Mill Creek woman says Crohn’s disease won’t define her

MILL CREEK — When Barb Chaplin had her first flareup, the pain jolted her awake and she thought it was appendicitis. Her doctor dismissed it as pre-wedding stress.

A handful of years went by before she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease typically affecting parts of the small and large intestines. Parts of the digestive system become swollen and have ulcers. While a cause is unknown, most people are diagnosed in their late teens or early 20s.

For nearly 40 years, Chaplin has made Crohn’s fit into her life. She takes a pill to help suppress her immune system. She eats whatever she wants. Last fall, she vacationed in Italy.

“My thing was to not be in denial and not let it define me,” she said.

She credits her family and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, of which she’s a board member, for reminding her she’s not alone.

“They’re really respectful,” she said of her family. “They don’t think of me as sick.”

The NW Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America is recognizing Chaplin and her family with the Mike McCready and Ashley O’Connor Award at an April 27 fundraiser. The award is named after Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, who has Crohn’s and is active in raising awareness, along with his wife.

During the early years, Crohn’s did disrupt Chaplin’s life. Flareups left her feeling queasy and weak. She stayed close to home.

But in 1984, after her third son was born, she was prescribed Imuran, a pill that at the time was given to people with arthritis. That was a turning point for her.

“You can live a good life,” she said.

These days, Chaplin is a freelance graphic designer. She started a blog about living in Mill Creek. She is a grandmother. Her family owns a Volkswagen dealership and meets every week for Sunday dinner.

A couple of years ago, Chaplin and her husband, Kent, participated in a Crohn’s disease walk after reading about Edmonds resident Lois Fink, who has Crohn’s disease.

Fink and state Rep. Marko Liias received the 2010 McCready Award. They banded together to have a law passed requiring businesses to allow customers with gastrointestinal disorders to use employee restrooms.

“For the first time I was surrounded by a group of people who have it or knows someone with it,” she said.

That comfort encouraged Chaplin to rally her family and friends to participate in Crohn’s walks and accept a seat on the foundation board.

“I definitely don’t feel alone in this,” she said.

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