By: Lydia Andrew
After two years of trying the most powerful immunosuppressants available and never getting into remission, I had to have surgery to remove my large intestine and got an ileostomy. An ileostomy happens when a piece of the ileum, where the small intestine and large connect, is diverted to an opening in the abdomen, allowing waste to be go into a bag.
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, or UC, which is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes ulcers in the large intestine and rectum. At the time of surgery, I found it difficult to get my head around what I was going through. I feared that I would never be attractive or understood and that people would find me unhygienic and disgusting.
The online community for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, the umbrella term for UC and short for IBD, on Instagram proved me wrong. With more than 700,000 posts for the IBD hashtag, this community is strong and resilient. I think finding people that were going through the same problems at the same time as I was, was comforting.
Suddenly I wasn’t alone with this diagnosis and there were other attractive young women that were on the same boat as me.Soon enough, I contacted a lingerie brand called Jasmine Stacey and four months after my surgery, we did a photoshoot for her Valentines collection, which was really successful. My confidence grew and before we knew it, BBC3 contacted Jasmine and asked if they could do a clip of us on their 'Amazing Humans’ series. In June 2017, the video was released and now has 13 million views on Facebook alone. The outpour of messages from women and men, from all over the world, asking advice or just giving support was unbelievable. The video showed me that I could set myself free from my fears and insecurities and become confident - an IBD warrior.I have UC but UC will never have me.
Heading into surgery, I had a preconceived idea that I would have to change the way I dressed and my overall style to accommodate the ostomy bag. I felt my ileostomy would be changing my identity and it would be another part of me that would be dictated by having UC. Much to my delight I didn’t have to change my wardrobe! Six weeks following surgery I wore a skin tight catsuit to a party and no-one knew anything. Soon I figured it out that all you need is a good pair of high-waisted jeans, and for wearing dresses, a pair of high-waisted tight underwear and everything is concealed.Last summer was my first holiday away with my ileostomy bag and I only wore one piece swimsuits, which completely concealed my bag.
A year later I have just come back from holiday and I only wore tiny bikinis that did show my bag. I find that being confident and at ease with yourself makes people around you feel the same. Of course, I had concerns and was worried people would stare and point, but actually I only got smiles and I kept reminding myself, I am brave and I am proud of what has saved my life. The more awareness there is of stoma bags and IBD the more confident others become.
Lydia Andrew is 23 years old. She recently graduated from Loughborough University with a degree in Textiles: Innovation and Design. Lydia is currently working as an Assistant Designer for Artistic Licence Art Studio. Her hobbies include beading and embellishing fabrics, and walking her dog. You can follow her @lydiaandrew.