Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Tummy tantrums!

For some time now I've been pondering on whether or not to share my tales of my tummy troubles. It may get gory, it won't always be pleasant, but after being asked to talk to a number of people who've been in similar situations I thought I'd share it with you too. 

So here goes. As a teenager I often suffered from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), something that would flare up and then disappear as if nothing had ever happened. When my mum died my whole world got turned upside down and with the stress came another flare up. This time though it didn't go away again so I went to my GP. After endless blood and other tests they decided it was merely a tummy bug so prescribed some antibiotics and sent me on my way. Needless to say this did sweet f a for sorting out my tummy troubles so I went back again. Finally I had a referral to see a specialist and after having my personal space invaded more times than I care to remember I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, something I had inherited from my Mum. Ulcerative Colitis is an inflamation of the large intestine/colon and the lining becomes covered in ulcers. I was put on steroids for 2 years and my face and body blew up like a puffa fish, but every time they tried to take me off them the colitis got worse again. 

By this point I was 17, massive and incontinent, needless to say it wasn't my finest moment. As I couldn't stay on the steroids much longer, I was left with 2 options: wait for my bowel to rupture and kill me, or have my bowel removed and be fitted with a colostomy bag, obviously I chose the latter. At the time my Dad was very anti-bag, being protective and not wanting me to go through such a horrific ordeal. But there was no doubt in my mind, I want my bowel out and my life back. I was tired of the sleepless nights, not being able to go to college, go out with my friends or leave the house incase I had 'an accident'. I soldiered on for a couple of weeks so I could finish my first year of college and sit my exams, then the day after they were over I was off to hospital.

I was really lucky to have such a fantastic surgeon and team looking after me (my sister used to babysit for him and I used to babysit for my anaesthetist). Although I wasn't exactly looking forward to having a colostomy bag, all I cared about what being able to be a teenager again, and it was the best decision I've ever made. Sure it took some getting used to, not everyone was understanding, I lost some friends who were too superficial to deal with it, and realised how amazing the rest were. I took it in my stride, and for 7 years I was 'a bag lady'. 

Cancer battles: The Queen Mother on holiday in Scotland in 1966 - she had a cancerous tumour removed from her breast in December that year
Even the Queen Mother was a bag lady!! (photo from the daily mail)
I want to finish this 'story' in a second post, not only because it's starting to go on a bit, but also because I want to talk a bit more about what it was like to be a teenager with a colostomy bag. We live in a society now where everyone is expected to look a certain way and conform to the norm. Well there is no such thing as normal! I lost friends because they thought I was a freak, it was easy for them to forget that it was the choice of having a bag or dying. I know I made the right decision and I would do it all over again if I have to.

Both before and after having the bag reversed I was asked to speak to ladies going through the same thing. Some girls were younger than me, some were much older. But we all had to face the same decision and adjust to a completely new lifestyle. You have to learn how to dress so it isn't noticeable, what you can wear swimming to hide it, what you can and can't eat/drink, or the most stressful, how to tell a new boyfriend/girlfriend that you have this bag full of poo stuck to your stomach. It's not easy but it's life and all you can do is take it in your stride. 

If you're reading this and it's something you've been through or know someone else who is, I have a couple of simple tips for you:
1. Drink peppermint tea like there's no tomorrow, it soothes your bowel and helps problems with wind;
2. If you want extra protection under your clothes you can get covers (similar to those on maternity trousers), or if you cut the straps off a vest top, fold it in half and pull it over your bag it keeps it tight to your stomach and hides the lines;
3. If you're nervous about leaks, carry a spare bag with you;
4. Stay well away from fizzy drinks, beer, cider and alchopops, they are evil. 

Other than that just live your life, enjoy every second and don't let anyone stop you.

Thank you for reading, I really do hope I haven't grossed you out too much but it's something that isn't talked about and to be honest, it should be! We are who we are, we come in all shapes and sizes, with or without bags. 



  1. Great post Sarah, you coped brilliant with it & you would never know you were a 'bag lady'!! You never moan about it & have a lovely positive attitude :) x

  2. Both my Aunties have Crohn's disease which is similar i think, my auntie had take a year out of uni as it got so bad and she now has a bag. It's good that you are open about it and are now more in control.
    great blog

    Sheree x



    1. Oh no, I hope they're both doing better now? Bags may not be the best thing in the world but they definitely make your life better.
      Fab blog x