‘I fought Crohn’s for 20 years’
interview by AMANDA WARD, Daily Mail
Carrie Grant, 38, is a vocal coach with BBC1’s talent show Fame Academy.
She is married to David Grant, 47, who is also a singing coach on the show, and the couple have two children, Olivia, eight, and Talia, one.
They live in London. Here, Carrie talks about her 20-year battle with Crohn’s disease.
When television viewers saw me coaching and judging stars including Ruby Wax and Ulrika Jonsson on this year’s Celebrity Fame Academy, little did they know that my smiles masked my agony.
I suffer from a potentially life-threatening bowel condition called Crohn’s disease, and have had it for 20 years. It affects about 40,000 people in Britain and is incurable, causing inflammation, ulcers and scarring.
The main symptoms are bowel pain, diarrhoea, tiredness and weight loss. It can affect anywhere from the mouth to your bottom, and it’s often associated with other inflammatory conditions affecting the joints, skin and eyes.
Some sufferers have only occasional flare-ups and can go for months without symptoms. I’m not so lucky. I suffer from stomach ache constantly and from daily diarrhoea.
I normally manage on strong painkillers and a special diet, cutting out foods to which I’m intolerant. But when it gets really bad, I have to stop eating and revert to a special hospital-prescribed liquid vitamin and mineral regime for weeks at a time, before going in for surgery to stabilise the condition.
I’ve already had surgery to remove part of my damaged bowel. I also have regular three-monthly operations called colonoscopies – where surgeons inflate damaged narrow sections of my bowel to make it temporarily wider for food to flow through – keeping the disease under control.
But I try to be positive and refuse to let Crohn’s affect my personal and professional life.
I started feeling unwell in November 1983, when I was 18. Until then, I’d always been extremely fit and healthy.
I didn’t drink or smoke, and I was also a vegetarian then. So I was puzzled and worried when I started getting diarrhoea and losing blood. I went to my GP, who told me that it may be because work was making me stressed or nervous.
Blood tests didn’t reveal anything, but the symptoms persisted daily for the next two years. By this time, I was also getting skin rashes around my waist and back, lumps down my shinbones, and mouth ulcers.
It sounds strange, but I ignored it. Perhaps I was in denial, but I had been to various doctors and they’d all reassured me. I was told I had a low immune system and was prescribed antibiotics.
Another doctor said I had a hiatus hernia and to drink more milk – which I now know is one of the worst things you can do because some Crohn’s sufferers, myself included, have a dairy intolerance.
Then, one day when I was due to go to hospital for some test results, I saw an item on TV about Crohn’s disease – and I knew it was what I had. When the consultant confirmed it, I just felt relief. I’d been frightened it was cancer.
From a leaflet they gave me, I learned that the condition could be managed by a combination of diet and either steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs, but that some people may need surgery.
I was devastated. I thought my life and career were over.
Luckily, I met David, who is now my husband, around that time in 1986. He was so supportive when I had to have unpleasant tests and barium enemas, which I found demeaning and painful.
Tests showed that I had damage throughout my large and small bowel. The Crohn’s had left certain sections or ‘strictures’ withered, leaving me unable to absorb food through the bowel lining and causing the diarrhoea and pain.
I opted for taking daily antiinflammatory drugs. I didn’t want to take steroids because I was worried that they’d cause osteoporosis.
After more tests, a consultant told me my bowel was in a terrible state and that I’d need to stay in hospital for two weeks and drink a special liquid diet to give it a rest. They were then going to put me on a food elimination diet at home.
Over the next few months, I found that I was intolerant to milk and dairy products, pineapple, nuts, lamb and caffeine. I was very upset to find I’d have to give up chocolate and cakes. Luckily, though, I’m not wheat intolerant, like some Crohn’s sufferers.
But my bowel was so damaged that in May 1989 I had to have bowel surgery. I was in there for two months, the darkest time of my life.
I had to have eight inches of my large bowel removed. They found that I had three sections in my bowel of about three inches each that were withered. A normal person’s bowel is an inch wide to let food through: mine was less than a quarter of that, which is why I was getting so much pain.
They told me I’d need colonoscopies every three months to try to alleviate the problem. I took three months off work but then decided to get straight back into it. I was determined not to let the disease get me down.
But in January of 1999, just after a colonoscopy, part of my bowel split. I started passing what seemed like pints of blood and then passed out. I was rushed to the nearest hospital and had to have an emergency blood transfusion.
Luckily my bowel repaired itself and I became determined not to let Crohn’s disease ruin my life. David and I went on to become vocal coaches for groups including Take That, the Spice Girls and Atomic Kitten.
My Crohn’s improved with each pregnancy, but no one knows why. Perhaps it’s something to do with increased oestrogen levels.
I’ve since managed my Crohn’s by diet and painkillers. I still have colonoscopies and, when I’m in really bad pain, revert to my liquid diet for weeks on end.
Unfortunately, a bad attack coincided with this year’s Celebrity Fame Academy. As soon as I felt the stomach pains, I knew I had to go back to drinking four pints of my vitamin drink every day. It’s vile tasting.
It makes me smile when everyone is making such a fuss of magician David Blaine and his not eating for 44 days. At the time of Celebrity Fame Academy, I didn’t eat for 90 days.
It is hard – especially on family and social life. I find it difficult sometimes watching David eat and have to go out of the room. It’s also miserable, when I’m on the liquid diet, going out with friends for dinner and having to sit there with a glass of water, just smelling their food.
Having Crohn’s has made me a more thoughtful and considerate person – and I am grateful for every day when I’m not in too much pain.
The National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease information line is 0845 130 2233, or visit www.nacc.org.uk.
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