Inspirational stories: Many of us have them but may not even realise how important they truly are or are too modest to shout it from the roof-tops. Successes should be shared and enjoyed, especially when certain hurdles or obstacles have had to be overcome to get there. Your story could help others reach their full potential. For this reason, I wanted to find some truly inspiring people who have a story that needs to be told. Each week I will bring you a different story with a different angle but one that you will just have to read.
This week’s story comes from Jen McGrath who battles an invisible illness every day but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her passion for pole fitness.
My life changed four and a half years ago when, at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with a disease called Endometriosis. This is a condition that affects 1 in 10 women bringing varying symptoms and is usually extremely painful. It is undetectable on any types of scans and the only way to get a true diagnosis of endometriosis is via a laparoscopy (incision through the abdomen); in other words a very big and painful procedure!
At the time of my diagnosis I had very little knowledge of this disease, why would you know when it’s not something that has come into your life before?! I had heard a little about it but never had a full understanding of what it really was or how it could affect your life.
Before finding out I had endometriosis I had a full-time job as a carer for a disabled girl and I taught in the evenings as a pole fitness instructor. I have always been fit, healthy plus very active and never had any health problems – all this changed very suddenly and completely altered my life!
I first realised something was wrong about 8 months before my first operation, I was getting severe pains in my abdomen which seemed to be increasing as time went on. It was Christmas Eve when my illness took a turn for the worst – I know, what a time to pick! I had absolutely no idea what this severe pain was and it would appear the doctors in A and E shared the same thoughts! After hours of waiting and being checked if I was pregnant (I wasn’t) or had a urine infection (I didn’t) what felt like 100 times, I was finally sent home with pain relief and absolutely no answers.
I was so poorly over the next couple of weeks that I made several trips to the doctors yet still no one could figure out what was wrong. I was slowly but surely becoming extremely ill. Finally, after being tested for everything possible and starting to think it would be worthwhile taking a sleeping bag to the doctors as I was there so often, I was finally sent for a scan on my abdomen. It took 7 months to get someone to take me and all my symptoms seriously.
The result showed a huge endometrioma/chocolate cyst on my left ovary and they suspected the pain I’d experienced around Christmas was due to one of these types of cysts bursting. OUCH!!!
A week later I had major surgery at Basingstoke hospital as, by this point, the cyst was too big to perform keyhole surgery. During the procedure, they also found a lot of endometriosis but there was too much to remove all at once. I needed time to recover from this operation so they booked me in for keyhole surgery in 3 months time. In the meantime, I needed an injection of Zoladex (which is also used in cancer patients) every month to slow down the process of endometriosis. Safe to say I was very poorly, slightly petrified and felt like I was in a new body. Soon the date came for my second operation to laser off the rest of the endometriosis which meant more recovery time. Due to all of this I had to leave my job and was unable to work for over a year, meaning myself and my partner had to leave our house we were living in at the time and move in with his Mum for financial reasons.
Just 7 months after the 2nd surgery I needed operation number 3 to remove further endometriosis that had returned. I recovered from these operations and slowly started getting my life back on track. I started my teaching career in pole dancing and I was lucky enough to meet a lovely family and started to nanny for their little girl three days a week as I was unable to go back to work full time.
A further 16 months passed when the pain decided to rear it’s ugly head again and I began to feel unwell. I had already entered into my first pole competition and was committed to performing not only for the organisers but for myself, to prove that I could do this! I was able to compete on the day but I was not at my strongest and in chronic pain. Needless to say, I did not place. The week after I was back in hospital having the newly attached endometriosis removed. This time around they found adhesions on my appendix, they had no option but to remove it. I was unable to work while I recovered – luckily I work for very understanding people who have helped me more than they know! So for this, I am blessed.
Whilst I recovered from this operation I was determined to not let this disease take over my life. I wanted to further my teaching career and be able to compete without being interrupted with abdominal surgeries every year! I didn’t even know it was possible to have this many operations in such a short amount of time. Turns out it is possible and it is actually essential as it is the ONLY way to help. However, you need to understand that this is not a cure and these adhesions will always continue to return! There is currently NO CURE for endometriosis.
Endometriosis had taken a lot from me and I was going to try my hardest to not let it take anymore. I lost a lot of confidence in myself and my body and I had to re-learn how to live and cope with the body I now had- constant pain and operations needed every year is not an easy thing to adapt to. However, I had the mindset that I would not let this defeat me, that I could live alongside it and not let it become me.
With this in mind, I entered my second pole competition. This was definitely a challenge especially when the art of pole takes a lot of core control and my core muscles had been cut open four times already! Hard work, hours of training and strengthening my body were all needed to bring together my hard-hitting routine. It paid off because I won first place in the professional category! I was shocked, excited, proud and completely overwhelmed, after everything I had been through I managed to come out the other side and made one of my dreams come true!
However, a few months after this the pain was back. I went back to the hospital and before I knew it operation number 5 was booked in. In March of this year, I was having more keyhole surgery to remove yet more endometriosis.
I was getting married in August so needed to be sure I was recovered by then- having to plan the wedding around operations wasn’t easy but we made the best of it and it gave me something positive to focus my energy on. We married in Zante, Greece on Cameo Island on the 23rd of August. I was out of pain, I was happy and it was a perfect day!
Finally accepting that this is now what my life is going to be, I manage to live the best I can around this awful disease. Even though I have endometriosis, which is one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced, I refuse to let it take over my life. Exercise helps me to control the pain, meaning I do not have to take strong painkillers unless I have an operation. This is very important to me as the very strong painkillers prescribed by doctors can cause problems of their own if taken over a long period of time.
I am now an aerial hoop instructor, a pole instructor and I have recently passed a course to be a flexibility instructor.
In the next few months, I will be back at the hospital getting booked in for my 6th operation as I can already feel changes occurring inside my body. This is inevitable and is a must to make me better.
I will continue to live my life to the fullest, and appreciate when things are good, endometriosis is not going to stop me!
If you would like to see more of Jen’s amazing images you can follow her on Instagram.
If you are also an endometriosis sufferer or suspect you may have this condition you can find more information and support from the group Endometriosis UK.
You may have also clocked that Jen is my sister which makes this a topic I feel passionately about and one that I have also previously written about in my blog. I truly cannot wait for the day when somebody makes a breakthrough in curing this terrible disease.