Crohn's disease: 'I won't let this illness control me'

Clare Lewis endured years of drug treatment for Crohn's disease - but the agonising pains remained. Then she found the best cure lay in her own hands

Looking in the mirror, it was clear there was something very wrong. My face was gaunt and pale and my hair was brittle and my skin flaky. I had been losing weight steadily for the past year. By then I weighed just over seven stone and had lost my appetite completely. My stomach hurt all the time and all I wanted to do was sleep. As a 16-year-old girl, this change to my appearance was unbearable.

My ambition at the time was to become a dancer but I was soon too tired to keep up with the daily training and gradually I let my practice time slide, unable to do anything after a long day at school but curl up and go to sleep. And it was difficult to hear my friends whispering behind my back; discussing their own diagnosis of my anorexia. I wasn't starving myself. It just hurt too much when I tried to eat and meals were always followed by bouts of diarrhoea which was excruciatingly embarrassing if it happened in school. My friends were going out, meeting new people and having their first boyfriends but I was too exhausted, depressed and self-conscious to join them. At an age when I should have been enjoying life I just felt drained of energy and was in continual and unexplainable pain and discomfort.

Along with the suspicion of starving myself, my symptoms had been put down to growing pains and stress, but the effect on my appearance was more like those of drug addiction as my weight continued to plummet. It was not until I had a series of fainting fits at school that I was finally referred to a hospital for proper tests. I remember the consultant looked very serious when he gave me my diagnosis. The abdominal pain, the fever, the bleeding, the weight loss and exhaustion meant that I had Crohn's disease. I stopped listening.
"What is it?" I finally asked. I had never heard of it and was later to discover that few people at the time knew much about it. It was a disease more commonly diagnosed in older people, but there had been a gradual increase in the number of young people developing the illness.
"It's a chronic disease - that means it can't be cured; at least not today, but great strides are being made in drug research..."

I left the consultant's room with a few information leaflets in my hand. It's a strange thing to say but I remember feeling relief as I left the hospital. All these symptoms had a name; at last I knew what was happening to me.
My mum was waiting anxiously.
"So, what were the results?"
This was the first time I had to take ownership of this disease; it was part of me whether I wanted it or not. And the disease was incurable, it was mine forever.

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