This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
For so many people, toilet talk is a taboo topic but Meg Ward is determined to change that.
For the last three years as she has represented Australia, the Queensland Maroons and Brisbane Broncos, Ward has also been managing ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease which can cause blood in stools, stomach aches and force a constant need to go to the toilet. Through periods of stress and fatigue the condition can flare up.
“For so long I have kept this hidden, because I was embarrassed,” said Ward.
“My teammates would be leaving the gym and going out to train and I would hang behind at the back so I could run to the bathroom so I could feel comfortable that when I was out training I wouldn’t need the toilet.
“People see me happy and bubbly but they don’t see me straight after the game when I rush to the toilet or pre-game trying to schedule my toilet pit stops.
“It’s been difficult handling it and my sporting career.”
A couple of months ago, Ward was doing a player appearance and had a major flare up. As soon as she landed in Brisbane after the appearance her partner Tash drove her straight to the hospital where Ward spent a whole week. During that week, Ward was told that the disease had spread throughout her bowels.
“It was at that point I realised that this was going to be a forever thing, so I made a decision that it was time to share what I was going through,” said Ward.
“I wanted to reach out to some people who had gone through what I was going through to see how they had managed it.”
Ward decided to share the details of her condition on Instagram. Ward shared what she had been going through and how it had made her feel. She was floored by the response.
“Initially my condition was just something I have dealt with quietly and privately because I was so embarrassed by it, but when I opened up about it I was shocked at how many people are going through what I am going through.
The other benefit of opening up is that it gave other people the opportunity to help Ward. Without understanding what a person is going through, it can sometimes be really challenging to help them in the way they need to be helped. Given one of the causes of flare-ups can be stress, sharing the load with other people can help preventing flares from occurring or being as challenging.
“Being able to open up has made me feel a lot more comfortable, especially at the Brisbane Broncos,” said Ward.
“It’s just little things like being able to work with the club and all my teammates having an understanding of why I behave in a certain way, like waiting for all of them to leave before I go to the bathroom.
“It takes the pressure off and I’m hopeful that me opening up gives others who are battling this condition privately, the ability to feel like they can speak up about it and get help.”
Ward is also fortunate that she has had the support of her family throughout and her fiancée, Tash.
“She has been my rock and my best friend through it all,” said Ward.
“It’s little things like coming to the bathroom with me and turning on the tap or sitting outside and drying her hands for five minutes while I go to the toilet.
“It’s not a pretty disease so to have someone that makes me feel so comfortable, safe and protected no matter what is something that I am extremely grateful for.”
Since sharing her story, Ward has realised the importance of raising awareness about her condition and giving other people permission to share their stories and to talk about something that can be a little bit embarrassing.
“It is so normal to go to the bathroom; it is a part of life,” said Ward.
“It took me a really long time to understand and I hated going to the bathroom in public, I would get so anxious about it.
For Ward, it’s also important to acknowledge how much assistance is out there and how many people manage this condition with success. Ward’s condition is one that you can live with and manage through medication so that you can continue to play sport, work and participate in all your favourite bits of life.
Ward also has one more tip for any organisation or public place with a bathroom.
“My favourite thing in the world is when you go into a public toilet and there is music playing,” said Ward.
“I always feel better that there is a bit of noise, so I’m on a big push to make sure there is always some noise in public toilets.”