My Ostomy Journey

Today is World Ostomy Day, and it has brought up some interesting emotions and realizations for me. I want to share some things with you. Intimate thoughts, and unflattering pictures.

Pre-op surgery # 1. March 2010

That picture is me before my first surgery. Very sick. Very overweight from steroids. Very scared. Very VERY horrified I’d have to have an ostomy. VERY embarrassed of myself and my life. Ashamed. I wrote about what I had expected my ostomy to be like here. I wrote that I hoped I’d look back with fond memories, and in fact, I do. Having my ostomy taught me humility, but more importantly it taught me to laugh at things I couldn’t control. I remember trying to maintain a positive outlook and I just kept telling myself, ok its just 9 months. Its JUST 9 months. 9 Months. Thats it, just get through it.

But then things started to change. Slowly, I wrote this entry just 4 days after my first surgery, and even here I was writing about how I didn’t like my ostomy, but I already felt better. I remember it felt so foreign on my body. I didn’t want to touch it or hear it, or see it, and if I heard that plastic crinkle it just reminded me of the bag I was now stuck to.

My belly post-op. I was embarrassed to really show my ostomy, so I hid it and didn’t really take pictures.

The one and only photo of my first stoma.

It seemed like it took forever for Surgery #2 to get here. There was 6 months in between surgeries, and a lot happened in those 6 months. I tried to return to work, but just couldn’t seem to get my head in the game. I lost my job and my pending time off didn’t really help my case either. I didn’t know a soul with IBD and I desperately searched the internet for friendly words and advice and the only place I really found to be helpful was Jpouch.net. You see back then, HONESTLY, there were 2 websites about jpouches on the internet. We’ve come a long way since 2010. I found a friend, Brevin, who told me about Camp Oasis and how he’d just volunteered, and I thought well, that sounds cool, I’ll look into it. I contacted my local CCFA and had an interview to be a camp counselor which literally consisted of my crying in our directors office because, for the first time ever, I was in the presence of someone who understood how lonely it was. She was telling me about camp and how the kids who come there feel lonely and isolated and that camp was a safe place for them. And I just lost it because I was desperately searching for something like that in my life. My first year at camp was interesting. At the time I really didn’t see how magical it was or how it had changed me. I even wrote that it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. I didn’t leave with new best friends. I didn’t really leave any different than I had arrived…or at least I thought. What I didn’t know, and I didn’t see was that camp had changed me and empowered me in ways I never even realized. And I would really need what I learned there when my second surgery came and went and was unsuccessful.  That first year at camp wasn’t about the people that I met, it was about what I learned about myself and that is what I took away.

Surgery #2 was supposed to be my second step and I was supposed to get a loop ileostomy and have my jpouch created and put in place to heal for another 3 months and then I’d be done! That didn’t happen and I was devastated and depressed and yet again alone. At that time, I had you guys. I had this blog and that was really it. I didn’t really connect with my camp friends that first year, and other than my family, I was so devastated. Thats the only word I can think of to describe how defeated I felt. I thought colitis was still winning and I just didn’t know what else I could really do at that time but crawl into a hole and stay there. And  I did. For a long time. But I knew that if I wanted a jpouch someday, I’d have to work for it. Literally, I had 6 months and 40 lbs to lose before my surgeon would even try again. So when I could, I got a personal trainer and started working out. I WOULD have a jpouch. I WOULD get through it. And I did. I worked my ass off literally. I worked out like it was my job and I learned how to work out with an ostomy, and I learned how to talk about having an ostomy and about my life more in person. With real people not just to the internet. I explained my life and my ostomy to my trainer at the time and while I could tell he didn’t really get it, he still encouraged me. He wouldn’t let me say “If I lose the weight”, he would say “When you lose the weight”. He honestly taught me an amazing lesson in positivity. He taught me how to picture what I wanted and that the mental game is more than half the battle. It IS the battle. He is still my trainer today, and has turned into a really good friend. A friend that puts me in headlocks on a weekly basis, isn’t afraid to tell me when I look like shit, and make me work really hard. But a friend that taught me how to believe in myself, and that if I pushed, my body could do it. I could do it. Again, I didn’t know I was learning these things at that time, but I was, and these are skills I still have now.

I wore my “Lucky Lass” shirt to my pre op appointments. I knew I needed some extra luck.

Surgery #3 came around in March 2011. I did it. I lost the weight I needed to lose. I drove my ass back to Cleveland and I walked into Dr. Remzi’s office and I was ready. Let’s do this. I was never more prepared for a surgery in my life. I was mentally strong, and physically stronger than I had been in over 2 years.
The surgery came and went and was flawless. I left Cleveland in a timely fashion and felt like a damned rockstar. Until a day later when my stoma separated. And I have never been more horrified in my life. I had also been fighting that nasty ulcer, and that combined with the separation made me absolutely terrified. Again…I felt defeated. Would ANYTHING work properly? Would I ALWAYS have problems? So back to cleveland I went. Defeated. Frustrated. Angry. Depressed. But this is why I learned that sometimes, you don’t have a choice. You have to keep going, and trying because there is not another option. And as much as it sucks, you pack up everything you JUST unpacked, you call your mom crying, and you ask her to come over help. You learn to ask for help. You let you mom make phone calls for you, and then you have your Dad come pick you both up and drive you 4 hours right back to Cleveland. I think I cried the whole way there because I just couldn’t think of anything else to do. But right there, in that time, I learned how amazing my family was. I mean I knew it before then, but it was moments like this that I knew I’d never be able to do it all without them. I also learned that no matter how old I was, there would still be times that I wanted and needed my parents to come to my rescue and that it was ok to ask for their help and to depend on them because sometimes they wanted to be needed too.

My third stoma. My prednisone scarred stomach. Horrible JP drain.

So after that got taken care of, I went home mentally exhausted, but at the same time I knew that if I just made it until June, I’d have my takedown. I just had to make it 3 more months. And then I had an MS attack that took my vision and all of my optimism. I was told I’d have to push back my surgery…again. And this my friends, is when I lost it. Right there, that was my rock bottom. Physically and mentally overloaded and after years of just pushing through, I caved. Everyone has breaking point and that was mine. I retracted into myself, I stopped answering the phone, going places, eating. Everything. I learned why people choose to die over choosing to keep going. I learned that I had that choice too and it took me a while to choose to keep going. I had tons of support from everyone here, but at that time in my life, I had to choose to live on my own.

And I did.

During all of this I also found a new surgeon because I was having problems with my surgical team at Cleveland. And then…it was June. My takedown was scheduled for June 6th and when June 1st hit I had this mini identity crisis. I was so excited to take the next step in my IBD journey and try out my jpouch that I had worked SO hard to get. But at the same time it was like diving head first into the unknown. It was like my first surgery all over again, I was scared, and nervous, and doubtful that it would even work. I took tons of pictures of me with my ostomy because I wanted to remember myself in that place. Happy. Healthy. Confident. Proud. I wanted to remind myself that if I could feel this way with my ostomy, that I could take on the world with my jpouch.

I never posted some of these pictures, because its one thing to be confident, its another to post half naked pictures of yourself on the internet. But you know what internet, I look back at these and I see progress. I see a body that I worked hard to get, even though it wasn’t perfect. I see scars that are healing nicely. I see that I was starting to build myself back up.

My last picture with my ostomy.

Surgery # 4 was different.

I was so prepared for it. I was so ready and I thought it would be easy peasy but it wasn’t. It was a difficult recovery. But when I woke up in my bed the first thing I did was reach down to feel for my bag. And it wasn’t there. I didn’t feel relief. I wasn’t super happy. I actually mourned the loss of my ostomy a little. For the next few weeks I kept reaching down to touch my bag, or adjust the stool. I had created all these habits from having the ostomy, and I never even realized it. It was almost like a nervous tick, I just did things without even thinking about it, and now…I didn’t have to. It was weird. The other day I was actually thinking about how fast we create habits…and then how quickly we forget those habits. I probably stopped checking my “ostomy” just a few weeks after surgery. At the time, I felt like I’d always be checking for it. So quickly we forget.

Former ostomy site.

I don’t want to ever forget. I remember my ostomy like I remember an old friend. I learned a lot from it even though it caused me stress and frustration. I am thankful I had it, because it saved my life. Having my ostomy introduced me to so many new people, and put me in many new situations that I would have never been in. IBD changed me, but I think having an ostomy molded me. It helped turn me into this person who I think is pretty great. Like I said, my ostomy taught me humility, but it also taught me how to be proud of myself and my accomplishments. I learned about my own personal drive in life, and my passions. My ostomy took me to new places, and I’m not just talking about an OR table, or comedic situations that would make that scene from Bridesmaids look like a disney movie. I’m talking about the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, and the places that I went in my own evolution.

Today is World Ostomy Day, and on this day every year, I’ll remember how I got to where I am. I actually kind of wish I had an Ask Me About My Ostomy shirt because I am more than happy to tell anyone about my front butt that saved my life.

Please leave a comment

  1. Kerrilynn Says:

    Fantastic post, Jackie! I may be facing a permanent ostomy soon and your blog has really helped me understand what having an ostomy means and also how it can change your life for the better! That it’s not as scary as I thought it would be. You’re such an inspiration and such a great role model for people living with not just one, but multiple chronic illnesses!

  2. LESLEY CLAYBROUGH Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this story, sadly I have just been told that I can never have my ostomy reversed, so getting my head around that has been very hard, but I have to come to terms with it. It is reading peoples different accounts that has helped me to come to terms and cope with it all. I am not jealous of anyone who is lucky enough to have it put back, I wish them all well, and I know they wish me well too. Your story is amazing not only because you shared it with us all, but because you hit rock bottom and came back again, you could have given in, but something made you kick back, I bet you never every thought you would become an insperation to hundreds of people. Now how many people can say that in their lifetime.xx Amazing.

  3. Jackie Says:

    Thank you so much! I think a lot people think its easy to say what I do about ostomies because I no longer have one. But there were a few times when my surgeons prepped me for complete surgery failure. I hope that if I face this situation again, I’ll remember the things I’ve learned.

  4. Alyssa Says:

    Thank you so much for the honest account of your ostomy journey. You’ve been through so much, and I’m so glad you’re sharing your story with us. Fantastic post. :-)

  5. Jackie Says:

    Thanks Alyssa!

  6. Leslie Miller Says:

    Very inspirational!! I relate to many of the emotions you went through. Great great post!

  7. sukhwant Says:

    nice post Jackie.

  8. Suzanne Zavala Says:

    IBD is not for whimps, that’s for sure. I, too, went through many of the same emotions and still go through them today as I continue to suffer from the effects of Crohn’s after 25 years. I am now facing a permanent ostomy and my 14th surgery…sometimes I get very angry and wonder when enough is enough but then I look at my two daughers, two granddaughters and my husband and realize why I keep pushing through the difficult days.

  9. sarah Says:

    Jackie, I am without words! So I sit here….. thinking. So much to think about.

    I am so proud to have meet you and to know you, I am proud of you, and I am proud to be called your friend!

    Wow, what a great post!

    The story of your struggle is the story of your strength and perseverance~ you have moxie my friend ~ :)

    Thank you for sharing…. SarahH

  10. mel Says:

    Jackie ~ You are an inspiration to all of us. This post is amazing, and really shows how much we grow even when we don’t realize it.

  11. Cara @gottgo-ibd.com Says:

    Wow – what a story! It is wonderful to see your progression and the way that you OWN your disease now instead of letting it own you. I enjoyed the humor and look forward to reading more. It’s nice to see others who also have ulcerative colitis telling it like it is :)

  12. Ali Says:

    Jackie, you go girl ! i just spent the last hour reading your blog and i love it ! i’ve had an ileostomy since birth and i’m 24 now but i really think that more younger people should be aware of all this, my situation was a little different i had a really rare birth defect called cloacal extrophy. not sure if you’ve ever heard of the united ostomy associations but they hold a lot of conferences and stuff thats really cool. e-mail me anytime i’d love to hear from you ! good luck in all your a great inspiration !

  13. Jackie Says:

    Hey! Sorry it took so long to reply! I’m really interested in the defect you mentioned. I haven’t heard about that. Would you be interested in doing a guest post about it!

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