Ask Aneica Duffy if she considers herself lucky, and it doesn’t take her long to answer.
“Yes, I do,” says the 20-year-old from Foreglen. “I do consider myself lucky because I got a second chance in life, which most people don’t get.”
Aneica’s battle with her health started three years ago in February 2011. She was studying for her GCSEs when she was hit with severe pain and chronic tiredness.
“I couldn’t do anything and it was just awful,” said Aneica, “but I thought there was no point in complaining.
“I just tried to get on with things. People kept asking ‘are you okay?’ and I’d say ‘I’m grand’.”
Six months on, after a series of tests, Aneica was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a long term condition, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.
“It was six months of not knowing and wondering what was wrong with me,” she said.
While Aneica was relieved to know what it was that was wrong with her, the diagnosis brought its own problems.
“I tried every kind of medication, but the side effects were terrible and it really got me down,” she said.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t do anything and I missed out on so much,” said Aneica. “All my friends were going to university and I was at home. I just stopped doing everything and I didn’t have a life. I thought I wasn’t normal.”
I do consider myself lucky because I got a second chance in life, which most people don’t getAneica Duffy
Three years on from her diagnosis and Aneica made a major decision.
“Those three years were torture,” she said. “I had tried all the medication and, I suppose, as a last resort the doctors thought it was the best thing for me, so, I had surgery to remove my entire colon. At that point life couldn’t have been any worse. I knew what was ahead of me. It was about my quality of life. ”
Aneica researched the implications of the surgery and armed herself with as much knowledge about what life would be like post surgery.
Speaking openly about having an ileostomy bag, Aneica said since the eight-hour operation in September 2014 she has her life back.
“It hasn’t held me back,” she said. “I feel brilliant, absolutely brilliant.”
Seven months on from the operation and Aneica is training to run a leg of the Belfast marathon relay for which she is fundraising for Let’s Talk Crohn’s & Colitis Northern Ireland. She said the main aim is to raise awareness about the illness .
“It can affect anyone, but it’s invisible to a lot of people. People would say to me, ‘you look great’, but my insides were telling me something else,” said Aneica.
“It definitely is debilitating and I would urge people try and understand what it is and how it affects people. It’s not their fault they don’t understand what it is, which is why we have to raise awarreness about it and the challenges we face. We have to do our bit.”
Aneica is also back at camogie playing full back for Banagher, and she is over the moon at being asked to play camogie with the Derry senior team.
She credits amazing support from teachers at St. Pat’s Maghera, her family, friends and all the medical staff who have helped her. She also has a huge ‘thank you’ for Roe Pharmacy in Dungiven.
“If it wasn’t for all the help and support I have had from teachers, all the medical staff, family and friends I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Aneica.
A keen sportswomen, Aneica is thrilled to be back on the pitch and credits Dungiven personal trainer, Brian Kealey of 1-2-1 Fitness for getting her strength back.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be playing camogie,” said Aneica.
Looking ahead, Aneica is preparing for student life and getting back to the books.
In September, she will take up her place with other aspiring teachers at Stramillis College in Belfast to study health and leisure studies.
Aneica turns 21 in September, a year on from her life changing surgery.
She said she is planning to have a big party, and few will disagree she deserves it.
In the meantime, she is looking forward to crossing the finish line on May 4 in Belfast, and catching up on all the things she missed out on last summer.
Aneica has raised £350 so far for Let’s Talk Crohn’s & Colitis Northern Ireland .
To donate to Aneica go to www.justgiving.com/c-duffy
For information about Let’s Talk Crohn’s & Colitis Northern Ireland go to http://www.ltccni.co.uk/