‘Living with a stoma has given me back my life’: Co Down woman wants to erase stigma of colostomy bags

A young Co Down woman who experienced repeated bowel issues over a number of years and was told she was “too young to have bowel cancer” as she awaited her diagnosis, has spoken about living with a stoma which she says gave her “my life back ”.

icky MacDowall, (32) from north Down, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and had to have a colostomy bag—also known as a stoma—fitted.

A stoma is an opening on the abdomen that can be connected to either your digestive or urinary system to allow waste to be diverted out of your body.

Vicky now runs the blog ‘My Little Stomy’ which details her daily activities along with photographs of her stoma bag to help beat the misconceptions surrounding having the condition.

“The stigma about stomas is lifting, but it’s not where it needs to be, there are still lots of people who suffer in silence and who don’t want to go to a doctor,” said Vicky, who says she receives messages on social media from people with similar conditions to herself.

She believes this means people are more open to speaking about bowel and digestive issues, but still wants people to contact doctors about their symptoms.

The awareness of spotting bowel conditions early has been heightened by the recent death of journalist and campaigner Dame Deborah James.

Dame Deborah, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2016, and led a campaign in the months prior to her death for everyone “to check their poo” for symptoms of bowel disorders, including cancer.

Vicky’s first symptoms began in late 2016, when she noticed she needed the bathroom a lot more than usual. She then found it difficult to predict when she would need the toilet.

Initially believing her issues were down to something she had eaten, Vicky then began to notice one of the most prominent warning signs something further was wrong in early 2017 after discovering blood in her stool.

It wasn’t until a more serious side effect of her condition had occurred that Vicky was finally able to get a diagnosis for her condition.

“The day after my 27th birthday I collapsed in my dad’s house, and I was rushed to hospital in excruciating pain. I had lost so much weight and was in so much pain. The next morning, I woke up to a consultant who told me they believed I had ulcerative colitis,” said Vicky, who was relieved to finally get a diagnosis she felt was more accurate to how she was feeling.

Ulcerative colitis is a long-term condition where the colon and rectum become inflamed. The condition is serious but can be managed with medication.

Now with an accurate diagnosis, Vicky was able to receive mediation to help manage the condition, eventually putting it into remission.

However, it wasn’t long before her issues began again, as after Vicky and her now-husband went on holiday to Jamaica, she unfortunately picked up a stomach bug which led to her ulcerative colitis returning worse than before.

This time her condition became unmanageable by medication, and she was then told the only thing left was to operate and provide her with a stoma.

“I became so ill I got sepsis, I had to have iron infusions, medication administered each day and I don’t know how many tablets to push the disease into remission again, said Vicky. “I just knew my body was giving up and I was told there was nothing else to be done for me.”

She now lives a full life thanks to her stoma, but awaits some further surgeries and she’s keen to stamp out any misconceptions people may have.

“I know there are people out there who think it’s the worst thing that could happen to them,” Vicky added.

“Everyone will be different, but it’s given me my life back because without it I probably wouldn’t be here.”

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