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Woman on a mission to normalize stoma bags

"I had low self-esteem about my stoma bag at first but now I'm comfortable showing it off. "I want to normalize it."

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After surviving the surgery Holly is on a mission to normalize stoma bags and help others.

By Emma Dunn via SWNS

This woman survived "one of the world's most painful surgeries" when she had her rectum removed to prevent cancer.

She now loves showing off her life-saving stoma bag in a bikini and is on a mission to remove the stigma and "normalize" them.

Holly Fleet, 28, underwent a proctocolectomy in August 2022 to remove the rest of her colon and rectum after battling ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis is a long-term condition where the colon and rectum become inflamed and it left Holly with agonizing stomach pains and bleeding.

She was fitted with a stoma bag post-surgery in December 2021.

Holly described the procedure was “excruciating” as well as "mentally hard" and described her rectum being sewn up as feeling like "super glue."

She now shows off her stoma bag with pride when she dons a bikini.

Donate to Holly's charity fundraising page here. (Holly Fleet via SWNS)

Holly, a journalist, from London, UK, said: “It was really painful and sore.

“I had dissolvable stitches and it felt like super glue.

“I was vomiting so much and had to have a tube up my nose after the surgery.

“I was expecting to not be able to sit down for six months but amazingly within a week I was fine.

“I’m truthful and not hiding that it was one of the world’s most painful surgeries but the pain is short-lived.

“It could have saved my life so it was worth it.

"I had low self-esteem about my stoma bag at first but now I'm comfortable showing it off. I want to normalize it."

Holly was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in November 2021 after first experiencing severe stomach pain in January 2020.

At first, she put her symptoms down to the stress of her new job at a newspaper and her body adjusting to a different eating pattern while she was doing night shifts.

But her pain intensified, meaning she had to work from bed to cope.

After seeing blood in the toilet she decided to get a test for inflammation.

“I was aware it was a symptom of bowel cancer because of the people I’d interviewed for work,” she said.

“So I was very aware that something could really be wrong.

“It came back and said it was inflamed.”

After a colonoscopy, she was told she had proctitis - an inflammation in the lining of the rectum.

But the became so bad she had to be rushed to St Thomas' Hospital, London. Doctors there realized they would need to fit her with a stoma if she was to survive.

“I was on the brink of death,” she said.

“After the surgery, my body just shut down.

“They removed my six-foot colon and fitted me with a stoma."

“Everything went wrong with my recovery.

“My stoma bag wasn’t working properly at first and made my stomach swell so much I looked like I was pregnant with twins.

“The pain was like I was going into labor.

"It was like something out of a horror film.”

Holly spent two months in the hospital before she was able to return home but had to get used to her bag.

“My self-esteem was really low,” she said.

Gradually, she started speaking to others on social media with stoma bags and started accepting herself.

She met her boyfriend, Callum Campbell, 31, who works in recruitment as an engagement director, in April 2022, who accepted her stoma bag straight away.

“I was worried about explaining to guys about it,” she said.

“But Callum didn’t care and it’s increased my confidence.”

Although Holly’s stoma was working, she was still suffering with bleeding from her rectum and decided to have further surgery to have the remaining part of her colon removed and her rectum closed.

“Colitis or Crohn's can potentially cause cancer so I just didn’t want to risk it,” she said.

She underwent a five-hour surgery in August 2022 to have her rectal canal closed.

“It was awful,” she said.

“It’s considered one of the world’s most painful surgeries.

“On a pain scale, this surgery is 100 out of 10.”

Holly is now relieved she went through with the operation.

“Now I don’t have colitis,” she said.

“There isn’t actually a cure for it but it only affects the colon and rectum which I’ve now had removed.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows but most days I’m OK.

“Now I don’t make a big deal of it and I’ll just casually drop into conversation."

Last month Holly walked 39 minutes every day to raise money for the charity Colostomy UK.

“Did you know that every 39 minutes in the UK someone undergoes life-altering stoma surgery?" she said.

“In my case, I had an emergency stoma operation after just a year of battling ulcerative colitis that nearly killed me.

“Since then, I have had to alter my life to accommodate a new way of needing the toilet.

“Although it’s been tough at times, I am grateful for the second chance my stoma has provided me with.

“Many people have never heard about stomas and if they have it’s usually in a negative light.

“Having a stoma is not the end of someone’s life, but just the beginning.”

Donate to her fundraising page here.

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