LOO ROLLS TO LYCRA:
THE IRONMAN DREAMS OF AN IBD SUFFERER
by Caroline Bramwell
Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd (January 2018)
Paperback: 224 pages
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
There are many cycling books which focus on a long journey in response to life-changing events. In fact, cycling as therapy could almost claim to be a literary genre in its own right.
This is not one of those: cycling features very strongly, but is not the be all and end all; life-changing events there certainly are, but there is no cure for these; for all those who have wanted to get out and about - or know someone who has - with a condition that can be awkward, embarrassing, but is often hidden, then this is for you! In fact, you may well just enjoy reading an honestly told story that informs as it inspires.
In a nutshell, Caroline Bramwell, businesswoman, mother, wife, and bit of a “couch potato” was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. This is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Eventually, Caroline had her large intestine removed and now runs, cycles, swims, just lives, with a stoma bag.
Much of what Caroline has to say will be readily recognised by those with similar conditions. Conditions like this are usually invisible to the general public, but, in Caroline’s words, lead to “an encyclopaedic knowledge of every public toilet, bush or tree to dive behind,” along with an understanding of “numerous extreme dietary regimes.” The difference is that Caroline has been deliberately forthright about her experiences.
Her story, from the desperate difficulties of pre-op life, through taking up a challenge to cycle from London to Paris in 24 hours, learning to swim, taking up running, joining clubs, competing, seeking out trainers, an ever onward, is told with humility, humour, and no shortage of reality. Ever discussed bowel diseases? Most people haven’t, even when they suffer. This book introduces the subject with vigour and creditable straight-forwardness.
Caroline admits to being goal-driven and to liking a challenge; single-minded determination shines through. Yet, she remains a business-woman and a wife, and a mother. the woman who emerges from the story is far from self-obsessed. Equally, she does not shy away from some of the pressures that attain her goals can cause in family relationships, and with friends and trainers.
Along the way from sofa and surgery to Ironman success, there are disappointments and, apparent, disasters. Caroline suffers physically and emotionally, but would say that things never turned out as badly as she feared and learning from experience has made her able to manage her condition (do not get the impression that stoma bag is a total solution). As a writer, Caroline handles all these honestly, with, sometimes delayed, optimism.
Never fear, at the end I did not have that horrible feeling that I was not fit to walk on the same earth. Caroline has gained some media fame - sponsorship - too, but getting to know her through the book, I think she’d encourage anyone who just wanted to go for a walk. Remember, and I’ll admit to having been personally effected by bowel disorders (though I do not suffer from one), it is a condition that keeps many sufferers within a couple of hundred metres of a toilet.
Caroline certainly succeeds in her aim of showing how pushing the boundaries of what you though you were capable of can lead to a new lease of life. “Can’t do” won’t do, for some people; the medical profession mulled things over with wariness; they did not tell Caroline that she should go ahead, but neither did they say she should not. On a personal note, I was charmed to read the debate about whether it was more embarrassing to rush into the bushes or stand in the track trying to divert the attention of passers-by whilst speaking loudly to warn of their approach.
Whilst this is not a self-help guide, the keen trainer will get some tips, as will the IBD sufferer. Lucky folk like myself will get more of an insight into an oft unseen disability. They will all enjoy a “true life” story, that gives encouragement to anyone who want to get back out on the bike, in the water or out and about.