Megan McNeil, 21, was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis after she experienced symptoms such as passing blood when going to the bathroom
Picture: Belfast Live WS)
A young woman diagnosed with a chronic illness has spoken out about her journey after being reluctant for years to share her health battles with others.
Megan McNeil, a 21-year-old Co Antrim woman, was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis after she experienced symptoms such as passing blood when going to the bathroom.
The 21-year-old from Lisburn said she was also having spells of diarrhea but was too embarrassed to tell her mum, given the nature of the symptoms.
Speaking to Belfast Live Megan opened up about the journey to her diagnosis and how she battled through some challenging moments at a young age.
She said: “When I was 17, I was going to New York and my mum had found blood in the toilet, so I had to tell her what was going on.
Belfast Live WS)
“She got me an appointment with the GP for when we got back, and I was sent for a flexisigmoidoscopy (a camera test).
“I was diagnosed with Proctitis first with only a few cm of inflammation in my bowel, and I was sent on my way with anti-inflammatory medication.
“Over the next three months, I became increasingly worse. I was bleeding uncontrollably and going to the toilet sometimes up to 15-20 times in an hour.
“I was exhausted from being up at the toilet all night. There were times I didn’t even make the toilet. It was soul-destroying at times.
“I had so much fatigue and slept everywhere I could, my mouth was filled with ulcers, and I was in constant pain.”
Megan then noticed she had gone through “drastic” weight loss, which prompted her to return to her GP.
She said: “I was skin and bone. He took one look and told me to go to A&E immediately, and I was taken straight through and started on IV, but I was still getting progressively worse.
Belfast Live WS)
“They had thought it was my appendix, so I was transferred hospitals for surgery.
“When I arrived, they had quickly realized it wasn’t that. I was in A&E, passing out from pain, my blood pressure was plummeting, and I couldn’t stay on my feet to even get to the toilet.
“The next day, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and started on an IV biologic drug that I was going to need every 6-8 weeks alongside and high dose of steroids.
“This whole process took around four months to be diagnosed from my first appointment, which is a lot quicker than others, but I ended up in hospital for a month as they tried to control my symptoms.”
For the next year after this, Megan was in and out of hospital every few months with bad flare-ups of her condition.
The teenager was on a number of biologic drugs to see if she was going into remission, but none of this would settle her illness, leading to a call for emergency surgery when her body began to shut down.
She came out of the surgery with a stoma bag and “a huge amount of shock”.
She added: “I was going to die if I didn’t have that surgery, and my consultant told me he would probably need to do more in the next five years and was giving me a chance to build my body back up and to let I have children as my next surgery was going to reduce my chances of being able to conceive and carry by 50%.
“People think this disease affects only your bowel, but it’s so much more than that.
“Sadly, I only got just over a year before I ended up needing that surgery, I had everything removed, including my rectum, and as it was in the peak of Covid, my mum was only allowed in for one hour a week.
“I was back to being mentally low and afraid. I couldn’t even sit straight, wash, brush or clean myself.
“It was the most mentally challenging thing of my whole journey. As well as now having the fact my chances are being a mum has decreased.”
Megan says it was mentally challenging to come out of such a significant surgery with life-altering effects.
And now, after the obstacles she faces and continues to face today, the young woman is standing up for others who may find themselves in similar situations.
Speaking openly about her medical journey through social media, Megan has modeled for major brands, including Bellamianta and Unaltered.
She said: “When I had surgery, all leaflets and help books were mainly elderly people, and I was an 18-year-old girl relating to none of it at all.
“People see stomas as an end-of-life process when in actual fact, it gave me my life back.
“I want to be the big sister figure for young people going through a similar journey and who may feel like no one understands. Genuinely you don’t get it until you get it.
“Even raising awareness and making the subject now so taboo is crucial as if I knew a bit more about it, I possibly would’ve talked sooner and not have been on the roller coaster I did.
“The response I get from people is so heartwarming it seriously restores your faith in people. I seen on Instagram that Bellamianta were doing a new ‘Real Women’ campaign, so I sent some pictures and was picked to go down for a photoshoot.
“It was the best few days I have ever had. I had my bag out and never felt more comfortable around people and a group full of women like mummies, a girl with alopecia, engineers and of all ages.
“I felt so proud to be stood next to them.
“My body took so much away from me and betrayed me for so many years. I am now ready to take it back and show off exactly what me and thousands of others are going through.”