When Larry Nance Jr. was 16 years old, he learned why he felt so unwell when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Nance has since battled through the disease and followed in his father’s footsteps to play in the NBA on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and has become an advocate for Crohn’s and colitis along the way. In 2017, Nance co-founded the organization Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis to inspire and mentor young athletes battling these diseases. Mediaplanet spoke with Nance about his life with Crohn’s and spreading awareness for digestive diseases.
You were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 16. How did that affect you growing up?
When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, it was a relief to me actually — an answer as to why I was feeling the way that I was. And with the diagnosis came treatment options, which meant I was on the way to feeling normal.
What’s something you were shocked to learn about Crohn’s?
The most shocking part for me was just how individualized the disease is. When I meet and talk to kids and inflammatory bowel disease groups, I always make sure to add that what makes me hurt may not always be the case for them, and vice versa.You have to find your personal triggers and then learn how to avoid them.
How has Crohn’s affected your career in the NBA?
Without my Crohn’s diagnosis, I never would’ve gotten to this point in my career. It taught me how to overcome various adversities in my life. Also, without the diagnosis I’d still be experiencing harsh symptoms — one being lack of growth — so being 6’8″ would’ve been just a dream.
Why is it important to spread awareness about diseases like Crohn’s?
To me it’s so important to spread awareness of Crohn’s disease because our disease is a true testament to the expression, “You never know what someone else is going through.” With Crohn’s being, for the most part, so invisible, it’s likely that someone you know is fighting a battle you don’t even know about, and so empathy is incredibly important.
Tell us about your foundation, Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis.
My foundation, Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis, was founded by two Crohn’s patients, me and a kid named Noah Weber. I met him after a basketball game because he’d sent me an Instagram message about how he was struggling with Crohn’s. We started the foundation to share our stories and mentor other people going through similar journeys. Now, we give scholarships to high school seniors, run mentorship programs in five major cities, and provide access to a community of people who truly understand the invisible battle people with Crohn’s and colitis fight every day.