“The worst thing that has happened to me turned out to be one of the best things” – Chad’s story

My story starts at the end of 2018. It was New Year’s Eve — I was the only one of my friends not to drink and the only one who wound up in hospital the next day. Life is not without a sense of irony.

In the few months leading up to this day, I had begun to feel unwell, and was rapidly losing weight.  At first the doctors thought it was my appendix and scheduled me in for surgery the very next day. When the surgeons opened me up, they observed that it wasn’t my appendix, and when I awoke, the surgeon advised me to seek out a gastroenterologist immediately due to how inflamed my stomach was. They immediately sent me for a colonoscopy to see what was going on inside my gastrointestinal tract. When I awoke, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

I will admit I had no idea what that meant at the time, as I had never heard of the disease. I didn’t recognise that my life would change forever that day.  I quickly went from leading a pretty normal life, to now taking many different tablets, blood and stools tests, and monthly biological needles to try and get my disease under control.

I will be honest: the first few months were incredibly difficult, both mentally and physically. I struggled to adjust to being diagnosed with a lifelong disease, as well as the changes to my everyday life. Within three months, I had lost my confidence, my health and then had to resign from my job in sales due to not coping mentally or physically. I was feeling more guilt as my parents were incredibly stressed with my health and how I was handling things. That’s the thing about any disease; it’s not just the impact to the individual, but everyone and everything around them.

But, with another twist of irony, the worst thing that has happened to me turned out to be one of the best things. Due to my circumstances I needed to apply for a payment type with Services Australia and was referred to an Employment Service Provider to assist my return to work. This was the most humbling moment of my life, and a scary reality of how quickly life can change – not always for the better. As a customer within the industry, I was slowly beginning to manage and get used to living with a disease. During this time, I was looking to rediscover my purpose and find solace in what my life now meant and what I could achieve.

I need to mention the impact of my Mum and Dad before we continue. To this day they are still the hardest working people I have ever known. They both never stopped working. They never put themselves first and have always been about their family and children. To this day they are my greatest role models. I adopted my parents’ mentality. I stopped using excuses and started to try and find a way to succeed and have a strong sense purpose. I had my heart set on Joining Disability Employment Services – wanting to assist people who had been through similar things that I went through, helping them get back on their feet The people that I serviced were now my purpose and another reason to keep going.  To work in Disability Employment Services is such a privilege and an honour to be trusted with. I’m fortunate to be able to engage with some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

When I was diagnosed, my bowel health was already in a bad state due to how aggressive my condition was. Two years later, I was challenged again. In the lead up to this I could feel something was not right with my body. I was rushed to hospital as they thought my appendix had finally ruptured, and was scheduled in for surgery, again for the next day. At 7am there was a slight change as I was visited by the Professor of Gastroenterology. I was advised that as well as my appendix rupturing, there was also a perforation in my small intestine (which I later found out has a 70 per cent mortality rate). I was advised that they had cleared the theatre, and I would need to have a stoma for the next seven months to allow my body to heal before the reversal surgery. This was the biggest challenge I have ever faced, both mentally and physically.

I did not handle this well at all. I was stuck in a hospital bed for three weeks and struggled to adjust to changing and emptying the bag. My mental health completely deteriorated, and I always felt like I was in a state of anxiety. I was incredibly image conscious, I felt embarrassed, and did not want to be seen by anyone. It gives you a whole new perspective of life when you lose the bare minimums. Even the small things – like waking up and enjoying a coffee, and greeting your colleagues when you get to work in the morning. During this time, my employer was incredibly understanding and patient as I slowly recovered and adjusted.

I was unsure if I had the mental strength to return to work during the time I had the Stoma. Again, my dad came to the rescue. We were talking about work as the return date came up, and he said, “ if you can work through this, once you’re fully healed every day will be easy thereafter”. From that moment my mentality changed. I looked at this as a challenge and tried to find every way I could to succeed.

For the next six months, I am proud to say I worked full-time and was still able to have an impact in the workplace. I was able to assist community members to manage their barriers and help them find meaningful employment and purpose. I’m so grateful for being able to work during this time. I needed the people I serviced more than they will ever know. About six months later I had the Stoma Reversal surgery and again adjusted to my life being a little different again.

For the last two years I have been privileged to be a part of the Leadership team at MatchWorks Disability Employment. MatchWorks have been incredibly supportive of my health and my career, and have supported me to recently become the Justice of the Peace for Rockingham WA so I can service my local community in another way.