Campaigns and awareness Case studies Rebekah: living with IBS Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome has taken its toll on 26-year-old Rebekah Stevenson. But she’s taking each day as it comes and is determined that it won’t rule her life. Here is her story. “I was about 14 years old when the stomach pains began. I eventually ended up in hospital. They did scans and thought I had polycystic ovary syndrome. I was finally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. “It was a downward spiral from then on. I was always in pain and everything I ate affected me on a daily basis. “It affected my school attendance, along with migraines – I left in 2009 when I was 16 with just four GCSEs because my attendance was less than 60 per cent. “I went to college for three years to study theatrical make-up and special effects, then hairdressing. Then I went to University to study Business. “All that time, it was a rollercoaster in terms of my diet, my weight and my mental health. I know certain triggers for IBS, but not all. I do know I’m stuck with this for life so I have to persevere. I’m hoping that, as I get older, I will learn how to manage it, improve my diet and get better. “Nine times out of ten, I’m in pain in the evenings after a bigger meal. Milk seems to have a bad effect and dairy in general is a bit of a no-go. “When the stomach cramps start, it’s as if I’ve been punched in the stomach and the pain goes right through to my lower back after a long period of time. Sometimes my whole body is affected, I’m physically drained and the stabbing pains in my stomach get more vigorous. “As there’s no cure for IBS, there’s not much that can be done. I usually take a few paracetomol and get out the hot water bottle. It’s exhausting. “My GP has offered me different options of medication for pain relief and put me on a Fodmap diet. I’ve tried various forms of medication but some of them can give you terrible constipation. “Knowing what triggers the IBS is a massive help. I try not to eat meat because it gives me really bad pain. I’m okay with rice, gluten-free pasta and fish – I’ll just get a niggly feeling and that’s it. If I eat something with a lot of saturated fat and oil, like a takeaway, I know I’ll suffer for it later. “I snack on fruit but not in large quantities. On the plus side, I can eat as much sushi as I like – it has no bad effects at all. My partner Simon is very supportive. He’s a chef and cooks food he knows I can eat. But going out to restaurants can be really tricky. “I don’t know how it will affect me when I decide to have children. I imagine pregnancy puts the body under further strain so I need to be able to have control over this sooner rather than later. “There are quite a lot of gut issues in my family – my mum Julie was diagnosed with IBS in her 20s. Now in her 50s and after a correct diagnosis, she has diverticulitis. One of my sisters and my brother also have IBS. My aunt has colitis. At least that means they all understand when I’m not well and understand how painful the symptoms are. “It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced IBS what it’s like. People tend to think it’s about flatulence and spending a lot of time in the loo with constipation or diarrhoea. I used to be embarrassed about it and get stressed – which makes the symptoms worse. But now I’m up front. I cannot help the way my body is and no one should be judged on that. “I try not to look too far into the future – just take each day as it comes. I’m hoping that I’ll find something that works for me and doesn’t make my partner’s life a misery. It’s a struggle but I’ll keep trying and I’m always up for trying new things.” Rebekah kindly shared her story with us for our #IveGotGuts campaign this Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Click here to read more.