The fact that Belfast woman Donna Cusack isn’t afraid to get her belly out has proved to be inspirational.
Donna, who had her bowel removed due to colitis, posed with her colostomy bag earlier this year to fight the stigma around surrounding such bags. And just this week she got her belly out to help raise awareness of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Donna explained: “Last year I was happy, healthy and living life to the full. In September 2015 I began to experience a change in my bowel habits which I put down to irritable bowel syndrome which I was diagnosed with in 2008.
“Initially I wasn’t concerned but four weeks later when my toilet trips were getting more frequent, I was getting mild stomach cramps and temperatures and it was starting to affect my work as a veterinary care assistant I knew something wasn’t right. After speaking to the out of hours doctor he advised me to go straight to A+E.
There Donna was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and put on steroids. Unfortunately the steroids failed to work, and even morphine wasn’t helping so the 37-year-old was sent for emergency surgery to remove all of my large bowel before it perforated.
Donna said: “Before my diagnosis all I thought I knew about colostomy bags was that they were for old people. I was given diagrams and leaflets on the procedure and living with an ostomy but I was in total denial. I was convinced the steroids would work and I wouldn’t need an operation.
“I spent six weeks in hospital and lost a lot of weight. At first I couldn’t accept it. I was crying and kept thinking ‘Why me?’
“It took three months to recover well enough that I could do day-to-day things with ease, socialise, leave the house, travel. I had to give up my car, my job and living on benefits was a struggle. My relationship with my partner broke down, not because of my illness but it didn’t help my already fragile emotional state and lack of self confidence.
“With the help and support of family, friends and the charity Chronically Fabulous, who offered me a free makeover and photoshoot, I’ve gained some of my body confidence back.
“My emotional state of mind is still a work in progress. Luckily I haven’t experienced any stigma of ostomies first hand – I’ve had so many positive messages from people all over the world experiencing irritable bowel disease so I’ve learned that it’s not something I should be ashamed of.
“My bag saved my life but I resent it for taking away the life I had before, for taking away the old me. In 2017 I’ll hopefully get some of the old me back again. In January I’m having my third and final operation to remove my bag. I’ll be bag free, I’ll be able to go back to work and I’ll finally begin to get some sense of normality back.”