When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2001, one of my worst nightmares was the possibility of having ostomy surgery. I just couldn’t fathom life with a stoma, or wearing a bag of waste on my stomach.
Back then (and still today) there was a negative stigma about ostomies – mainly that it’s gross and not “normal.” Well, that nightmare ended up coming true.
As I suffered with Crohn’s, I saw my life fading away.
I was going to the bathroom over 18 times a day. Exhaustion and malnutrition were huge issues and my weight was dropping fast. There were days when I couldn’t even leave my house, so going to school was really tough, and having a job was a challenge. There came a moment when was sitting in a room at my parents house; I watched my younger sister living a happy life, my brother chasing his dreams, my eldest brother starting a family, and my friends were getting married… and then there was me. I realized then that I was in straight denial. My amazing surgeon helped me to see that I needed an ostomy in order to truly save my life! Many days were spent crying and talking over this decision with my family and close friends. My co-workers, who spend the most time with me, just wanted the good ole “Cate the Great” back. I began to understand what they were all seeing – I was letting this disease own me.
Then I met a beautiful 9-year-old girl who had an ileostomy due to ulcerative colitis.
She spoke to me frankly and honestly and said, “Cate, I am 9 and if I can do this, you can do this!” She told me that she played soccer, swam, and she was out living life to the fullest. I left that room forever changed with the hope that surgery would help me have an active and healthy life again. This beautiful young girl made me realize that my nightmare could actually be the miracle I so desperately wanted. I left work that day and told my parents it’s time to take a leap of faith. I had goals and dreams, and doggone it I wanted to achieve them! I was no longer going to let fear consume me. The stigmas no longer mattered.
The morning of my ostomy surgery I grieved and cried.
I stood in front of the mirror, touched my belly and tried to imagine what my life was about to be like. I had only known this body that looked so perfectly normal from the outside. In reality the inside was disease-filled, dying and taking me down with it. Having a stoma meant that I would be able to see my “invisible” illness. Would I be judged? Talked about negatively? Would I lose friends? But also, What can I gain? Would it turn out to be more than I ever dreamed? The next morning I woke up and faced my “new normal.”
I looked down and saw scars that told a story of courage and strength.
To some they might look ugly, but to me they were beautiful. Without those scars (and my new designer “poui-Vuitton” bag) I would've never discovered the true me. Yes I will be different from other people, but that is OK. I’ve had 14 surgeries over the past 12 years, including three ileostomies and one colostomy. Looking back at everything I went through, I see it as a blessing because I now have more compassion and empathy for others. And I appreciate the biggest miracle of all… living life with joy.