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Eighteen-year-old Jennifer Carless, of Gilberdyke, will be competing in the Miss Yorkshire pageant on Saturday – with the winner going forward to the Miss England finals. The young beauty queen suffers from a rare disorder that she hopes to destigmatise.
Back in February, Jennifer’s life changed overnight. According to HullLive, she woke up to head to college and realised that her bladder could no longer function.
She was taken to hospital for emergency treatment and a litre of urine had to be drained from her bladder with a catheter. Despite efforts from doctors at Castle Hill Hospital, her condition could not be resolved and she is required to use a permanent catheter bag that attaches to her leg.
However, Jennifer – known as ‘Jen’ – says despite the “undignified” urethral catheter she needs to use, she is determined to not let it define her and hopes her career will help others who are suffering from hidden health conditions to be more open and honest about their conditions.
Doctors believe Jennifer may have Fowler’s Syndrome, a rare disorder that typically affects women between their 20s and 30s caused by an abnormality in the urethral sphincter. Jennifer said she had never heard of the disorder prior to being affected by it and wishes to use her platform to raise awareness for it as well as to normalise it.
She said: “There are many women in the same situation as me out there and there is no cure for it at the moment. I have been with a catheter since February and have had numerous surgeries since then too.
“I was always embarrassed by it because of the stigma around it, so I decided to use my platform to start a campaign called ‘Women’s Talk’ where I have been having chats with women that go through conditions such as endometriosis and postnatal depression to get the conversation started about subjects that aren’t talked about often but need to be spoken on more.
“It is to empower women and help them accept that it is a part of them, so if you have an illness, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it, you should embrace it, it is a part of you.”
Jennifer made headlines last year when she became the youngest ever Miss England finalist in the 2021 pageant. She continued her humanitarian efforts by working with a Hull-based charity, Overseas Plastic Surgery Appeal, to highlight the dangers of single-use plastic internationally.
Despite the negative connotations that often come with pageantry, Jennifer says the system has evolved from bikini rounds, into genuine platforms to empower young women her age with humanitarian work and people skills. With her new campaign, she said the pageant has been a good chance for her to share her work with an audience.
She added: “The opportunity that I had been given with Miss Yorkshire and Miss England is a great platform, especially because the young women that are entering are at the same age as what Fowler’s Syndrome tends to affect.
“So I thought it was a great opportunity to use that captive audience to go ‘Right we can raise awareness here, and we can also raise awareness about other very stigmatised issues as well’.”
The teen is currently waiting for urgent investigations and imminent operations in the next few weeks and is to be placed on a waiting list which could take up to three years before she can have surgery to hopefully help her bladder work again. Research for treatment for this condition is severely underfunded and so there are not many treatment options available at this time.
The surgery would cost in excess of £20,000, so she is currently fundraising to help towards medical treatment and operations to help her on her bladder journey.
Contributions can be made on her JustGiving page.
On her page, she said: “There is very little knowledge around my present condition and research is desperately needed to help others, it is so undignified, but I am determined this is not going to define my life, in fact, I refuse to let it.
“Not only that, I want to open awareness about what I am going through, so to help others going through this very rare and debilitating condition that affects so many young woman, suffering in silence.”
On Saturday, she will compete in Doncaster for the Miss England Regional Final. Where contestants will get the chance of being selected as Miss Yorkshire or Miss Lincolnshire and to represent their counties in the Miss England Final.
Jennifer said: “As a Yorkshire-born and bred girl, I am very much looking forward to representing the region at the national finals of Miss England over the weekend and hope I can do everyone proud over the weekend. I am going to go to the University of Hull in September and I am very keen to promote Yorkshire to the world.”
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