At age 18, Megan Starshak should have been focused on her senior year of high school and cross-country races, but instead she was trying to wrap her head around a diagnosis of a lifelong, incurable digestive disease called ulcerative colitis (UC).

UC is a chronic, autoimmune disease that affects 700,000 Americans and is the result of an abnormal response by the body’s immune system that causes the lining of the colon to become inflamed. Symptoms include abdominal pain, urgency to use the bathroom and weight loss.

Megan struggled with symptoms of UC throughout her college career and her disease was draining. So much so, that she was often too tired to get out of bed and attend class. Socializing, the ever-important focus of every co-ed’s life, was also really difficult because she didn’t feel comfortable being far from a bathroom. On top of all that, her weight dropped dangerously low due to her inability to keep food down.

But even when circumstances were bleak, Megan didn’t give up. She worked closely with her gastroenterologist and eventually found an infusion treatment called Remicade that got her disease under control, allowing her to live her life to the fullest.

“I want you to know that through all the challenging flares, extreme pain, loneliness, doctors, accidents, and everything else that comes with Crohn’s and Colitis, I am a better person… How can I explain that I wouldn’t wish this on someone else, yet at the same time I wouldn’t give it up?”

Dealing with years of physical and emotional pain inspired Megan to become a fearless force in the UC community. Since 2010, she has been tirelessly working to provide a voice to those suffering in silence through a non-profit organization she co-founded with Andrea Meyer who lives with Crohn’s disease.

So brilliantly called The Great Bowel Movement, Megan and Andrea’s mission has always been to make their respective inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), along with J-Pouch and Ostomy… cool! They do this by teaching, empowering and using a clever, tongue-in-cheek approach to make it OK to talk about these typically taboo “poop shoot” issues.

Today, The Great Bowel Movement has become an invaluable resource for thousands of patients who want to learn about IBD and connect with patients going through similar experiences.

great-bowel-movement-street-teamAs BIG BELIEVERS in the power of humor to heal and raise awareness, we love the bold, in your face programs Megan and GBM employ to fuel their cause. Things like their Flush Mob Street Teams, Poop Groups, Pass It On Charity efforts, and Pooper Trooper t-shirts and bags can raise a few eyebrows and make anyone giggle. But, more importantly, they start conversations and get an important message out, while helping to end feelings of shame and promote pride amongst IBD suffers, which is healing in and of itself.

Megan’s story of turning a lifelong diagnosis and invisible illness into an opportunity to teach and inspire is an important lesson in patience, strength and resilience for women everywhere.  She is most certainly a Woman You Should Know.

More About Megan:

In addition to her personal advocacy work, Megan earned her MBA after getting control of her disease and works in marketing. She’s also the face of many fitness-related awareness events for the IBD community, having competed in a half-Ironman competition and serving as a veteran participant in Get Your Guts in Gear, a cycling organization devoted to raising awareness of Crohn’s disease and UC. Can anyone say ROCK STAR?