When Life Gives You Lemons: Ileostomy Update #1

As promised, I wanted to do a follow up post on life with my new ileostomy bag. The response to my first picture (originally posted on Instagram) showing this lovely new accessory of mine was mind blowing. I read every single comment and message I received after posting, and I cannot put into words how great that support felt. I've received a lot of questions about this bad boy so I've broken this down into sections. And I also lied to you before, this is a another lengthy post, another semester's worth of reading if you will. But I have a lot to say and I want to cover everything I've been asked, so here we go.

How's my mental state? How did I feel before and how do I feel now?

This one is my favorite (and the longest). I touched on this in my last post, but the idea of this surgery was the end of the world. I said it before and I'll say it again, getting this surgery was worse than having cancer. I am WELL aware of how absolutely crazy that sounds, but it's how I felt. I mean let's break this down to the basics - I have a bag hanging off my stomach that fills up with you know what (and if you don't know what, it's digested food). You're welcome for just putting that out there, but that's the reality. I'm human and I care about what I look like. I didn't want to deal with it, I was scared about what people might think and didn't want to be looked at differently. The concept in general really scared and upset me. The day of my surgery, I was mad that dooms day finally arrived, but I was also oddly calm. Surgery doesn't scare me, and I was also just in a major state of denial about what was about to happen to me. It wasn't until the surgeon came in to mark where my lovely new bag would sit that I absolutely LOST IT. I mean, there have been a lot of tears this last year and a half of health hell, but this was serious can't catch your breath crying. We're talking hysterical tears, to the point where my surgeon more or less said he can't ethically operate on someone this upset and against the surgery. They gave me some magical IV drug to calm me down and in I went.

The first week with Gertrude (oh, I named the bag by the way. Why not right?) sucked. I was in SO much pain and seriously upset and depressed. I couldn't look at the bag at first, and then really lost it when I had to change the bag for the first time. Sorry to be graphic here, but looking down and seeing a little stump, if you will, of your intestine sticking out of your stomach is seriously weird. I still have trouble looking at it honestly. But it is what it is. 

I gave myself the first week at home to wallow and be sad and cry. You go through the grieving process with something like this. So those first few days were set aside for tears and sadness and anger. Then those days were up and it was time to pull up my bootstraps, as my mother would say, and get it together. It's so true though - what good would wallowing and crying do? I gave myself a pep talk and said, "You're stuck with this for now, it's saving your life, time to accept it and move forward." So I did. Yes, it freaking SUCKS and I hate this dumb thing so much and it makes me different, but so what. I forced myself to accept it. The people that love me don't care, and the people that care don't love me. Posting a photo on Instagram showing my bag so soon after surgery might seem crazy to some people, but it was my way of making myself accept it. And I'm SO glad I posted that photo. Like I said in that photo caption, we all have things that make us different. The sooner we accept and embrace what makes us different, the better off we'll all be. I get asked all the time how I'm so positive about it so soon, and that's kind of tough to answer, but honestly I just made myself be that way. I didn't feel like I had a choice to be anything but positive, and the sooner I started the better off I'd be. No one enjoys miserable people, and being miserable is miserable. So why be miserable, ya know?

Long story short for this section; I was in a much darker place before the surgery than I am now. Maybe I'm weird and maybe it's unhealthy to just force yourself to be ok with something so major, but so far it's working. 

What's the recovery been like? What's life like now?

I was in the hospital for three days recovering after surgery, but I honestly can't tell you a single detail about that stay (thank you pain meds). I don't remember a thing. It's like a bad three day black out, but honestly I'm fine with that. The days immediately following any surgery are never pretty. After my hospital stay, I spent a week at my parents letting them take extra good care of me (thanks mom & dad!). It was also nice to have the company and people around for that first week of transitioning. Going into this, I was expecting to be couch ridden and miserable for almost a month, but it really was only that first week that was really rough. Since then, I'm back at my apartment slowly getting back into my routine.

It's been three weeks since my surgery, and I've already gone to a few events, had dinner with friends and been social (as opposed to the hermit crab I was before). I'm still in pain, and sometimes the pain is pretty darn awful, but that's to be expected after major surgery. I'm doing a lot of resting still and being careful not to push it, but I've been able to do more in the last two weeks than I was months before this surgery. Don't tell my surgeon I said this, but it turns out this bag is not the end of the world like I thought it would be. I hate Gertrude, don't get me wrong here, but I can't tell you how nice it feels to grab a bite with friends and actually enjoy being there. Before I either didn't go out, or was miserable and constantly thinking about how miserable I was. That's no way to live. And side note here, I was considering continuing that terrible lonely life to avoid this surgery, that's how against this I was. I'm SO glad I didn't make that choice though. The other day I was dancing around my apartment cleaning and listening to music. It's easily been a year and a half since I felt good enough to do that. I went to brunch last weekend. Last time I went to brunch there was snow on the ground. These little occurrences are major victories to me. 

To anyone that has to have this surgery and is dreading it as much as I was - I get it. Oh do I get it. Every negative thought and end of the world scenario you're going through, I was there. Before I had the surgery I had plenty of people tell me it's not that bad and I'll feel better and it'll all be worth it. I thought I was different and there was no way in hell this bag would ever be worth it, etc. My advice to those of you in that boat - it really isn't the end of the world and life will go on after surgery. And I NEVER in a million years thought those words would come out of my mouth. I can't stress that enough. It's not awesome or ideal, but it's not the end of the world. I get it, but I also didn't believe that until I went through this and was on the other side. 

So do you feel better now? What's next?

I'm slowly starting to feel better. My Crohn's hasn't just gone away and is magically better because of this surgery. I still have active inflammation, but this surgery allows the inflamed part of my colon to have a break and heal. I started a new medicine, Cimzia, that is supposed to help put my Crohn's back into remission. I'm still in the recovery/healing stage, so there's still pain from time to time, but nothing compared to what I was dealing with before. The plan now is to give Cimzia some time to start working and the inflamed part of my colon time to rest. I'll do a follow up/status update with the docs in a few months and go from there. 

Ok, Mallory, wrap it up.

I've been dealt a crummy hand. There's no denying that dealing with cancer and Crohn's (not to mention serious cases of both) seriously sucks. However, I have the power to decide how I deal with these cards and how I move forward. I want to be a resource, a voice, an inspiration - anything I can be for people dealing with similar situations, or anything tough for that matter. To my ostomates - let's embrace these dumb bags of ours and not let them get the best of us. We are still the amazing people we were before the bag, now we just have an extra accessory and constant reminder of how STRONG we are. Same goes to my fellow spoonies, our diseases don't define us and you're all amazing. To my friends just having a bad day, ask yourself if what's upsetting you will matter in 5 hours or 5 days. If the answer is no, move on! Life is far too short to get hung up on the little things. 

I will do another Ileostomy update post again soon and address new questions, how I've adjusted to getting dressed with this thing (short answer, I bought this) and what life is like a month+ after surgery. Anything you want to know, send it my way!

I love you all! Thank you for following my story and supporting me along the way.

 Are we friends on FacebookInstagramTwitterBloglovinPinterest and Snapchat (@mallorysauer)? Let's connect! 

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Crohn's Story here

Initial Cancer post here 

Cancer FAQ here

Last health update here

Go Fund Me here

When Life Gives You Lemons: The Crohn's Story

Photo by Brandon Hill

Photo by Brandon Hill

I reached out to my Facebook friends about a dilemma I was facing: do I start a new blog to talk strictly about health stuff, or do I keep posting updates periodically on Sweet & Sauer? Majority rule - keep the posts here. I don't ever want to oversaturate Sweet & Sauer with health posts, as I know some people only follow for the fashion related pieces. However, and thanks to my friends for pointing this out, it gives a glimpse into my life and really helps me connect to my readers.

So here we go, the next installment of 'When Life Gives You Lemons'. I'll preface by saying this is on the lengthy side and even has a rant portion. Consider yourself warned. 

I've mentioned that I have Crohn's disease in previous posts, however I haven't talked about it much because it feels like a taboo subject. I mean let's be honest, it deals with your digestive system and quite frankly, it's gross. It should be talked about though, because so many people are affected by Crohn's or some other type of digestive problem, and honestly, we're all human, right?

 Let me give you a little background on my Crohn's to bring you up to speed. I was diagnosed at 18 and it turned my world upside down. I was a freshman in college and just made my first professional dance team. When I was diagnosed I was told to leave college, quit the dance team, and move home so I could get better. I hope it's no surprise that I gave that idea the middle finger and kept plugging along. Long story short, I was put on a magical IV drug infusion that saved my life and put me into remission for 9 years. Up until I was diagnosed with cancer, I was saying, "What Crohn's disease?" I ate and drank whatever I wanted and had zero problems. 

The second I was slapped with the "You have cancer" label, I was off that magical drug that made life so easy and in came the problems. All the symptoms showed up (think debilitating stomach aches and the worst digestion problems you can imagine, then times by 100). And they won't go away. And I am SO mad about it. I mentioned this in my last post, but treating Cancer and treating Crohn's are polar opposite approaches. With Crohn's, you want to suppress the immune system. With Cancer, you want to rev it up. I have to find that magical middle ground where I'm treating both without unleashing either dragon. Good luck, doc's! 

It's been a nightmare. They took me off that magical drug (ok fine, it's called Remicade) because it suppresses your immune system and would have potentially made the cancer worse, and with that came all the awful symptoms of Crohn's disease. I've been battling them since October. We've tried all possible drug options and nothing has worked to put my Crohn's into remission. So what does that mean? The one thing I NEVER wanted to happen since the day I was diagnosed is now happening to me. I have to have surgery, aka the end of the world as I possibly know it. Cancer doesn't scare me, but an ileostomy surgery seems like the end for me. I know, insert eye roll, what-the-heck-how-can-you-say-that expression, here. I'll get back to you when I can actually explain the reasoning behind my feelings. **Side note: there are different type of 'ostomy' surgeries (colostomy, ileostomy, etc.), they differ in placement and disease location.

My surgery is this week and I can't tell you how many tears I've shed. It's the last thing I ever wanted to happen and it will be a big lifestyle adjustment that I'm not exactly looking forward to. Before I get the, "Oh, but I know someone who has an ostomy and they're doing great, its really not that bad!" comments, let me remind you that everyone's Crohn's experience is different, and everyone processes/handles things differently (not to mention I'm still in the mad/sad/angry/what in the actual F stage of the grieving process). This is something I knew could happen (not like the cancer where I was just invincible and it just happened) and I did everything in my power to avoid, yet here I am, days away from life changing surgery with no other possible alternatives. 

Enter rant portion of this post. I can't tell you how frustrating this flare has been. All I've wanted is to get out and do things - go out and party, work, workout, eat a salad, you know, normal things, but I can't because of the symptoms I deal with on a daily basis. Do you know how hard it is to sit at home by yourself every weekend while everyone you know is out having fun and you're watching Sex And The City for the 21st time? It's frustrating to have your mind there but your body won't let you do the things you want. Sometimes I don't even have enough energy to work on the computer. I have to be SO careful with what I eat. Every single food decision determines my next 24 hours. My energy level is so low. I have to be strategic about what I allow myself to do in a day. I certainly can't pack 25 activities into a 12+ hour day like I used to. I'm only allotted so much energy and I have to be careful on how I use it. If you're in a reading mood, I love this Spoon Theory and totally relate to the concept. Other people can just do things, but when you're sick you have to plan and be strategic. You have to think, you can't just 'do' anymore. Bottom line, it's so frustrating. If you know me well then you can attest to this, I HATE being limited.

Now for the positives. I know my quality of life will be better after surgery. I will have more energy, my food choices won't be as limited (hello salad and pizza and Mexican food!), I'll feel better in general, and be able to do all the things I've been missing out on for so long. My doctors, friends of friends, support groups and so on all say that people feel worlds better after this surgery, so there's that. I look forward to the days after recovery where I will feel like myself again. FINALLY. After almost a year of feeling like absolute blah, I can't wait to feel energetic and happy all the time, not just for a few hours where I'm feeling decent at best like I'm now used to. This is going to be an adjustment though. I'll have this bag attached to my stomach (should I name it for fun?) and that's going to be hard to become accustomed to, both emotionally and physically. I know things could be a lot worse though, and I'm thankful that's not the case. 

I'm forcing myself to share this story and talk about my ileostomy for a few reasons. 1. I can't let this define me or bring me down. Adjusting is going to be freaking hard and I'm going to have some really tough days, but I can't let the bag win. By sharing this with all of you, I'm beating the bag and staying in control of how it makes me feel (slash, no one will read my blog anymore if I just complain about this dumb thing, right?) 2. I want to share my experience with others for both their sake and mine. I find it helpful to hear how people deal with things, or tricks they've figured out when it comes to anything (aka the world of blogging). By sharing my experience, I'm hoping to help others through their ostomy experience, and also cope with mine. Let's figure out how the heck to dress with an ostomy bag together without everyone seeing what we have going on, right? 

I'm almost done I promise, and if you're still reading even, I thank you. I guess my point is this, it's not all rainbows and butterflies and "gee gosh golly this is tough but I can do it" over here. I mean yes I'm keeping a positive attitude and soaking up every single minute of good energy my body gives me. But it's hard. And this disease sucks. And I'm SO frustrated. I wanted to share that realness because that's reality sometimes. And I also want to talk about this disease a little more to break those taboo boundaries, and challenge myself to be honest about it and what I'm really dealing with. It is scary though. Putting this out there and opening myself up like this can be terrifying. I don't want people to think of me differently or judge. This stuff definitely isn't pretty.

It's so easy to make assumptions about people based on what we see on social media, or in person even. Someone can look perfectly fine, yet have some serious stuff going on. Would you have ever guessed I'm battling both Crohn's and Cancer by looking at me? Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. Health issues are so real, and I envy those of you who don't have to deal with them. Continue to take care of yourself and be kind to everyone because you never know what someone is going through.

I'm so incredibly grateful for all the love and support I continue to receive. Before writing this post, I went back and read all the comments from my initial cancer post and they gave me the boost of strength and courage I needed. I want this surgery like I want black to go out of style (now THAT would be the end of the world as I know it), but I know I will get through it because I have so many people believing in me. And let's be honest, now that I've put all this out there it would be REAL embarrassing, and quite frankly lame, to let the health crap win. Time to put my money where my mouth is, right?

Have questions? Send them my way! Nothing is off limits here. I will continue to share updates as things progress, and maybe one day I'll even have the guts to share pictures. I promise not every post will be a college semester's worth of reading, and I assure you I will keep on fighting :)

Much love.

Initial Cancer post here 

Cancer FAQ here

Last health update here

Go Fund Me here

When Life Gives You Lemons: Health Update

I know a lot of you have been wondering how I'm doing since announcing my melanoma diagnosis back in October and I wanted to share a little health update for those that are curious. 

If you need a refresher, my initial post is here, and my FAQ post is here

First off, it's been 6 months since my diagnosis.... SIX MONTHS. Holy cow. Where does the time go? It feels like just yesterday I was fighting for answers and trying to process the whole 'I have cancer, like real life cancer' thing. Blows my mind. However, I'm happy to report I'm doing well! So far so good with my treatment. Since starting the medications, my tumors have shrunk significantly and continue to get smaller with every check up. 

For my visual friends, here is a photo showing progress! 

The scan on the left is my initial scan when the melanoma was first discovered. The white hazy stuff circled is active melanoma. The pink arrow is pointing to one of my larger tumors. If you look at the scan on the right, my most recent scan, you'll see the haziness is gone, and the tumor size has shrunk significantly. 

Now for the not so fun news. On top of melanoma, I also have Crohn's disease. Lucky me, right? Unfortunately treating melanoma and treating Crohn's are essentially polar opposite approaches, so finding that balance has been a challenge. I had a major flare recently (hence the slight absence in blogging and social media) that resulted in a 2-week hospital stay. I'm happy to report that I'm out, doing much better, and on a new medicine plan that should give my Crohn's the chill pill it very much needs, without upsetting the progress I've made treating my melanoma. 

Not going to lie, this has been quite the battle that has really tested my strength, but I have to believe that everything happens for a reason and there is a greater purpose for my battle. Thank goodness for great friends and family to pick me up when I'm down. If I've learned anything thus far, it's that attitude is everything. Yes, I've had breakdown moments where I'm frustrated and mad that I've had to deal with so much all the of the sudden, but wallowing gets me nowhere. Everyday is a battle, and I'm going to keep fighting along. 

Thank you all for your continued support and kind words, it really does mean so much to me. Putting this story out there is scary enough in the first place, but my goal is to hopefully inspire others and make a positive impact in some way or another.