Running with an ostomy – getting ready for challenge 66


Not my best look - post run

Not my best look – post run

All my life I’ve dreamt of running a marathon, but I’ve never got round to it. There are all kinds of reasons why I’ve never signed up for one – including laziness, and the fact I’m rubbish at disciplined training regimes – but the main thing that has been holding me back has always been my IBD, and now that has all but vanished I guess I’ve run out of genuine excuses.

As you have probably gathered I’m no couch potato. Even at the height of my most serious flares I have forced myself to do exercise, sometimes with disastrous consequences, including fainting and blackouts. I’ve learnt the hard way that pushing your body to the limit when you have lost a serious amount of weight and your body is already battling to survive can be incredibly dangerous. But I have always, and will probably continue to have, had a very stupid habit of ignoring my body’s cries for help – I almost seem to be hell-bent on punishing myself for everything, even when there is no reason to.

Bend and stretch :)

Bend and stretch 🙂

I’m no fitness fanatic, but I love exercise. At times I am lazy but most of the time I live to swim, dance, run, basically anything that gives me that satisfyingly free feeling. Exercise makes me feel good about myself. And, at times, when my illness has been at its height, it has helped; mostly as a distraction from the pain, but often as just a way for me to relax and let off steam. A few years ago I swam 120 lengths every single morning (or evening). I was the fittest and most relaxed I had ever been, and I did find that it helped me to manage my illness, simply by relieving some of the stress from work – the problem is I did go a little bit over the top with it.

If you don’t believe the full extent of my pig-headed stubbornness, what follows is an example of me pushing myself to the extreme.

At the hight of my last full flare, in the year leading up to my operation, I ran The Great North Run. Yes, great idea Rachel. I struggled around the whole course, my whole body feeling like it was going to disintegrate into the tarmac. If it hadn’t have been for the amazing people who were also running for Crohn’s and Colitis UK who ran next to me, shouted words of encouragement and told me their stories, I probably would have given up a quarter of the way round. I needed the toilet constantly and had to force myself to keep running, made even harder by my injured leg wrecked by a crippling bout of cramp the night before, which left me hardly able to walk on the morning of the race.

http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/local-news/chronicle-reporter-runs-great-north-2651519

Hobbling (well crawling) over the finish line was one of the proudest moments of my life. I’ve never felt so relieved. I could hardly speak, move or breathe, (and struggled for days after) but weirdly enough, despite the pain and agony, a part of me wanted to do it all over again. I guess the exhilaration and sense of achievement is addictive.

Me and sister Hannah after finishing the GNR

Me and sister Hannah after finishing the GNR

That was my first competitive run. I’ve often thought of doing another, potentially a longer one, but I just couldn’t begin to comprehend how my Colitis would cope with a run like that again. On the day of the GNR I had to do everything in my power to keep my body in order and my diarrhea at bay. Often the pain in my abdomen was agonising and it took all the will I could muster to not give up. I can’t imagine what would have happened if that had been a marathon – no number of toilets in the world would have been good enough in that situation – I would have either given up or died trying.

But now that I have my stoma things are very different. Yes, I guess I am still within the recovery period and so shouldn’t be attempting anything ridiculous, but in the past few weeks I have started to run again and it feels fantastic. I’m almost back to the fitness levels I had before, and I’m more motivated than ever. Yesterday I got up at 7.30am (yes on a Saturday) and ran 2k (I know that’s not far) averaging six-minute a Kilometre – which for me is pretty damn good. I feel happier, I’m eating better, and putting on weight, which after being so tiny for so long is a weird feeling and one that is a massive learning curve to get used to.

Ok, last year I did the Santa Dash (so a little bit of a competitive run) for The Countess of Chester BabyGrow Appeal. Which was exhausting as we were boiling in our outfits and I dragged Andy along as a lego man!!! But that’s no marathon, it’s more of a sprint.

After the Santa Dash

After the Santa Dash

But now, I’ve decided it’s time to start planning for my Challenge 66. Steady on, I hear you say, wasn’t Challenge 66 Cheese Rolling? Yes, it was, but I realised the other day that cheese rolling is part of the Visit England Challenges – massive error to duplicate challenges – so I have changed it to a marathon. Whether this was a size move remains to be seen, but it is on the list now, so as they say my fate lies with the Gods.

I’m taking this very seriously. I’ve bought myself a Garmin watch (other brands are available) and I’m going to be sharing my progress, good and bad, with you. I aim to run at least three times during the week and once at the weekend, and hope to do at least 12K every week, come rain or shine.

But I need your advice. I’m obviously going to be running for Crohns and Colitis UK, but I also want to raise cash for Ostomy Aid, so the big question is, which marathon should I do? Let me know which ones you have done and which have the best routes, atmosphere etc? I wouldn’t mind doing one abroad, as long as it isn’t too hot, cold, or humid that is. I mean I may swell get a holiday out of it, right?

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A mystical experience: falling in love with Ronan thanks to my stoma at a Boyzone gig in a forest!!!!


At the weekend I had the most amazing time watching Boyzone – with no toilet mishaps or major stoma problems. I am so grateful for Winnie (my stoma, if you haven’t met her) for allowing me to finally live my life with little to no fear. Ok, I still had a ‘near explosion’ moment while queuing for the loos, but I wasn’t rushing clutching at my stomach in agony up and down a hill to the toilets every five minutes. I was there, and not staring at the back of a toilet door, when the beautiful Ronan Keating swaggered on stage.

Thanks to Winnie I didn’t miss a moment of the stunning Ronan Keating – and if that doesn’t deserve celebrating and prove my life is 100% better with an ostomy, what is?

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So, although I’m in danger of becoming a little bit obsessed I had to share this amazing moment with you all. Below is the review of the forest concert I did for the paper, and a short video of a moment that left me giggling like a little girl and wanting to run after the Boyzone tour bus like a crazed maniac.

But, at the end of the day, I want to share this moment with you guys. My life so far has been a roller coaster – but I’m hopefully at the end of my horrendous ride and at the beginning of something very special!!! (argh,  cheesy, but I just had to!)

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Back to work after completion proctectomy


Today I went back to the news room after just over two months off recovering from my latest operation. I was excited to be going back after so long sitting in the house, mostly on my own, reading, writing and watching TV. By the end of the day (well you will see) I was exhausted and soaked through (well that was because of the rain mostly!).

Going back to work marks the start of my life turning around. I hope never to be off work for a major illness ever again. My entire professional life has been tainted by illness and surgery and now hopefully this is the end of something horrible and the start of something exciting and new. I am tired today but I know in time my energy levels will go through the roof.

Perhaps I’m giving myself too much to live up to, but if you were impressed by what I did before I had my operation let me just say You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!!!! (hmm I’m sure I will live to regret saying this!)

Dashing Santa style – racing for new born babies with a Lego man in tow? Challenge #no53


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Not many people know this but I’m a miracle. That might sound incredibly big-headed, but I really am a miracle. You see I was born incredibly premature. So premature that I was incredibly ill…in fact I died a number of times. Before you ask I don’t remember anything about it, I didn’t see the white pearly gates or a light at the end of the tunnel, but it happened.

I was born dramatically early. So yes I guess my life continued the way it would stay DRAMATIC! They do say start the way that you mean to go on – I undoubtably did that. I was born so small I fitted into the palm of my dad’s hand with room to spare (unbelievable, yes I can’t imagine it either) and was the smallest baby in Burnley General – I even appeared in the paper with smiling school children holding me (yes a little bit weird, but cute).

Yes being small is cute, but it presented its problems. In my eagerness to get out into the big bad world I didn’t give my little body enough time to develop, meaning that in the rush to get out my body simply didn’t finish the job. The result was a I closed hole in my heart valve. Obviously this meant I was fighting from the very second I was born….something it seems I’m really very good at!

Ok, let’s be serious a moment, because really this is no laughing matter. I don’t remember anything about any of this, my little body was broken, but really I had no idea, but my poor parents did. I can’t imagine the pain of having to watch your baby suffer, to not know if they are going to live or die. I can’t imagine having the baby I just gave birth to being snatched away and the pain and anxiety while waiting to hear their fate, while I should be holding my child and celebrating bringing them into the world. It must have broken my parents’ hearts.

I’m alive today because of a number of people who simply wouldn’t let me go. My parents, the doctors and nurses, and obviously my very stubborn little self, who fought back from the brink and mended over night (the start of a trend throughout my IBD and adult life) just as all hope was lost. But I’m also here because of my late Step grandad Nick; an amazing man who bought me an incubator to keep me alive because the hospital didn’t have one to save me. He died a few years ago, but I like to think he would be proud of what I have done with the life helped me to experience.

Anyway, why am I talking about this? Because today me and Andy (my boyfriend) ran the Chester Santa Dash to raise money for a number of charities; among them the Baby Grow Appeal. The BG appeal is to try to raise £3 million to build a new neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital to provide a more private place for families going through what my family went through; a place where support can be given to those who are going through uncertain and emotional times, and where the best care can be given to babies who are clinging to life and fighting with every little bone in their bodies.

Ok, you all know The Countess isn’t on my Christmas card list due to everything that’s happened over the years, but who cares when they are trying to achieve something so important, which could save lives and give comfort to so many people in such difficult times. So with that in mind we donned our Santa suits to race 4k around the city with hundreds of other Santas.

But being me and Andy we couldn’t do it without a bit of a twist, so Andy wore his giant Lego head and I donned my Press jacket and we suddenly became the stars of the show. We ran the whole thing, even though Andy could hardly see. We were a massive hit…well Andy was. I think he has started trending on twitter and is probably in hundreds of photos (there’s even a Where’s Wally style shot on the Dee 106.3 Facebook page). It was an incredible experience, and despite stinking and being bathed in sweat by the end we were incredibly happy – and even got interviewed by Dee 106.3 an odd experience with some bizarre questions which I didn’t handle that well – I’m used to the other side of the camera really!

So that’s another challenge down – what next?

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A senior reporter at last -overcoming the hurdle


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It’s been more than a week since my last blog. For that I can only apologise, but life has been rather chaotic over the past few weeks. I hope you are all well (as well as you can be) and none of you are reading this from the sorry prison cell of the hospital bed.

Last week I told you all about my celebrations following my surprise journalism award, and how humbled and shocked I was to be recognised for my role in the newsroom despite all my forced sick days (when I say forced I mean being told to leave as I’m so ill they can’t
stand to watch me battle through the pain anymore), time off following my surgery and slow return to the front line following numerous complications and a body which simply refused to heal.

I know I told you all I wouldn’t go on about this anymore, so I won’t. But something appears to be in the water right now. Indeed a person in the media company I work for, who also battles with Crohn’s, said that I appeared to be being looked after by “a very good fairy”… I’m just hoping my fairy godmother sticks around a bit longer to get me through Christmas – a dreaded time where my illness always raises it’s ugly head and lands me with a surprise vacation in hospital.

This week I passed my senior reporting exam. The news came to me during a bit of a delicate moment in the office, and was dampened by the fact that we were dealing with something which could ultimately have had serious implications. My editor told me just at a moment when I was sure I had, once again failed. He did that trick, you know the one where you look serious and upset as you deliver news only to change into an expression of joy and say “you’ve passed”. I was ready to burst into tears before he said those two magic words. I just don’t know what I would have done if he had told me I had failed and would have to take it again. Needless to say he would have had to send me home…. If I’d failed this time I don’t think I could have had the strength or determination to do it again.

I’m no quitter, but my senior exams have been a huge hurdle for me to overcome. I’m not blaming it all on my illness – as I don’t really believe it can stop me advancing if I really really battle through – but this exam has been the bane of my life for almost two years. The system has been against me, meaning that since the first day I misheard a figure during the news writing exam after a solid week of less than 3 hours sleep a night during a very bloody and painful flare-up, I have had this exam hanging over me stopping me passing Go and collecting my £200 – instead sending me straight to jail.

I took the exam twice. Both times were incredibly frustrating and stressful, and each time I failed the pressure I put myself under got considerably worse. Funnily enough the part of the exam which I seemed simply unable to pass was the part which should have been a piece of cake…the news writing exam…basically what I do every single day – but something about the exam situation made it become an enormous task which I quite simply couldn’t pass. I think I always put myself under too much pressure. I passed my law and editors’ panel first time round with no trouble whatsoever…but when the time came to sit down and write, the stress, combined with my deep fatigue, made it impossible for me to succeed.

According to Trinity Mirror law if you fail your senior news writing exam you have to wait six months to give it another shot. Rules are rules. But in my case this caused chaos. After waiting six months, I would no doubt be in the middle of a flare when my test popped up again. So I failed a second time. Then, when the third opportunity came round I was in a hospital bed awaiting having my bowel removed, I couldn’t even eat soup let alone travel to Liverpool and take an exam, so I didn’t take it. This meant waiting another six months. Personally I think that’s a little unfair, but rules are rules and there is only an exam day every six months for a reason – so I had to sit tight in the hospital knowing that my illness had well and truly scuppered my career and stopped me getting a very much needed pay rise. That will always stick with me as a dark day.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t passed this time round. I suppose it isn’t worth thinking about, but even now, a few days after being given the news, I can feel the relief lifting like a great weight off my shoulders. My illness is not helped by stress, in fact I would go as far as saying it is seriously exasperated by it. And knowing that I no longer have that hanging over me makes me feel around a stone lighter. I was worried that if I failed I wouldn’t be able to take it for another year; due to having to have another load of surgery in the coming months I would probably be on the operating slab during the next examination day – something I just couldn’t bear to comprehend. Now I no longer need to worry. It’s all over, finally I can just get on with doing the job I love without worrying about exams or ticking boxes.

It may be a small thing to most people but to be able to officially say “Rachel Flint senior reporter” is worth more to me right now than any trophy, award or title. That tiny addition to my job title is like me sticking two fingers up to my IBD and saying “you didn’t kill my dreams, not for one second”!

A close call in court – the joys of court reporting with an ostomy and IBD


Before my operation my Crohn’s/Colitis made court reporting an almost impossibility.

Exactly!

Exactly!

I used to sit in agony in courtrooms wringing my hands together until they went white with pain under the press desk, jiggling my legs up and down to try to distract myself from the agonising need to go to the toilet – a need that never left me and always raised its ugly head at the most important moments of a case.

Covering the courts became both a joy and a punishment for me. The real challenge lay not in the reporting of the cases but the endless sitting and waiting, waiting, waiting for your case to come on. For most people the waiting would just be boring, for me it was agonising. While I was interested in the cases (if you have never sat in court and listened to mitigation and witnessed the general drama it is definitely a must – and is nothing like the telly) the constant need to race to the toilet every ten minutes made the waiting unbearable. I once dared to nip to the toilet after waiting through around three hours of driving offences, curfew amendments and restraining orders while feeling like my stomach was being ripped apart from the inside by a claw hammer. I remember racing out of the courtroom to the toilet – which is NEVER near enough to the courtroom you are in – thinking it will just be my luck if they finally hear my case now. I finally raced back to the courtroom five minutes later, still very much in the grip of the blood and pain, only to bump straight into the barristers for my case as they walked towards the Robing Room having heard the case – just typical.

Lesson learned – in the past two years I would rather have passed out than nipped to the toilet again!

Yes, I admit it the fear was always very real that I would pass out through the sheer effort of staying up right in my seat, and I am sure there were times that a jury member or even defendant has looked at me and thought ‘dear God that woman is about to collapse’. I lived in fear of an accident, and in even greater fear of someone making me move whenever a wave of pain flushed over me – when I was still I felt slightly more in control. And I am sure that all the press benches in the magistrates and crown courts that I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in have finger nail marks indented so far into the underside of the wood their imprints could almost be seen through the top.

So after years of covering court cases with the nightmare of my constantly flaring Crohn’s/Colitis, dealing with my ostomy while doing my job seemed like a reality walk in the park. Yes there was always the slight embarrassment of having my ostomy bag changing kit searched through by the security team, (and once or twice having to hand in my rounded cutting scissors at security as a ‘dangerous’ implement) but apart from that attending court was a relatively easy experience. So imagine my surprise when today my ostomy started acting up while I was sat in court patiently listening to each case and waiting for a jury to return. I won’t go into details but I could feel something was going on, and going on, and going on…and boy it just wasn’t holding back, in fact Winnie was going hell for leather. And for the life of me I couldn’t understand why.

So the next two hours were quite frankly hell. I quickly realised that Winnie was going to have to be emptied or we could end up with a pretty crazy situation in the courtroom. Basically Winnie was a ticking time bomb, and I sat sitting nervously trying to concentrate on my shorthand and what the counsel were saying to try to distract myself from the imminent explosion that was building up inside me. The pressure was unbelievable…but I was determined not to leave the room..my old fears about missing things while on the toilet returned and after grimacing through some of the worse pain of my life, there was not a chance in hell that I was going to miss the verdict because of my ostomy – yes, that is how stubborn I am.

Ok, the situation was made worse by my remaining colon continuing to contain active Colitis and me feeling the need to go all the time. The whole thing was unpleasant to say the least, and I just knew I needed to rehydrated and possibly stuff my face with marshmallows to stop this onslaught from Winnie or I would be in a whole new world of trouble soon.

The moment the judge broke for lunch was a blessed relief. I think I actually sighed audibly. As I stood up the weight of Winnie was horrendous and I had to hobble like I had bricks in my pants down the stairs, round the corner to the loo. Court toilets are never an extremely pleasant experience, but I won’t bore you with that.

By the time the day was over I had avoided several natural disasters and learnt a real lesson. While I was in agony with my IBD and the urgency and pain often led to accidents, I could often cope even though it meant me almost passing out with pain until I had a chance to reach a bathroom – with my ostomy this is not the case. There is no grin and bear it. Yes the pain is considerably less, yes the blood is there but it isn’t by the bucketload, but no I can’t stop the flow or ease the pressure when its started…if I wait, sooner or later she will fill up and then, eventually….BOOM! (now that would be a story)!

I will have to learn to cope with it. I love court reporting and I love my job, but I have to keep a close eye on things and remember I’m no superwoman, I’m still human…and, well, Winnie is just a stoma bag she’s not a miracle worker.

Meeting Olympic legend Sir Steve Redgrave – a true Ulcerative Colitis hero


Last week I met Sir Steve Redgrave. Many people know him for being an Olympic rowing legend – one of the most decorated Olympians in history, but few know that he has suffered from Ulcerative Colitis for the past 11 years.

Me and Sir Steve Redgrave - legend

Me and Sir Steve Redgrave – legend

When he first showed symptoms in 1992 he had no idea what it was. Just like all of us with IBD it came as a total shock to his body, but for him as a world-class athlete who was about to compete in the Olympics I can only imagine what that sort of pain would have done both physically and mentally. I mean if a pain like that can floor me and leave me screaming to die I wonder what it did to someone like Sir Steve, who surely was the fittest he had ever been in his life…he says he was doubled-up in pain, we’ve all been there, why didn’t he just curl up in a ball and give up?

I remember when I first found out that Sir Steve had IBD. It was when Darren Fletcher – Man United footballer – first revealed that he was going to take a break from the sport as he had been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. The Daily Mail ran a story on Sir Steve Redgrave having the condition. My first reaction was, that can’t be true, that’s totally made up (and I’m a journalist!), my second thought was WOW, my third was WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE???

I know that everyone is different. If we were to compare notes I think I would win hands down for how much my illness has effected my life…I think I would be able to say that it has stopped me doing more things, caused me more pain and caused me more humiliation in life. But from one story how do I know that? How do I know that he’s not sugar coating this illness when he says he never suffered from vomiting or uncontrollable diarrhoea…I don’t, and this isn’t a ‘who’s bowel’s the most destroyed competition’, it’s an unbelievable story, from a unbeleivable human being who has shown me that anything is possible no matter what.

It took doctors four months to diagnose his condition. Why? Because unbelievably he carried on training for the Olympics despite the crippling pain and his bowel disintegrating into a blood bath, he simply refused to stop rowing, and because of that some specialists simply refused to believe that he could have anything as debilitating as IBD – he was superhuman and they thought it had to be something else:

“One specialist had ulcerative colitis as the last thing on his list because he couldn’t believe anyone with the disease could do strenuous Olympic training, says Sir Steve in the Daily Mail article.

Sir Steve Redgrave won his third Olympic Gold medal in Barcelona, destroying the opposition with his partner Matt Pinsent – and he did it in a boat in the middle of the water with his bowel screaming with pain and probably at the back of his mind constantly that he could need the toilet at any second.

He almost didn’t get there though. He almost got pulled from the team – imagine how different our sporting history would have been then. He almost didn’t do it, but he did, he refused to let it stop him, he could have lain down and said I’m too ill, I’m not doing it, but he didn’t, he battled on. He refused to miss one training session because of his Colitis, even when he was doubled-up with pain, and because of that we have arguably the best Olympian of all time – and if that doesn’t inspire you what will?

“I told him I’m living proof that however bad it seems, there is potential to come out the other side. I hope he doesn’t feel so isolated as he may have felt before, (Sir Steve Redgrave speaking to the Mail about talking to Darren Fletcher about IBD). 

Just weeks later he had 12 pieces of his bowel removed. Before going on to become the greatest Olympian of all time, while battling Colitis and developing Diabetes – something which some doctors said was because of his IBD medication.

I don’t care who you are, where you are from, or what you do for a living, you would have to be inhuman not to find this story remarkable, not to find him an inspirational human being. So read it, it could change your life and make you realise there is a light at the end of this very dark tunnel – it did with me:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2076304/Steve-Redgrave-misery-colitis.html

Sir Steve Redgrave rang Darren Fletcher to offer support

Sir Steve Redgrave rang Darren Fletcher to offer support

That’s why when I saw him stood outside Chester Town Hall waiting for the full Council meeting to determine the future of the student village, of which his sporting institute – The Redgrave Institute – was a part, I just had to go and say hello. I wish I could say that I told him how much of a hero he is to me, I wish I could say that he has helped me in more ways than he will ever know, and I wish I had said so much more. But I dissolved into a bit of a wreck…I think I got starstruck – you know that thing where you are overwhelmed and just can’t say anything. Ok, so I realised in a professional capacity that it wasn’t the time or place to talk about bowel obstructions and blood, poop and tears, and it definitely wasn’t the time to start gushing and crying. So I didn’t do any of those things – just as I didn’t get my boyfriend an autograph when I met Sir Alex Ferguson at the race course when we welcomed back the troops – it would have been unprofessional and inappropriate.

But I met him, I spoke (even if my voice did come out as a little girl’s giggly whisper) and I shook his hand. I even had my picture taken with him. He could have told me to do one, but instead moments before he needed to speak in front of a packed room about something very important he stood and had his picture taken with me. And yes he was a lovely man, very friendly, very approachable and very tall.

So I met a true hero of mine. And you know what, he’s not superhuman, he’s not a robot, he’s just a really nice guy who has managed to overcome all odds to do something truly incredible. I hope I meet him again and get to tell him all of this…but you know what I think it would embarrass him – I just hope he knows how inspirational he is.

Perhaps everyone should live by this mentality, and re-reading this story I just think I will:

‘I took the view — as I always did — that whatever the difficulty, someone has got to win the gold medal. Why shouldn’t it be me?’