Tiya Volansky was never a runner. Growing up, she had always been athletic, but she had never attempted any kind of long distance running.
That changed in the summer of 2013 when one of her daughters, Zacora, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease and colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases, caused by an overactive immune system, and affects each person in a different way.
For starters, it can appear anywhere in the digestive system, from mouth to bum. It affects Zacora in her lower intestine. There is also a rating scale for the disease. Zacora’s case is considered to be moderately extreme.
“Before she was diagnosed, it was one of the most challenging time periods, ever. She suffered so much, she was in so much pain. She was constantly vomiting, screaming, crying, rolling around on the floor in pain. Different episodes throughout the day.”
Every year, there is a Rock & Roll Marathon series, which takes place in different cities across the United States. The run for Crohn’s and Colitis research takes place in Las Vegas.
A couple of women from town had done the run the year before and mentioned it to Volansky.
“It was all just kind of timing. It was August when my daughter was diagnosed, and this was in September, and the run is in November,” she said. “I thought there was nothing more motivating to start running for.”
Volansky had eight weeks to train to be able to run the 21 kilometres, and did it on her own.
“I Googled different training plans to get an idea of where to start. A lot of them suggest starting with run/walk intervals in the beginning, but with eight weeks, I didn’t have time for that.”
Volansky completed her third run this year. The last two years, she’s done the run with her sister, Naomi.
Tiya had asked Naomi to run the event with her the first time she did it, but Naomi declined. She soon changed her mind.
“After seeing her go to Vegas and run with her friends wearing their matching shirts to support my niece, I wanted to get involved.” She said.
Naomi gave herself a year to train and prepare, but ended up using the last four months before the race to do so. She said she underestimated how much preparing she actually needed.
“Training was hard, I hated every minute of it.” She said. “I kept hearing that I would experience a “runners high” and that it would become easier and I would fall in love with running. I don’t think that ever happened.”
Crohn’s disease isn’t considered an autoimmune disease, but the drugs Zacora takes are an immune suppressant. Every eight weeks, she and her mother have to go to the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver to get an infusion of medicine.
“They tried to reduce her dosage in the summer, and it was proven very quickly that she does need a really strong dosage. We suffered a really rough few weeks when they tried that. She also takes other pills daily to help control it.”
After her initial diagnosis, Zacora was put on an intense diet, called a simple carbohydrate diet, which is 100 per cent grain free. She couldn’t eat oats, rice, or any kind of grain. Starches, including potatoes were out, as well as sugar. The only sweetener she was allowed was honey. Lactose is also out.
Volansky said it was hard for her daughter, and really difficult to follow, with school functions, parties, and hanging out at friend’s places.
The first year following the diagnosis was a struggle for the family. Zacora had to be home schooled because she wasn’t well enough to make it to school most days.
It was also difficult for her classmates to understand.
“Not a lot of people do know what Crohn’s is, and she did get teased at times, with kids thinking they could catch it.”
Volansky said managing her daughter’s disease can be scary. Right now, they’ve got it fairly under control, but the body can reject the drugs at any time.
There doesn’t seem to be much awareness about Crohn’s disease. Unless someone has a friend or family member with it, not many people seem to know about it.
“I was overwhelmed with the number of people who either had never heard of or didn’t know what Crohn’s disease was,” said Naomi. “It doesn’t seem to get a lot of publicity. Hopefully this will help shed a little light.”