Jen McGregor started running warm in October last year.

Her acne flared up out of nowhere and her periods started to disappear – the app on her phone said she hadn’t had one in eight weeks.

The former West Dunbartonshire citizen of the year winner began feeling bloated and lethargic, sleeping 12-15 hours a day. And she became much more emotional than ever before.

“You have a sense of your body changing,” she recalls. “My mum made a joke about it being a hot flash. But a doctor then confirmed I was in the early stages of the menopause.”

Jen was told she could go through “the change” for between six months and five years.

Aged 26, this is just one aspect of years of medical hurdles she has faced.

Last month, Jen underwent surgery she hoped would radically improve her life by redoing an operation from three years ago that left her living in pain.

A further foot of her small intestine was removed in the recent op, but within hours she had shared a selfie online and let her followers know she was recovering. At first.

For weeks and months, she bared all her hopes and fears of being able to turn her life around with the procedure.

Instead, as the UK marks Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, she now almost wishes she hadn’t bothered with the surgery.

Clydebank Post:

Living with pain

Jen was 11 when the issues started. “I had stomach pain my whole life,” she says. “They thought it might be early puberty.”

About a year later, she developed an eating disorder and lost half of her body weight.

“I found it quite easy not to eat,” she says. “I kept it to myself for a while.”

One night, she went to the toilet and there was blood everywhere – and when her mum, Mary, appeared, she could see Jen’s spine sticking out from her back.

Jen was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – an inflammation of the digestive tract – after she lost 20kg in less than two weeks.

She spent the next two months in hospital.

“I had a low pain tolerance,” says the St Peter the Apostle High alumni. “I just thought everyone cried when they got a sore stomach.

“As soon as I got Crohn’s ... you’re not a kid anymore. After that I spent all my time around adults. I was very old for my age.”

She was treated with low level chemo at 14 and was offered the chance to freeze her eggs. But Jen had only had two or three periods by that point.

Jen wasn’t the only one in her family who faced medical battles. In 2014, her elder brother Duncan started losing weight and was struggling to swallow.

Duncan found out, just before Jen’s birthday, that he had oesophageal cancer.

Duncan passed away at the age of 34, a little over a year after his diagnosis.

Between 2017 and 2018 Jen had surgeries including removing her rectal area, part of her large intestine and correcting wounds that didn’t heal from previous surgeries. She has also needed doctors to refashion her stoma – an artificial opening on her abdomen to allow waste to be removed – after the wound repeatedly ripped open.

Finally, a specialist determined that her last stoma had been put in upside down. Last month, it was corrected.

Clydebank Post:

The body bites back

Jen remembers waking up from that surgery and telling the porters she didn’t need medication for the pain because she was used to it, but they gave her medication anyway.

Jen was joking with the staff but had no idea she had a twist in the small intestine.

A couple of days later she went home to Dalmuir but she couldn’t settle in bed, and her parents helped her down to the couch to sleep.

In the morning, her mum helped Jen back upstairs but she passed out at the top from the pain.

Mary took her daughter to her own bed to keep an eye on her, but by 8.30am Jen was being sick every 10 minutes.

Jen panicked as breathing was becoming a chore. She experienced that before when she had sepsis at the age of 21.

“I don’t want to be dramatic, but I think I need an ambulance because I’m dying,” she told her mum.

After the ambulance arrived, Jen passed out at least five times on the way down the stairs and her eyes were rolling around in her head.

“I was in such a dangerous state I got taken into resuscitation and they worked on me for two hours before they would let my mum in,” Jen said. “I was in kidney failure and septic shock.

“They couldn’t tell me that though because the stress could have caused a heart attack.”

She admits: “I was terrified I’d die and my mum being the only person there.

“But in resuscitation I remember thinking that I could finally relax because they were doing everything for me.”

Clydebank Post:

Love’s embryos

Jen’s boyfriend Stuart, 26, has stayed by her side through everything.

The couple were just months into their relationship when Jen got her first stoma.

“When we met, I was completely independent,” she says. “I didn’t need anyone.

“It was hard at first to realise there was someone who wanted to be there through it all. Stuart and I went through it all together.

“When I had sepsis and it was touch and go, I was getting mum to text him saying I was fine.

“He had to sit me down and say, ‘You’re not in this alone’.”

The couple cancelled holidays. Stuart has held her hand when an IV central line was removed from her neck. He has calmed Jen when her bag leaks in the bed and takes care of everything.

She added: “Before everything had to be black and white and I was cold and distant.

“Mum and dad have said since I met Stuart, it was the old me back.”

By the time Jen started going through the menopause, she was told there were a few embryos left. She might have missed the signs had she not asked a doctor about the constant ache she was feeling.

Jen was found to have the fertility levels of someone in their late 40s.

She had always thought children weren’t a possibility since she declined to have her eggs frozen at 14. Now, it was possible and she really wanted to do it.

“I was really lucky Stuart felt the same way,” says Jen. “We were 23. I was freaking out. ‘Oh, by the way, I want to have our future baby with you and we need to do that now’.

“If I was able to carry a baby, then maybe my body would finally do something it was supposed to.”

Jen jokes it’s sometimes easier to list off what she doesn’t have.

“Everything goes into my folder,” she says. “It’s like a choose your own adventure book – but it’s my medical notes.”

Her surgeries last month and the rush to the hospital left her regretting having her stoma refashioned.

But it will ultimately give Jen her life back, and hopefully help when her embryos are implanted.

“It’s just one of those character building situations I’m sure we’ll talk about in the future as being tough, but worth it.

“If I didn’t have a character after this, I’d be majorly let down,” she laughs.