Ten years. Some short, some long, some tired, some sad, some exciting. But it's been 10 years and I'm still here.
April of 1998 found me in one long hospitalization following 40-50 previous stays in the couple years before. My immune system practically gone, my veins shot from all the tests and IVs, my digestive tract resembling something you might see on Mars. My high school classmates thought me moved, sick with leukemia, or just - gone. My parents, my siblings, my doctors feared for my life. I thought I was terminally ill, but damnedably determined to graduate that year with the rest of my class, even if it took my dying breath.
I had just played guinea pig for the last time, trying out the latest chemical cocktail approved by the FDA, only to nearly die from an allergic reaction. It was official. The doctors were out of options, afraid of what would happen if I got any sicker.
The first time they spoke to me about ostomy surgery I cringed outwardly and inwardly. My own idea of what it was so horrid, so different, so opposite of what it really was. I knew that it was my only option, inside I knew I wouldn't get better without it but I couldn't handle the thought of living with it outside of the fact that it could keep me alive. Honestly I didn't care, I just wanted to graduate, and if that meant having a "temporary" ileostomy, then sign me up.
My coping mechanism was convincing myself that it would be reversed, and I'd go back to being "normal", which meant no ostomy. I suspect that I always knew that it'd never be the case, that I was just too sick, and that I was playing a zero-sum game with a horribly diseased colon and rectum. One of us was done, and it wasn't going to be me.
Obviously, that wasn't the case. I had the temporary loop ileostomy without having any organs removed. Follow that a year later with a partial (four and half feet of the six) removal of the colon two days before my birthday, and six months after that, the total procto-colectomy with the remaining colon and the rectum out.
After the inital surgery it took me literally years to be able to look at myself in the mirror, to accept that was who I was, and too many more years to embrace who I am. I'm still not completely over that hill yet, but without a doubt, there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
Ten years ago I would have barely recognized myself now.
All that I am has been greatly influenced by being an ileostomate these last ten years. I'm proud of who I am. I'm passionate, political, witty, geeky, funny, smart, loving, involved and many other things that make up who I am today.
Ten years has been a long time, a tough road, and while I'm still a bit surprised I've made it that far, I wouldn't change a thing, especially the fact that I live with an ostomy. It truly is a badge of honor.