Finally a correct diagnosis: Frankie Millard, a journalism and creative writing student at Falmouth University, explains what life is like studying with a chronic illness.

The weather is changeable at this time of the year; freezing cold with the chance of snow one day, to feeling like spring is around the corner the next. Around this time, we typically get coughs and colds and we’re forced to stay inside and rest up. This can be frustrating and stressful, especially when deadlines are looming. There is a lot of fun to be had in the snow and sick days, but it puts us all out of action and normality. It can make us feel like we cannot leave the house safely or get around with comfortable ease. But what if you felt like this all the time?

For those who are chronically ill, life can be a struggle nearly every day. Not just an odd occurrence that happens once and while, like the snow we found ourselves in a few days ago. There are many people who are silently fighting through an illness, which can leave them feeling lost much of the time. While we worry about our work and deadlines, many are also struggling with an illness.

In August last year, Frankie Millard, a student here in Falmouth was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, after years of pain and misdiagnosis. This disease causes inflammation in the lining of your digestive system; symptoms include abdominal pain, severe tiredness, weight loss and diarrhoea. These were issues Frankie had been struggling with since her early teens, however, she had been constantly misdiagnosed by doctors.

“Starting a few years ago, I was having stomach cramps at least 4/5 times a day. I told the GP and she always said I was constipated or it was my hormones due to my age,” Frankie recalls.

“I ended up in hospital back in 2014 for horrendous stomach pains and sickness. They thought that it could be my appendix but it wasn’t. One of the doctors that saw me put it down to hormones and my age once again.

“Fast forward three years, I was admitted to hospital with an abscess in a not so pleasant place and I was very, very unwell. I had been feeling like crap since March time but by the middle of August, my bowels had had enough.

“I was also doing a show in July and spent the Saturday evening performance sat under the stage feeling like I was going to puke and that my insides were going to kill me.”

Frankie found out what was wrong because things had become so bad, it was no longer avoidable. She had to be rushed to the hospital and was in extreme pain. Alongside all this, she was very anaemic, so before she could be looked at, she needed to be put on a drip to get her iron levels up, alongside blood transfusions. After a few days, an MRI and scope, Frankie finally found out she had Crohn’s.

“It had got to the point when I thought I had cancer.”

Frankie has a temporary stoma bag in place to give her large intestine a break.

Due to misdiagnosis from doctors and anxiety around the subject, it had taken much longer to figure out what was wrong. The doctors had told her anxiety caused these problems and she received counselling. While this helped, it wasn’t the root cause of her problems. She feels there is more they could have done for her at the time, adding: “I had dramatic weight loss and looked extremely pale. I also got put on heart medication without having an ECG done because my heart rate was so rapid.”

This is incredibly dangerous, and she should have had the correct treatment and tests. They don’t typically expect a 21 year old to be suffering from Crohn’s, however, there are many people Frankie’s age and younger who have it. While it is a manageable condition, many overlook how serious it is when left untreated. Now, Frankie has a temporary stoma bag in place to give her large intestine a break, as it was very inflamed.

“For now, this is my normal. My stoma has saved my life and I definitely wouldn’t have come as far as I have in this final year without it.”

As a Journalism and Creative Writing student, it’s taken a toll on her work and life. During her final year at university, she’s had to miss seminars, alongside experiencing the side effects of treatment, which make her very tired. If she had dealt with this sooner, she may have never arrived to this point.

“I would say to anyone who is suffering from stomach problems to get checked out by the GP and insist on tests and more tests if you’re not satisfied with their answer. It’s something that I wish that I’d done.”

Those who deal with chronic illnesses have to put their health before all else, otherwise they could die.

Luke Dennis, an illustration student, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few years ago. This massively changed how he lived his life, and created boundaries he hadn’t considered before.

When I met him it was a clear blue skied day, the snow had finally cleared and things had started to get back to normal. He had been keen to get out and kayak, it was a beautiful morning and his friends were going. However, due to the temperature of the water and level of exertion, he couldn’t go. It would be too dangerous, because if he needed to take an injection in the kayak in the middle of the sea, he wouldn’t be able to do it so easily.

“It’s just really frustrating, as I want to get out there but I can’t because it’s not worth the potential repercussions”, said Luke.

In the past week, he has nearly ended up in the hospital with the danger of having diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) twice. When there is a lack of insulin the body can’t produce enough glucose for energy, causing the body to start breaking down other body tissue. In place of this, a poisonous chemical called ketone can build up and if unchecked, will cause the body to become acidic.

“I’ve definitely realised I need to take better care of myself than I have been.”

As Luke is diabetic he needs to diligently take care of himself, but when he is stressed out or ill, he has to double up on his medication and attention to health. He admitted to being quite negligent with keeping on top of checking his blood and ensuring he’s being safe. Alongside deadlines, this can be difficult and last year he was hospitalised.

Luckily the university has given him extenuating circumstances this time and he’s been given more time to focus on both, as his health has been a serious concern.

“It’s not easy, sometimes it can be really hard and most people don’t really understand. I try to take care of myself. I can be a little lacking in this area sometimes, but I make it work.”

If you want to hear more about Frankie, she writes a blog about her journey with Crohns: https://confessionsofabaglady.wordpress.com