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Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pearl Jam guitarist to tell of life with Crohn's

Seattle Times staff reporter

Benefits for Crohn'sand Colitis Foundation


Mike McCready, keynote speaker at Crohn's and Colitis Foundation Luncheon, 11:30 a.m. today, Seattle Westin Hotel, sold out. Call 206-574-0698 for information.

Mike McCready performs with The Rockfords and special guests, 9 p.m. Thursday, Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle. Tickets available for minimum donation of $10 at the door. Information: 206-784-4880.

Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready has taken it upon himself to talk about something few people, much less celebrities, are willing to address behind the podium.

It's a subject that involves bathroom talk, horrible abdominal pain and drug side effects more graphic than just nausea.

As for why McCready isn't at all embarrassed to address Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, he says it's for the kids.

"I'm old, I'm an adult, whatever — I can deal with it," said the Seattle resident, who also lives in Long Beach, Calif. "But there's a lot of kids suffering with it. It can be very frightening or very sad."

His message at today's third annual Crohn's and Colitis Foundation Luncheon at the Seattle Westin Hotel will be that you can live a normal life with the disease.

Sure, the musician has had to run off stage during Pearl Jam concerts. He's taken up to 140 pills a week in the past 15 years. But he's also proved that it's possible to be in one of the greatest grunge-rock bands with a disease that doesn't care what you're doing or who you are.

He was diagnosed at age 21 with Crohn's and colitis, both of which fall under the label of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn's disease is characterized by the inflammation of the intestinal wall, while ulcerative colitis causes ulceration and inflammation in the colon and rectum.

There is no cure, and McCready's not sure how he got IBD. Experts have said genetics could be to blame. Stress could have had something to do with it, too.

McCready, scheduled to embark on a national Pearl Jam tour May 28 (the band's latest album "Riot Act" was released last fall), has spent nearly half his life battling unpredictable and debilitating bouts of stomach pain. He's figured out that certain foods make everything worse and that working out helps. He's been in remission for the past five months — also something that happens unexpectedly — but he's braced for it to "come back tomorrow."

Last year, he started donating time and money to the Northwest Chapter of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), which is presenting "The Many Faces of Hope" luncheon today. The foundation sponsors research and provides support for those who suffer from IBD. McCready also will perform a benefit concert Thursday for the CCFA at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard as part of the Rockfords, a rock band formed in 1999 by five old friends.

"I don't want this disease to overcome me," the 37-year-old said. "This disease lives with me, I don't live with it."

He wants to encourage others with IBD, especially kids.

"They have to go to school, they have to deal with the embarrassment, it's just a real drag," McCready said. "I haven't had as much suffering as some of the people that I've met."

Despite his readiness to talk about overcoming Crohn's and colitis, McCready is nervous. Today will be his first time speaking publicly about the diseases.

"I can hide behind a guitar for Pearl Jam," he said. "But here it's just me talking."

Young Chang, 206-748-5815 or ychang@seattletimes.com

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