Sunday, March 31, 2013


i'll never forget the moment i woke up from surgery on november 27th, 2012, minus my large intestine and plus one dreaded ileostomy.

i was lucky. my surgery, while suggested, scheduled and done fairly quickly- was not an "emergency" surgery. though i didn't have a lot of time, i did plan it and did my best to prepare for it. even though my thoughts usually went along the lines of, "well, no matter what i will only have the bag for a couple of months so it doesn't matter", i still wanted to be aptly prepared for what that would be like when it happened.

just as i'd done when i was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, i found a world of resources and communities of people who were going through and had gone through what i was about to do. some of them had cancer and had permanent ostomies. some of them had ulcerative colitis and had temporary ones or had moved on already to the j-pouch. there were blogs, forums, guides with pictures and videos...all kinds of stuff. at first i looked at pictures or illustrations on medical websites. then i got brave and started visiting blogs of "ostomates" as we're called ;) and even found videos on youtube of people talking about their ostomies, changing their bags, just showing what it was like to have an ostomy in general.

i remember watching one girl's video- she was my age and had had ulcerative colitis, too. she was in the process of the j-pouch surgery and currently had her temporary ileostomy. she made a video where she showed how she changed her bag. she had a wonderful attitude, friendly and cracking jokes, not getting upset when her stoma decided to go all mt. st. helen's on her during the video. i watched the whole thing without moving. when the video ended, i burst into tears.

that's going to be me, i thought. i'm going to have a piece of my effing intestine sticking out of my stomach so i can crap into a bag. i'm going to be technically incontinent. i started the video from the beginning again, in awe of this girl's positive attitude. that's going to be me.

i stopped crying. i told myself to accept it- it would only be temporary. maybe i would be just like this girl after a few weeks and think it was no big deal. and i wasn't even going to have an ostomy for that long, so who cared if i didn't?

that was all good and well until i woke up from surgery, with my stomach covered in bandages and a pile of gauze heaped on top of my stoma. i lifted them to look and felt like my world had ended. no amount of video watching, pictures or blogs could have prepared me for what i felt in that moment.

i had an ostomy- literally something i'd dreaded since first being diagnosed with UC. i had an effing piece of intestine sticking out of my cut-up stomach. and i was alone.

nobody around me had an ostomy. none of them could possibly understand what it was like to wake up and see that thing, to know that crapping into a bag attached to my stomach for the next couple of months was now my reality.
and maybe permanently, a little voice needled in the back of my mind. after all, there was always the risk that the j-pouch surgery would fail and i'd end up with a permanent ileostomy. it was a risk i knew going into it, and a small risk, but a risk nonetheless. i took it, because i really didn't have a choice. as my surgeon told me quite bluntly, i had six feet of rotting flesh inside of my body. it didn't respond to treatments. the meds keeping me alive would shorten my life, riddle me with side-effects, and it was almost certain i'd end up with cancer- and SOON, not later.

but none of that mattered when i woke up and saw my stomach. what followed was a breakdown the likes of which i have only had once before (not long after i'd been diagnosed). i was raging and crying and kept saying that i'd wished i'd died in surgery rather than lived and had the ostomy. when the nurses came in to help with the bag, i turned my face into the pillow and disconnected myself, refusing to have anything to do with it. i couldn't believe that this was my reality, that i had willingly done this to myself. i kept telling myself i'd have been better off taking my chances with the UC. i kept thinking that somehow i'd be one of the 5% whose j-pouch surgery would fail, and i would have this bag forever. i told myself there was no way i'd live if that happened.

one of my nurses, whose name was john, came and stood by my bed. he wanted me to look at him, to look at and acknowledge my ostomy. i was so drugged and out of it that i can't remember word for word what he said to me, but i remember it was something along the lines of, "you are young. you have so much to live for. you are not going to let this define you no matter what happens. you will be stronger and will be able to have a great life that you wouldn't have had without the surgery." i remember asking him through tears, if he thought less of me because i'd had such a huge breakdown.

and i remember him gently answering, "of course not."

i won't pretend that suddenly, i was filled with the will to thrive and everything got easy and i was okay with my ostomy and yay yay yay. it wasn't like that. i DID decide to change my attitude after john's pep talk and the rest of my hospital stay was positive and honestly pretty great for a hospital stay of such a nature. however, i had some dark moments ahead of me. i was in the hospital again only a month later from an obstruction- something common with ostomies that i'd REALLY hoped to avoid with mine being temporary. afterwards i came down with pneumonia and had to reschedule my second surgery four times.

the first two times that i had to reschedule, i cried and had a pity party and all of that. i didn't want to have the ileostomy any longer than i absolutely HAD to, and the time had already been doubled by the turn of events. however, after a lot of prayer and soul-searching and just TIME...i came to accept having my ostomy. i knew that i needed to prepare myself for the chance that it would be permanent, even though i honestly feel like the j-pouch will be a success for me, i didn't want to be caught completely unprepared if the worst were to happen. with each rescheduling, i learned to trust in the Lord more and more. i knew 100% and STILL know, that there is a reason my second surgery didn't happen in the past couple of months. i learned to surrender MY will with this, to the Lord's will, which is one of the hardest things i've ever done.

i finally found myself able to say, "whatever is best and whatever is right. if that includes me having this bag for the rest of my life, then i am okay with that." i trust the Lord and His plan for me. i have said this a million times by now, but no matter how hard certain things have been to go through, i am grateful for all of them because they've made me into who i am now. all of the things i've dreaded about having a bag, i have chosen to accept. i had deep fears and doubts about feeling unattractive and being afraid to date or anything like that. those are all things i have surrendered and let go of.

but here's the thing i REALLY know, the most important of all: i woke from that surgery and i'd never felt more alone. i felt that nobody around me could even begin to comprehend the horror i felt when i first saw my ostomy. but that's what's so amazing....the atonement is there for this exact purpose. it's not just there for when we've sinned. it's there so that we never have to be alone. we can choose to be alone, if we're stubborn or whatever else- but we never HAVE to be. Jesus suffered so that He would understand how to comfort us. maybe nobody else around me knew how afraid i was in that moment firsthand- but HE did. and so i wasn't alone.

we don't have to be alone. i wish i could convey that to every single person i know and love.

on this Easter Sunday, remember that. you don't ever have to be alone.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

extract of happiness

happiness is amazing. it's beautiful. wonderful. and it's not elusive!

everyone can be happy...i truly believe that. i have had many dark days and lived on rock bottom for awhile. i've worked very hard to achieve the happiness i now have. i've spent a lot of time pondering, praying and reflecting. i've taken a magnifying glass to my soul and found scrapes, bruises and imperfections. i have a long way to go, but i have come a LONG way.

i have learned to trust the Lord. i know now who i am and what i want to be. i'm not looking forward to my surgery on tuesday necessarily, but in a way i am. i can't wait to have it and get past it so that i can have the next one and then be DONE! but at the same time, i'm so grateful everything has played out the way that it has. i've had the chance to become someone that i'm proud to be at a young age- what could be better? i know now that i will excel at anything and everything i choose to do. i'm not afraid to work hard to get what i want. i'm happy and i want others to be happy!

 i'm so excited for what the future holds- to become a registered nurse! i feel 100% that this is my calling and what i'm meant to be. i love working with kids so much and will always have that be a part of my life, but i think i truly will have a talent in medicine and that my experiences have built me into the perfect candidate to be a nurse. i know how important it is to have the right people around you when you're sick, having surgery, recovering, whatever! the people who cared for me after my first surgery had a HUGE impact on my accepting the situation and in my personal growth. EVERYONE deserves to have people caring for them who really do CARE for them, who are passionate about what they do, and understand what it's like to be sick and suffering. i know that i can be that for people, and that's so exciting to me!

my niece and nephew are here right now. they are rays of sunshine in my world, i can't believe how much i love them and enjoy them. i used to REALLY not like kids hahaha. working with children has really changed my perspective, and my niece and nephew have as well. here i will admit that i have realized that i am going to be a really great mom! haha. i never thought i would say that, or that i'd even want to.

i've reached a point where i can let go of my vanity, which has been a struggle of mine for years. feeling beautiful is fun but it's not everything. it meant way more to me than it should have for years. having this bag and taking a medication that affected my very face was one of the hardest things that i've ever gone through. it's forced me to look beyond physical beauty. i appreciate myself for so much more than that. i enjoy feeling attractive and taking care of myself but i also know now that it's not the most important thing in the world. it's moved down several rungs and settled in the correct place on the ladder of my priorities. by the same token, where i used to take beauty for granted, i don't anymore. i am grateful to have what i do and will always make the most of it! but there is just so much more to life. yeah it's nice to feel beautiful. but for a long time i let my happiness depend WAY too much on physical beauty, if i felt "ugly" or not. and the truth is, it's not just a trite or cheesy thing that being happy makes you beautiful. i can SEE my insecurity and misery in old pictures- i wore it as obviously as the nose on my face. true happiness really does change your countenance.

life is a crazy thing. i think back to just a few years ago and i don't recognize myself. it's like i'm a completely different person. i think about people i worked for in those rough years (one place that i just walked out of one day, leaving them high and dry. one of my low points) and i think about my ex and his family. it's hard to think that there are people who know me as THAT rachel- a person who doesn't even exist anymore. a person who is so different from what i am now that it feels like she's a stranger. i wish sometimes that all of those people could know ME, that they won't remember me the way that i was. the only way i can make up for that is to make sure that everyone i know from here on out will always know ME 100%, and that their lives will be better for it.

i stand on the threshold, ready for this upcoming surgery. ready to recover and have the next one, and then move on with my life. i am determined to make something of myself, to be the best at what i do. to be independent from everyone and everything except the Lord. i'm not going to be the girl that waits around for the right guy who will then "take care" of me. i'm going to ALWAYS be my own person, and when the time comes for me to marry and have a family, i will bring 100% of that person and those talents to the table. and i will always do so for the people i love.

this is pure joy, plain and simple. worth the hard work, the pain and the tears. and i owe it all to the Lord. making changes isn't easy. it's painful a lot of the time. but sometimes there are people or things in our lives that are detrimental to our growth and we need to learn how to identify what/who they are and take the necessary action to be happy. in the end, it's worth it.

the beginning of 2010, a whole other person :)
yayyyy! now :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

i'm okay....really

i've been thinking a lot lately.

(i know, big surprise)

my upcoming surgery is The Big One ala toy story. it's like that rocket, srsly. a big deal.

it's the one that is really important and matters. the last one is the the biggest change but the "easiest" or whatever...if any part of getting gutted and using your small intestine as a colon is "easy"...

anyway....i'm ready to give 100% to some things that i haven't given 100% to yet. i'm also okay with whatever outcome there is. i trust the Lord, i can truly say that. everything that has happened that i am happy with, has been the Lord's doing...hard to go through or not. so i choose to trust Him.

i will be okay.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

how's that working out for you?

for a long time i felt like i was being rocked by life.

 now, it's the other way around :) no matter what your circumstances YOU are the one who gets to decide how you react...and that is the most important thing in the world. 

NO ONE can take that away from you.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


i'm thinking about a lot tonight. stuff that's hard to adequately put into words. stuff that makes me feel like i might be the most frustrating human being in existence sometimes. stuff that i wish sometimes i was too dumb or too shallow to even have cross my mind in the first place (yes that sounds conceited, no i do not care).

the thing is...i'm one of those people who thinks about everything. i overthink things up and down and inside-out, and just when i think i'm done with them...i unearth them from their shallow graves and overthink them some more. i think a lot about why my life has turned out to be what it's been. i think about where it will go from here, when all of this is over and i'm left with what it's made of me.

the thing is, illness and recovery aren't as simple as just that. at least, they haven't been for me. my illness coincided with the end of my marriage. it was a slow death and by the time we knew it was "over" we'd gone through the tunnel of pain and sadness and come out the other end okay. but when your marriage ends it affects your identity. suddenly things that were part of that, aren't anymore. maybe they're things you've done away with for good and maybe they're things you put in a drawer for later, but the point is that it's a big change. i knew i'd need to adjust to being a twenty-something single mormon girl whose beliefs mattered a LOT more this time around than they ever had before.

but then sickness came, and it took over everything. thoughts of living as a single person again and building that identity back were pushed aside by the basic thoughts and needs of survival. that has been largely the story of my life the past couple of years now. survival. making it from one day to the next. weeks. months. being sick became part of me the way that being married had. when it seemed there would be no end to my being sick, i tried to build my identity around it.

that identity was temporary. i knew it would be, because i have known from the beginning that i will not spend my whole life sick. but as the end has approached it's opened up a new challenge for me: take away the sickness and the survival and everything, and WHO AM I? that's the million-dollar question. that's what i spend hours and days trying to figure out. there are things that have naturally been a part of my personality for as long as i can remember, and there are new things. there are things that are ugly and things that are wonderful.

i find myself testing and pushing limits with everything, trying to establish my own boundaries as a person. am i kind? am i patient? am i dishonest or sincere? are my intentions good? are they all centered completely on ME? how much do i love the people i love, and what does that mean to me? all of these things i think about, and much much more. when all of this is over and i'm "free"...what will rise from the ashes of it?

i made a promise to myself after a dear friend visited me last winter. we hadn't seen each other in years and had just gotten back in contact shortly before she came home for christmas. it was one of the hardest times of my life and i was in a bad place. it took me awhile to admit to myself that i didn't want to see her because i was ashamed of what i'd become and how i was handling my illness and everything else. when she left, i promised myself that the next time i saw her, i wouldn't be ashamed of myself. i'd be someone i was proud to be. she loved me and still does, and i knew she could see me better than i could. when she came to visit just recently i realized that no matter how much further i still may need to come...i was no longer ashamed of myself. i'm proud of who i am.

it reminded me that even though i still have a lot to figure out when all of this is over...that i'm on the right path and in a good place, and that i will be exactly who i want to be and exactly who the people who love me know i can become. for better or worse (and i'd say better) overthinking has actually been a great blessing to me. i've been spurred on to rebuild the house that burnt down with something a million times better.  and not only better, but something that will stand as long as i do. something fireproof.

strong souls don't burn.