health

"I knew something was wrong when I saw blood in the toilet."

Holding onto the side of my chair in a meeting, looking onto my young student’s stoma as his mother explained the procedure of changing the colostomy bag… I remember finding it difficult to look, but doing my best to appear professional. I sat and took notes during an Early Intervention, Department of Education and Training meeting.

Little did I know that I would be facing a similar future just a little later in my life.

At age 30, just after becoming a first-time mum, I began to spend a lot of time in the toilet. Actually, too much time. Juggling motherhood and toilet visits became the story of my life. I knew something was wrong when I began to see blood, however I simply thought a short-term treatment of oral medication would fix it.

1 in 10 Australian women suffer from this crippling condition. Mel Grieg is one of them.

After further medical investigation, my diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis was confirmed – a chronic and typically incurable form of inflammatory bowel disease, which began to have an enormous impact on my life, more than I ever could’ve imagined.

I felt it all: abdominal pain, frequent bloody stools, and high sense of urgency at the most inopportune times, cramps, weight loss and fatigue. Because flare-ups can be triggered by food, at times I would starve myself to control the condition. Even a slice of cake on my birthday was out of the question.

The condition was unpredictable and uncontrollable, so much that I would need to measure distances and time to get to a toilet if I was out of the house. Going out in public was like a precise military action, having to scope out where the nearest public toilet was located and how quickly I could get there if I needed to. As a busy mother of two and a part-time teacher, I often wondered how I must have looked at times when I had to leave my kids in a parking lot with a toy to distract them as I desperately ran to find a toilet.

If there was a toilet nearby, I knew about it.

Family life has been hard, but the kids soon learned that when Mummy needs the toilet, regardless of their urgency Mummy takes priority. I cook simple, healthy meals and the upside of this is that the kids have become very aware of nutrition and will happily eat their meals. My husband’s support and understanding has been my personal tank of strength. With every flare-up or emotional breakdown, he would always remind me that it’s just a road hump not a road block.

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The impact on my social life has been difficult, but I’m lucky to have a close network of friends who I am able to be open and honest with. Restaurants had to be no more than a 20-minute drive home. I’ve tried a variety of diets excluding gluten, dairy, fried foods - the list can go on.

“The free, natural way I cured IBS.”

But it was only a high dose of oral steroids that could control the flares I experienced. I'd slowly pick up the pieces, only to find I would have another flare and the vicious cycle would begin again. Food shopping would take twice as long, as ingredients had to be checked and numbers on labels were Googled to find out their origins and the recommendations for consumption.

In June this year I hit rock bottom and was admitted to hospital. I thought I was dying; after 12 years of oral steroids, steroids administered intravenously and immunosuppressants to help manage my condition, everything marked to fail. I was beginning to think there was nothing left to help me. I developed a potassium deficiency which affected my heart and the uncontrollable symptoms, extreme weight loss, fatigue and inability to eat left me completely malnourished.

How pills filled with frozen human poo are saving lives

My doctor then decided to put me on a biologic therapy, which was administered bimonthly. Within hours after my first infusion, I went to the toilet and for the first time in months I actually felt normal. Now I'm 42 and being treated with this therapy. I can eat and work without timing my toilet visits or living with the fear of the urgency to find a toilet in time or risk having the dreaded public accident. I can now relax, go out with my family and enjoy myself knowing my condition is controlled and it’s not controlling me.

I am so thankful for this treatment and for all the medical research that has gone into making this infusion possible for Ulcerative Colitis patients to redeem their life back. This Christmas, I really had something to celebrate.

Have you ever suffered from this condition? Have you had any treatments for it?

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