‘Trust Your Gut’: An Interview with Billie Anderson, an #Ostomate…

As you will know if you have me on social media, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Cosmopolitan Self Made Summit. I had the most incredible day and met some wonderful, inspirational women I know will take the world by absolute storm! Whilst I was there I had the honour of meeting Billie Anderson. Billie’s story inspired me so much and she was kind enough to allow me to share it with you guys. Like most of us I think, I strive to constantly make my body ‘better’, either my bum isn’t big enough or my waist isn’t small enough and do not even get me started on the size of what can only be described as Mount Everest taking over my face! Talking with Billie though I realised maybe I’m a little harsh. Maybe I should start to appreciate what I do have because after all, all of our bodies are incredible… Here is Billie’s story. 

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So, I guess the first question a lot of my readers will have is what actually is an Ostomy? 

So I have an ileostomy – it’s my ileum or small intestine that pokes out my stomach into a bag. I no longer have a large intestine!

Why was the surgery necessary? Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I was diagnosed last year with Ulcerative Colitis, one form of inflammatory bowel disease – the other being crohns. Colitis effects your large intestine. Basically ulcers form along the gut lining and this can make it inflamed/bleed. One of my nurses once said my colon looked like it was sunburnt & grazed.

I went through just over a year of intense drug therapy to tackle the colitis. I was on 20+ different pills everyday & was having monthly IV therapy but was still rushing to the loo 20+ times a day. I went from 8st to 5st in days & the side effects of the medication resulted in my hair falling out, joint/muscle pain, insomnia & acne.

Surgery really is the last resort & my colitis was very aggressive. I was just passing pure blood which meant that I got anaemia. I couldn’t walk more than 5 feet.I think around 2 in 10 people with colitis have to undergo surgery so mine is a pretty serious case

But essentially colitis sapped everything good from my life! I couldn’t leave my flat without crippling anxiety about having ‘accidents’ in public spaces. I lived off bagels & chocolate buttons for 6 months because everything I ate was painful! The medication ruined everything I loved about myself – my hair and skin – and I lost so much weight that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without crying.

What was the surgery like? 

The surgery was tough. I was in hospital for 12 days – I had all sorts of tests & meds thrown at me pre-op to make sure it was the right thing. I could’ve saved them some time – I was always going to be leaving colon-less. I was so unwell that surgery was going to save my life, not take it away.

How has the surgery impacted your life?

Having my colon removed was the best thing I ever did. I needed to try all the medication, go through all that pain & hit rock bottom, so that I knew it was the right thing. I mean it’s not easy deciding to shit out of your stomach into a bag for the rest of your life at 21 but its impacted everything! Firstly I’ve been able to do more 3 months post-op than 2 years of colitis. It has given me the chance to do something positive with my life – to try & help other people like me. I’ve found the most inclusive & strong community since getting my ostomy. So it’s been a huge positive.

Soon I’ll be medication free, I’ve put all the weight back on and I am actually healthy again!! It may have taken a while to get used to but I can eat pizza & drink wine for the first time in 2 years & that’s more than enough to be thankful for! Mostly I am grateful for life (sounds so cliche) but it really makes you see how health is a luxury you don’t realised you have have until you don’t have it anymore. I’m lucky to be alive (my colon almost perforated). So it’s made me thankful & grateful for what I have – my family, friends etc

So you’ve started a blog about your experience (which is fab by the way!!). What made you start the blog? What’s the aim?

So the blog ‘Trust your Gut’ (I see the irony in this now I don’t have one) started as a way of connecting people with IBD and now has moved into showing people who have to go through surgery or something similar, that it isn’t a death sentence. When I first heard about the surgery I was so against it but in hindsight, even though it’s scary, it’s such a good thing! So the blog is about showing the life you can have when your insides are on the outside!

When I met you I was super inspired by your positive outlook. I wonder what you’ve taken away and learnt from this experience?

I’ve certainly changed how I look after my body – I realise that the ‘ideal body’ for me is right in front of me. I used to obsess over the gym – having a rounder bum, toned legs etc etc. But being unhealthy for a long time and now being well again, makes me see that I am happy with my body for the first time ever! It might not be conventional and I certainly doubt people aspire to look like me but I love my bagged bod!

If you were talking to someone who was going through surgery, what would you want them to know?

I talk to a lot of people who are about the undergo surgery and my first advice is always to highlight that it isn’t the end of your life! Surgery is tough (it doesn’t get licked on by kittens) but surgery pain will end… the colitis was never ending agony.

And also to give yourself time – it’s the best healer for the mind & the body.

Another is talk to people – I spoke to so many people pre-op who had gone through it before me & that took the fear out of it.

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Inspiring, right? I want to say a huge thank you to Billie for sharing her story with my then and allowing me to share it with you all now. Her strength, courage and positive outlook is incredible and it really made me appreciate the body that I have got. If you want to read more about Billie’s journey you can check out her blog here. It truly is fantastic and I would highly recommend giving it a read. You can also find her on Instagram and share her incredible journey with her. 

Jamie x 

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