I returned to school at the start of year 11. Looking back, I never gave myself credit for skipping a year and neither did anyone else for that matter. It just seemed to be “par for the course”. Unsurprisingly, where once I was near the top of the class in maths, I now struggled to keep up with the Pure and Applied maths subjects I had chosen. I simplified my choices by transferring to General Maths and continued with my studies in French, Biology, Chemistry and English.

For my 16th birthday, my parents had given me a puppy. He was the best present imaginable, impossible to top; a little fox terrier cross that I named Pepe and proceeded to train in French.

Having grown up on a farm, I never conceived that Dad would ever allow any of us to own a dog as a pet. Dogs were for working in his view. A friendly pat and a rub here and there were about the limitations of affection these loyal farm dogs ever knew. I realised right from the start that my adorable little puppy needed to be well trained, polite and obedient in order to be loved by the entire family

At six months of age our feisty guard dog chased three hopeful chicken hunters out of our yard and into the street. A passing car hit him and left Pepe broken and unable to move past the nature strip. We rushed him to the vet and were informed that he had a broken pelvis. As devastating as this was, it probably helped him to become the well trained pet that he came to be. The vet recommended that rather than splints or plaster, he should be confined to his kennel and only carried out to go to the toilet. I would always take him to especially secluded spots in the garden where his toileting would go unnoticed and within 6 weeks, he was up on all fours and running around like a maniac. Always after that time, Pepe would go on command if we went on a road trip and he was so “private”, we never had to clean messes off the lawn.

I trained Pep to sit at the curb before we crossed a street and it wasn’t long before I could walk him off his leash without concern. If he ran too far ahead I would call, “Viens ici immediatement!” and he would come running to my side. At the curb, the simple command of “assis”, would have him sitting if he wasn’t already and “Vas y” would let him know when it was safe to cross. In our neighbourhood, he was quite the superstar and even the post office up the road had special treats for his visits.

It was Mum, of course, who had cajoled Dad into agreeing to buy a dog in the first place. Her clever scheme of asking him to chose Pepe from the writhing litter of pups at the Croyden market ensured Dad had some emotional investment in my little friend from the start.

I was, however, suprised one morning to find that when I came downstairs to find the fire flickering in the hearth, the porridge bubbling on the stove and my little black and white dynamo playing fetch in the back garden with my Father. This became the morning ritual for Dad and Pepe, who had forever wormed his way into my Father’s heart.

When I returned to school in year 11, my braces had been removed, and I guess I could say I was a pretty and slim girl. I never thought that about myself then, but the new Greek boy George certainly did. Yioryos became my first ‘real’ boyfriend and we were together for the majority of my senior school years.

About 6 months into year 12, I became inexplicably ill; inexplicable to me anyway. Unaware that I had developed Ulcerative Colitis, I tried cope with the pain and loss of blood on my own, as due to the nature of the symptoms, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. My year 12 exams were completed in agony, with the pain of the build up of blood in my bowel washing periodically over me with sickening regularity. I did well enough to get through, and to get into the Science Degree at Melbourne University I aspired to, but I’m sure I could have excelled had I given myself the chance.

It wasn’t until the next Easter, that I was forced to tell my parents I was unwell, as I couldn’t get out of bed due to the debilitating pain. Even then, I couldn’t bring myself to tell my Mother that I had been ill with this for close to a year. Not understanding my real situation, and having already organised and packed the car for a camping trip with friends, we all set off to our favourite Easter spot next to a picturesque river at the back of a friends’ farm.  Easter eggs were hidden in the forks of ghostly gum trees and behind clumps of bracken. Songs were sung around the campfire and several beautiful walks were taken along the meandering, boulder strewn river. I generally loved these camping trips, but on this one I was quieter than usual and lacking in energy.

My parents were probably surprised that I didn’t recover on our return home. After several tests and excruciatingly embarrassing examinations, we were told I had Ulcerative Colitis. A steroid and sulphur/asprin based tablets were prescribed and apart from my low iron level, I was better within weeks. I wish I’d known it was that simple.

“Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. People with this condition have problems with the immune system, but it is not clear whether immune problems cause this illness. Although stress and certain foods can trigger symptoms, they do not cause ulcerative colitis.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001296/

I have always believed that the severity of my Glandular Fever weakened my immune system and was the primary cause of this disease. I have been lucky to only suffer a handful of bouts since, which have easily been treated with cortisone and Salazerpyron.

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