Carla Maria’s Story

Carla Maria's first attack of acute pancreatitis came on with no warning. She never knew the further complications it could cause.

“I’m Carla, I’m 54 years old and I have a wonderful husband, four children and eleven grandchildren, who I’m sure you can imagine keep me very busy! At 14 years old, I suddenly went into care. I’ve found since that ‘troubled’ teenagers gravitate towards me, as I understand them. Since, I’ve dedicated my life towards studying trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I worked for most of my life, always doing voluntary work on the side, helping people struggling with substance abuse and in poverty. Looking after people seems to be what I do. It’s what I’m good at.

Until six years ago, I was healthy, as I’d spent my adult life running around after my children and grandchildren! I was a healthy and curvy size 12, had a head full of thick Greek hair and I loved my job.

My first attack of acute pancreatitis came on with little warning. I had a degenerative spine condition prior, which over the years built up my pain tolerance. I’d felt under the weather for a few days, but not so unwell to phone in sick to work. One night, I suddenly couldn’t stop being sick, and my pain was off the charts. I remember speaking to a doctor on the phone, who was eager for me to go to A&E. An ambulance was called in the early hours of the morning.

In hospital, they discovered a gallstone had caused pancreatitis and I stayed in hospital for two weeks. The pain was unspeakable, and I say that having had four children! My gallbladder was removed.

At this point, I didn’t even know what a pancreas was, or what it did. Back at home, I lost two stone in weight within weeks. My appetite wasn’t what it was, and has never been the same since.

Months on, I was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis and told this is life-long. Since, I have had so many attacks that I can’t count. The longest time I’ve spent in hospital is around three weeks. I weigh under eight stone and look like a walking skeleton.

The further complications that have been caused by the pancreatitis are a struggle, like brittle bone disease. How can one organ, the pancreas, cause so many complications with the rest of my body? At 54 years old, I’ve been told I have the bones of a 90 year old. I feel grateful that I have such a strong mind. For me, I find that if my mind is in the right place, the rest follows.

Others can struggle to understand pancreatitis and make assumptions upon how I look. My illnesses have caused my hair to fall out, as well as losing weight. People think I’m anorexic. Sometimes I’m told, “Gosh, you really don’t look well”. Or even “Look at the state of you!” Neither of which are helpful of course, but I really noticed how differently people approach you based on your appearance, having had my appearance change so much in the last six years.

Having said that, if I really spent time on making myself look as well as I could, people will think ‘there’s nothing wrong with her’. But if you back this red-hot fiery Greek into the corner, you’ll find that she doesn’t crawl up into a ball! You can’t win either way. People will pass their judgements, so just smile and wave. Their ignorance isn’t worth your time.

Before the end of last year, my consultant told me my pancreas is shrinking. They told me to continue giving myself a reason to fight. We booked a holiday to my home, Greece. This really kept us going. We had the best time away and got to see so much of my family. We hadn’t been on holiday for 15 years – we needed it!

I drag myself out of bed in the morning and set myself a task each day. I keep going. Even if that task looks like doing part of the washing up, looking at what I’ve achieved in a day rather than what I haven’t really helps me.

The relationship with my husband has been a constant throughout my life, from the young age of 14 he’s been there for me and I’ve been there for him. When our children were old enough, we renewed our vows so they could be page boys and bridesmaids.

I don’t want people to feel they’re fumbling in the dark. I’ve found Guts UK’s information helpful, and it’s absolutely worth sharing my story during the Kranky Panky Pancreatitis Awareness Campaign if it helps just one person.”

There is no effective treatment for pancreatitis. There is no cure.

Guts UK is dedicated to finding an effective treatment, a cure for this misunderstood and underfunded condition. We are building a community affected by pancreatitis, comforted in knowing they’re not alone.

Our guts have been underfunded and misunderstood for too long. Together, we can change that. Donate to our life-saving research today. Thank you.

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