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Learning to live life after surgery for ulcerative colitis

Roger LlewellynRoger Llewellyn thought his days as an active sportsman were numbered when his large-intestine was removed to treat his ulcerative colitis. Five years on from his surgery, Roger describes how a few stumbling steps led to a triathlon, a treetop adventure and a tandem skydive.

After trying various drugs and treatments for his ulcerative colitis, Roger was referred to Professor David Jayne, Clinical Director for the Leeds Colorectal Therapies HTC and Professor of Surgery at the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, who conducted surgery to remove his large intestine.

The reality of life after surgery was difficult, with a challenging period of adjustment. “After my operation, for a time I just stopped,” says Roger. “There were a lot of things I wanted to do in my life, but I thought I couldn’t.”

Things changed when Roger’s brother-in-law mentioned completing a triathlon in late 2016. Excited by the idea, Roger entered the Blenheim Triathlon – but training proved tough.

“I hadn’t done any sport in over five years, and I had very little strength.” Roger says, describing his first attempt at jogging after taking part in a 5km Park Run. “I started running, but after 100 metres I had to stop and walk.” He wasn’t deterred, and went on to complete the course in a creditable time.

Inspired, that first run was the start of an intense period of training, with Roger swimming and jogging three times a week and fitting in a cycle ride whenever possible. In June he completed the Blenheim Triathlon, swimming 750m swim, cycling 20km and running 5.6km. He enjoyed it so much, he completed the Leeds Triathlon a week later. The physical challenge was hard, but it has helped in other ways too. “It got me out of a mental hole,”  he says.

Since completing the triathlon Roger has run through the tree tops at an adventure park and completed a tandem skydive, leaping from a plane at 15,000 feet.

A supportive family mean Roger hasn’t had to face the condition alone – and there are many more adventures to come, with Roger and his partner planning a trip to the Arctic Circle. “You have to be brave to do things, but you also need to be practical and plan ahead,” he says.

When asked what message he would give to anyone concerned about living with ulcerative colitis or worried about surgery, Roger is upbeat: “It can be a difficult and painful condition to live with, but it doesn’t have to define you. It should never stop you doing the things you want to.”