“Cherish what we have” – Alessia’s IBD story

My name is Alessia Maio and three years ago, my life was turned upside down when I began experiencing subtle stomach pains, which escalated to severe discomfort after eating, along with diarrhea, fissures and more. All of these symptoms occurred after being diagnosed with Ross River Virus two years prior (whilst in Year 12) and a form of Alopecia in my first year of university. It took doctors nine months to diagnose my Crohn’s Disease and initially, I felt relieved to have an answer after being told my symptoms were just stress, IBS or all in my head. Since then, I have tried numerous medications to try and control my symptoms, undergone three surgeries for chronic fissures, had a recent abscess surgery and endured many colonoscopies and scans. Adapting my diet and lifestyle to manage Crohn’s disease has been challenging, both mentally and physically. The numerous surgeries and medical procedures have taken a toll, causing extreme fatigue and depression. Despite daily medication and monthly infusions aimed at controlling my inflammation levels, my symptoms still persist. 

Being a young adult, I want to do everything my friends can do, but that is not always possible. I have lost friends, faced accusations of “faking it,” and had to quit dancing for a period of time, which broke my heart because this is a true passion of mine. Despite this, I feel fortunate to have such wonderfully supportive parents and close friends who strive to understand the impact of this disease on my life. My parents are everything to me; they have done so much to support me through this journey, and I don’t know where I would be without them. Life is not easy when you are in pain 24/7 for years on end and this is something most people will never be able to understand. This journey has opened my eyes to who my true friends are – those who stand by me through my highest and lowest moments, offering their unwavering support. The IBD Community has been an incredible support system and I have formed some lovely friendships with Jordy, Jessie and Bella – three incredibly strong and phenomenal women who are also suffering with Crohn’s. 

My goal is to raise awareness about Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and its effects on our lives. It’s a more common condition than many people realise, and by working to #FlushTheStigma, we can make life easier for those affected. This year, I am participating in the Walk for Women’s Cancer for the third time. I have been too unwell to participate the last 2 years due to my Crohn’s symptoms, but I am going to do my best this year to walk the 35km on the day if I am well enough. I am dedicating my walk to all those with IBD, due to our elevated risk of developing bowel or colorectal cancer. Over the three years, I have raised a cumulative total of just under $15,000 and I feel so proud of that achievement.

Despite my challenges, I persevered with my studies and graduated from the University of Western Australia with a Bachelor of Arts in December 2023. I’m now pursuing a degree in Paramedicine, aspiring to become a Critical Care Paramedic and help others in their most vulnerable moments. Getting into the course meant the absolute world to me, as I am so passionate about healthcare and bettering the world from a medical perspective. I volunteer my time at Perth Children’s Hospital and other organisations to brighten the days of sick children and others struggling with various mental or physical health issues.

If this disease has taught me anything, it is resilience. Life is full of curveballs, but instead of succumbing, I choose to wake up, stand up, and strive to make the world a better place, one step at a time. 

Never take anything for granted; everything in life is temporary, reminding us to cherish what we have while we can.

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