My story begins many, many years ago. I was born in New Zealand, a small town called Waipawa, in the Central Hawkes Bay area of the North Island in 1934. My health issues began in 1976, about three months after I married my husband of 40 years. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and had surgery and radiation treatment. The troubles with my bowel started after that and for the next 25 years I was plagued by terrible bowel issues, frequently swinging between constipation and diarrhoea, urgency and often embarrassing incontinence where I would not make it to the toilet on time.
I had major surgery a few years after my cancer treatment, to reconstruct the vagina, but it did not go well and I had a three month stay in hospital, needing rehabilitation after that to recover. The bowel issues continued and I suffered from what I know now is Radiation Colitis, serious damage to my bowel from the radiation treatment for my cancer. I was forever fearful and always needed to know where the nearest toilet was.
I enjoyed lawn bowls and have a horrendous memory of my white bowls outfit after a terrible accident on the lawn green! Thankfully I had a wonderfully understanding husband who always loved me despite my many problems. In 1988, after my husband retired, we enjoyed the most amazing three month holiday back to his home country of Scotland. It was a holiday of a life time and I don’t quite know how I managed, again, always looking for a toilet and forever fearing a bowel accident. In 2010, my husband and I decided to make the move to live in QLD, Australia so we could both be closer to our family. Our children and grand-children are so important to us. We had a lovely home in Redcliffe, and I enjoyed indoor bowls and gardening. I would spend many days walking along the waterfront, leaving my husband in the car with his binoculars, watching the surfers!
Sadly I lost my husband in 2011, after only a year of being in Australia. In 2018 I moved from our home into a care facility. Not really what I wanted, but my family thought it best. This was very hard for me, as I also lost my driver’s licence, bad eyesight issues preventing doctors giving me the medical clearance. I didn’t like giving up my independence and freedom, after 57 years of driving it was a very sad day!
Over the years, I have had so many admissions to hospital with bowel obstructions, often caused by a twisted bowel. I have had many trips to the operating room for bowel resections, with the ends re-joined together each time. Still the bowel troubles continued to get worse, and life was a juggle of medicines to stop me going to the toilet (gastrostop up to 12 per day) and then some others to make me go when I got blocked. I have suffered with weight loss, and was down to 39kg at one point. For my 80th Birthday, my daughter and I took a well-earned break and went on a four day cruise…but sadly, my bowels really affected our time away, always looking for a toilet!
Two years ago I had a lovely GP refer me to see an also lovely colorectal surgeon and discussions about my bowel problems resulted in an offer to do a colostomy. After visiting with the surgeon and discussing having a stoma, my daughter and I met with the Stomal Therapy Nurse to talk about what life with a stoma would mean. I have severe arthritis and needed to know I could manage the products and stoma cares…I wanted to be sure I could maintain my independence. It was decided I would be booked for surgery in the coming weeks, but my bowel had other ideas, and that same day, in terrible pain, I was put in hospital with another bowel obstruction and woke up in ICU with my colostomy!
After three days in ICU I was back in the ward learning to look after my new stoma…I now call him Fred and I have been looking after my stoma independently ever since.
It wasn’t easy getting used to things, and I thank the Stoma Nurses who helped me adjust to wearing a bag. I am fine with Fred now, and even though there are days he makes me go to the toilet so much I get very tired, he has certainly given me a better quality of life. I use a 2 piece with a stick-on pouch, which is easier for my hands to manage, as recommended to me by my Stomal Therapy Nurse in hospital. Even though my bowel is still very active, and I am careful of what I eat when I go out to make sure he doesn’t misbehave too much, I manage very well. I have had some problems with a parastomal hernia and Fred decided to prolapse too, so I now wear a support belt when I am up and about. Fred lays low as long as I have my belt on! My belt sits by my bed at night and I slip it on before I get up in the mornings.
I have wondered often, why someone did not offer me a Fred long ago.
Last year, I had the most memorable of birthdays for my 85th. My wonderful daughter arranged all my favourite people to come for a lovely luncheon, and it was well worth celebrating since it had been a whole year without a trip to hospital or the need for any surgery. It was a truly great day of celebrations and happy memories.