“Never let your disease define who you are” – Ellisha’s story

At the age of sixteen, I faced a turning point in my life that would define my journey through resilience and strength. For eight excruciating months, I battled mysterious symptoms that left doctors puzzled. Countless tests and consultations yielded no answers until, finally, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It was a relief to have a name for my suffering, yet it marked the beginning of a long journey.

Through my teenage years and into early adulthood, I experienced the unpredictable nature of Crohn’s Disease. In and out of remission, my life was a rollercoaster of flare-ups and fleeting moments of normalcy. By the time I turned 22, my condition was brought under control with immune suppressants, providing a semblance of stability.

At 26, I experienced the joy of motherhood. My pregnancy was nothing short of wonderful, a serene period where my disease seemed to take a backseat. However, a few weeks after delivering my first child via C-section, I woke up to a nightmare. I discovered fecal matter coming out of my vagina, a horrifying realisation that sent me straight to the emergency room.

I was diagnosed with a recto-vaginal fistula and needed emergency surgery. The colorectal surgeon performed three attempts to fix the fistula, but they were unsuccessful. Eventually, I had 30 centimeters of my bowel removed and was given a stoma and ileostomy bag. The following year was grueling, with seven more surgeries to repair the fistula. Each operation tested my physical and emotional limits, especially with a young one at home, but finally, the repair took hold.

Six months after my successful surgery, I underwent a stoma reversal and started treatment with biologics. This marked the beginning of a new chapter. In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I faced another setback. Scar tissue from my previous surgeries had caused my small intestine to close over, necessitating another bowel resection. This surgery brought complications; my incision got infected, requiring a three-week hospital stay and the insertion of a drain. The wound was left open with a vacuum dressing, adding another layer of complexity to my recovery. During this time when I was having wound issues, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a common companion for those with Crohn’s Disease. Now on methotrexate treatment, I faced this new obstacle with the same determination that had carried me through the past.

Today, I am four years in remission, I am a proud mother of two wonderful children, now 18 and 14. I work full-time in the medicine/health industry, channeling my experiences into helping others. As a staunch supporter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Australia (CCA), I advocate for awareness and support for those battling similar conditions.

Reflecting on my journey, I offer this piece of advice: In life, you will encounter dark times, but there is always a solution and people wanting to help. BUT it’s crucial to speak up and not be embarrassed about your experiences, whether they involve rectovaginal issues like me through to mental health struggles.

Never let your disease define who you are. Keep being you , reaching your goals and living life to the FULLEST! PS – this photo was taken at Uluru, 3 weeks after my last hospital admission! Keep doing life!

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