full audio story here.