• Thu. May 19th, 2022

Community of Care offers a support group for students with chronic illnesses | News

Chronic health problems are not always immediately visible, but usually have a profound impact. This is no less true for college students who often have to adapt their academic responsibilities to their situation. This can often mean that a student needs special accommodations or has the added task of managing attendance and other health-related demands.

The effects of these personal circumstances inspired Student Affairs Resource Coordinator and Resident Minister Lorianne Harrison-Reyes to create the Chronic Disease Group (CIG) alongside Caitlin Lopez (’14) in 2009. Now a group of Established support facilitated by the Community of Care, CIG has been an outlet for students with chronic conditions and disabilities for 13 years.

The group serves as an outlet for students with chronic illnesses and disabilities to reflect on their condition with other Lions facing similar circumstances. Before the pandemic, the group organized dinners, games, wellness exercises and social activities. CIG has since moved its business online due to pandemic-related health concerns. Despite this, the group continues to provide an outlet for students with chronic illnesses seeking a safe space outside of their academic life.

As an undergrad, Harrison-Reyes was diagnosed with lupus her freshman year. “We were just learning [lupus]. I had all the signs and symptoms, and no one really knew what I was going through at the time. I wish I had a support group,” she said.

“It’s really important to know what reasonable accommodations you need as a student,” she added.

Harrison-Reyes has carried these attitudes into her work supporting the Community of Care. Since the group’s inception, CIG has provided a safe space for students with various illnesses, including but not limited to Crohn’s disease, Addison’s disease, corticobasal syndrome (CBS), and diabetes.

In addition to being a member of the service organization Gryphon Circle, serving as a resident advisor and writing for Loyolan, alumnus Kimmy Smith (’16) was a student leader with CIG during her time on the Bluff .

She joined the group shortly after being diagnosed with lupus her second year at LMU.

“And so many people, you know, at LMU are also involved in so many things. Not only do we all live with chronic illnesses and are students, but we’ve all been involved in a billion things like every student at LMU,” Smith said.

“I think just being around people who understand that has been really helpful. I think that was the thing I struggled with the most because I had some really amazing friends who were supporting me, but I knew they just didn’t really understand,” Smith said.

For Smith, there is a critical connection that cannot be replicated among college students facing similar health issues.

Asked about the impact a Zoom environment has on the group’s activities, Harrison-Reyes said, “We’re still able to laugh and have fun. [over Zoom]. I think the key thing is that after everything was done people stayed back and talked unless they had to run to another meeting… I think it was good because they were able to find friends and mentors in each other, and talk about other possibilities.

“I missed that community table together. And I think hopefully we can get back to it…Right now we have to be safe,” she said.

Harrison-Reyes also shared that people with chronic conditions need to be given more visibility. “And I think that’s one of the key things that I think has changed in the last two years,” she said.

Students with chronic disabilities are encouraged to contact Lorianne Harrison-Reyes by email ([email protected]) for more details on the Chronic Disease Group.