'I rebelled against doctors’ advice’
Laura Plant was diagnosed with Crohn's disease five years ago. The 26-year-old, from Kidsgrove, talks to Danielle Bourne about life with a chronic illness
WHEN I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, I must admit that I hadn't got a clue what it was. I was only 21 and had no idea just how much my life was about to change.
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I was told that Crohn's is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system. The doctor also explained that there was no known cause and that it could be treated but not cured.
It's now been five years since I was diagnosed and I'm currently in remission. I can go long periods without symptoms or with quite mild ones, but this is usually then followed by a flare-up and my symptoms return.
Three years ago I was made redundant from my job as a carer and also had to go into hospital for an operation.
Following the operation, I had time to reassess what I wanted from life and I decided to go to university.
I started a degree in teaching and support in September 2010 and then just a few months later I discovered that I was pregnant.
It was quite a shock at first, but I was ecstatic with the news, especially as women with Crohn's can sometimes struggle to conceive.
Harry was born in September 2011 and he has had the most amazing impact on my life.
Having a child has really helped me to settle down. I have definitely matured over the past year and I'm much more grounded.
It was difficult trying to juggle my studies with a new born baby, but I managed to complete my degree earlier this year. It was worth all the effort and my graduation was a very proud moment for me.
I'm currently working part-time as a carer, so that I can also spend time with Harry. I'm hoping that when Harry is settled in nursery school I can go back to my studies and complete a PGCE.
My ultimate goal is to be a primary school teacher and I would like to work with children who have special educational needs.
For now, I'm happy with my little family and I don't want to miss out on too much of Harry growing up. Harry is the most important person in my life now.
I always took my health for granted and it wasn't until I experienced ill-health that I realised just how important it is.
Crohn's disease is something that I will always have to live with and although this is still difficult to accept I try not to let it rule my life.
There is a big embarrassment factor attached to inflammatory bowel disease and I'm not sure this will ever go away.
However, it's really important for me to be able to raise awareness of what Crohn's disease is and how if affects people.
If by sharing my story I can create more understanding of the condition, then I will have achieved something.
I REMEMBER that the symptoms came on very suddenly. I had chronic stomach pains, an increase in needing to go to the toilet and felt constantly tired.
I visited my GP several times as my symptoms were getting worse and I was eventually admitted to the hospital for more tests.
I was in the University Hospital of North Staffordshire for two weeks and had various tests.
When I was told my diagnosis I was upset as I knew very little about the disease. I was started on a course of steroids and told to watch what I ate, to stop smoking and not to drink alcohol.
For a 21-year-old this was quite a shock to the system and I must admit I did rebel against it.
Near the end of 2009 I experienced another flare-up. The doctor considered putting me back on steroids but decided that surgery was my best option.
I was admitted for a bowel resection, to remove the damaged part of my intestine, in January 2010.
I found the prospect of surgery completely terrifying. I worried that I wouldn't come round from the anaesthetic, that they would decide to put in a colostomy bag or that I would be left horribly scarred.
I'm lucky that there was another woman on my ward who also had Crohn's disease and was having the same operation as me. It was a relief to have someone to share the experience with and to talk about our fears.
Luckily, the operation went as planned and I was well for almost two years afterwards. Then when Harry was a few days old he had bacterial meningitis and had to spend a month in hospital. The stress of this brought on another flare-up, but at that stage it was the least of my worries.
The weeks that Harry spent in hospital were the worst time of my life and it helped me to gain a better perspective on my own health.
Sometimes I do indulge in something that I shouldn't, such as a curry or a few too many glasses of wine, but on the whole I try to moderate what I eat and drink.
A lot of people don't understand how debilitating the disease can be and how much it affects your day-to-day life, even during remission.
I've had to cope with the embarrassment of explaining my condition to a new employer or a new partner, because they don't understand what it is.
Next year I'm hoping to raise awareness of Crohn's disease by organising a charity event. The money raised will go to the National Association for Colitis and Crohn's Disease, and also the neo-natal ward where Harry was a patient.