The inspirational Chorley group fighting the Crohn's & Colitis stigma
An inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition, Crohn's disease affects around one in every 650 people in the UK. Despite that fact, there is still a pervasive and damaging stigma attached to the chronic condition - a stigma Victoria Danson is on a mission to eradicate.
Victoria, 30, has lived with Crohn's for over a decade and set up Crohn's & Colitis Support Lancashire in April 2017 to help support others in a similar position by bringing people living with IBD together. Having undergone an operation five years ago to have 18 inches of her small bowel removed, Victoria also lives with a stoma bag, and was spurred on to kick-start the formation of a community support network.
"When I had surgery, I found there was no support emotionally; the hospital were brilliant but when you're discharged, you're on your own," said Victoria, from Clayton-le-Woods. "So I created the group to make sure people don't feel isolated.
"It's been a fantastic journey," she added. "From that very first meeting when I had no idea how may people would turn up, to watching the group grow and constantly networking and finding people who want to help... I love it. We're like a family."
The owner of her own hairdressing business and mother to four-year-old Louie, Victoria is surely prime contender for the title of Busiest Person in the North West. But, as the kind of person who gets calls from nurses asking if she can chat with patients who have had a stoma to offer them advice, she says her altruism keeps her upbeat.
"It keeps me positive, knowing I'm helping others," Victoria explained. "Anything I can do to support people, to make them feel just a bit better, that means a lot. Hearing the relief in their voice when they tell me what they're going through... you can't put a price on that. From a mental health angle, that's invaluable."
And that mental health angle is crucial.
"The group is a chance to meet others and learn about living with Crohn's and Colitis; we don't really have an agenda - people can come and talk about whatever they want," said Victoria. "But we also have guest speakers. Recently we had Mind, the mental health charity, come in and that was so eye-opening.
"Mental health is really affected in people living with long-term chronic conditions: life's stressful as it is without living with a health condition," she added. "But you really see a difference in people. It's good to share your experience and it really helps to talk - I love hearing people's stories, and there are so many strong people out there."
There certainly are: multiple Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 1991. The magician Dynamo was diagnosed with Crohn's as a teenager. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, also lived with the disease, forcing him to give up smoking and change his indulgent diet. He still enjoyed his G&Ts, however.
With a strong core of around 20 to 30 members who come to every session, Crohn's & Colitis Support Lancashire meets on the last Tuesday of every month from 7:15pm to 8:30pm at Buckshaw Village Community Centre.
Paying tribute to the group's 'crucial' trustees - her mother Sandra Mollart, Jen Creeney, and Finbarr Creeney - as well as her father Kim Sewell, the group's sponsor Goldcare, and Joseph Marston, who helps her raise awareness, Victoria said that she couldn't have done what she's done on her own.
"There are communities out there for people, there's nothing to be ashamed of," she said. "Everyone should be proud of what they've been through."