A woman who was told she could die within days if she didn't have her large bowel removed has revealed how she learnt to embrace her stoma bag, proudly showing it off while wearing a bikini.
Ellie Beardsmore from Sedgley, West Midlands was just 19 when she underwent the life-saving surgery, which also meant she had to have a stoma bag fitted.
Now 20, the project co-ordinator for the NHS explains how the operation has given her the freedom to live her life and reveals how she has learnt to overcome any confidence issues surrounding having a stoma.
She hopes to raise awareness of her symptoms which led to a shock diagnosis and wants to help other young women living with similar conditions to feel supported and confident.
“I was living on the toilet, all day and night, sometimes 30 times a day," Beardsmore says of her life pre-surgery.
“I was too worried to go out, so now I feel better, I’m not going to hide away just because I have a stoma bag.
“It has given me a second chance at life, more freedom than I’ve had in years and I’m going to live life to the full.”
Since the age of 14, Beardsmore had endured constipation, piles and IBS. But, more worryingly, also passed fresh blood every time she went to the toilet.
While she suffered in silence for many years, believing her symptoms were typical for a teenager, last year her health started to rapidly decline.
“In spring 2022 I was diagnosed with moderate ulcerative colitis," she explains. "I was given medication and sent home.
“But a week later I was back in A&E with crippling pain and severe blood loss.
“I was discharged two days later with a low dose of daily steroids.”
Beardsmore says at the time she could only stomach boiled eggs and water.
She was also struggling to sleep and weeks later was rushed to hospital after she passed a piece of her bowel.
There, Beardsmore was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis and underwent emergency ileostomy (colon removal) surgery in June.
The life-threatening diagnosis came as something of a shock as she was also told her organ was dying.
“Surgery was my only option and I was angry," she explains.
“I was 19 and my options were surgery and live, or this dying organ could burst inside me at any moment.
“It was a ticking time bomb and I chose not to die."
The operation to remove Ellie’s large bowel was a success and doctors created an opening through the abdominal wall, connecting the small bowel to the surface of the stomach.
Ellie had a ileostomy stoma fitted seven months ago and claims the bag has given her a "second chance at life."
“People might think it restricts me, but the opposite is true," she explains.
“It has transformed my life for the better.”
The fashion-lover admits she was nervous about wearing a bikini on holiday, just 11 weeks after her operation, but instead was surprised to find it boosted her confidence and she hasn’t looked back.
“I forced myself to wear a bikini," she recalls. “I was worried what people might think and was prepared to just fake confidence, but when I looked in the mirror, I looked at my face not my bag and I looked healthy for the first time in months.
“I realised that my bag made me feel good, so I looked good.
“That was a turning point for me.
“I’ve never loved my body more than I do now," she continues. "I have more confidence and appreciation of it [my body] than ever before.”
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Thinking back to her life before surgery offers a stark reminder of her struggles pre-stoma.
“I couldn’t stand up for long from back and abdominal pain and being sick," she recalls.
“I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to find a toilet in time, now I can go out all day and not worry."
While she says she was initially concerned that having a stoma might restrict her fashion choices, Beardsmore says she soon realised that confidence was the key to wearing whatever she wanted.
“I want to show the world that stomas are normal and beautiful," she says.
“I’m not afraid to show my bag in my outfit choices.
“Pre-surgery I thought I’d never be able to look at myself in a mirror again," she continues. "I worried I’d never be able to fully love myself, or be intimate with someone again.
“But I've realised we’re all beautiful in our own way, and no stoma bag will take that away from me.”
Beardsmore has now been with her boyfriend Ethan Roberts, 20, for two years.
“He has been through a lot with me," she says. "You don’t know how a bag will affect your relationship so I told him he didn’t have to stay, but he has been amazing.”
She also believes humour and being open about her condition has helped her cope with the challenges.
“Some people have said they find it a bit weird and I reply, ‘Me too!’" she explains.
“I haven’t had a poo out of my bum since my operation.
“We have such a laugh about it... you have to laugh.”
Beardsmore hopes that being so open about her experiences will help raise awareness of the symptoms of Bowel Disease.
“People don’t talk about stomas and you do feel very alone," she says.
“There is a stigma but I hope to help change that.”
She has started an Instagram page to connect to other young women going through similar journeys.
“I share what happened to me so others can relate and have someone to talk to who is going through the same thing," she explains.
“I hope by talking about my experience, I can give some love to anyone suffering and show the world that living with a stoma is not a bad thing.”
Additional reporting SWNS.