Billie Anderson was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis during her second year of university. This is her student success story in her own words...
University is both very exciting and extremely daunting; to move away from home to a city you’re not usually familiar with and throw an illness in there can make it even more scary!
Five months into my second year of university I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. At that time, I was stubborn and scared so I chose to keep it as quiet as possible. But looking back my advice would be, if you feel brave enough, talk to your university.
I didn’t tell my university about my Colitis until I needed surgery and with the support they gave me, I wish I had told them sooner. Telling the university gave them the opportunity to offer help in any way they can.
You're not alone
I chose to register at a doctors surgery in my university city and be referred to the closest hospital. This meant I could receive treatment or go to appointments without a three hour trip home.
By localising my medical team, it gave me the peace of mind that if I was in need of immediate medical attention, I was 10 minutes down the road from doctors and nurses who knew and understood me.
After a conversation with the university doctors surgery, I found out they were looking after a lot of students who had either Crohn’s or Colitis; so it isn’t abnormal and there might be a support network in place if you do let them know.
After telling my university about my surgery, my stoma and my Colitis, I met with a disability support officer to go through how the university could support me in my studies.
I had special dispensation when it came to my attendance in case I was feeling fatigued or needed a last minute doctors appointment. I was allowed to slip away should I need to check on my bag, and upon telling my lecturers about my condition and details of my surgery, they were involved to assist me should I need it.
By being open, lecturers didn’t think I was skiving off or just hungover like everyone else. There’s the possibility your chosen university will give you an ensuite room in halls or more accessibility options to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.
Even though I didn’t partake in exams, the university had a way of helping their students by allowing them to take their exam in a room near the toilet and ensuring that toilet trips don’t infringe on the time of the exam; sometimes they even give extra time.
I moved out of halls in my second year and was living in a studio flat on my own. I’m a very private person and I love my own space, so living on my own allowed me to have my stoma supplies in the bathroom without infringing on anyone else's space.
If I got a bag leak, I wasn’t at the liberty of a house full of people and didn’t have to wait in line to sort it out. Living on my own allowed me to take as much time as needed in the bathroom and I found it to be much more relaxing.
I would recommend looking into studio flats or a room with an ensuite, to allow for privacy when you need it most. This way of living didn’t take the student life or socialising away, it actually made me more sociable but more importantly more relaxed.
University is known for the partying; sure studying is important but the social life at uni was one of the most important things for me.
I was going to be in this new city for a minimum of three years and I wanted to enjoy myself. I’m not a big drinker and I’m usually the one who looks after everyone else or goes home before midnight.
Clubbing with Crohn’s, Colitis or a stoma can be a daunting prospect; the club toilets aren’t renowned for their cleanliness and there is usually a mile long queue. I was given a radar key to access all the accessible toilets around the UK and this applies for the toilets in clubs too; they’re normally cleaner and there isn’t always a queue.
If you’re really worried about bathroom access you can always ask a member of staff or check it out before you go. I was allowed to use the staff toilets in a Tiger Tiger once, so it is absolutely worth asking!
If you have a stoma, I would also suggest taking a stoma survival kit with you. I always packed extra bag stuff and toilet roll, because if there's one thing a club doesn’t stock it’s toilet roll!
Final words of wisdom: Plan!
The one piece of advice I can give is to be organised to reduce as much anxiety as possible. You’re at university to have fun and for me it really was the best few years!
Being organised meant I could work my Colitis and my stoma around my studies and university life. Even though it wasn’t always a perfect relationship, it helped to give me the chance to enjoy it.
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