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Living with illness

Being seriously ill has made my faith stronger...

EVERY day Karen Dring lives with the threat of serious illness.

She suffers from hypopituitarism, a disorder in which the pituitary gland at the base of your brain, fails to produce one or more of its hormones, or doesn't produce enough of them.

In Karen's case, among other symptoms, it means that her body does not produce enough adrenaline.

Any sudden shock or stress could lead to her falling into a coma.

Not that anyone would know this, as Karen says she is determined to live as normal - and adventurous – a life as possible.

Her Christian faith and the constant prayers and support of her church family at St Margaret's Church, in Burnage, Manchester, are at the heart of this mindset.

"If I thought about it too much I'd never do anything," said Karen, 32.

"I feel like it has been more of a blessing than a punishment because it has enabled me to share my faith."

Karen grew up in Norwich and attended a high Anglican church with her parents from a young age. She was confirmed aged 11 but felt she didn't really know God personally at this stage and was simply "going through the motions".

All this changed during a church trip to the Christian conference, Spring Harvest.

Karen said: "It was totally different to what I was used to. There were so many young people there all believing the same thing. I felt touched by the Holy Spirit during one of the meetings. It proved to be a real turning point in my faith."

When Karen was 18 her life changed forever when doctors discovered a benign brain tumour that needed to be urgently removed. The potentially life-threatening surgery was successful but led to the hypopituitarism disorder for which she must take medication for the rest of her life.

"I didn't realise the seriousness of the operation at the time but there was a risk of brain damage," she said.

"I felt carried through the whole experience by the people at church. I know there is a risk of me going into a coma if I have an accident and go into shock or something. The drugs also made my weight balloon and affected my eyesight so I can't drive. It sent me on a downward spiral for a few months.

"People who don't have a faith sometimes wonder why God would let this happen to me but I actually think I've come through this a stronger person.

"When I was recovering in hospital there was a woman next to me with cancer needing reconstructive surgery on her face. My heart went out to her and I realised there are people much worse off than me."

Karen set up a support group for other sufferers of the disorder. She also volunteers at her church youth group and now teaches numeracy and art at a special college for people who found school difficult.

"I'm so thankful that God has given me some gifts that I can help people with," she said.

"I get such a buzz from seeing people pass their exams.

"My faith is sometimes really up and down but I'm learning to trust God. You have to use everything that happens to you in a positive way. I know that God is with me whatever happens."