As the sun sets on another year, I find myself in a contemplative state, reflecting on the journey that 2023 has been. It’s been a year punctuated by accomplishments and challenges, each leaving its unique mark on my life as an ostomate. Yet, through it all, I’m filled with gratitude and a sense of optimism as I look towards the horizon of a new year.

Accomplishments to Cherish

This year, I’ve reached milestones that I once thought were beyond my reach post-surgery. The insurmountable peaks ladened by Doctor reports and other health care professionals would have had me confined to four walls and bound to a wheelchair. And the thought of living with a stoma bag attached to me for the rest of my life was the least of my problems. However, challenging the status quo was what I do best, and 2023 was the year I started to take control and demonstrate how resilient and capable I am with the support from loved ones and a wonderful community.

Perhaps what fills my heart the most is the work I’ve done within the ostomy community. Sharing my story, connecting with others, and spreading awareness has not only been empowering but also immensely rewarding. I’ve been immensely grateful to have worked with Bowel Cancer UK – the UK’s leading bowel cancer charity – they’ve helped me tell my story in Chat magazine, Sunday Mirror and on their website.  I’m an Ambassador for Respond Healthcare LTD who have introduced me to a wonderful community of Ostomate and together we formed the Ambassadors on a mission to educate and raise awareness of living with a stoma, they have given me a space to write a monthly blog post about a variety of subjects has been one of my most proudest of achievements.

I took part in my first fundraiser, raising over £1000 for Bowel Cancer UK which inspired my daughter to take part in the Muddy Kids event organised by Cancer Research UK and raised just shy of £900. And through family and friends – and collaborative fundraisers – we’ve raised £4550 for charity.

I’ve been invited as a guest on the Beyond the Pouch podcast hosted by the wonderfully talented – fellow Ambassadors – Rachel and Louise, and I’ve been on the Stoma4Life podcast too where I’ve been able to tell my story and share experiences. I also took the time to talk about the inequality the BAME community faces when it comes to key medical research and trials and how we can all bridge the canyon which only grows larger with every passing day.

On the professional front, after a lengthy absence from work, I finally went back – albeit on very limited hours. I honestly thought at one point that I may never be able to work due to the chronic nerve damage I sustained after surgery and the strong painkillers I’ve been prescribed. Navigating the workplace with a stoma presented its own set of challenges, but my workplace has been more than accommodating and with the help and support from a wonderful HR Rep and my Line Manager I’ve managed to reintegrate with little to no resistance.

Confronting Challenges Head-On

Despite the highs, this year wasn’t without its trials. Adapting to life with a stoma is a continuous process, fraught with learning curves and the occasional setback. There were days when my stoma tested my patience – unexpected leaks or skin irritations that reminded me of the journey’s complexities. Yet, every hurdle reinforced the importance of self-care and the value of resilience.

The mental aspect of living with an ostomy and a life-changing injury and a chronic illness cannot be understated. Something I had not taken the time to appreciate or acknowledge until the situation became unbearable and hurtful for my immediate family. I’ve had moments of doubt and anxiety about my body image, social interactions, and long-term health. I’ve pushed my body too hard and failed to appreciate the severity of the damage done to my body during the colostomy, sepsis and staph infection. I was in denial for a very long time which only made the fall of realisation of my limitations so much harder.

The very thought of going back to work was keeping me up at night. Having been housebound for a prolonged amount of time had made me socially awkward and the thought of my stoma erupting whilst presenting to my peers and Directors was constantly on my mind. I’ve sat clutching my stoma bag whilst on a video call with my line manager in the hope I could muffle the noise and control the leak on many occasions.

Finding comfort in social scenarios, when out with friends or family, while managing an ostomy required a certain level of finesse. Over time, I’ve learned the art of preparation and discreet care, ensuring that my social life remains vibrant and full. My children have found it to be very amusing when I do pass wind and I’ve learned to embrace it and in turn I’m becoming kinder to myself.

Envisioning the Year Ahead

Looking ahead to the coming year, I am brimming with hope and anticipation. I aim to build upon the successes of 2023 and enter 2024 with an undeterred spirit. My experiences have equipped me with knowledge and fortitude, and I plan to carry these gifts forward. I will keep advocating for ostomy awareness, striving to dismantle any lingering stigmas associated with living with a stoma and continue to build bridges for the BAME community. By educating and sharing, I believe we can pave the way toward greater understanding and acceptance.

Prioritising my health – both physical and mental – will always be at the forefront. Staying informed about the latest in ostomy care and being proactive in wellness practices will help ensure that I’m the best version of myself in the coming year.

As 2023 draws to a close, I carry with me an unshakeable belief in the power of perseverance and positivity. An ostomy may be a part of my life, but it’s clear that with every challenge comes an opportunity for growth. Here’s to 2024 – may it be a year of continued resilience, joy, and meaningful experiences, with a stoma or otherwise.