By Josh Saunders
A model is speaking out after people have confused her invisible illness for ‘stomach pains’ during her race against time to fulfil her dreams before she’s sick again.
Bex Hodgkiss, 25, from Fulham, London, has been incapacitated for months at a time during her battle with Crohn’s disease and had 30 inches of intestines removed.
She was diagnosed with the inflammatory bowel disease at the age of eight but remained relatively symptom-free for five-years until she had to be rushed to hospital.
Left in agonising pain, unable to walk more than a few steps, incapable eating or keeping food down, she needed four hours of surgery to remove parts of her heavily ulcerated bowel.
She underwent a four-month recovery and since then suffered regular painful flare-ups, until needing a further 30cm of her bowel removed last year.
Since recovering from surgery, she’s moved to the capital to pursue her dreams of acting and modelling, trying to make the most her time before the disease incapacitates her again.
When talking to others about her lifelong condition, they often confuse it for ‘stomach pains’ or a ‘stomach bug’ not taking it seriously and offer naïve ‘cures’.
Bex said: “It’s annoying because you don’t know when it will hit, I don’t know how long I will be well for, so I moved to London to make the most of the time while I can.
“What I have is an invisible illness, people wouldn’t know by looking at me that I’m ill and would never be able to guess what’s going on behind closed doors.
“There’s a stigma to it, people think of it as just stomach pains or a stomach bug, but I’ve had a range of symptoms from shingles to problems with my legs, eyes and more, it affects everything.
“Normally when I talk about my bowel issues they say ‘Oh, I’ve had that tummy bug, drink Aloe Vera’ because they don’t understand the severity of my condition.
“It’s classed as an autoimmune disease because the good cells attack themselves thinking it has foreign agents in the body.
“When the good cells attack themselves, they cause ulcers throughout the digestive system and intestinal walls, which then inflame and swell up.
“Because it inflames the digestive system, it can affect other places in the body, I’ve had back pain which is being tested for osteoporosis, shingles and swelling of my legs called erythema nodosum, tonsillitis, immune system and it affects everything else.
“Usually if I have a small blip, it will last between one to two months, if not it takes a lot longer and ultimately could require more surgery.
“The main thing is the exhaustion and pain, it’s on and off all throughout the day and night, you never get a decent night’s sleep so you’re always tired.
“Although you can see I look better I still have bad days and those scars are still there, I have health issues going on all the time, it’s like there are two versions of me.
“It’s a completely different lifestyle altogether, when I’m in remission I don’t experience as much pain but it’s still always there waiting to get worse.”
Bex had surgery for a second-time last year after she started to notice the symptoms associated with an ulceration while travelling abroad in Australia.
It began with her losing her appetite, having low energy levels and then crippling pain that turned into vomiting whenever she ate, leading her to lose two stone (28lb).
She said: “I got ill very quickly. I was visiting my brother in Australia and suddenly something triggered, I wasn’t eating anything basically.
“It’s like a twisting feeling, as if someone is grabbing your insides and twisting it all up, and they just keep on going and going.
“It had probably been going on since October, doctors tried every other option before booking me in for surgery.
“I had a lot less removed for my second surgery, when they took out 30cm of bowel and re-stitched it back together.”
Bex believes her problems can be exacerbated by stress, with difficult incidences occurring around the same time that she was taken into hospital.
Now she self-medicates, only going into hospital once every eight weeks to be hooked up to an infusion drip and is comfortable enough to share her experiences with others.
Crohn’s affects around 115,000 people in the UK and one in three people suffer with an inflammatory bowel disease, suffering a variety of symptoms.
Bex said: “It’s becoming a lot more common so it’s good that people are talking about it, whenever I talk about my battle with others they know someone who has had it too.
“When I was younger people take you less seriously but now I’m older and more open about it, I have to give myself injections and don’t just have stomach pain.
“I took photographs to show a good comparison, the first was after I contracted an infection following surgery and the next I look better but the scar is still there.
“I like my scars and feel like it’s a good thing, it’s a reminder of all I have been through at my worst and that I’ve carried on.”
To read more of her experiences visit: www.almost-famous.org/blog/