Positive and honest – after 34 operations
WHEN Polly Holmes-Carr was 22, she was taken down for surgery with a cross marked out on her stomach.
She had no idea what she was going to wake up to and that her life was about to change forever.
Polly, from Southport, was having problems with her stomach, finding it painful to eat and go to the toilet.
Doctors put it down to an eating disorder and sent her to a clinic for women with anorexia or bulimia.
It didn’t work. Her weight dropped to 6st 13lb and she kept telling staff she was having problems with her stomach.
Eventually, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Since her diagnosis in 1996, Polly has had to have 34 surgical procedures – but more than 20 years later, the memory of her first operation still represents a low point in her journey.
She said: “I went down to surgery, had a little cross on my side and little explanation as to what a stoma bag was.
“It wasn’t a positive part of my journey. I’ve made it positive since.
“I went down to theatre with a cross on my side. I was so physically and mentally poorly. I thought the cross was where they were going in for surgery and woke up to a shock – to find I was pooing out of my stomach.
“I woke up covered in poo. It was a really poor memory for me.”
Being fitted with a stoma bag at 22 is incredibly difficult for any young woman to come to terms with.
While all your friends are thinking about dating and nights out, the reality of living with a stoma can be a massive knock to anyone’s confidence or sense of attractiveness.
Now 44 and a mum-ofone, Polly has been with her husband, Garry, since she was first diagnosed.
However, she understands how difficult it must be trying to navigate the dating game as a young woman with her condition.
She said: “We all poo – I just poo out of a different place and I’m lucky to have a very supportive partner that makes me feel pretty.
“He made me feel pretty at 6st and now I’m 14st and feel in my own head like a very different person – but he makes me feel like a pretty princess, which is hard when you’re leaking poo out of the wrong place in your body.”
She added: “People don’t understand the mental overtones because it really affects your confidence.
“I was really lucky to be with the same man all the way through, but if you’re single and have to adjust to life it must be so hard.
“I want to help other 21-year-old girls who are going through it.”
Polly, who is now 44, has perianal fistulising Crohn’s, which is where an abnormal channel connects the intestine to the skin or another organ. In her case, one of hers connects to the vagina.
Despite living with what could be an embarrassing condition, her approach is to be open, honest and positive about her situation.
Polly Holmes-Carr, above, with her husband Garry; after an operation, left, and, right, with Garry and son Declan
Polly and her friend, Tracey, went to London as part of World Ostomy Day
Polly and Tracey