Rebecca’s Story

Rebecca Thorpe in Belgrade

Travelling in a new direction

It wasn’t the gift she had been wishing for, but Rebecca Thorpe has quickly managed to adapt to a new way of living with IBD.

I DIDN’T much enjoy having a colonoscopy instead of attending my work Christmas party and I’ve certainly received better presents than an ulcerative colitis diagnosis. But being the positive person I always try to be, I was glad to learn the cause of the bleeding that had been of concern for two months. Remembering my grandfather had died of bowel cancer had played havoc with my dreams.

This was Christmas 2009. I’ve had just over a year to get used to life with ulcerative colitis. The first few months were hard. My initial medication of Colifoam, Colazide and steroids didn’t stop the bleeding, so I had to switch over to using Salofalk enemas as well. I wasn’t mad keen about shoving things up my bum, but I soon got used to it.

Initially I was reticent to tell anyone what was wrong with me. Who wants to talk about their bowels not functioning properly? But thankfully I knew about Crohn’s & Colitis Australia through a friend who has Crohn’s.

CCA definitely made a difference; reading the magazine and brochures they sent me when I joined introduced me to a whole new world. Their kit for the workplace was especially helpful, as was the Can’t Wait card. My line manager at work was a tremendous support and wanted to do whatever she could to help.

I soon realised that if no one talks about these things then people don’t have the opportunity to gain understanding. As someone who lives her life by Gandhi’s teaching to “be the change you want to see in the world”, I was challenged to overcome my embarrassment.

Rather than continuing to hide my condition from most of my friends, I began to open up about it. I was overwhelmed by their support, encouragement and love. Many of them Googled what ulcerative colitis was to get a better understanding, which I really appreciated.

Diet was obviously a big factor for me. Knowing what a committed foodie I was, my friends took pity on me for having to restrict my diet so much. But learning what I could and couldn’t eat was key to overcoming my flare up and trying to get my bowel function back to normal. Well, my new kind of normal, at least.

My specialist, Dr Glenda Hartley, congratulated me on seeking help early and was great at explaining things in a simple way. “Eating high-fibre food is like rubbing sandpaper on a raw wound” was an effective visual for me. Glenda was great about calling me when I received some abnormal blood test results: the steroids I was on were raising my blood sugar levels unacceptably high. She advised me to treat myself as a diabetic while I was on the steroids. Trying to find low GI foods that are also low in fibre was no fun and continues to be a challenge.

The first few months were hard. The mornings, as I am sure many CCA members would agree, were the worst. Thankfully, with the support of my wonderful line manager, I often worked from home in the morning and headed into the office in the afternoon.

I wanted to support CCA in a more meaningful way than just donating to them (though I know they always need help on that front!) and replied to the call for volunteers to hand out flyers on World IBD Day. I also attended the Silver Lining Ball and got to meet the lady who made CCA happen: founder Angela McAvoy.

I managed to get my UC under control enough towards the end of last year to take a trip overseas, getting the chance to explore the Balkans and visit friends I had made when living in Europe for five years. I took my Salofalk enemas with me just in case, and used them a couple of times. There were a few foods I would have loved to try, but knew they weren’t worth the risk. But overall, I had a great time and am already planning my next trip.

I began 2011 with a flare up on New Year’s Day, but this time I knew what to do and am hoping I will get things under control a lot sooner. I will always miss chilli and lentils, but am grateful for the love and support I received from my manager and friends over the past year, and to CCA for the wonderful work they do. I’ve never had to call the IBD Helpline, but knowing it is there is a great comfort.

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