At the end of October I posted the above photo on my Facebook page & my Instagram account with the following caption:
"Never, EVER did I think I would post a picture like this but alas here we go...#MyOstomyStory began on August 19, 2010 - 4 months after I was diagnosed with Stage IIIb Rectal Cancer at age 26. I was a recent college grad & a full-time dance coach. The 1st time I heard the words "permanent colostomy" I thought my life was over, little did I know the one thing that would GIVE me life was my ostomy. 5 years, 3 chemo regimens, 28 pelvic radiation hits, & 2 major surgeries later...here I am, still very much alive & still dancing my way through this crazy world. Cancer may have tried to take my life & my body...but it never stood a chance against my spirit."I've been so incredibly overwhelmed by all the love & support I've received since posting my ostomy picture that I thought it would be fun to share the details behind the photo & let you know what exactly made me decide to share my story & my body with the world wide web...because it was definitely something very much outside of my comfort zone. So, a'let's go!
In late October I realized that Uncover Ostomy was running a "#MyOstomyStory"campaign for any & all ostomates willing to share their story. UO is an super-cool organization that was started by a fellow young ostomate (Jessica Grossman) & it's primary focus is breaking stereotypes that linger behind having an ostomy - cause believe me, even though it's almost 2016 there are still a TON of stigmas & misconceptions about living with an ostomy, especially as a young adult. Taking those misconceptions into consideration as well as to how "normal" my life post-colostomy actually is I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of this campaign. However there was a catch: as easy as it is for me to bare my soul to the world, baring my body is a completely different story. I've been pretty open about my struggle with body image since my 70+lb cancer weight gain & it's been a long road to get to a point of feeling comfortable within my own skin again. In case you don't remember or weren't around these parts back then, have no fear! I got you.
|Yup, that's me with 2 of my beautiful best friends, & Ashley & Natalie (hey girls! LY!)|
Before cancer & my now ever-present premature menopause, I never had to worry about my weight so learning to navigate the worlds of diet & exercise, as well as figuring out how to maneuver a body with no hormone production was definitely a tricky situation that had me a hot-mess for a quite a while. It would literally take me years to get myself under control - both physically & mentally. Eventually however (after a looooot of trial-&-error), I was slowly able to figure out what specifically worked for me & began to feel more comfortable in my own body. I was starting to become "me" again - just a slightly different, more life-experienced me. After a ridiculous amount of research, I decided to begin taking non-estrogen, soy-based pseudo-hormones which helped me rediscover my metabolism & I slowly began losing the lbs. Does this mean I'm now 100% comfortable in my skin & in my body? Hell NO but that's not because I have an ostomy...it's because I'm human. Over the summer I reached another pretty big milestone: I returned to the world of ballet which is something for a really long time I was fairly certain wasn't physically possible but I did it! (oh, btw I guess I should tell you that I also had a large part of my inner left thigh muscles removed & used for external pelvic reconstruction back in 2011). Does my body move or cooperate like it did before cancer? That's another hell no...neither does my brain but I took back something I thought cancer forever took from me & I think that is actually PRETTY RAD!
The final factor that helped me decide to be part of this campaign was my ostomy itself. I was first told I was would need a permanent colostomy about a week or so after I was diagnosed. I remember my doctor saying the word "colostomy" for the first time & hearing it echo over & over in my head. There I was sitting in my surgeon's office knowing that I had advanced, aggressive cancer & all I could think was "oh my gawd - I'm going to have to have colostomy bag...forever. What the hell am I doing to do?! My life is OVER!". Like I said earlier there are SO many stigmas, misconceptions, & stereotypes that come along with having an ostomy & at that very moment, I bought into each & every one of them. I was terrified but was then was given 2 options by my doctor: 1.) have a colostomy & live or 2.) decide not to have a colostomy & die. Um...NO decision to be made! Let's ostomy me up real nice doc! 4 months later, after a complete tumor & rectal resection, I had my colostomy fixed to my lower left abdomen & very quickly learned the truth of being a living, breathing ostomate. No, I am not dirty. No, I do not smell. No, my life is NOT over & is not that different than your's. My life is very-much normal & that is because of my colostomy; it gave me the chance to continue to live. It gave me the chance to see past age 26 & be able fight my ass off against Rectal Cancer. I don't find any shame or embarrassment in that; it's actually kind of liberating! There is something satisfying in seeing someone's reaction when they find out that I have a not-so-secret ostomy hidden beneath my shirt. They don't think I'm dirty. They don't think I smell. They don't think my life is all that different from their's because it's not. I'm as normal as you can be without being normal at all. ;) I'm just like you: I wake up everyday & try my best to navigate my way through this crazy world & this is what my photo is all about. It's about baring my reality to a world that is filled with other people who are dancing their own way through the ups & downs of life. We all have different situations & different circumstances surrounding us that we have to figure out how to deal with. We all have our own issues that bully their way into our lives & adjusting to this giant curve-ball called cancer in my mid-20s was part of mine. Nothing more, nothing less. There really is no difference between you & I...except I don't have to worry about public restrooms anymore. :)