We are beautiful not because of what others think of us externally.

At age 36 I was diagnosed with advanced stage colon cancer. The words “bowel cancer” hit me in the face like a shovel, however it didn’t really come out of the blue because in hindsight I had been symptomatic for a long time with what many doctors thought was irritable bowel syndrome. Because I’d been feeling so ill for so long, I was afraid that I didn’t stand a chance of surviving. My priorities revolved around treatment and survival. I underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and finally a permanent colostomy. I absolutely thought I’d never leave home, and at that moment I wanted to hide away forever.

Let’s fast forward to when I woke up after the operation. I looked down at the clear colostomy bag that the surgeon attached to me. When I saw my stoma, I felt a sudden surge of emotion, of affection if you will, for this little pink blob that was going to enable me to live a long and happy life. It was absolutely opposite to the reaction I had expected.

I'm one of the lucky ones... so here I am 7 years on.

Since becoming an ostomate I've attempted (albeit in a small way) to help other people in similar situations come to terms with the look of their new body. Obviously there's very little I can actually do, as self-confidence comes from within, but there's a chance that someone reading my blog or seeing my pictures might take heart and possibly look at themselves through different eyes.

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I've never been a self-confident person. Since my teens I've been emotionally plagued with thoughts of worthlessness and low self-esteem, so it’s a puzzling turnabout that I am confident in myself now. I truly believe some of that confidence comes through the struggle to stay alive, and to still be here, and the deep appreciation I feel for that gift. I truly feel blessed. The traumatic experience through my blip of ill health taught me that I'm stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, which has given me a sense of internal calm.

I'd never spoken to anyone with an ostomy until I started Gladrags & Bags. This past May I was in the mind set that I had written my last blog post, until one morning I received an email from what I can only describe as an earth angel who gave me the encouragement and support I needed — just at the right time. That message kick up the bum in the nicest possible way because a shared experience can make all the difference.

How do you feel about your body since ostomy surgery?

My photos celebrate being alive. I've never claimed that my body is anything special to look at, but it’s mine and it’s special to me for fighting off colon cancer and for recovering, even with the added extras that recovery brought with it. If a boudoir photo shoot is what you need to understand and appreciate how amazing your body is, then my advice is to go for it! Start looking at yourself with new eyes.

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Most of us wouldn't put up with a best mate who says the awful things that we so readily say about ourselves, why on earth would you? Therefore, if it’s not acceptable that others view ostomates as unattractive, then it’s certainly not acceptable to think that way about ourselves. Even if you can't bring yourself to love your new body, then at least take pride in what it has been able to achieve. Recovery from ostomy surgery (or any form of body altering surgery for that matter) is very tough, but you still being here means you're far tougher!!

Sue Dore-88

This post originally appeared on Gladrags & Bags.

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