This story is part of the Guts UK Pancreatitis Awareness Campaign.
Jessica Addington’s Story
My name is Jessica Addington and at the age of 16 I was diagnosed with gallstones, which took several months to diagnose because I was deemed as being “too young” to have gallstones. I suffered many attacks, more times then I can count on both hands, which left me in excruciating pain. I remember my first gallstone attack very clearly. I had just eaten and I felt extremely uncomfortable; I told myself not to panic but the severity of the pain went from bad to worse. I managed to get myself down the stairs, where I ended up collapsing on the kitchen floor due to the intensity of the pain I was going through. To me it felt like I was having a heart attack and in that split moment I really did believe it was the end of my life.
This would be the first of many of my hospital admissions. My time being in and out of hospital and back and forth to the doctors was exhausting. I missed out on my GCSE year and doing what normal teenagers were doing at the time. Despite those exhausting months I managed to revise at home and still pass some of my GCSEs. I often felt like I wasn’t believed by the doctors and that my voice was not heard. It was due to my age that the hospital often found it difficult where to place me or how to deal with me. I was either between the children’s ward where they were not trained to deal with what I was suffering with and the adult ward where I was eventually placed and where I had to grow up really quickly.
I was not allowed for a long time to have scans, although eventually when they allowed me to have an MRI scan they picked up what was wrong. Finally it felt like there was hope! My planned operation to remove my gallbladder ended up being as an emergency and unfortunately didn’t go quite to plan and left me with complications and a stone that got stuck. I was discharged after three weeks having to adjust my whole lifestyle, from what I could do to what I could eat or drink.
A year later after having gone back to school to do my A Levels, I was then diagnosed with Biliary Sphincter Disorder (formerly Sphincter Of Oddi Dysfunction), caused by my bile duct widening and the muscle valve on the duct not working correctly. I had been suffering from serve pains again and horrendous acid reflux pains that kept me sleeping (when I could sleep) sitting up for months. This resulted in me having to leave my A Levels after the first year. Not again! Life felt like it was just against me.
A gastroscopy procedure to fit a stent into the valve that no longer worked took place to correct the dysfunction. Then six months later I was sent back to permanently cut the valve and remove the stent. However during this period I became extremely poorly with horrendous sickness. Before the operation I was told there would be a 1% chance of developing pancreatitis from the procedure. I know I had already suffered with bad luck and I didn’t have much hope. As I came round from the procedure I was vigorously throwing up and was in agony. Much later I was told that I had actually developed acute pancreatitis after the operation but they left me for ages without providing me with any pain relief, or telling me what was wrong with me, until I demanded it. During this time I was told that I was scaring other patients due to being loud because of the amount of pain I was in and those on the ward next to me sneered and shouted. This was probably the most striking aspect of my experience and I spent weeks in hospital on morphine injections and tablets.
Although I can describe my experience to an extent I can never fully convey how bad it was. Behind my story there is much more pain and heartache, which we had all had to go through but it is those who have been challenged by pancreatitis who do understand. I particularly found it extremely difficult dealing with such complex conditions at a young age and everyone surrounding me always seemed to be older. There was never any support around and that is why I am so grateful to have found Guts UK. It has made realised that there are many sufferers and that I wasn’t actually ever alone! I feel so passionate to raise awareness and to support others, now that I have come across Guts UK, because I never had the support before.
For me, I have been lucky enough to be, at the age of 22, much fitter, healthier and fully recovered from acute pancreatitis, something I never thought would happen. It took me a long time to recover but I have eventually built my strength back. I still suffer with what ranges from mild to serve stomach pain related to gastritis, which still needs following up, but it is controlled through medication and, believe it or not, exercising. Exercise has changed my life mentally and physically! I am now very limited to what I can eat but I have managed to control and gain a better understanding of my condition and what I can and can’t eat without my gallbladder. It is often extremely difficult for people to understand and I’m often classed as being a fussy eater and eating out is always a problem for me. This is something I would really love to change. There needs to be more understanding. Restaurants only cater for allergies but diets are changing, gut related health issues are increasing and this needs to be noted (if only they knew how difficult it can be, aye!!) I try not to let this aspect affect me as I know it’s not people’s fault they do not understand and I will not let this stop me!
In a way I guess I am blessed to have an understanding of how bad life can be for some people and a painful one too. It has shaped me to be the person I am today and the perspective I now have on life. I am now studying at University in London and I make sure I live my life to the fullest every single day. I am truly grateful to realise that “there is no light at the end of the tunnel, YOU are the light”. Stepping out of my comfort zone after the past few years was the best thing I ever did. I am now training for the Vitality Big Half Marathon London 2019 in March and I will be thinking of each and every sufferer!
I just want to say a massive thank you to my mum who has been my complete rock throughout my whole experience and I would not be where I am today without her. I am so grateful you always kept me going (I know she will be reading this).
What can you do?
Join in our Kranky Panky Weekend fun and fundraise for more pancreatitis research with Guts UK. Check out some of our ideas here!
Or join Team Guts UK for 2019 challenges! We have places, so come on board! If you want to run Vitality Half Marathon, March 10th 2019 or cycle in Prudential Ride London 100 August 4th 2019 register here. Let’s go!