My musical theatre training was disrupted by Crohn’s

25 September 2021

Lucy is currently in her second year of training for a career as a performer, but it started off looking uncertain due to a sudden Crohn's diagnosis.

She tells us how it felt to miss vital parts of her education, how she caught up, and how Amy Dowden inspires her to carry on.

In September of 2020, I moved to Chichester after gaining a place at one of the top Conservatoires in the UK to train in Musical Theatre. 

Living with Crohn's

I think Musical Theatre is one of the most intense, physical, and high stress courses you can do but at that point I felt pretty healthy and excited to start training for a performance career. I knew it would take a lot of dedication both physically and mentally, and has extremely long days.

It would also be very important for me to look after my body. As a performer, you have to eat well and keep up your stamina but after a few weeks I started to lose weight drastically. I was feeling sick and struggling with tiredness and extreme abdominal pain.

I had so many long days of exercise I presumed it was just taking its toll on my body.

In the months coming up to Christmas, things worsened. I started going to the toilet upwards of fifty times a day and noticed blood in my stool. I couldn't eat at all because it caused so much stomach pain.

I really didn't want to miss out on my course so I kept going and didn't tell anyone. Then, I was in so much pain I couldn't sleep, was falling over in dance classes because I couldn't see properly and started to throw up after every class. This lasted three months before I came home for the Christmas holidays.

Immediately my family knew something was wrong because I looked extremely pale and thin.

I lost four stone over three weeks of December and the blood in my stool became so bad that I cried every single time. I still hadn’t told anyone because I was too scared, and I didn't want to ruin Christmas for anyone.

On Christmas Day, I got so sick that I was rushed into hospital and told that my organs were failing. I had severe malnourishment, dehydration, and anaemia. I underwent countless tests within 24 hours because the doctors were extremely worried about my inflammation levels.

Within 48 hours of going into hospital I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease.

I was immediately started on steroids and adalimumab and spent the rest of the week in hospital on a drip. After returning home, we found that I was non-responsive to adalimumab but, eventually, ustekinumab helped me work my way out of an eight-month long flare up.

This flare up was so bad that I had to miss my second and third term of training. This was partly because of shielding during the coronavirus pandemic and partly because I was just too ill to return.

I found it extremely difficult because I felt like I was getting left behind.

I lost all my muscle mass, and my fitness was ruined. I struggled seeing all my friends online doing their big show without me. At this point, it was more of an emotional struggle than a physical one. Most of my course mates were extremely supportive, sending me cards in hospital and constantly checking up on me. My boyfriend, Tom, called me every day to cheer me up and he and my mum registered as my carers. They help me massively.

Being diagnosed has brought me closer with my family as it made us realise what is important in life.

I have noticed that friends change the way they talk to me, as though they're treading on eggshells. I’ve also lost a lot of friends who don’t like that I share my story on the internet but have gained so many who are supportive and amazing!

The conservatoire and teachers were so kind and understanding by putting lots of lessons online to help me stay up to date. However, to progress to second year I would have to do all of the assessments and shows I had missed in a matter of weeks over the summer. This was a massive shock to me and put a lot of strain on my body, but I managed to do it! I was so extremely proud of myself as it gave me that drive and motivation to start back in second year better than ever.

I’ve found the hardest part of musical theatre training with Crohn’s is fatigue.

I need to have a lot of energy all of the time in my lessons so that becomes quite the problem. I find that making sure my teachers understand my situation really helps, so if I need to sit down I can just do it because we all know that my health comes first.

There may be people who judge and think we're lazy because they don't understand chronic fatigue but that doesn't matter because you know your body and that's all that matters. Each day I am getting my strength and happiness back and am now preparing to start my second year training in September.

My biggest inspiration for carrying on with my career after being diagnosed is Amy Dowden. Her documentary, Strictly Amy: Crohn’s and me, proved to me that Crohns doesn't determine my life, I do. I should keep doing what I love.

If I have the strength to get through a Crohn’s diagnosis at eighteen then I can have my dream career easily!

Being diagnosed with Crohns has been the most challenging thing of my life but I found comfort in raising awareness and helping others too.

I raised over £3,250 for Crohn’s & Colitis UK in June and I run a blog and Instagram which I use to spread positivity and awareness. It has really helped me to cope with all the changes in my life and makes me see the positives in such a difficult situation. 

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