Julia was forging a career as an architect when a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis changed her life.

“I’d spent five years studying architecture and design at London South Bank University and was preparing to start my own architecture business when the symptoms began.

“I felt very tired. I suffered diarrhoea and bleeding. But my GP said it was nothing – it would go away.

“I’d been working very hard and was quite stressed, so I believed him. But he was wrong. Like many people with ulcerative colitis, I was misdiagnosed, and I count myself lucky that I’m still alive, considering what happened next.

“I’d decided to go to India for three months and, when the doctor told me I had nothing to worry about, I went ahead and flew to Mumbai.

But when I got there, my symptoms got much worse. I was overwhelmingly tired. I had a high temperature, I couldn’t eat properly and was constantly going to the toilet. I had bloody diarrhoea and a lot of pain. I lost nine kilos in three weeks.

“After a month in India, I ended up in hospital in Pune, where they gave me very good care.

“I rang my sister Lenka in London and she arranged to get me on the first plane back home.

“That eight-hour flight was the longest eight hours of my life. I was in great pain and stuffed myself with pain killers – I knew I had to hang on and survive.

Julia had to rely on painkillers to keep her going

“Although I didn’t know it at the time, my bowel had ruptured in several places.

“My sister took me straight from Heathrow to the Royal Free Hospital in London where they discovered I had a ruptured bowel, severe colitis and inflammation of the bowel.

“The doctors said that if I’d arrived a few hours later, it would have been too late. They carried out an emergency operation and saved my life.

After four days in intensive care and three weeks in hospital, I was finally diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

“I hadn’t a clue what it was. It was good to have a diagnosis after so many months, but it was scary. Was this the beginning of something, or the end? Was I going to die? I lost nine kilos in three weeks.

“I started to Google lots of articles – it was very depressing. I thought my life was over, and I switched off the computer.

“Then I thought: ‘This cannot be. If this illness is going to kill me, why am I still here?’

“Whilst I was in the Royal Free Hospital, I was given a brochure about ulcerative colitis and my sister helped me to find a local support group. I realised that there are lots of other people like me – and that I could live.

I made a plan – to take one day at a time, and to make every day happen.

“I realised that getting a job in architecture would no longer be possible, at least not yet – who would give me a job when I might be ill for three months at a time?

“Working for myself was the way forward. So I’ve launched a new career as a Jumping Fitness instructor. There is less pressure and I set my own agenda.

Julia Balazova Ulcerative Colitis sufferer and Jumping Fitness instructor

“The exercise also gives very positive feelings. It creates something that will inspire other people like me who have been ill. It releases endorphins that make you happy.

“It gives me the motivation to get up in the morning and not to feel sorry for myself.

Living with ulcerative colitis has put things in perspective.

“I may go back to architecture one day, but I’m still learning to live with ulcerative colitis. There is no cure, and everyone is different, so I have to discover what my body needs to keep an inflammation at bay.

“So far I know that good food, a steady routine, lots of sleep, no alcohol and no stress are important. There are also drugs which can help. I have to look after the inside and the outside.

“I go to a support group for people with Crohn’s and colitis. We swap tips and laugh together – that’s important. We also fundraise. And I’ve become one of the co-ordinators for the East London Group of CCUK.

A lot of people come to us thinking they are the only ones with this illness. But there are 120,000 people with ulcerative colitis in the UK and a lot of them are young.

“I have learned that you can’t plan anything in life. Something like ulcerative colitis can strike at any time and when you least expect it.

“But I don’t want to be perceived as an ill person. I don’t want to give in, and I’m not ready to give up.

“I’d like to raise awareness so that doctors get better at diagnosis, and I’d like others like me know that it’s not the end – it’s a new beginning. And we will survive.”

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