Brad McAuliffe threw off his doubts and refused to let ulcerative colitis hold him back from life’s adventures.
In mid 2016 I experienced my first ulcerative colitis (UC) flare, although I didn’t know it at the time. Like many others with UC, I was experiencing a ten on the pain scale and very quickly progressed to needing 20 to 30 toilet trips a day. It was the scariest four months of my life. I was struggling at work and university and no one had a clue what was wrong with me.
Once I was diagnosed with UC, my situation became better temporarily as I shifted between different medications that would work for a short period of time before losing their effectiveness. I was left feeling completely out of control of my life. I spent a lot of time thinking “why me?” and allowed myself to be buried in the disease instead of doing my best to continue living my life.
Throughout my adult life I’d spent all my time working and saving, so when UC struck it was a pretty massive change. I had a lot of ideas in the pipeline for cool trips and adventures I’d like to do but I never got around to any of them. Work, bills, house. Even after my first flare with UC I went back into the groove of working as much as possible and not taking much time for myself.
I think I had this idea that I’d be different and that my UC was under control; I could go and do those things at any time. I was wrong, terribly wrong. I don’t know if it’s the young male invincibility syndrome where you think you’ll be fine no matter what but when I went through my next series of flares and no new medications would work, I had a really tough time processing it mentally. What was the point of just working and saving if I’m going to keep getting sick and not really have any time to enjoy myself and what I’ve worked for?
At the beginning of 2019 I realised that I had this list of adventures I wanted to go on that I hadn’t even started. The reality of my situation with UC set in – I might not get the chance to do a lot of them in the future, so I decided to jump on the internet and book a flight.
The most difficult trip on the list at the time was Nepal. I had some idea that this would be the most difficult because there would be a lack of adequate medical support over there along with poor hygiene standards. Nepal also has a reputation for travellers getting sick. I’d seen photos of the Annapurna mountain ranges years prior and desperately wanted to see it for myself, so I thought “now or never”.
I started the fundraiser for CCA as a means to lock myself into going and not backing out when self-doubt crept in. I’ve been disappointed to see how far our public health system is stretched and how much a lot of the community are relying on outside donations to receive help. I was in a position to make something more of the trip and thought it would be a great opportunity.
November rolled around very fast, and before I knew it, I was on a plane to Nepal. The trip was the most challenging undertaking I’ve ever faced both physically and mentally.
I’d been put on Remicade a couple of months before the trip, but it didn’t seem to be working, so I also had to go back on steroids to make sure I wouldn’t flare up while in Nepal.
All the drugs I was on, and their side effects really wore on me not to mention managing the burden of carrying a case of pills around the mountains. Luckily, while away, I faced no GI related issues at all, not even an upset stomach from dodgy food or water!
Over 12 days I trekked 135km and climbed 8133m around the Annapurna mountains, crossing the Thorung-La pass at a maximum elevation of 5416m. I’d taken my health and fitness for granted a lot before being diagnosed with UC and I had a few moments on the trek where I broke down emotionally, just because I was elated that I was able to get out and do this trek while my disease was under control.
I really felt in those moments that I could achieve anything without my UC holding me back. The trip was a massive challenge that really took every bit of strength out of me, but I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life. The people I met, beautiful scenery I hiked through and the ability to do some good for our community and CCA made it the most impactful experience I’ve ever had.
I can’t thank my family, friends, everyone that donated to the cause and CCA enough for all they’ve done for me related to the trip – and I can’t wait to get out there and tackle the next one.