Have you thought about joining a local exercise or sport class, but feel held back by a long-term health condition, your age, or perhaps you’re anxious about meeting new people?
Local woman Gwennie Froment has achieved a great deal since the start of the pandemic, but particularly after a double diagnosis in 2021.
Gwennie, who has been struggling for some time with relentless bowel problems, approached her GP in August 2021, who first advised her to stick to a lactose free and gluten free diet to see if her eating choices could be the root of the issue, but to no avail. After examinations and routine bloods were taken, Gwennie was called into the Birch Ward at Derriford Hospital, where she was told she had Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML), a rare slow-growing illness that affects around 750 people each year. To control the condition, she takes one tablet each day, along with iron tablets.
However, the diagnosis and treatment still didn’t solve her mystery bowel condition, which had a grip on Gwennie’s life. In October the same year, she was referred for an urgent gastroscopy and colonoscopy, to which they discovered another long-term condition - Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease that falls under IBD-related conditions. The colitis is much harder to treat, meaning she goes to hospital for monthly biologic infusions.
With two diagnoses in the space of a few months, Gwennie was left feeling a little helpless: “I felt totally lost and not understanding what Ulcerative Colitis was. I did a bit of research on Derriford Hospital, and found they had a group of nurses there that offer support for my condition, and they have been absolutely brilliant. I have nothing but praise for both teams that are looking after me.”
But Gwennie admits that it’s been a rough couple of years, with two new illnesses to contend with.
“It was a year of shock to start with,” she said. “The more I read up on Ulcerative Colitis, I began to realise these conditions are quite common. I want people to know that it’s not nice and can be embarrassing, but if you get the right help and support you can get through it. There’s good days and bad days.”
For her colitis, and like many with IBD conditions, Gwennie is entitled to use disabled toilets and also carries a ‘RADAR’ key with her in case she needs to use public toilets when out and about, as well as an ‘urgent’ card to use in shops and businesses. Gwennie wants all of us to remember that not all disabilities are visible, and for local businesses and shops to be aware of these cards.
One thing that keeps Gwennie going is her love for Zumba, teaching classes in Lawhitton and Milton Abbot three times a week.
Gwennie became a Zumba instructor two months before her first diagnosis and had previously attended classes for a couple of years prior to that, before being encouraged to take up teaching. She often fundraises for Leukaemia UK and Crohns and Colitis UK, where class members can drop some change into buckets and purchase some treats from Gwennie.
“I kept going and haven’t cancelled any classes,” she told Launceston Life. “I hold classes three times a week and I put my Zumba clothes on - which is a bit like a uniform - and I’m as colourful as I can be. It really lifts my spirits, and I’ve been teaching for 18 months now.”
Despite her conditions, which for so long had such a hold on her life, Gwennie finds comfort in Zumba, and encourages everyone to take up a form of exercise or activity that they genuinely enjoy, to help escape the difficulties that life can bring - from chronic illnesses to work stress and anxiety.
“It’s a lifesaver,” she said. “I understand I am very lucky; there are people out there suffering a lot more than me, meaning they cannot leave the house or get out of bed. However, for those who can get out and about, I think it’s important to find something that you enjoy. I’m 70 years old, and Zumba has helped me to meet people, keep active and feel more confident.
“I think you’ve got to find something you enjoy, and for me that’s Zumba. For others that may be the gym, running or pilates.”
In addition to exercise, many groups can offer a social life, introducing you to new people and opening up new friendships.
Many activities welcome people of all ages too, and cater to all fitness abilities. Gwennie’s Zumba classes have an age range between late 20s and late 60s, but even her 92-year-old mum Pam joins in when she can! Sometimes just moving your body, however gently, can be a positive thing.
If you’re interested in joining Gwennie’s Zumba classes, which take place in Lawhitton and Milton Abbot, join her Facebook page, ‘Gwennie’s Zumba Gold’.
Are you interested in exploring new community groups? Make sure to check out the ‘Wosson’ pages of Launceston Life, which list a huge variety of activities in the local area.