At the age of 28 I started passing blood from my back passage. On examination, my consultant sent me for an urgent biopsy, which later confirmed that I had bowel cancer. A week later they told me the tumour was on a nerve inside my bowel and that I would have to have a permanent colostomy.
I can remember the devastating feeling. My exact words were: “I would rather die, than have to live with a colostomy”. I felt sick, my whole world had fallen apart - how would I ever feel sexy or attractive again? What would my husband think of me? Could he possibly look at me in the same way?
I remember waking up after surgery and not wanting to look: I couldn’t bear to see what they had given me. Although it was possible my stoma had saved my life, I could not come to the terms with being stuck with it for the rest of my life. When the nurse came to dress my wound and took down the covers I felt disgusted, unattractive and alone. The thought of having to clean it, touch it, look at it made me feel sick. How could I be so young and have to be going through this?
It took me years to come to terms with my stoma. At one point I weighed only four stone, I had Clostridium Difficile and a blood clot. My marriage had gone past saving and I left my husband.
I knew I had hit my lowest point, the day I looked into my mum's eyes and seeing her pain. They had been there by my bedside, through all of it and I couldn't put them through any more suffering. So from that point I decided I needed to turn all my emotions around and get my mind focused to get well again.
All of a sudden something changed inside me: I wanted to feel well and get back to my normal positive self. I started to gain weight and when I got to six stone I started six months of chemotherapy. It was a very tough period: the chemo made my output runny and sometimes I would be out in public and my bag would leak or even come off. I felt embarrassed. I hated it and would sit in my room alone and cry.
I realised I had to look at my life and turn it around for the better, because the alternative would be to lie down and give up. I finished my chemo and soon I started work caring in the community and without even realising I began started to pick myself up. I was laughing again and I started meeting friends.
I had to start my life all over again, single, and with this thing stuck to my stomach. The thought of ever meeting anyone again and undressing twisted my insides - I knew that if I couldn’t accept it, then who else would? It was a long battle to build up some confidence again. As time went by my confidence grew, I never hid the fact that I had a stoma: talking about it and telling people is what got me through.
The reactions I got from men surprised me, as they would tell me how beautiful I was, and before long I started going out in my lovely old clothes feeling more myself. I started to date again and never once had a negative reaction from anyone.
I went back to the gym and started loving myself again - realising that my stoma - who I now call Petal - is part of me. She saved my life and there is not one single day that I wake up sad, depressed or negative; I am happy and very confident with my body.
Although Petal plays up at times I never let her get me down. I am just so thankful to be alive and well. Petal is there for life and for that I am truly grateful.