Another Christmas has come and gone… The prawns have all been eaten; the champagne has all been popped. My recycle bin is full of torn, balled up gift wrap and I am now the happy owner of a new cookbook and a wok.
I love giving gifts. I love watching people’s faces as they open something I have chosen for them. I gave my 3 year old nephew a green drink bottle and a little wind up green critter that scoots around on the floor. I was not aware when I was shopping that his favourite colour is green. But when he opened the gift, grinned and yelled, “A green drink bottle and a green snake! That’s my favourite colour!” I felt all warm inside. He was so THANKFUL.
What are we thankful for? I am thankful for lots of things; big and small, trivial and important. I am thankful for my family and friends, thankful for the amazing opportunity I have to be a mum to my daughter. At this time of year I am thankful for lazy summer days, the smell of BBQs, crisp cold beer and the feel of hot sand then cold water between my toes at my local beach.
There are so many things to be thankful for, one begins to wonder where to start. To coin a phrase from a classic musical movie… We start at the very beginning. With life.
I am thankful for my life. I assume everyone is. Aren’t we? Sometimes life totally sucks balls, but on the whole it is pretty amazing and I am truly grateful. I’d rather be alive and having a crap day than not alive at all.
Let me tell you a little about my life…
I am 28, a mum to a beautiful girl who is about to turn one. I run a pub with my husband. I have 2 tertiary degrees, neither of which I use in my current line of work. I absolutely love the beach and I stay awake reading books until ridiculous hours of the night (then feel like total crap in the morning). Most of these things are things that you would find out about me if you sat next to me at a wedding or chatted to me on a flight from A to B. But there is one big thing I don’t announce to the world… I have a stoma.
“A what now?” I hear you say.
A stoma. A poo bag. A crap sack. Stuck to the right hand side of my tummy. Stomas are most commonly associated with people in nursing homes and bowel cancer sufferers; however you’d be surprised how many younger people have them.
At the age of 20 after about 4 years of bad tummy aches, lots of trips to the loo and a misdiagnosis of lactose intolerance I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s is an autoimmune inflammatory disease of the intestinal tract. It can occur anywhere from the top to the bottom but is most commonly found in the large intestine (where mine was). It causes excessive bloating, horrendous abdominal pain and in my case severe diarrhoea as well as a whole host of secondary issues like iron deficiency etc. Over the course of the next 5 years I received a bounty of pharmaceutical treatments for the disease. Some of them worked for short periods but the disease continued to flare up after 6-12 months of each drug. It was like a rollercoaster of physical and emotional health. During this 5 year period I finished my uni study and began teaching high school students biology and physical education. Whilst teaching I took so many sick days purely because I couldn’t physically drag myself out of bed I was so exhausted. I let my colleagues down and I let my students down. I still think about that a lot and I feel terrible about it. I lived on berocca dissolvable tablets for about 2 weeks because it was all I could handle and I was rushing to the toilet in excess of 10 or 15 times a day. In the end I resigned from my job as I was getting married and moving further away and I just couldn’t commit to the long commute based on my health.
My doctors (who are amazing) continued to tell me that I was headed for surgery. I pushed it away thinking ‘hell no I am not getting a poo bag!’ But I was wrong. In 2009, at age 25 and weighing in at about 48kg (55kg is my normal healthy weight) I finally decided I’d had enough of feeling like crap and not being able to have a life so I told my doctor to book me in.
I woke up with a giant scar running from the end of my sternum south for about 8 inches. I was missing my entire large intestine and 15cm of my small intestine, and I had a little bag stuck to my tummy which was to become my new best friend.
Cutting a much longer story short, I ended up back on the operating table a week later because my bowel had twisted (most intense pain I have ever endured) and I was vomiting bowel contents. I spent 3 nights in ICU, dropped to about 42kg and had a nasogastric tube and a nutrient drip for a week or so. Safe to say I was far too thin, sunken around the eyes and looked like Smeagal from Lord of the Rings. Attractive!
What was I thankful for back then? Being able to shower without needing to sit down halfway through. Making it through the night without getting up for the toilet. Getting my IV lines removed. The first time I ate real food and not jelly or ice chips! Winner!
But most of all… My life. I had it back. I actually had it. My dad says that when they rushed me back to theatre (at 9.30pm having called in the surgeon, anaesthetist and extra helpers) he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye and he felt sick at the prospect that he would never see me again. It wasn’t until days after that I realised how close I came and how sick I must have been for that all to happen. I will never forget the moment it all clicked in my head. Very intense moment.
So what now? 3 years on. I still have my stoma. I place an order for my bag supplies and other products like protective wipes and pastes once a month. I do not wear a bikini. I cannot eat oranges. I should avoid popcorn. However; I do eat popcorn (oops), I still play contact sport, I have had a baby, I can wear fitted clothing and probably the coolest thing is that I can poo with my pants still on! Handy in public toilets when putting your bare ass on the seat is less than appealing.
And I am still truly thankful. It might be annoying sometimes and it might freak people out. But it gave me my life. How could I possibly not be thankful?
Life is unpredictable. It can end before it even feels like it’s begun or throw curve balls every step of the way. It is a wild, bumpy and at times below par ride. But it is what it is and we all choose every day how we will look at it. I encourage you to be thankful for the life you have. It might not be ideal all the time but then how would we know to be thankful for the good times if it was?
Sarah is a reader of Inked. I love this story. I love the diversity and the honesty and the real-ness of it all. Thank you so much for sharing a part of your life with us xox