A keen traveller who was forced to put her adventures on hold due to severe Crohn’s disease is busy planning her next trip following successful surgery which she credits with giving her back her life.
Chloe Shortall first became unwell in September 2011 when she started to feel very sick and developed crippling stomach pains. Her symptoms became progressively worse over the next few months, leading to significant weight loss as she was unable to keep down any food.
Chloe underwent a series of investigations at Colchester Hospital before being diagnosed with Crohn’s in July 2012 – a moment she describes as a “real relief” as it meant she was able to start treatment.
“I didn’t have any of the usual symptoms associated with Crohn’s, so initially I had an endoscopy and various other scans – none of which showed anything wrong,” said Chloe, who lives in Braintree. “My doctors ended up diagnosing my illness when I went for a colonoscopy but the inflammation was so severe that even the scope usually reserved for children would not fit through the bowel.
“It was a real relief as I was really concerned about what was happening to me. When nothing showed up after my original tests, I started to worry that it was all in my head. Getting the diagnosis meant that we could do something about it so that I could hopefully start to feel better and get back on track.”
Chloe began a course of steroids which also stimulated her appetite. Within a few days, her pain subsided and she was able to eat again. She went on to spend several summers working at an American summer camp, including an 18 month work abroad programme, before her Crohn’s returned in October 2017.
“I enjoy travelling and didn’t want treatment which would limit my options and choices,” added Chloe, who is now 28. “That is why I decided that resection surgery was the best option for me. I felt it was the only thing which would make the difference I needed to be able to get on with my life.
“I wanted to live my life and be back in control, but up until that point the Crohn’s had been at the forefront of every decision I had made. The possibility that I might need surgery one day had always been in the back of my mind, so in many ways I was prepared for it.
“I spent five nights in hospital and felt really well cared for during that time. Everyone was brilliant, from the HCAs who helped with my compression socks to the physio who encouraged me to walk when I was really apprehensive and Miss Gupta and her team, who were incredibly supportive throughout.
“I had the operation in December 2018 so I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to eat Christmas dinner. But after a few days I started to feel better; I gained more trust in my body and started to push myself to do more things.
“I am now back to my ‘normal’. I’ve been going to the gym to feel stronger and I feel like I am more in control of my life. I’m now able to eat whatever I want and do whatever I want, which is brilliant.
“It’s now a year on and I went to Spain in April and America over the summer, and am planning to spend next year in Australia. The hospital will keep a check on me to make sure I’m doing ok and Miss Gupta has told me to call if I feel the Crohn’s is coming back, but fingers crossed that won’t happen.”
Chloe is now encouraging others in the same situation to do as much research as they can about the condition to help take away some of the worry they may be experiencing following a diagnosis, which she feels also helps to normalise it and make it less scary.
She added: “Talking to others who have the same illness is really important as it will help you find out how they manage the condition, the impact it has had on them and the things they have done to help. If you’re facing surgery, look at the potential positives – you might lose a piece of your bowel, but it will give you back that sense of control and mean you are able to do the things you love again as Crohn’s will no longer be the biggest factor afterwards.
“It will be a change which you will adjust to, but it gives you back your life.”