George shares his story as part of Guts UK's Pancreatitis Awareness Campaign - Kranky Panky.
My name is George and I’m 28 years old. My journey with pancreatitis began 10 years ago, with a stomach ache that escalated into week long episodes of agony where I could barely eat, drink or sleep.
The first few years I struggled alone, as my GP believed it was “probably just gastritis”. It wasn’t until I moved GP that it was taken seriously and within days diagnosed as acute pancreatitis that should have required hospitalisation.
As the years went by, consultants were increasingly baffled by the root cause of my recurrent pancreatitis episodes. I didn’t drink, didn’t have gallstones and no other common causes were applicable. No matter what they tried, the episodes kept happening. Even genetic tests checking if I was predisposed to pancreatitis came back negative. I am truly an idiopathic pancreatitis sufferer meaning I have episodes for no known reason. I’m left at the mercy of my pancreas.
Fast forward to today. This grim cycle of episodes, testing and procedures is still ongoing. Sadly, repeated attacks have left my pancreas heavily damaged. I now have chronic pancreatitis (CP). I live with daily pain that is frequently exacerbated by agonising flares requiring hospitalisation.
The countless A&E admissions, ERCPs and countless other procedures have not just taken a physical toll, but a mental one too. For years I was wracked with anger, grief and guilt that it was my fault for being such a burden on my friends and family. I think the mental toll of this disease is always forgotten. The sufferers feel completely alone, as few people can truly understand the relentless grinding pain. Our friends and family can only do so much to ease the mental and physical torture.
But I promise there are positives in this story because the pain, tears and heartbreak has instilled within me an indomitable will to achieve absolutely anything I put my mind to. I have 2 degrees and a challenging yet rewarding job with an employer that is incredibly supportive of me. I’ve developed coping strategies and have a lifestyle that aims to drive down to severity and frequency of my episodes. For me, this includes a low-fat vegetarian diet, regular exercise and putting your health first. Always.
I still suffer from daily pain and frequent flare-ups, but I feel far less guilt and anger. I do everything in my power to lessen the severity of them, so I just try to roll with the punches.
I’m now being assessed to have a total pancreatectomy with islet auto-transplantation (TPIAT), which is major life-changing surgery but it seems to be the only option for a relatively normal life for me. I’ve got this far, so I will meet this challenge head on and come out of it even stronger.
In April, when I knew that Covid-19 proposed a threat to charities like Guts UK, I took part in the 2.6 challenge and ran 26.2k for Guts UK. My family and friends donated, showing me such incredible support and raising almost £800. It was heart-warming knowing that those around me wanted to help me fund life-saving research by supporting Guts UK and raising much-needed awareness. I also have hopes to complete a Skydive for Guts UK too!
Guts UK is the only UK charity funding a research fellowship into pancreatitis.
We are dedicated to finding an effective treatment for this devastating condition. People are suffering, people are dying, all because of a lack of knowledge about our guts. Join our community and champion our cause by donating to our life-saving research today.