In the early summer of 2012, Trish Massart’s life was just as she wanted it. On her blog she wrote, “I was living the best life I could have ever imagined. I lived in Ottawa Ontario with my two dogs in a log home of my dreams, surrounded by countryside and friendly neighbors. I had a great career that afforded me an enviable lifestyle and my social life was filled with myriad friends from all walks of life… it was my perfect version of, well, perfection.”
All that changed when, at 46, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. While preparing for a Half Ironman in Austin, Texas, Trish became ill with what she thought was the flu. Her initial diagnosis was an inflamed gallbladder and possible pancreatitis, until she began vomiting feces.
“At this point, doctors began to suspect something far more sinister than cholecystitis. A CT scan revealed a three-inch tumor in the transverse colon. It had fully occluded, causing the vomiting. A colonoscopy confirmed what they suspected — cancer.”
Her prognosis was poor. Trish said, “I was considered inoperable and maybe if I was lucky, and if the chemo worked well, I had a 6% chance of surviving 24 months.” In the days following her devastating diagnosis, she was understandably terrified saying, “Dying was all I could think about. And I was scared shitless.”
But Trish loves proving people wrong. After numerous rounds of chemotherapy, six major surgeries, countless procedures, scans and tests and months of recovery, Trish entered remission against all the odds. “I came out the other side somewhat intact and, well, better for the experience,” she said.
One consequence of her extensive treatment was an ileostomy. Before having surgery, Trish knew very little about ostomies. Her only prior experience was that of a work colleague who had his colon removed due to cancer. “After his treatments and recovery, he came back to work with a colostomy. He took the time to explain to us how the colostomy saved his life and how he was going to have it for the rest of his life. He patiently answered all our questions. And yet, I remember thinking in my naive way that I could never be okay with an ostomy.”
Trish didn’t have a choice. During a fifteen-hour operation, surgeons removed nearly 24 inches of her ileum and nearly 63 inches of her colon. She currently has about nine inches of her sigmoid colon remaining — which she fondly calls her “semi-colon.” Her ostomy was a surprise. “I was clueless about my surgery. I didn't even realize I had an ileostomy. But on the first day on the surgical ward, an ET nurse came to change the ostomy appliance. I was fascinated by what I saw.”
Once she understood what happened, her questions began: What could she eat? How did she take care of it? What could she wear? Could she still run with it? Astonished by her tenacity, the doctors didn't have answers. Trish took matters into her own hands.
“I had questions that dietitians and doctors seemed incapable of answering. As a triathlete and having a history of athletics, I knew full well that I needed to do some research. Missing my gallbladder, parts of my liver, my colon and a 24 inches section of ileum, I had to find out which nutrients I would be challenged by. Could I use food to manage ileostomy output? Could I run a marathon? Could I strength train? What would chemo do to my digestion? And so on. I became a student of all things colon cancer.”
Since her diagnosis and surgery, Trish has committed herself to learn all she can about nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle for ostomates and is using her knowledge to assist others through In The Bag Nutrition.
“My goal as a nutrition and lifestyle coach is to help others and to provide ostomates with real-world advice. I teach how to eat healthfully, exercise safely and embrace life fully. Every person with an ostomy or resected digestive tract has unique challenges. My goal is to provide one-on-one coaching that is as unique as they are.”
And for Trish 2.0, starting over and fully embracing life is a vow she reaffirms every day. “Before cancer I spent 50% of my time planning my future, 40% ruminating my past and 10% living in the present. What bullshit. All we really have is now. Each morning when we wake up, we get to make a choice. For me, I choose joy.”