“Have you ever thought of writing a book?” That was something Lois Fink heard from friends and colleagues countless times, and so, in 2016 she wholeheartedly made the decision to write Courage Takes Guts, Lessons Learned From A Lost Colon. One and a half years later, the book was finished and self-published in April 2017.
“Memories I thought had been dealt with, surprised me. Tears streamed down my face as I relived what I was writing. There were times I was exhausted, but overall, I experienced a sense of closure.” – Lois Fink
Lois and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1966, had life-saving ostomy surgery in 1986, and made a career of advocacy as a motivational speaker. At age 14, she knew something was wrong. She was underweight, not menstruating, suffering from leg cramps, fatigue, and in constant pain. Initially misdiagnosed as growing pains, her ongoing symptoms were dismissed as psychological issues. “I was running the risk of being admitted to a mental hospital,” she says in the book. That blatant rejection is a stark reminder of how far gastroenterology has come and sheds light on why the instincts of young patients should be taken seriously. “I knew I was very sick,” was her reaction after being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
However, she never pitied herself and continued to live her life. Lois went on to attend college, moved to Denver, and later to Seattle. After enervating issues from Crohn’s, she undergoes several more surgeries including a permanent ileostomy. Lois describes the anxieties being a new ostomate but when she meets someone else who also has an ostomy, it eases her fears.
“I experienced freedom for the first time in twenty years: freedom from bowel incontinence, freedom to walk in the park, watch a movie, or enjoy a meal without running to the bathroom; freedom to really listen to someone while they spoke instead of worrying if my body would betray or embarrass me.”
Her dry wit underscores an important message in the book about stigmas surrounding bowel disease and, in particular, ostomy surgery. While Lois admits to setbacks – such as pouch leaks or men not dating her after she disclosed her ostomy – her story is one of strength, optimism and in the end, hope. Lois writes, “In the middle of a crisis it’s difficult to ask what benefits this might ultimately bring us, or what gifts we might receive if we’re willing to see the situation in a different light. When we change how we view our circumstances, our life changes. We can learn to be grateful.”
The book also features perspectives from Joanna Burgess, an ostomate and nurse, who shares her personal and professional journey. The final section contains a glossary of important terms and a thorough list of resources ranging from advocacy groups and online communities, to ostomy manufacturers and support for children and teens with ostomies.
From start to end, self-publishing has been an eye-opening and empowering experience for Lois (she even offers advice on the subject) but adds, “I’m glad I did, but I’m a one-book woman!”
Check out our book club list for more great reads.