Long before my stoma, when I was just five weeks old, I had bowel surgery to repair a dual rectum. As a tiny baby, I was left with a scar that ran from my pubic bone to just above my navel. As I grew up, the scar was only a part of the problem. I had continence problems and I often had accidents, which had a big effect on my self-esteem. I became a very timid child and I hated being the centre of attention. When people tried to talk to me, I’d hide behind my mum’s skirt.
When I reached my teenage years, I did a lot of comfort eating. After leaving school, I gained two stone. As well as the scar that ran down my stomach and had such an impact on my confidence, I felt overweight and unhappy.
I started running at the age of 30. I had young children and I had decided that I didn’t want to be an overweight mum in the playground. I was surprised to find that it came fairly naturally to me. I was good at running and I started to enjoy it. It was a real turning point for me. My confidence improved and I even entered the London Marathon. However, despite my enthusiasm, a weak sphincter and running was not a good combination.
The accidents got worse. I was taking so much Imodium that it stopped being effective and when I went out on a run, I had to take a bum bag with tissue, wipes and spare underwear. My running friends would insist on giving me a lift home when all I wanted was to be left to walk home alone. It was humiliating and depressing.
Despite the accidents, in 1997 I managed to run the London Marathon. It took 10 Imodium and 2 codeine, and I finished in a very respectable time of 4 hours and 7 minutes. I felt fantastic, but the continence problems were still there, and I knew I needed to do something.
Eventually, I decided to have corrective surgery. The first operation wasn’t a complete success, and after six months and a second opinion, I had another sphincter repair. This time, I was left with a temporary ileostomy. In my first experience with a stoma nurse, she showed me a few bags and asked which one I liked. All that I could think was that I didn’t like any of them. I felt so unattractive. For a year after my surgery, I wouldn’t even take my children swimming.
A turning point came when one of my friends took me on a spa day. I used the sauna, steam room and swimming pool and to my amazement, the bag stayed attached. I started to realise that my life with a stoma bag wasn’t as restricted as I’d thought.
My husband was a huge support throughout the experience. He still found me attractive and wasn’t phased by my pouch, but regardless of what he said or did, my confidence was shattered. The crackling of the bag was off-putting during intimate moments. I used to tell my husband, ‘’it sounds like I’ve got a carrier bag stuck to me.’’ No matter how many times someone tells you you’re attractive, you need to believe it yourself and build your own body confidence.
Three years after my ileostomy surgery, I made the decision to have a colostomy. Since that operation, I’ve never looked back. I managed to build up my fitness again and now I do long distance cycling events, running, triathlons, obstacle course races and all sorts of other sporty things!
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worried less about what other people might think and now I’m more confident than I’ve ever been. For me, the key to feeling confident has been to find something that makes me feel good. Running has played a huge part in helping me feel positive about how my body looks and works. It hasn’t always been easy, but I am finally happy with my weight and body. I truly believe that what doesn’t kill you certainly makes you stronger.