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Why Touring the U.S. With Ulcerative Colitis Was the Best Thing I've Ever Done

From the age of 6 to 16 I had a ileostomy bag and was on home TPN. Although I was very lucky to have strong parents who raised me to not let my illness get in the way, there were obviously things I couldn’t do with a bag and a peripheral line.

At the age of 16 I was extremely fortunate to have the bag reversed and come off TPN, and once recovered from the reversal I set out to do things I’d always wanted to do.

This list wasn’t going to be easy, however, as I still had ulcerative colitis, opened my bowels about 30 times a day and had anemia and extreme fatigue so I still had obstacles in my way. But as my mum taught me, I was dammed if they were going to stand in my way.

All my childhood I always wanted to train in martial arts and had been a huge boxing fan. Once I’d recovered from the ileostomy reversal I joined a gym and a martial arts class. I was doing things I never thought I’d be able to do. My strength was getting up, from a weak skinny kid on TPN, I was now a teenager lifting my body weight and over in the gym, I was sparring at martial arts and living it. For the first time in my life I looked and felt like I was in peak condition and it was amazing.

I competed in national tournaments, granted some years I got banged up in the ring and yes technically I shouldn’t have been doing it, but this was a man whose mum took him swimming with a peripheral line when the doctors had said a pool was out of bounds. I’d never let my illness hold me back and I’d often pushed the boat out beyond what I should have to live my life to its fullest.

Although as a teen I’d been to France twice with family, taking my TPN supplies with me, I’d always dreamed of going to the U.S. I’d been saving since I started working and at 23 years old I decided to go on tours around the east and west coast of the U.S. on my own.

This was the craziest and bravest thing I’d ever done. I had a serious illness, opened my bowels loads of times a day, an illness that people I’d met were nervous about getting on a train with, and I was about to fly to the other side of the Atlantic alone.

This is the best thing I’ve ever done. Flying was fine, after all there’s a toilet on board. America is a fine country for someone with health problems and for a English tourist — no language barrier, fine public toilet facilities, fantastic health care if it was needed, which put my mind at rest and kind, laid-back, understanding people who don’t take any notice of anyone. I felt so comfortable and confident in America with my illness even less embarrassed than in England.

During my time in America, I saw pole dancers in Las Vegas, went on the boat into Niagara Falls, and chilled with a hot dog in Washington, D.C. looking over the White House. I had the time of my life and this experience matured me and gave me so much more independence and strength. And the fact that I went all around the east and west of this amazing country with my dodgy bowels taught me this illness is only a obstacle if I let it be.

I am now planning to take my wonderful fiancé who has anxiety to the States. It will be the first time she’s even been abroad. I am hoping she gains from the experience as much as I did.

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Thinkstock photo by anyaberkut