New beginnings with a continent ostomy.

I've struggled with chronic intestinal illness throughout my entire life, and have undergone numerous tests, medications, and operations. I've had my colon removed, I've had an ileostomy, I've had a reversal with a pull-through procedure, and now I live with a continent ostomy. I resisted the idea of having another surgery, but my body just was not adjusting to my small intestine attached directly to the rectum. As a college student, I was worn out and it was hard dealing with gastrointestinal inconveniences numerous times a day. My quality of life was decreasing, both mentally and physically. I needed to try something new, so after lots of research and conversations with my doctor, I made the decision to give the Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir (BCIR) a try. I had to travel to California to undergo the procedure because very few surgeons are trained in BCIR, which is an improved version of the Koch pouch. My surgeon has been performing this surgery since 1989 so I knew I was going to be in excellent hands.

My hospital stay after the surgery was two weeks. Recovery was difficult, to say the least! I had six tubes coming out my body, a few minor complications, and A LOT of pain. My boyfriend stayed by my side the entire time and helped me get through it. I am so thankful for him, along with the support of my mom, and one of my best friends who surprised me with a visit. After two weeks of tears, tubes, and triumphs, I was able to go home. I'm currently recovering and know that healing from this will take time before I can return to my normal self but already I can feel the difference in my body. Many of my previous symptoms have ceased, and I'm adjusting to life as an ostomate again. But unlike a conventional ileostomy, I don't have to wear an external bag so I don't have to worry about leaks. It's been three weeks and I'm so relieved I decided to go through with this surgery.

This surgery has given me a few revelations:

1. It's okay not to be strong all the time. I have always felt pressure to save face, to hide how I'm feeling and how I'm processing everything. I shouldn't have to hide my struggles. I don't have to pretend that everything is okay.

2. It's okay to cry. I've cried over the past three weeks more than I can ever remember. I've been allowing myself to experience my emotional responses. It's okay to cry from pain, it's okay to cry from being overwhelmed, it's okay to cry simply because you need to. Crying isn't a weakness.

3. Never take eating for granted. My love/hate relationship with food is more on the hate side. Eating hurts right now and it's frustrating. Confined to soft and liquid foods, all I really want is a sandwich. Never take your normal digestive tract for granted.

4. Love makes things so much better. I'm so thankful and blessed for the support. Thank you to everyone to who texted me, called me, and stayed by my side through my illness. Feeling loved is the best feeling in the world, whether it's my family, friends, or the person you are in love with. It's incredibly healing, and I'm so happy that I don't have to do this alone.

My body has changed a lot in a short period of time and I'm still adjusting to these major changes. I have several new scars that adorn my belly. A scar from the gastrostomy tube I had in the hospital, a few scars from the drains that were sutured into my body, and a very long vertical incision that extends from above my belly button down to my pubic bone. My formerly toned stomach is now slightly obscured by scar tissues and scars. It is very hard mentally to deal with these changes, and I'm not going to pretend that I haven't had some negative thoughts. However, I'm trying to remember that our bodies are just vessels for our souls, and who we are on the inside is what matters. I'm slowly working towards loving my new body.

Yes, I have a hole in my lower abdomen that I must drain with a catheter several times a day. Yes, I don't have a large intestine. Yes, I don't go to the bathroom like everyone else. And I'm still human, I still have value, and I still have a purpose.