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!)

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One determined woman – placing an ad in the local paper for a kidney donor


Sometimes in my line of work I come across some truly amazing people. Aside from

jan Bell - remarkable woman

jan Bell – remarkable woman

dealing with community issues, court cases, crime, scandals and planning issues, on a weekly basis I have the honour of coming into contact with some of Cheshire’s most determined, selfless and brave people. Hearing their stories is always a mind-blowing and humbling experience, but every so often there is a person whose bravery, coverage and determination leaves you in utter awe – so much so that it really puts your own troubles into perspective.

I don’t often talk about work on this blog, but I just have to share this story will you about a woman who seriously made me take a hard look at myself, my life and encouraged me to get cracking with my challenges. It is also one of those stories that restores your faith in humanity – until moments later someone lets a door swing shut in your face that is!

This week I had the pleasure of talking to a truly remarkable woman. Jan Bell is 43-years-old and has already had two failed kidney transplants. She relies on daily dialysis to survive, but after her second transplant failed she is facing a race against time to find a live kidney donor to keep her alive. Her veins have been so badly damaged by years of intensive treatment and dialysis that she now relies on a neck line to keep her alive – if this narrows and fails she will have months to live. Time is rapidly running out, and without a stranger giving her a kidney she could be dead by Valentine’s Day.

Remarkably despite years of illness – with her face and joints swelling up until she was often unrecognisable; often being so weak she couldn’t climb stairs; and dealing with septicemia and infections following operations – Jan has remained a successful and well-respected businesswoman within Cheshire, winning numerous awards for her beauty clinics across Chester and Frodsham. Speaking to Jan it was difficult to remember I was speaking to someone who was so seriously ill, that she might be dead in a matter of months, she was just so positive, chatty and upbeat. Her bravery and positive attitude was astounding. In fact we had such a long chat about hospitals and treatments that I told her I had Crohn’s – she said she would hate to have such a horrible condition and sympathised with me – and this lady’s been on the transplant waiting list for almost two decades!

While on the phone we spoke of how Janet (Jan) wanted to stay alive for her customers, how she wanted to keep her business going and of her dreams for the future. Suffering from Crohn’s/Colitis myself and knowing how difficult it can be to hold down a full-time job while trying to manage a chronic condition, it was astounding to hear how Jan managed to pull off a string of successful businesses on her own while dealing with the ongoing side effects of kidney failure for the past 17 years. Jan told me she felt a little bit like a failure when she was forced to abandon some of the branches of her beauty clinic over the past few years due to feeling weaker after the second kidney transplant failed. Despite understanding her feeling of failure due to illness (having to abandon many things and miss out due to my IBD) I couldn’t disagree with her more. This woman is a true heroine….running a self-made business and standing behind that counter every day while dealing with kidney failure – if that doesn’t deserve a slap on the back I don’t know what does.

Last week, after being told she had to find a live kidney donor or she would die, Jan did something completely unprecedented. After exhausting all options, having asked customers, friends and family to no avail, Jan placed a personal ad in The Chester Chronicle asking for a live kidney donor. It was a tiny ad, bizarrely placed among adverts for parrots and stairlifts, but the response she received was amazing.

The advert

The advert

When i spoke to Jan on Tuesday she had already received 64 responses from total strangers all across the country and even the world willing to see if they were a match to give her a kidney. I was shocked. And when I spoke to the agent who helped her place the ad they said the help line for Jan was overflowing with around 100 responses. In fact every time I rang it to talk to Jan it was so full it wouldn’t accept any more messages. Unbelievable. Ok, many of you are probably thinking (cynically or realistically) there must be a cash incentive involved? And Jan admitted some people had emailed asking for cash, but true to her ad Jan insisted she was not willing to pay any money for the kidney – she is relying on human kindness.

And man she’s had a bucket load of strangers willing to save her life. If that doesn’t change your opinion on humanity I don’t know what will.

Jan says she is realistic about the process. She understands that the probability of more than a handful being a match is very small, and also realises that the reality of donation may lead to many pulling out, but she wants to live and is willing to try anything to find a donor to stay alive. I admire that. it makes you wonder what you would do in that situation, what you would do if you found out you had months to live if you didn’t find someone willing to give up an organ for you. Would you give up, or would you fight and try everything possible, no matter how desperate or unconventional it may be? I like to think I would…but who knows.

Photo by Ian Cooper

Photo by Ian Cooper

Ok, so hundreds of people didn’t come forward just because of the tiny advert hidden within the local paper. The national press caught on to it and Jan’s story was seen by tens of thousands of people on Daybreak, Granada, The Mirror and the Daily Mail, as well as in the story I did for the Chronicle.

But, as Jan said, it just shows how such a simple thing can work. And I think she was right when she said that if the NHS put adverts in local papers they could have more people signing up to be donors that ever. If it works for her it might work for anyone, who knows?

This month Jan has a pioneering operation to put a bolt in her neck line to stop it from narrowing as quickly. This should buy her much-needed time to find a donor. I hope it does, and I hope something comes from all this. Not just for her, but for all the people she has encouraged to sign on to the register to become live donors. In her words not mine, if she helps just one other person on that waiting list “it will all be worthwhile”.

To read Jan’s story in full visit: http://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/news/chester-cheshire-news/frodsham-woman-overwhelmed-response-after-6302516

 

 

Now officially an award-winning journalist – just shows that no illness or surgery can hold you back


It’s hard to put into words what happened last night. For once in my life I have been left absolutely speechless, (which is probably a relief for most people who know me) and for once it’s because something amazingly good has happened and not because my bowel has fallen apart.

Me with the Coriams accepting my award - the proudest moment of my life

Me with the Coriams accepting my award – the proudest moment of my life

Last night I was named Weekly Journalist of the Year for the North West at the O2 Media Awards. To say the announcement was unexpected would be an understatement. Of course I knew I had been shortlisted as a nominee for the Young Journalist category and the Weekly Journalist category, but I never thought in a million years that I was going to win. The category was so strong. I hate the word gobsmacked, and my mum will shudder when she sees me using it, but for the first time in my life it’s the only word that can truly describe how I feel.

After everything that’s happened it feels like a miracle that I’ve won this prize. Things like this just don’t happen to little me. After years of battling through the constant side-effects and flares of Crohn’s/Colitis, achieving this award feels like one giant pat on the back. In fact it feels like being given a giant hug by the industry, like them saying “It’s ok, you’re still here and it’s going to be ok.”

In fact I’m more than ok. But I don’t think that’s sunk in yet. After 13 years I think it’s going to take a little while to realise that. Winning feels like sticking two fingers up to Crohn’s, surgery and all the, well basically, crap I’ve been through, and saying ‘screw you IBD”. Things are finally looking up.

The evening was magical. Yes we arrived exhausted and stressed from a two-and-a-half-hour journey through horrific traffic, and then our digital editor almost ran me over as I walked behind the car (lesson learned, it wasn’t intentional and she had been a hero driving us all there at short notice). But when we arrived at Liverpool Cathedral we were greeted by an ornate venue filled with glittering candles…it was just perfect.

I didn’t even begin to consider I even stood a chance of winning a prize. So when the Weekly Journalist category flashed up onto the screen revealing my goofy mug shot – which between you and me was of me eating a massive plate of spaghetti (I cropped the food out) – I thought ‘how ridiculous do I look’ before feeling a massive sense of relief when my face disappeared and was replaced by my friend and colleague Ellie’s picture and cuttings. To say I was surprised when it was announced that Ann and Mike Coriam were in the room to present the award would be putting it lightly.

I actually think in that moment my brain stopped working. People were smiling at me and saying it’s you…but I really couldn’t register anything.

Having Ann, Mike and Rachael Coriam present my prize was a real honour. Their

Rebecca Coriam

Rebecca Coriam

daughter, and Rachael’s sister, Rebecca, vanished without trace off the Disney Wonder Cruise Liner as it was sailing off the coast of Mexico on March 22 2011. She was just 24. The day Rebecca disappeared I was the first journalist to meet the Coriam family, and since then I have been in awe of their unswerving determination to find out the truth about what happened to their daughter – no matter what obstacles have been put in their way.

Ann and Mike have been through so much, and although I can’t begin to comprehend what they’ve been through, I feel like I’ve been with them every step of the way. They are truly remarkable people – the whole family are – who have been through and are still in so much pain. But despite everything they are determined to fight for answers and are on a hell-bent mission to stop what happened to their daughter happening to anyone else. I admire them for that.

The fact they took the time, despite all the bad times I must remind them of (the first heartbreaking press conference, the time some moron hacked into Rebecca’s twitter account and bank account, and all the false hope given by potential sightings) to come and give me this award means more than I can say. This family has been a large part of my career, and my life, and I would now consider them as friends – I hope they feel the same.

I felt like my heart would break as Ann praised my determination to not let people forget about their fight to find their daughter. And when the time came me to go up to the stage I felt like my legs were made of jelly. I couldn’t tell you what music was playing as I walked up, or what the woman with the microphone said as she shoved it right up my nose. I don’t think it even crossed my mind I had won, I was just so humbled they had turned up.

The finalists for the Young Journalist of the Year - aren't we a good looking bunch

The finalists for the Young Journalist of the Year – aren’t we a good looking bunch

God knows what I said to that packed room of industry leaders that night, the editor of the Echo Ali Machray reassured me I’d done fine, but for all I know I did the penguin soldier dance with my kickers on my head. I regret not saying anything about my family or colleagues but I was not prepared. After being raced off the stage I went for a far less intimidating interview backstage, by then the fog had started to lift and I was starting to realise that despite everything that had happened I had done it. I had made it through it all, I was still alive and I had won! I think I gabbled something about Ann and Mike and how amazing it was they were there – either way I’m sure whatever I said will be replayed again and again, and I have a horrid feeling it might even appear to haunt me on local tevelision – I hope it wasn’t embarrassing.

The rest of the night was a mixture of emotions and passed by in a whirlwind. I did see the Coriams as I left the interview and had a few lovely moments with them before they were whisked off for an interview. I don’t think any words could have described how humbled I was they were there and I’m afraid to think it didn’t come across as I was to shocked to even string sentences together at this point.

From then on the wine flowed and after recovering from my shock I joined in the celebrations as the Liverpool Echo won prize after prize for their amazing reports on the Hillsbourgh disaster. It was a fantastic evening, topped by my friend and fellow PA graduate Joe Thomas gaining the Young Journalist of the Year award, finally recognising his dedication and hardwork.

Funnily enough I missed the entire part of this evening. The wine and serious lack of food (we missed dinner) was taking its toll on my ostomy bag, which had been rapidly filling up and nearing explosion point for the majority of the evening, so I thought that it was the right time to rush to the loo and quickly avoid a scene. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It seems the moment I reached the bathroom to deal with Winnie they started the category, which, by the way I was nominated for. I happily chatted away to two of my favourite characters from Hollyhoaks about the Coriam family while my stories where appearing on the screen. As per usual I didn’t have my phone on me so no one could txt and warn me, and I’m kicking myself that i didn’t get a photo with them for the scrap book.

I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it that I met Alex Fletcher aka Dianne O’Connor, and Sophie Austin aka Lindsey Butterfield from Hollyoaks – possibly better known for appearing in Brookside. I even told them about having an ostomy…I’d like to say because I was trying to raise awareness but probably because I’d had too much wine and it felt like literally hours since someone asked me how I was feeling.

SO as per usual I arrived to something late because of having to go to the toilet. I made a bit of a scene racing towards the stage to collect my certificate in a total state of confusion. I could almost feel everyone that knows me smiling and thinking typical Rachel….it was fitting I suppose and made me laugh later, but I was gutted that I missed seeing my friend collecting his well deserved award.

So what does this all mean? You know what I’m not entirely sure. But in the moment my name was announced it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It might sound silly but it was like an invisible line was drawn across the room leaving all the illness and crap and heartache behind it. It felt like I was finally getting somewhere and that at last, hopefully, I won’t be stopped moving forwards in my life and career by this horrible illness. I’d finally done it and it had all been worthwhile.

Sorry this has been so long, but things like this do not happen every day, and I have to add that the award is not just for me but my family, friends and boyfriend who have kept me positive and stopped me giving up when no one else could. Also without the company I work for and the staff at the Chester Chronicle being so understanding about my illness I would not be a reporter today. People from all across Trinity Mirror have gone out of their way to help me, they didn’t have to, and for that I will forever be grateful.

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.