I’m a traveller. Ever since I was little, my parents took me on overseas holidays, and as a teenager I caught the “travel bug”. I was blessed with many amazing trips to exotic, faraway places. If I didn’t go overseas at least once a year, I would get itchy feet!
Then I turned 30, and I got a different kind of bug. This one was called IBD. It was way more than just a bug. Medications, diets, nothing seemed to work for me. My symptoms, side effects, and anxiety worsened. My joys of overseas travel — and dream of living and working overseas — came to an abrupt halt.
For 4 years I struggled with very active Crohn’s disease. Most of my travel was to and from the doctor’s office or hospital. Outside of flares, I did manage a few trips within Australia to visit my dad, and for a friend’s engagement party.
These trips were manageable, but I was on very high doses of steroids and grew incredibly anxious as soon as the ‘fasten your seatbelt’ sign came on for take-off and landing. Travelling with IBD is doable, but with my severe Crohn’s and being unable to reach remission, it was hard. At times I wasn’t sure I would ever be well enough to travel overseas again.
I refused to give up hope. In 2013, guided by my doctors, I made the decision to have surgery. Although I knew this was not a cure, I had failed all medication and felt I had no other option. I’d fought long and hard. I wanted my life back! I wanted to travel again!
I was scheduled for a pan-proctocolectomy with permanent end ileostomy. Weird as it sounds, after the operation I almost immediately felt as if all the ‘badness’ was gone! Although it took some adjusting, I managed my nifty little new ostomy bag very well.
A few months after surgery, with the medical green light, it was time to embark on the trip of a life time! My fiancé and I were off on a 10-month round-the-world adventure.
I had some trepidation about leaving Australia, my support network of family and doctors — plus the unpredictability of IBD and travelling with a stoma. But having come so far, I knew we’d be okay.
For me, travelling with an ostomy had no significant issues. In some ways, it was a benefit! Pre-departure planning, arranging and carrying supplies, emptying and changing the bag in foreign places, eating different foods, organising blood tests — all took some patience and stamina, but was ultimately smooth sailing (or smooth pooping!).
Through 3 continents and 17 countries we experienced incredible things: paragliding in South Africa, hot air ballooning in Turkey, and trekking in Vietnam, to name a few! I documented by getting my belly and bag out for photos all around the world — even on my wedding day!
I am so grateful to have adapted to being an ostomate easily and without issues. I try to acknowledge my thanks every day and feel so blessed to have had this adventure.
I hope my story helps others who may be struggling with their ostomies and shows them that there is life after a stoma. Mine gave me my life back, enabling me to travel again and fulfil some lifelong dreams that I feared would never be possible.
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