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Marcel - Interview 33

Brief Outline: Marcel was diagnosed with Crohn's disease aged 20. Several years later he had surgery to remove part of his lower bowel.
Background: Marcel is married with two children. He was born to two Holocaust survivor parents and runs Jewish Heritage tours. Ethnic background/nationality: Jewish.

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Marcel was born to two Holocaust survivor parents and feels this has greatly affected his life. He began to have severe stomach aches during his late teens and was eventually diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He was put on medication and told he would probably need an operation at some point in the future. Nearly ten years later, the effect of the medication had worn off and Marcel began to experience terrible pain. This continued for around five years and Marcel described how he couldn’t enjoy food during this time and lost a lot of weight. This was very difficult for his parents to deal with as food was very important to them.
 
Marcel underwent surgery and had half of his small bowel removed. While the effects of the surgery were painful, Marcel’s stomach ache had gone for the first time in ten years. He began to eat again and now, nearly thirty years later, he takes no medication other than occasional supplements.
 
Soon after the operation, Marcel became compulsive about running and ran in many big city marathons, including London, New York, Berlin, Paris, raising money for Crohn’s disease research. The constant running led to problems with his hips and a hip replacement operation which has meant Marcel has had to give up sports which he has found very disappointing. 
 
Marcel has become very interested in Poland and has set up a company organising Jewish heritage tours. He is very proud to talk about his parents’ past and how it has affected him. While his family call it an obsession, Marcel describes how he is still trying to come to terms with the Holocaust and understand how it could have happened. 
 

 

 

Marcel considers himself “very, very lucky” and is glad to have memories of sporting achievements.

Marcel considers himself “very, very lucky” and is glad to have memories of sporting achievements.

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You know, I consider myself lucky. Most people I accept with conditions and pains. When you hear about other people and what’s happened to them, and just… terrible accidents so … the fact that I live with one or two inconveniences… I can’t play sport anymore. My God, I’m 57years old, how long am I going to be running marathons for? I know people run them at 80 or 90 and good luck to them. So, but I’ve still got the memories. I won a tennis tournament at the [House] which is like a country club we joined for the summer. And they were a good standard of players. Not that I was any good, but I was so fit at the time, and I got every ball back that they would hate playing me because I got everything back. And I’d lose the first set because all the good players were much better, but I would just win the second set because I’d run them round the court and lob them and they would be finished and shattered, and so I played somebody in the final. I had to play a semi final, my claim to fame this day, I’m sorry I’ve got to mention it Because we were running late, because the guy was away, I had to play a semi final. I think it was I think the Bank Holiday Monday and because the final was aimed at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. So I had to play the semi final against a really good player who everyone expected to murder me at 8 o’clock in the morning. Again I beat him in three sets over three and a half hours, because every point was a battle. So I finished that at 12 and had to be back at 5 o’clock for the final. And the guy was just like me, a fitness fanatic. And they said it was the most boring tennis match in history. The rallies were like 50 strokes and that was a four and a half hour match which I just won. 
 
Can you imagine playing eight hours of tennis? So I got that medal or a trophy and memory. And I enjoy big sporting occasions, hence the football. I applied to be a volunteer at the Olympic Games. I speak a few languages badly, and they’ll probably put me at Victoria Station in a yellow jacket sending everyone off to Strafford. I’ve been involved in Maccab sports, youth athletics, football refereeing, which I hated. I would love to be in South Africa at the moment. All these things are expensive. But I’ve been to world cups and European championships. I’ll be at the next one’s in Poland. And I expect to be at a lot of games there. I’ve got contact, they’ll get me tickets. So yes, yes, life’s good. Medically I could be better off, but I could be a lot worse. And I can cope with anything that my body throws at me. But I ain’t having another hip replacement. That was far worse than my Crohn’s, as bad as that was, it was a cure for me and I consider myself very, very lucky.
 
 

Marcel had surgery after nearly ten years of medication.

Marcel had surgery after nearly ten years of medication.

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So I had many tests and the pills they put me on in my late teens, worked very well and [Doctor] told me that I’d probably need an operation one day because all my Crohn's, unlike a lot of people’s Crohn's Disease which is located in the intestine, in which you’ve got yards and mile of. People with bad Crohn’s have it in all different places so it’s difficult to operate. In my case it was all located in my smaller bowel.
 
And he said, “When you’re ready, you choose your time and come back for an operation.” So strangely enough I, the pills slowly waned over probably about an eight or nine year period. So they weren’t working any more. And they put me on steroids, which I avoided taking. I think I went to see him when I was 27 so we’re almost ten years later, on a Wednesday, saying I’m back to doubled up in pain. 
 
I went to see [doctor] on the Wednesday. He phoned the surgeon while I was there and they organised it for the Monday. And that was quite something for the National Health, and all credit to our National Health. Because for all these visits. I had [doctor]’s private number and he said, “Just come and see me.” So he would come and see me straight away. I’d been seeing him for nearly ten years already. 
 
It’s a strange thing when you wake up post operation, which might have taken four or five hours. They cut out half my small bowel, to see tubes in your nose. I mean they’re cutting through the stomach, you just can’t move, but they swept you out of the bed in a chair, and I remember feeling, within a day of that operation I had pains everywhere else in my stomach. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t cough. Without being in pain. But I didn’t have the ache in my stomach which I’d had for ten years. That was an amazing, amazing feeling for me. I can remember it now. So I knew it had worked. 
 
 

Marcel’s father brought him a chicken into hospital and felt a lot of pleasure from finally...

Marcel’s father brought him a chicken into hospital and felt a lot of pleasure from finally...

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It was difficult growing up with parents who all they wanted to do was stuff food through me. I mean the family joke that I didn’t enjoy my food, my brother and my father would hold me upside down and they’d pump food through me. And butter’s bad for you now, but my father, we always had toast in the morning, he’d smear about 2lbs of butter on one piece of toast, because in the Jewish region fat is good and it’s a Yiddish expression, schmaltz, you know, so he would put a half a pound of butter on a piece of toast and try and fatten me up. And I’d eat it.
 
Why do you think that, just to stop you medication or to ‘cure it’ in inverted commas then?
 
Well as I was in hospital and they told me I had Crohn’s and they put me on the pills, they worked. I remember phoning home and saying, “I hate this hospital food.” In my last days, my father went to Blooms and brought me half a chicken and it stank the whole hospital out and everybody fancied it. I think he had probably the best pleasure of his life watching me devour it. He turned up with a chicken and a.... Only a Jewish parent would do that.
 
But he probably ran all the way to Blooms and ran all the way to station and to [hospital] and then got so much pleasure watching me eat it.
 
I was out of the hospital probably within a week. Still seven stone, with probably not much more weight because I wasn’t enjoying the food that, when you’re in hospital and you see dieticians and they give you these silly diets, and they tell you because of your small bowel now, you have to eat food that’s skimmed, de-pipped because it would irritate my little bowel. I had to be careful of diarrhoea and other things.
 
So, my food then was tasteless and so therefore I didn’t enjoy it anymore, and then going to [wife’s] brother almost a month afterwards we made a barbecue steak and I remember the first time, thinking my God this is delicious and I was able to swallow it, and then seeing my own doctor, who said, “Eat what ever you want.” So gradually my parents saw me going to them and eating well and starting enjoying food. So I’ve made up for it since, and enjoy food with a relish now.  
 

Marcel is gradually having to give up sport because Crohn’s disease has caused osteoporosis,...

Marcel is gradually having to give up sport because Crohn’s disease has caused osteoporosis,...

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So, in that six months. So I mean I was eating like there was no tomorrow. So I was playing five a side and a lot of tennis. But it still wasn’t enough to lose the weight from me eating. So I took up marathon running which I enjoyed… so that was… I became quite compulsive. And I enjoyed the pain which you get when you’ve run 15 miles. I went to New York, Berlin, Paris. I loved the big city marathons. I ran about ten London marathons and I was never told that the, having Crohn’s affects the calcium in your bones. So they were never formed properly, so therefore my body couldn’t take the pounding of pavement that I was imposing on my body. So having run twenty marathons in what fifteen years I remember my last London marathon was about seven, eight years ago. I didn’t, I didn’t realise till the last week before that marathon that I was struggling bending down doing my shoe laces, because I had terrible pains in my hips and I put it down to my shoes weren’t good enough, so I bought new training shoes. 
 
But I realised there was a problem and after the run I went to see a doctor and you’ve got osteoporosis and you’ve got arthritis, what you’re doing is no good, you’re pounding pavement, you’re running 80, 100 miles a week on pavement. I wasn’t running on soft ground in parks and yes, I went to see a specialist. I’ve got it in all my hip bones and joints from my tennis, I’ve got it in shoulders. Yes, I’m weak. I’m weak in all the joints, and that’s something else Crohn’s caused. 
 
So I had to give up marathon running. I carried on playing tennis and I played quite a good standard, a good game and I like a long hard tennis match, but the twisting and turning was hurting my hips so much, that there was one tennis match I played for three hours, really tough and I couldn’t properly walk for two days afterwards and I had to give that one up as well. So I took up cycling which I still do now. I quite enjoy it. So I do, desperately miss the sport.
 
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