A young model who is battling Crohn's disease is breaking the taboo of her colostomy bag.
Last week, a woman’s holiday photo went viral as she revealed her colostomy bag as she posed in her bikini.
And fellow Crohn's sufferer Jessica Grossman is adopting the same body confidence tacti through her popular blopg.
Jessica, from Ontario in Canada, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when she was eight years old.
Now 24, she has been a trailblazing campaigner for women with ostomies, inspiring them to embrace their ‘second chance at life’ through her initiative Uncover Ostomy.
Jessica’s childhood was spent in and out of hospital, with overpowering medications and extreme diets as she battled the illness.
“Eventually, I turned 13 and found myself still extremely sick, in an immense amount of pain, and not getting any better. I was weak, I was tired, and I was isolated in a hospital bed," she told Independent.ie.
A surgeon told her that if she did not undergo an operation to have her colon removed, she would die.
This was the first time Jessica heard the word 'ostomy', as the doctor explained that she would have an artificial opening in her organs after the procedure.
“After surgery and recovery, I went back to school.I told everyone what happened. I stood in front of the class and explained my surgery, and even showed them ostomy appliances. No one said anything bad (to my face, at least).”
During her teenage years, Jessica continued to tell people about her ostomy with pride, and was elected as president of her sorority at university.
Jessica recalls that there was very little support from the ostomy community when she was growing up.
“I remember showing up to a support group, walking in, and seeing that every single person was over 50 years old (I was 14). I remember walking in, and walking right out," she added.
Jessica eventually connected with some young patients at the hospital and found the opportunity to help others cathartic and rewarding, prompting her to launch Uncover Ostomy.
“I saw there was a lack of information about the life-saving surgery. I also found that those who did know what an ostomy was had a skewed perception that it was a ‘disgusting thing for old people.’”
As she was already working as a model and actress, Jessica launched a crusade to dispel the negative stigma that surrounded ostomies.
She connected with a pioneering Intestinal Disease charity campaigner and they decided to collaborate on a new project.
“I had pictures taken, we built a website, a Facebook page and launched the campaign. I started writing about my life and people seemed to like it.”
Almost five years later, the Uncover Ostomy website has had over 100,000 unique visitors and 6,000 organic fans on its Facebook page.
“The biggest challenge I see for the ostomy community is that many people have the surgery and think their life is over. People with ostomies often think that since they now have this ‘bag’ on their body, no one will want to be around them," she explained,
“I often have to go into hospitals in normal clothes to show patients awaiting surgery that you can dress normally with a bag, because they have decided they would rather die than have the surgery.”
“I also get messages from people all the time telling me that they will never be able to date again, where I tell them that I've been in multiple long term relationships with no issue. In fact, I get hundreds and hundreds of messages from people telling me that they believe their life is now over. I tell everyone the same thing - your life is actually just beginning.”
“I would tell Irish women to be proud of who they are - ostomy or not! My latest blog post, which talks about bathing suits and an ostomy, really just focuses on finding the bathing suit that works for your body type, and being confident enough to wear it.”
“Confidence is key - if you are happy with who you are, most others will be too. This applies, again, to both those with ostomies and without.”
“When ostomates ask me how they can be as open about their ostomy as I am mine, and how I manage to do that, I always give the same advice - if you tell someone that you have "this ugly thing" on your body that you hate, others are going to see it the same way.”
“I only talk about my ostomy in the positive way I see it - as my second chance at life. I've only ever received positive feedback from being open, and those who would ever say anything negative to me about it are people I wouldn't want to associate with, anyway.
“That applies to everyone. If you accept who you are, others will accept you too.”
“When my boyfriend and I first talked about my ostomy, it was actually after we had been seeing each other for several weeks. His thinking was that because I was so confident in who I was and with what I had that there was really nothing to question, or to be concerned with. He said that, to him, confidence is beauty.”
For more information, visit www.uncoverostomy.org