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Jessica Sandiford is 23-years-old and lives in Darlington located in North East England. She has worked in health care for the past six years and apprenticed for three years in home care while earning her diplomas in Health & Social Care. She currently works at Darlington Memorial Hospital in the elective surgery ward, which just so happens to be the ward where she spent two months recovering from life-saving ostomy surgery in 2012.
Jessica’s life has taken a few unexpected turns, but as she shares her ostomy story with us, it’s clear to see that sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.
In March, 2011 at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
This was the very first time I’d heard the words ‘Inflammatory Bowel Disease’. I didn’t fully understand it at the time and didn’t know who to talk to about it besides my family and closest friends. The next year of coping with this illness was challenging because I’d just turned 18 and all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends, but instead I dealt with a lot of painful and unpredictable symptoms. I always worried about soiling myself in public because the urge to “go” would come out of nowhere and usually too late to find a bathroom.
I was put on a number of steroid treatments which seemed to work for most part, but unfortunately in April, 2012 I was admitted to the hospital when my colon perforated and I developed Peritonitis. The doctors said I needed major surgery and had a 50/50 chance of surviving! I told them, “do what needs to be done,” and then I prepared myself for 8+ hour operation. When I woke up from surgery, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. The only thing I recall was being in a hospital. They explained to me that I spent two days in a medically induced coma in order for my body to come around from the operation.
It was during a bed bath that I saw the stoma for the first time.
I actually asked my nurse what the “red tube” hanging from my belly was for, and that’s when she explained an ileostomy. I had never heard of an ostomy or stoma, so it came as a shock because I wasn’t expecting Charlie (what I named my stoma), but since it gave me my life back I was so grateful. I use the term, ‘a bag or a box’ literally because without mine I wouldn’t be alive.
However, this wasn’t the end of my journey. In 2014 I was diagnosed with Vulval Crohn’s, which I had no idea existed! And earlier this year I had an abdominal wall refashion to help neaten up my scar which was left from the prior surgery. In the same year I underwent a Panproctocolectomy, which is an operation that removes the large bowel, rectum, and the anal canal. This type of stoma results in a permanent ileostomy, so now have no bum hole… what a joy to be one orifice down!
I came across the Purple Wings Charity… and really glad I did.
In August I attended an event called the Purple Wing’s charity ball. The mission of the Purple Wings Charity is to help sufferers of bowel disease with ostomies regain confidence and self-esteem. This event is where I met Jasmine Stacey for the first time. As we started sharing our stories, we immediately bonded having Crohn’s and an ileostomy in common. Jasmine asked me to be part of a holiday photo shoot for her lingerie line, and of course my answer was YES!
I couldn’t believe I was about to be part of the Jasmine Stacey Collection campaign, it’s something I never expected would happen to me. As I traveled to London for the shoot, I was really nervous but so excited because I wanted to support Jasmine’s vision of people with ostomies (and scars) as models. When I tried on all the different sets, it felt great to be in underwear that was designed so beautifully for ostomates. Everything fit perfectly and felt so comfortable, and when the photos came back I was ecstatic!
Having an ostomy has given me a totally different outlook on everything.
My boyfriend, family and friends have helped me through so much and I can’t thank them enough for being with me every step of the way. Going through all of this has taught me to be grateful for my life and to surround myself with people who make me feel happy.
Crohn’s disease may have put my life on hold at times, but I will never let it define me or stop me from pursuing my dreams. The one thing in this entire situation that I can control is how I respond to it. I refuse to be negative about what happened to me because so much goodness has come into my life thanks to my ileostomy.
And to Jasmine… you have taught me so much and I am so grateful to have met you. I absolutely love representing your brand because you empower women with ostomies to feel confident and sexy. You are allowing your life circumstances to grow you into a beautiful strong woman and help others to love themselves regardless of what life throws at them.
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Feature image: © Jasmine Stacey Collection