Raising two very active girls while having an ostomy has been challenging – for them, and for me. There were times when it was discouraging and disruptive and sometimes simply irritating for all of us. Despite the many interruptions in our lives over the years, I have to say that my daughters have been supportive beyond belief. I’ve been sick since before they were born, and when they were young and curious, many of the things I was going through were overwhelming and scary. They didn’t understand why I was in the hospital, or why I couldn’t get out of bed or leave the house. They just knew how it affected their lives, and that the disease was forcing us all to make sacrifices.
There are plenty of proud moments as parents, but yesterday was extra special. My daughter Lissy did a presentation in her health class educating her high school classmates about Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. The presentation was comprehensive and then she introduced me to share my personal experiences from when I was suffering with Ulcerative Colitis, and now, my lifestyle issues with a permanent ileostomy.
I shared my story of how I got sick when I was about their age and how it affected my personal life. I answered questions and shared personal stories, then did a little demo on how the adhesive and pouch work in an impromptu “show and tell” session. I showed them the 2008 Colondar that were the first images I ever saw of a healthy looking person with an ostomy. I told them how I am constantly “checking my package” to be sure my seal is secure and how every moment, it is on my mind, regardless of how well I am coping. I told them that their high school hallways would have been terrifying for me when I first got my ostomy, all elbows and fast swinging backpacks, shouldering past one another between classes. In the beginning you think someone’s going to knock it off your body.
As I looked at the class, I remembered being close to their age when I first got sick, when I imagined I could do anything, believing that any dream I had, with effort, I could attain. There have been tremendous setbacks in my life with the pitfalls of health challenges, but I am still as optimistic as ever that my life is limitless. It’s been a long road, but maintaining a sense of humor and positive attitude has been a big part of my success.
The class showed compassion and interest and I really enjoyed being invited in as a speaker. I was one in a series of other guest speakers that Ms. Ewing brings to share personal stories, some to go with projects, others to expose the class to challenges they wouldn’t otherwise learn about.
This group of students was totally respectful, and for the end of the day, very attentive. I commend Ms. Ewing for creating awareness and these young people will no doubt learn more about life in that health class than anywhere. Some of the faces I recognized from years of living in this community and it was wonderful to see them smiling back at me. I’m uncertain of the challenges that these students face in their lives but I bet if I had individual discussions with them, I would learn a lot. Being a teenager tests your character and all of the skills you need to excel post secondary. Empathy and open minded listening are crucial ones and this class showed me both.
Thanks for listening with grace Class of 2011 (and 2012 :)) It was an honor to share my story with you.