It’s not all about poo – five things about stomas and IBD this #WorldIBDDay


Last year over 21,000 colostomy bags were prescribed across Wales.

Take a second to think about that….21,000.

Now, that’s a lot of people who’ve had major bowel surgery in a small nation.

According to Google (the source of all things) 3.063 million people live in Wales, so no matter how you look at it there are a lot of people living here who are getting on with life with a stoma.

I have boxes of appliances (a posh word for bags) in my little flat – and so many lotions and potions for my stoma I have a dedicated bookcase thing for them all – I simply can’t picture what 21,000 bags looks like.

Yes, it cost £4,189,877.07 , but as someone with a permanent stoma I can’t live without my bag…..I’m not sure the same can be said for the £5,105,411 spent dispensing paracetamol in the last 365 days.

Today is World IBD Day, and in the spirit of awareness raising I thought I would take a few minutes to destroy some myths about living with IBD and a stoma is like, by answering a few of those enjoying questions I tend to get thrown my way which really really really wind me up!

I’m not going to try and explain to you exactly what Inflammatory Bowel Disease is, as Crohn’s and Colitis UK do a much better job at it…see photo below.

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Since I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, well YONKS ago, awareness of IBD has gone through the roof.

But some of the things people say to me – even friends – show that there is still a lot of stigma and confusion out there…..and at times a lot of blame is laid at sufferers doors.

So here are my top FIVE myth busters – basically all the things people say to me or have been dying to ask me for years, and have the bubbled over and burst out in a moment of total honesty after a few drinks….

Well, you don’t look sick?

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Why thank you very much, that’s very nice of you to say……..

Argh! This is one of those statements which has followed me around my whole life….and it is a massive lie as I often looked horrendously sick.

Not all illnesses show, FACT, and not all disabilities mean being in a wheelchair, FACT. Some chronic conditions are invisible – but that doesn’t mean we are making it up.

Unless I wore a badge or had a sign over my head you wouldn’t know I had ulcerative colitis, and unless I wear a bikini (or you are lucky/unlucky enough to see me naked) you wouldn’t know I had an ostomy.

It’s always really upset me when people think I am making my illness up. Why the hell would I? Who would pretend to have Ulcerative Colitis: It’s not exactly glamorous.

It’s humiliating being questioned and getting dirty looks when you use a disabled bathroom, being stopped at airport security to have your ostomy bag checked for drugs, or running around like a maniac looking for a toilet before you have an accident.

I’ve spent a lot of my life in an awful lot of pain, in hospital, and then recovering. I spent most of my teenage years living a daily battle, and I’ve got the scars to show for it.

But I shouldn’t have to life my t-shirt to show them to you for you to believe me…..my illness is not Santa.

Didn’t you cause your Ulcerative Colitis through eating junk?

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Give me a break! No, absolutely, and unequivocally I did not.

Who the bloody hell knows what causes Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease….but I can tell you one thing, me eating some sweets 100% didn’t make me ill.

I once appeared on the telly to chat about UC and was asked about this….my reaction was not good.

I was brought up on a healthy diet of home-cooked food, no take aways, in a house hold of non-smokers. I was too young to drink, and I was a studious school girl who ran for her cross-country team and played in a local brass band.

Even if i’d stuffed my face with rubbish and drank etc I wouldn’t deserve this….no one would.

At the end of the day, I will be the first to admit that my diet since I’ve been an adult has been far from perfect. I probably drink too much wine, and eat too many sweets (I have cut down massively), but I mostly live off spinach, fish and pasta.

But at the end of the day, I’m not injecting heroin into my eyeballs am I?

Can you plug up your stoma? Do you have to open a valve to poop?

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This may sound silly, but I’ve been asked these things.

The answer to both is NO. The first one is dangerous, the second is just a bit confusing.

I still poo, but just in a different way. While others poo though their bum (put in a crude way) I poo in a bag….It may sound gross, but it’s not dirty or unhygienic. Well, no more so then the normal way, and probably better as I can see what I’m doing.

The bag isn’t changed every time I go to the loo, it opens at the bottom and is emptied…simple.

And it never stops, I can’t switch it off. Which is why I’m still sometimes caught off guard and have to run like mad to find the nearest loo.

Why are you drinking WINE and eating sweets if you are so ill?

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Well deserved glass of wine

Well why not? And to be honest after my operation I’ve never been so well, and can do the majority of things, well, within reason.

I do get a little bit angry when people try to make out that I shouldn’t be eating something – while stuffing their own face with crisps, cake, chips and chocolate. Just let me get on with it, I don’t tell you what to eat.

I’m lactose intolerant – so i don’t eat cheese, cake, chocolate, and a whole array of yummy things unless I get my hands on dairy free ones – I also don’t eat spicy food, and rarely eat fast food.

I mostly live off spinach, eggs, potatoes, pasta and loads of salad….which my stoma doesn’t really enjoy but I eat anyway.

Also, it’s a fact that sweets help me and marshmallows and jelly babies are actually listed as medication for when I have bad output days with my stoma. Yes, I often stuff my face with them despite that – but I go to the gym at least four times a week and I walk everywhere.

The fact is that you only have one life. For years I had to analyse every little thing I ate, and had people constantly watching me. I still do to an extent, and it drives me mad as I am a fitness fanatic, and I often have people who don’t look after themselves at all having a go at me…

Are you anorexic, why aren’t you eating anything?

Like many women I focus a little bit too much on my weight. I’ve previously spoken about my feelings about it and the problems of my ever shifting size while living with IBD.

The picture of me above was when I was painfully thin after my first op.

But I’m not anorexic, and it hurts when people say things about my weight, comment on my eating habits, or asked me why I wasn’t eating when I was scared of putting things into my body because I was in so much pain.

You can read the full post here.

A battle of skin and bones: the ever changing size of IBD #7daysofIBD

IBD, it’s just a toilet issue isn’t it?

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No, while one of the symptoms can be going to the toilet a lot, it can be the other symptoms which can be the most crippling.

The illness goes way beyond the toilet stall, and everyone who has IBD tends to be different.

My case before my surgery was extreame, with severe blood loss, non stop toilet visits, horrendous pain, crippling fatigue, weight loss, and even at one point my hair started coming out.

I also now have bad joint pain, and osteophrosis from years of steriod treatment.

Anyway, enough with this depressing stuff…Happy World IBD Day

To end this I want to say, IBD makes me different on the inside from most people as I have an illness which makes my body do horrible and painful things.

I also don’t have a large bowel and my bum is sewn up.

But I am a normal person, who can do pretty much everything everyone else can. I just need some medication and a bit of TLC to help me stay healthy, and to look after my stoma.

Happy World IBD day. Let’s keep sharing awareness together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas time with a Stoma – warning it’s rogue nut season 


       
 It’s that time of the year again, filled with too much drinking and stuffing my face with really rich food until I feel basically ill and need to out on my Joey from Friends pants.

I adore Christmas and love everything about it, but Christmas throws a lot of curve balls  in the way of my Stoma and often leaves me waking up with far more than a hangover.

In December everything I normally actively avoid eating seems to hide itself in every day food. Nuts and dried fruit appear everywhere at Christmas; hidden amongst sprouts, in stuffing and in a whole array of amazing treats and desserts.

Most of the year I would turn down nut laden goods (no matter how tasty they appear) as I fear the blockage, sickness and general yuck they cause, but something about Christmas makes me throw caution to the wind and I seem to have a devil on my shoulder shouting “bring on the nuts, who the hell cares? – it’s Christmas”!

I have a very adult taste when it comes to food: my Stoma does not. 

Winnie is like a toddler, she hates green stuff, nuts, wine, veg, but she loves a good ‘take it out of the freezer and stuff it in the oven meal’, you know anything that involves chips and weird breaded animal shaped food. 

I live off spinach, olives, cucumber, basically everything she simply can’t cope with (so I live with a lot of tummy ache, funny farting noises coming from my bag, and green poop) but present her with a sprout, coconut or a nut and she has a total fit and throws all her toys out of the pram totally big time.

Last year was probably the best Christmas of my adult life. For the first time I can remember I enjoyed turkey and all the trimmings without the constant pain of Ulcerative Colitis. I managed to sit through almost the entire meal (yes all the courses), unwrap all my presents and even join in all the family games with only a few visits to the bathroom.

It was magical. I don’t think I have ever been so happy. 

But, despite the pain free Christmas, there were still some issues especially around the dinner table. I learnt a few lessons the hard way, mostly not to get carried away with the festive celebrations, office parties and late night drinking, and to avoid certain foods at all costs, no matter how tempting they might be.

This year I will be avoiding, sprouts, chestnuts, cranberries, Christmas cake, green beans, and many more little treats. 

A word of advice, if you have an ostomy and don’t want to be in agony for hours, don’t eat sprouts.

 I know many people would be relieved to find out they can avoid the little green balls, but I’m quite gutted about this.

 The first Boxing Day after my operation I spent an excrutiating couple of hours passing what felt like a giant bolder through my stoma. Somehow, despite obviously chewing it to shreds, it seemed to reform in my bowel and tried to pop out whole – imagine my shock! 

Blog post: I can’t eat sprouts 

This year I have no doubt I will learn even more lessons about my ostomy, and how bloody picky she can be. 

But either way I’m going to give into the devil and eat what the hell I want – the detox and Winnie’s much earned break can start in the New Year, after all that’s what January is for! 

Day 7: Never give up hope – What I’ve learnt from #7daysofIBD


This week has been all about raising awareness of what IBD is. I hope you’ve learnt something – I certainly have.

What always amazes me about the IBD community is how open, honest and brave the people who suffer from Crohn’s and Colitis are.

Back when I first became ill Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis were relatively unknown, they were what Dr Christian Jessen would have described ‘an embarrassing illness’.

Talking about toilets was frowned upon – unless that is you were a lad who could fart really loudly, and then that was, well, your crowning glory.

Social media has it’s downsides (believe me I know) but for Crohn’s and Colitis it has been such a breath of fresh air.

The illness has gone from something people were frightened of talking about, hidden behind the toilet door, to having this massive community on twitter, Facebook, blogs and youtube full of people giving each other support and advice…and hope.

People proudly share their stories of bravery and their remarkable battles to go on to do amazing things, most of which I could only dream of: the ultra marathons; the world record attempts – even just wearing a bikini with a stoma.

The world is unrecognisable from the one in which the teenage me hid in the school toilets, tucking my feet up the side of the cubicle, and trying to be quiet as I tried to curl up in shame.

Now every single day celebrities, politicians and sport stars, and just incredible every day people are sharing their stories in local and national press….it’s remarkable.

It feels like a week doesn’t go by without IBD being in the tabloids, sometimes for weird ‘junk causes Crohn’s’ claims, but mostly for stories which make me want to punch the air and shout ‘you go girlfriend’ – now that would raise an eyebrow in the Welsh Assembly lobby.

Yes I wish people were still more understanding: especially when they tut at me for using the disabled loo –  if my can’t wait card works in Italy why do I sometimes need to pretend to be pregnant to skip the toilet queue when my bag is about to explode (sorry my little rant).

I remember as a teen hiding in the loos, trying to hide my frightening illness, wasting away with no idea what was happening to me – I was so weirded out by what was happening I would rather have died than told anyone.

I wonder what it would be like now for me, in a world of being able to google for help and advice.

But there is no point in looking back in that wishful way, I’m just so happy  things are on the way up for IBD: yes, there is still no cure, it is still a horrific illness, but awareness and understanding is growing on fundraiser, stoma bag selfie, and bare tummy at a time.

No one with IBD should ever feel alone again – get online, learn to laugh at those horrible moments with others, cry, smile, giggle, grumble and vent,  and just support each other.

No one should be defined by an illness – don’t let it rule you, share your experiences and show it you’re the boss.

Day 6: What to wear with an ostomy? What ostomy? #7daysofIBD


I’m no fashionista, but I like to look good – who doesn’t?

One of my biggest fears before my surgery was that I’d spend the rest of my life wandering around in sack-like clothes or simply become a nun.

I envisioned a future filled with sweat pants, baggy jumpers and shape-less dresses – looking like a washed-out celeb in a Pineapple tracksuit.

I also imagined a life without romance, I think I believed that I’d be better off living in a hovel somewhere than have my bowel taken away.

I’m ashamed to say that as a teen and a young woman vanity was the main reason I stubbornly refused the operation for years despite being in hideous amounts of pain.

Having the operation felt like giving up my youth – it didn’t matter that my young life so far had been marred by illness, and the operation promised me a new lease of life.

I was horrified of what it would do to my already shattered confidence and street-cred; basically as a teenager I simply couldn’t think of anything worse than having an ostomy bag.

I’d rather put up with the accidents, the blood and the constant toilet visits, than be thought of as a freak – well, more than people already thought a young girl who spent more time in a bathroom than the playground was.

I mean I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, what would I tell people, what would they think?

The people they sent to talk to me where lovely, well and happy, but they were in their 50s and 60s and had grandchildren – I could’t relate to that.

Now I realise I needn’t have worried one bit: unless you know about it, or Winnie announces herself, you wouldn’t have a clue she was there.

It was only when I was in my mid 20s that the surgeons finally got a firm grip on me and this time I couldn’t and didn’t really want to get away/

Straight after my first surgery (well as soon as I had the energy) I went through my old clothes and packed anything that was really tight into a bag and shipped it off to a charity shop.

I needn’t have done, but I’m still glad I did.

Ironically having surgery did my wardrobe a lot of good: it made me grow up, and stop wearing outfits that honestly should have been left back in my student drinking days, or really never have seen the light of day at all.

Now

I get a lot of questions about what I wear, and how to dress with an ostomy.

My answer: wear whatever you want, what looks good, but most of all what you feel the most confident in.

You don’t want to wear something where you are constantly patting your bag, checking it, worrying that someone can see it – but you don’t want to feel like you’re wearing a smock either.

I’ve been pleasantly shocked at the array of things I can still wear. To be honest I can wear anything: I simply choose not to wear some things.

For example; I wouldn’t wear a crop top or a dress with gaps in that show my bag – I could, and good on anyone who does, I just don’t feel comfortable doing that.

I love maxi dresses and in total contrast short skirts, but I wouldn’t wear a skin tight body con dress, mostly because if my bag expands it’s too uncomfortable.

I also wouldn’t really wear something too sheer or that clingy gold material, mostly because you can see the shape of my bag through it.

On the days I feel weird from my bag (yes I do have days when I feel really self conscious about it) I distract attention from my stomach (not that anyone can see) with loud makeup, big hair and well, fabulous shoes – not that I need an excuse.

I usually have a little scarf in my handbag for if my bag fills up and I want to hide it – it’s a little handy tip I got from another blogger.

But really I can wear, and do wear, whatever I want: suits; jump suits; short dresses; pencil skits; ball gowns; see through blouses… and even shorts!

I do struggle to find a decent pair of jeans, but that’s because I need high-waist, a petite and a six, which is a hard combination to go by – if you are looking I find Next is the place to go.

I tailor what I wear to how I feel, what I’ve eaten (sometimes) and sometimes avoid eating certain things if I know I’m going to be wearing that tight dress.

I love the glamour – but some days I like my sweat pants, or PJs and baggy jumpers.

But that’s because I’m human, not because I have an ostomy.

 

Day 4: Working with crohn’s and colitis #7days0fIBD


Why are people with IBD drawn to stressful jobs?

It’s true, in all my years in and out of hospital I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone who has a chronic condition (and is in work) who has a job which doesn’t go hand in hand with massive amounts of stress.

I’m a political reporter – enough said.

While everyone who has Crohn’s or Colitis has different triggers for their illness, the most common exasperator seems to be stress, but we seem to be drawn to jobs that have the highest levels of pressure possible.

I have always found I’m in a catch 22 when it comes to working with my illness: I’m a total work-a-holic and I both thrive under pressure and crumble.

Over the years I’ve pushed myself to the limit when it comes to my job, it’s almost been like I’ve been trying to make up for the fact that I’ve been so ill – like I think I’ve got something to prove.

I’ve filed copy from hospital beds and taken my work to the toilet when things have got bad – and I’ve worked all night when the pain has made it impossible to sleep.

The fatigue is crippling and that’s what hits you the most.

But I’ve had my days where work has been impossible, and I now realise that my point proving was hugely detrimental to both my health, probably making me iller than ever, and ultimatly my sanity.

Now as someone who is pretty much well all the time (thanks to my operation) I look back on how I was with horror.

Working around the clock was my way of trying to block out my illness, it was in a way a distraction. But in reality every day I worked until 1am, or stayed up reading reports all night pushed me closer towards the surgeons knife.

It is easy to look back and think I was stupid, but at the end of the day I also have to admit that I love being a journalist, and that’s not an easy job to do when you’re rushing to the loo all the time and in crohnic pain.

I have the upmost respect and admiration for anyone who can hold down a job while living in chronic pain – and I also get why people can’t work.

I was only ever off sick when I simply couldn’t move: when things got really bad my editor sent me home for falling asleep at my desk.

Sometimes I wish I’d slowed down a bit and realised it was ok to ring up work, give in and have a sick day – but I guess I was too stubborn for that.

Day 3: A magical 28th birthday #7daysofIBD #7daysofstoma


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I made it to the grand old age of 28 – it feels like an achievement.

I was after all a premature baby, who was born fighting.

Teamed with my Ulcerative Colitis it has taken a giant team of very dedicated people and a fantastic amount of love and patience from my family to get me this far.

I hope I’m not wasting the gift I’ve been given.

Yesterday was my birthday and I had the day off, accompanied by a stinking hangover. But despite the big headache I had a truly lovely day, deliriously pain free and felt very happy and loved indeed.

My birthdays are always a quiet affair. I like the simple things: a good meal, some wine, a lie in, and no chores all day.

Oh and fab gifts, loads of best wishes messages and some unexpected cards too.

I also ate the thing I try to avoid, as it blows me up like a whale – bread.

Chris spoilt me with some really gorgeous flowers, and we spent the day freezing and feeling sick from stuffing our faces with sweets wandering around the Christmas market stalls in Cardiff, with me getting soaked as someone wasn’t too great at holding a brolly.

I even found a vegan Welsh cake – which might not have helped with my twitchy tummy today.

It was all polished off with my favourite – not Winnie’s favourite – meal at Bills’, spinach, bacon and avocado salad and sweet potato fries….mmmm.

Here’s to many more healthy, happy and pain free birthdays for decades to come.

Last chance to sign better Welsh NHS hospital food petition – especially for those with IBD, stomas and intolerances


better hospital food

There are just hours left to help me make put the case for better food standards in hospitals to the Welsh Government.

The petition on the Welsh Assembly website closes tomorrow morning and I need all of your help to get the maximum impact.

The petition is calling for better food standards for all.

But it also calls for action to make sure the right diets and choices are given for those with bowel conditions including Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, ostomy bags, and for those with allergies and special diets.

This includes vegetarians, vegans, lactose intolerant, gluten free and celiacs.

If you want to see the Welsh Government take action, look at standards and hopefully improve the food we get served on hospital wards please sign the petition.

I would love it if you call all share it and sign it – the more people who put their name to this the bigger impact it will have.

Please send it to people you know who may have IBD or special diets and have struggled with nutrition in hospital.

Here is the petition, please sign it and help my campaign.

https://www.assembly.wales/en/gethome/e-petitions/Pages/petitiondetail.aspx?PetitionID=887