Late last year I was interviewed about my crohn’s disease and the story was to be published in the magazine Inside Insights written by Crohn’s and Colits Australia. I happily obliged. This is the organisation I feel strongly about being a part of and if you remember, Amie and I won $10,000 for it on Millionaire with Eddie McGuire.
So, because I’ve shared it there, I thought I’d share it here. Why? Because I still get so many emails from blog readers asking about crohn’s. There are 70,000 Australian’s with this disease and my story is just like most of you with this disease. I bet that the majority of my readers know someone with crohn’s…
It’s a crohnic illness, that has me bed-ridden some weeks and then I bounce back like nothing is wrong. People don’t understand that every day is different and it’s a disease I cannot control.
At this very moment in time, I am struggling to control my crohn’s.
I’m having another flare. I have arthritis in my left ankle, it’s always swollen and I limp some days. I still have ulcers coming and going on my calf muscles. I am visiting the toilet up to 10 times a day, crohn’s is waking me in the night, I’m always thirsty, I’m weary, and I am exhausting all of my medication options. I have started yet another round of steroids to pull me in to line, but this is not a long term solution. Steroids are only for a few weeks…
I have no idea where my crohn’s will take me, but I am not worried, or frightned, or stressed. I was given this disease for a reason – I know that reason… because I can handle it. I can deal with it. I’m not dying. I’ll just get on with it!
So here is my story…
(disclaimer – I did not write this post for comments, so please, you don’t need to leave one today :))
Motherhood is a tough job. Doing a reality-TV program for two intensive months is a tough job. Managing a chronic illness is a tough job.
Fortunately, Katrina Chambers, who at one point had all three on her plate, is tough, too.
At 34 years old, Katrina is certainly living a full life. She’s mother to three young boys, aged 9, 6 and 5. She’s a reality-TV celebrity. And she has Crohn’s disease.
“I started showing symptoms when I was 18 and at uni,” Katrina says. “At the time, I was living away from home and having a great time, studying and drinking and going out. Then I started feeling unwell. Originally I thought it was just a lifestyle thing and I’ve just got to rest myself. But then I started bleeding from the bowel and I realised that this was serious.”
She told her mum what was happening, then went back home to Albury in New South Wales to get it all sorted. “We saw a specialist and I had a colonoscopy and we learned I have Crohn’s disease. I was 19. I didn’t know anyone else with Crohn’s and I myself knew nothing about it. It took me a long time to comprehend what was happening. At the doctor’s office, we were given some printed information, then I went home and researched it some more.
“When you’re young,” she continues, “it’s really hard to be comfortable with yourself as a person. And then you get dealt with a disease that you don’t know anything about and you don’t understand why it’s happening.”
Katrina kept her condition from everyone except her family, and back at uni, things settled down a little bit with medication. “I didn’t miss any uni,” she says. “I didn’t fail anything and I still got on with it. I got through all that and graduated, then moved to Wagga for a job and I’ve been here ever since.”
Things stayed manageable and life went back to normal, although she did have a flare-up soon after she married her husband, Andrew. But then she got pregnant with their first son not long afterwards, and she found herself completely symptom-free.
“During each of my three pregnancies and when I was breastfeeding, I was better than I had ever been.”
Katrina’s sons are now 9, 6, and 5 — three healthy, robust boys who are aware that sometimes mum has bad days and needs to rest.
“They know that I have some problems with my bowel and that that’s just how I am. They also know that when I need to go to the toilet, I need to go to the toilet. They understand and I sometimes hear them tell each other, ‘Don’t go annoying Mum — she’s on the toilet!’
“Andrew is so supportive as well. He’s just awesome. I don’t keep any secrets from him, and he knows that on some days I just have to take it easy, especially if I’m still in my pyjamas late in the afternoon.”
Early this year, Katrina was a contestant on Channel 9’s The Block, a show where contestants renovate a home and get it ready for auction. She and her sister Amie Godde worked together as a team and toiled practically nonstop for nine weeks to renovate a house, all under the scrutinising glare of the reality-TV cameras.
“Doing the show and getting the house sold was a buzz,” Katrina says, “but all that stress, coupled with not eating properly during the weeks of filming, took their toll on my health.”
She had a flare-up and dropped 10kg during filming. She lost a further 4kg since completing the show.
These days, Katrina is living a much quieter life back home in Wagga Wagga NSW, and she takes it easy whenever she can, taking everything in moderation and paying attention to what her body tells her she needs to do.
“A couple of Easters ago,” she relates, “I got myself in a bit of a situation when I ignored feeling unwell. I ended up dehydrated and had to stay in hospital for four days.”
Fortunately for Katrina, not many foods bother her. She tends to avoid bread because of the yeast, and she doesn’t take alcohol as it makes her sick. But as long as she doesn’t overindulge in rich foods, she usually has no problems.
“I pick my battles,” she says. “If I know I’m not going anywhere for the next few days, then I’ll usually eat whatever I want. Not even Christmas is a problem. The Christmas stress doesn’t get to me. I’ve got three boys! It doesn’t get much more stressful that that.”
When she looks back on her past fifteen years living with Crohn’s disease, she still considers herself lucky. She has a great career, three great kids, and a supportive husband. On top of all that, with her current celebrity status, she’s now in a position to talk to people about something that she kept secret for a long time.
“Apart from my family, I never told a soul about my Crohn’s disease for a really really long time. I hid it all the time. In hindsight I realise now that it’s easier to deal with it when people know about it. There would have been no more hiding, instead of people looking at you and saying, ‘Oh gosh you’re always so sick!‘ And although you really are lethargic and you’re not focused and you’re not motivated, if you’re forever just saying that you’re not well, others wouldn’t understand.
“I’m a really motivated person and I want to do well in everything. If you’re like me and you become unwell, it gets really hard. So you need to let people know: it’s a disease that you can come in and out of all the time, and sometimes you’re really well and sometimes you’re unwell. You need to let people know about it and they’ll understand that you have no control over it.
“When I finally started telling people — just around two years ago — everyone seemed positive. I tell them that it’s a recognised and fully known disease, and not something that I conjured up in my head. It’s really hard to manage, so I let people know about it.”
For Katrina, it’s been a journey not only of health, but also of self-knowledge, and an awareness that IBD needs to be brought out into the open. Speaking about bowel disease need not be embarrassing. Being open and honest about a condition that afflicts almost 70,000 Australians can only lead to greater understanding of the challenges that those with IBD face every day, greater acknowledgment of their needs, and greater support to find a cure.
Katrina Chambers has been through much, and we at CCA are grateful to her for sharing her experiences with us, and for her supporting what we do. We are also very grateful for the sisters’ donation of $10,000 to the organisation. Katrina and Amie won the money for their charity of choice during an appearance on Channel 9’s Hot Seat. They donated it to CCA as a way of showing their support to the IBD community.
Visit Katrina’s website at www.katrinaleechambers.com for more information on her latest projects.