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{Q & A} Living through, and surviving a chronic disease – Caron Strydom

I’ve had the absolute privilege of knowing Caron for around 9 years, and from the moment I met her I was taken by her sweet nature (never mind the most beautiful singing voice!). She exuded such confidence and energy that made it almost hard to believe that she was struggling with a chronic gut disease. Caron had to eventually undergo a total colectomy (removal of the entire large colon) and had an ileostomy pouch fitted. Through all of this, she has remained dignified, and her approach to it all has been inspiring.

Although not parent-related, this is a story to be shared.

Can you briefly explain your condition?

The disease, Ulcerative Colitis, falls under IBD (irritable bowel disease). It is an autoimmune disease affecting mainly the large bowel/colon.

How easy was it to diagnose?

It was misdiagnosed for a few years as I was quite young and it was attributed to spastic colon, or more commonly, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Only after things got quite bad, did I have colonoscopies, gastroscopies and other various procedures that allowed doctors to see what was happening internally.

How did your life change after you started feeling sick/were diagnosed?

My life changed drastically. My health declined rapidly and I was confined to my room more often than not. My studies took a huge knock. Relationships, my physical condition and emotions were also affected.

Self-confidence became an issue, it was rather non-existent at one point. I had very little self-worth, I felt like I was wasting away and lost all purpose.

What led you to have the initial operation to have your colon removed?

I had been in an out of hospital numerous times, on various transfusions, feeding tubes and dips. On New Year’s Eve of 2013 I was performing with my Dad, and I had a major flare which left me unconscious. I was rushed to trauma, and it was then that we were told my treatment plan was no longer working, and that if I didn’t have the surgery soon, I would not see the end of the year.

I saw what this was doing to my parents and realized I could not put them through this anymore. To my advantage, a new colorectal surgeon had just moved to my hometown. I consider him the best surgeon in the country!

How did things change after that first operation?

I had the surgery on the 13th February 2014. I looked better lying in ICU recovering than I did on any normal given day. I had colour back in my face, my protein levels had picked up and inflammation markers dropped drastically. My body was no longer fighting against itself. I got my voice back, so was able to sing again, my joints were no longer hindering me from participating in sports. I was finally able to start going away with friends, get back to studies and live a life that I really didn’t know existed. I had a freedom that I completely forgot about. I was no longer dependent on medication, diet, doctors, my bed or a bathroom. In a sense, I got my life back.

What led you to have the follow-up ops, and how has your recovery been?

The follow-up ops took 5 years to have. They basically entailed two more surgeries: 1) creating an internal “storage unit” namely a J-pouch and, 2) reconnecting everything, which meant I no longer had to live with the bag. It really was a 5 year long decision, but I finally finished with studies and had no serious commitments. It was time to close this chapter.

I had also been experiencing some flares last year and Doctors suggested that removing the last bit of remaining rectum would suppress the flares. It was by no means an easy decision, as the recovery process and being back in hospital complete freaked me out.

Recovery has been better than textbook! I’d like to contribute a large portion of this to brilliant medical team who are seriously up to date with the latest technology!

What lessons have you learnt over the years?

Wow! Learning to take myself less seriously, and let life unfold the way it was intended to, rather than me trying to control every aspect. I have learnt to roll with the punches – you only really know what you are capable of when you are placed in a situation that tests you beyond what you think you can handle. I’ve learnt to listen to my body, to trust it and to love it, no matter what the circumstances are.

I think the most important lesson is that if a positive mindset. So many of the trials we are faced with can lead you down two paths, which are guided by a positive and negative attitude. There are definitely situations where the only choice left leads you to a not so positive ending, but even in those moments your thoughts can haunt you or change you. I have learnt the value of goal setting and realistic small victories that can be achieved. This lends itself to growing a positive mindset.

What is your way forward, health wise?

I am currently defining some goals. I am currently making sure I am taking in good nourishment and slowly building muscle strength again.

I know you’re passionate about creating awareness, how are you going about this?

I am in the process of setting up a blog that will hopefully encourage people to speak out about their conditions. Any gut disorder is something really difficult to talk about, so I really put in effort to break the negative stigma attached to it. I’m really excited to see how medical advances are being made in the area of gut health. It is so important to understand how our guts play such an integral part of our daily lives.

Sort out your gut, sort out your life!

Thank you so much Caron for taking the time to answer our questions, and for the role you’re playing in creating awareness about gut health! We wish you nothing but the best!

You can follow Caron’s journey on her Instagram account.

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