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Students open up about dealing with chronic illnesses on campus

Ashley Tripp

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At first glance, one may never realize that a person is currently dealing with a chronic illness. Many University of Alabama students battle them every day and some have opened up about the illnesses that have changed their lives.

Ally Ahmed, a freshman majoring in pre-law, was diagnosed with thyroid and lymph node cancer in April 2012, just two months before her high school graduation.

“When I first got to college, I was embarrassed about having cancer, especially with my big scar across my throat,” Ahmed said. “I didn’t want to be treated differently for having it.”

Ahmed said while she was going through rush, she would always try to cover her scar with makeup, thinking she would be judged for how bad it looked or what people would assume.

“When I met all of my friends and new sisters, I realized there was nothing at all to be embarrassed of,” Ahmed said. “The scar is a part of me now, and I don’t mind at all.”

Ahmed said her Gamma Phi Beta sorority sisters help give her strength all the time, as well as make the best out of her situation.

“Any time I feel down about having cancer, I know that I have an amazing support system to help pick me up,” Ahmed said. “I’m so grateful that they have helped me make the best out of my situation.”

Still, Ahmed said her first year has been difficult, battling cancer far away from her home in the Big Apple.

“My medicine adjustments, blood work and check ups are supposed to be done frequently,” Ahmed said. “I find myself having to fly home to New York more often then I would like to, due to these check ups in New York City. It’s definitely hard knowing that I’ll have to be on medication every day for the rest of my life, but it’s something I’ve gotten used to.”

After her first surgery, Ahmed went through two week-long radiation treatments. Ahmed will be completing her third radiation treatment this summer, and she hopes it will be her last.

“It makes me so excited to know that I’m almost there,” Ahmed said. “I can’t wait and I look forward to being cancer free.”

Cancer isn’t the only chronic illness plauging UA students.

Jillian Koresko, a sophomore majoring in public relations, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, at the beginning of her freshman year of high school.

“Living [with] Crohn’s is never easy, but for some it’s worse than others,” Koresko said. “Luckily for me I have a mild to moderate case … One of my friends from home has a very severe case and actually had to wait an extra year just to be cleared by her doctor to go to college.”

Koresko has to monitor what she can eat every day because the disease makes it difficult and painful for certain foods to pass through.

“I am not allowed to eat any sort of raw vegetable, seeds, nuts, popcorn or salads,” Koresko said. “Some days I would give anything for a Caesar salad.”

In addition to the diet plan, Koresko receives IV infusions of a drug called Remicade (Infleximab) every eight weeks and takes iron pills. Koresko said living with Crohn’s requires a lot of doctors visits and scheduling.

“Especially being in college, you have to make sure that your appointments don’t interfere with classes or other activities,” Koresko said. “I kept asking, ‘Why me?’ but now I understand this is something that I can deal with, and as long as I do the things I’m supposed to do, I can still be a normal human being.”

Koresko said she finds her strength to make it through everything from her family and friends.

“They see me through the bad days and the good and always keep me on track,” Koresko said. “They literally will drop anything for me if something happens.”

Morgan Embry, a junior majoring in dance, was also diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after suffering from four kidney infections last year. She also has asthma.

“I missed a lot of class, fun events and had lost weight because I would go through phases where I just couldn’t eat,” Embry said. “Once I was diagnosed, I found out the times when I couldn’t eat were called flare ups and I was sick all the time because Crohn’s is a form of autoimmune disease.”

Excepting a few high-stress moments, Embry has been in remission since about October and has not been sick other than asthma-triggered allergic relations to seasonal changes, cigarette smoke and the heaters in all the buildings on campus.

“This year was definitely a struggle, because this season change occurred in the midst of rehearsals for The Freese Collection, which was an especially stamina-demanding dance work,” Embry said. “It is hard to dance continuously through an hour [of] dance work while unable to obtain a deep breath.”

Since being in college, Embry said it has been hard to go out with friends to bars and restaurants later at night.

“I find myself coughing and my chest feeling tight when I am surrounded by cigarette smoke for too long,” Embry said. “I don’t feel that I am missing out though. I always prefer hanging out with people at each other’s houses anyway.”

Sarah Altschuler, a freshman majoring in education, has a combination of Crohn’s and Celiac disease.

“One of the major challenges I have found is having to supply my own food, because as much as the University tries, it’s hard for them to provide options that meet my dietary restrictions, not to mention, it’s expensive,” Altschuler said.

Altschuler finds it challenging to maintain her weight without losing it.

“I can’t eat many foods with fats, and I naturally have a fast metabolism,” Altschuler said. “It’s also really hard when it seems like everyone around you is trying to do the opposite or going on spring break diets together.”

Like Ahmed, Altschuler said her sorority sisters help her get through every day.

“They look at me for who I am and not for what I look like,” Altschuler said. “Because of my size, a lot of people who don’t know my struggles form assumptions about me, but my sisters know the challenges and obstacles that I have and are constantly supporting me through it.”


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Students open up about dealing with chronic illnesses on campus