FIGHTING THE IBD FIGHT: WITH KATIE SMITH
Interview by Dr Sunni
Katie is a 19-year-old law student from Manchester who has faced the tough fight with IBD. However, through all that adversity comes strength, power and resilience which Katie talks through her blogs that she used to and raise awareness about IBD and chronic illnesses. I had the pleasure to listen to her story which you can read below.
Dr Sunni: Katie, tell us all about your journey and fight with IBD, and what you have learnt along the way?
Katie: I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in the Summer of 2018, shortly after my 18th birthday. I previously ignored my symptoms for weeks as I was grieving the loss of my granddad and took no account of the ongoing issues.
The stigma surrounding bowel disease also meant I held back from speaking about it until I had to be admitted to hospital urgently by my doctor. After having all the scans and tests, during which I had never even heard about IBD before, the gastroenterology team found out that I had severe pancolitis.
I tried every medication, including biologics, by which time it was far too late as I had developed toxic megacolon which perforated and was admitted for an emergency subtotal colectomy.
I was left with an ileostomy bag and mucous fistula, which I thought would get reversed in order to have J pouch surgery. A couple of months later though, I had very severe proctitis and another fistula.
My fistulas have recently healed, allowing me to be scheduled for a proctectomy (‘barbie-butt' surgery) to allow for suitable reconstruction of my scar and hernias. However, COVID-19 has put a delay on that for now.
If I would have been asked if I could cope with everything that I have had to go through I would have said no!
My IBD journey has affected me in several ways, mainly knocking my confidence to begin with. With surgery my body drastically changed and that has been something I have had to work on. Nonetheless, in all of this I have learned how strong and resilient I am. You really don't know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.
My fight has been one hell of a rollercoaster. Having surgery a few weeks after being diagnosed with UC really threw me the deep end. Despite the lows, the flare ups and the surgeries I have completed my first year of reading law at University, and I'm not going to let IBD define or stop me accomplishing what I want in life.
Dr Sunni: What would you tell your younger self, knowing what you know now, about IBD?
Katie: Firstly, I would say - you never know what people are going through, especially based on their appearance, and that nothing is as it seems. Then, to not to take things for granted, health is wealth first and foremost. Thirdly, I would say that invisible illnesses are real and often come with baggage. Every day I suffer with IBD so much, and with things you wouldn’t necessarily imagine with when looking at me.
Finally, try and learn more about autoimmune diseases and take the time to educate myself on what other people go through, so that I can be less ashamed and hide my feelings and emotions, instead of taking months before I told my friends about my condition.
Dr Sunni: What inspires you to keep fighting daily?
Katie: Seeing the people that suffer with IBD and become warriors by battling it every day. All those people inspire me and help me get through my illness.
I also focus on self-inspiration and aspiration around the idea that my disease does not, and will not, define me such that I will achieve my dreams and get my law degree even with all setbacks and even if it takes me longer than others to do so. I will excel.
Dr Sunni: How do you deal with food and gut health?
Katie: I never really had to think thought about food and gut health in the past - I always ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, any my fast metabolism allowed me to get away with all the junk food.
It obviously wasn’t until my UC that I started to really think about what I put into my body. Following the surgery, I worked with my gastro dietitian and focussed on healing myself with a protein-rich diet and avoiding foods that may cause a blockage with my ileostomy.
Dr Sunni: What would you advise others with IBD?
Katie: For all those going through IBD, I say to you all things do got better. The flare ups will ease over time, and always remember that you are not alone in this fight. Reach out and get support from other people.
When I turned to Instagram and creating my own website to share my story, it was the most empowering thing I had ever done, and it helped to boost my confidence. Find what will help you with the support of others.
"You are more than your IBD"
- Katie Smith