Braving a bikini after ostomy operations – what was I so worried about?


Over the last few years photographs of young women baring their ostomy bags on beaches across the world have become a regular sight on social media feed, so much so I don’t even notice their bags anymore.

Ever since the first photo appeared on twitter of a “bag on the beach” I’ve been trying to get up the courage to bear my belly to the summer sunshine – but I’ve never quite been brave enough.

But this summer after years of hiding my pasty white belly from the world I finally plucked up the courage to wear a bikini for the first time since my operations.

For years I somehow had the confidence to wear the tiniest little string bikini, you know the ones which are just a little flimsy triangle of material – not even enough to wrap a sandwich in let alone cover your modesty.

In my experience those tiny pieces of cloth are designed to cause as much embarrassment for young women as possible. Firstly they never fit properly and, even if they do, they happily malfunction if you try to do anything other than lie flat on your back sun worshipping all day.

There’s nothing like the horror of being hit by a wave or shooting out of the end of a log flume only to realise you are topless and flashing your boobs to the whole world, all while your top floats around taunting you, looking rather like a black turd bobbing around in the water.

For all those reasons, and due to a lack of confidence, I opted for a much safer alternative for my first outing in a bikini since my operation – the high wasted granny pants and bra top.

Despite my massive pants pretty much covering all but the very top of Winnie, walking out to the pool in Santorini on the first day in my bikini filled me with a sense of dread. I was worried people might stare; perhaps wonder if it was sanitary for me to be in the pool; and what they would think when my belly started to expand.

I hardly notice Winnie in my day-to-day life anymore; I can wear pretty much anything I want and don’t really care if people can see the outline of my bag under my dress or top, but for some bizarre reason the thought of lying by the pool with my bag on display frightened the living daylights out of me.

It was ridiculous to be so worried and insecure, naturally no-one batted an eyelid.

Actually the hotel we were staying in was so small I would have felt comfortable going the whole hog and I wish I’d taken a tiny little string bikini in my bag in case I’d got the guts to go for it by the time we left.

To be honest it was probably for the best that my bag was securely tucked away – the wind was so strong pint glasses went flying, so my ostomy would have been flapping around like a white flag in the wind which wouldn’t have been pleasant for anyone.

Hopefully one day I will feel comfortable enough to strut along a beach with Winnie on display, but I don’t think I’ll be swimming in a tiny string thong any time soon, experience tells me not to risk outfits secured by flimsy knots after a certain age.

I hope if you’re going on holiday in the next few weeks you have the confidence to wear a bikini, if not loads of department stores have some really stunning swimming costumes on sale at the moment, including ones with tummy control and little skirts to hide any telltale signs of your bag.

 

This is the one I wore two years ago in America, which was great at covering my ostomy so soon after my operation…..it also helped after eating my own weight in burgers! IMG_5956

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting caught short, why toilets need to be accessible for everyone


As someone with an ostomy bag and who’s had Ulcerative Colitis for well over a decade I’ve used more toilets than the average Joe.

Indeed you could probably call me a toilet connoisseur.

I’ve used lavish toilets for mayors, all to revealing bathrooms with glass doors, ones tiled and marbled with arty shots on the walls, and ones which should be visitor attractions they’re so unique and beautiful.

But as someone with IBD I’ve been forced to use bathrooms that no person should have to step foot in – in my desperation I’ve been made to venture where no woman should ever have to go, and I’m not talking about running into the mens!

For me, a lack of toilets or grossness is simply a deal breaker. Just as you wouldn’t go back to a restaurant where you got food poising, I won’t go back if I’d had a bad bathroom experience – no matter how good the food was.

IMG_4025Yesterday I was caught short while out enjoying the sunshine in Cardiff. I’d wrongly thought the toilets at the museum would still be open, but they were closed after cleaning, with a line of security guards literally guarding them from soiling – they must have been waiting for the Queen to come!

Anyway I can’t tell you how upset I was. We’d wandered that way to enjoy our lunch on the grass because I knew there were toilets nearby, and by the time I walked into the blockade of guards I was nearly at explosion point

I got hot, flustered, agitated and the tears started brewing as my boyfriend ran around trying to find me a toilet. Like a hero he found one, but by then our day was tainted by my illness….it was a gut-wrenching reminder of the days when I couldn’t go two minutes without running towards the nearest cubicle.

Anyway I’ve decided to throw my weight behind the Colostomy Association’s and Crohn’s and Colitis UK’s efforts to get more accessible toilets for all, with facilities needed for those who need to change their bags.

Read about the Colostomy Association’s campaign here.

Apparently one in 500 people in the UK live with a stoma, but despite that very few toilets have shelves, some don’t have hooks, and many are unclean….none of this is nice if you need to change an ostomy bag.

The case was highlighted when Welsh mum Caroline Richards’ posted a picture on social media of her stoma products scattered across a toilet floor as she tried to change her appliance. Her story was picked up by the national press and highlighted the need for basic things in toilets, which would make all the difference to hundreds of ostomates lives, and give everyone else somewhere to put their handbag and coat!

Read the story here. 

Disabled loos also seem to be cleaned less often, are more likely not to have toilet roll, and many can’t be used unless you have a key. There’s also the judgemental look when you use one,  and the fear that someone in a wheelchair might be waiting when I come out.

In my many years of running backwards and forwards to toilets I’ve seen how gross people can be – why does anyone think it is acceptable to decorate bathrooms with toilet roll, or eat sandwiches in toilets?

I’ve also marvelled at why the women’s loos are always the furthest away from civilisation; at times down or up flights of stairs, then along a maze of corridors, and sometimes even outside.

This is one of the most photogenic toilets I’ve found in Cardiff.

I’ve hovered above loos you should have to wear a gas mask to use, those blocked with stuff that reminds me of that pretty revolting scenes from Train Spotting, and had those horrible moments when you realise the only toilet roll available is all over the floor.

I’ve perched over holes in the ground terrified of spiders biting my bum, raced into public loos filled with graffiti and probably needles, tried to change my bag with my supplies placed on a dirty pub toilet floors with drunken revellers banging on the door, and endured the joys of broken toilet seats where if you don’t balance your weight on both bum cheeks equally you’ll fall on the floor.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was trying to change my leaking bag in a nightclub toilet, where it was so dark I had to use the torch on my phone to see what I was doing.

While I’m normally too desperate to make a choice over where I go to the loo, I always try to avoid public toilets at all costs. Basically because they are normally revolting and the queue for the ladies is rarely an option for me.

Anyway, this is the 2016 (well last time I looked it was) and it’s time for public services to be better and more accessible for all members of the public.

In a great move the Welsh Assembly (where I work) has changed its disabled toilet signs to show they are for people of all genders and with all disabilities.

I just hope this is something adopted by local councils, and then rolled-out further into coffee shops and shopping centres.

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 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.

Day one – red, green and other weird coloured poop #7daysofIBD #7daysofstoma


Seeing red in your ostomy bag is a frightening experience.

Spotting blood where it isn’t meant to be is horrifying for anyone (if you’ve not experienced it I hope you never do), but after 14 years of Ulcerative Colitis seeing red is enough to make my world crumble.

It is the tipping point, the moment I have to stop kidding myself that the agonising pain will vanish (even though i know it never will) and the horrible realisation that I will have to drag myself to hospital.

When I say spotting blood it is more like a massacre – not that I want to frighten any of you.

Anyway that’s beside the point. For the past year I’ve lived without red in my stools – well until I eat something like tomato soup, and then I nearly always forget I’ve eaten it and freak out.

Some foods do weird and wonderful things to my stoma output and turn it bizarre colours which would startle any right minded person and have you running to the doctors whispering “why is my poop bright purple? What exotic disease have I got?”

You probably wouldn’t stop to think you might have eaten beetroot – but there again most people don’t examine their poo for weird qualities like people with IBD have drummed in them to do.

Today I forgot I’d eaten tomato soup, hence I had a little heart jumping moment (like when I see a large spider lurking in the bathroom) when I saw the bright red colour of my stoma bag contents.

As a now slightly seasoned ostomate I’ve taken to taking a little moment to think while I’m sat on the loo – I stop and say ‘Rach what have you eaten that might have caused this…’, before I allow myself to properly freak out that my illness is back or has morphed into Crohn’s disease.

It’s a good job I did – the memory of the tomato soup came flooding back and I visibly relaxed.

The first time my output went green I went mental…what the hell, what did it mean, I hadn’t even eaten anything green!

Green is pretty normal for me: I adore spinach even if my stoma does not.

But for most green is a sign that what you are eating simply isn’t being absorbed – it means you’re having too much fibre, or your food is going through you. This happens to me a lot, as I insist on eating the foods my digestive system doesn’t like, such as: rocket, spinach, cucumbers – which do from time to time cause me a lot of pain through blockages.

I remember being totally freaked out though the day my output went bright green – I mean pretty much luminous – a consequence of some very horrible cocktails the night before.

Bad colourings in cocktails have also led to slightly purple output, bright red and a slightly blue tint – always a really horrendous experience when you’re hungover and confused enough without thinking your dying.

In other news I went to the gym, got drenched posting letters and almost got lifted off my feet on the way home – thanks lovely Cardiff weather.

 

Petition for better Welsh hospital food must now be looked at by Assembly #Crohns #IBD #ostomy


The Welsh Assembly will be looking at hospital food in Wales – as more than ten people have signed it.

I’m delighted, but to give it more weight I would love hundreds if not thousands of people to get involved and make sure our voice is not ignored.

Otherwise they could really dismiss it as my insane ramblings when I was starving and full of drugs.

I am hoping Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Ostomy Lifestyle, Campaign for Better Hospital Food (England), and allergy, vegan, vegetarian, lactose free, gluten free etc and health bloggers, campaigners and patients will get behind me.

Today I used my column in the Daily Post (in North Wales) to share my experiences with food in hospitals with my lactose intolerance, ulcerative colitis and having an ostomy bag.

Click here to read the column online:

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I am hoping to hand in the petition alongside a bundle of people’s own experiences to the Assembly Members on the steps of the Senedd next month.

To do that I need your help.

The petition runs until December 4. I would love for anyone who has ever eaten in a Welsh hospital (or had a relative or friend who has) and wants to see improvements to sign the petition – the more people who sign it the better.

I think this will push the Welsh Government to seriously look at standards – if it is just my experience it could be easily dismissed as a party pooper and groaning fussy idiot after all.

I also can’t rock up with one sheet of A4 – that would be pathetic. I want to take a lorry to lift the petition into the arms of the waiting politician.

Please sign the petition here if you want to see changes.

Here is the link if you want to share it

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

Also please share your pictures, stories, experiences of hospital food in Wales – good, bad or indifferent.

I want to build up a picture, or a report, of evidence I can submit with the petition.

The more I have the better.

I need your help to do that.

Please tweet me @TheStomaBagLady or @DailyPostRachel. email me rsl.flint@googlemail.com or go to to my Facebook page and share your story

Alternatively fill in this form which will be sent to me.