Studying with Crohn's

The teachers knew what I was dealing with on a daily basis and they were very accommodating and flexible. It made all the difference to my studies

We all know that studying, even a subject you're passionate about, usually comes with its own challenges. Assignments, deadlines, juggling study with part-time work. Trying to stay focused on those low energy days.

So imagine how difficult it must be to study while living with a chronic illness.

This is more common than you may realise. There are many chronic illnesses that people live with on a daily basis without necessarily even looking sick. There may even be one or more of these people in your TAFE class.

Justan Singh is one such person. Diagnosed with Crohn's disease at a very early age, Justan, now 27, has lived with this condition for virtually all of his life.

"I was always a sick child," he said. "I missed a lot of school. I actually thought it was normal to go to the children's hospital. Doing the H.S.C. was a very difficult time for me because Crohn's is affected by stress."

Crohn's Disease is a gastrointestinal disorder which currently affects more than 75,000 Australians of all ages. It is usually linked with ulcerative colitis, collectively known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Episodic flare-ups can affect the colon, rectum and gastrointestinal tract and can be aggressive enough for sufferers to require hospitalisation or surgery. There is currently no known cure.

"I was picked on a lot at school because I was weak and scrawny," says Justan. "It was a really difficult time. I'd have bleeding from the gut and a lot of fatigue. Sometimes my hair would fall out. I was on lots of different medications. But all of that has made me the person I am today."

After high school Justan studied a Certificate IV in Digital Media at Miller TAFE, which he followed with a Diploma of Digital Media at Campbelltown TAFE and a Certificate IV in Web Design at Padstow TAFE. His study experiences at TAFE were a lot better than what they'd been at high school.

"The teachers and my classmates at TAFE were great, very understanding and supportive," he said. "The teachers knew what I was dealing with and they were very accommodating and flexible. It made all the difference to my studies."

Justan's life changed for the better in 2010 when he finally underwent an Ileoscopy. An Ileoscopy is a surgical procedure where an artificial opening is created in the abdomen, allowing the ileum, which is the lower portion of the small intestine, to be brought out to the surface of the abdominal wall. Waste can then drain into a sealed pouch that's affixed to the outside of the body. The patient is required to wear the bag all day every day for the rest of their life.

"It's as though my life really began at 21," says Justan. "The surgery made all the difference. It made me realise that happiness isn't about material possessions - the big house, fancy car and expensive watch. It really begins and ends with having good health."

May is Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Month, with 19 May being International IBD Day. More than 40 countries participate in awareness-raising activities to help put Inflammatory Bowel Disease on the public radar and fund research into this largely misunderstood disease.