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Embracing my Stoma & Crohn’s Journey By Beth Coldrick

I’ve decided to document my journey, primarily to help myself better track and understand my condition. By openly sharing my experiences to date, I hope to also help anyone going through similar experiences while also trying to raise awareness.

As with any chronic condition, getting diagnosed with IBD changes your life, and at first, it can be really daunting dealing with the unknown of what your future will hold. When I was first diagnosed, I took great comfort in reading the stories of other IBD warriors.

Everyone’s journey will be different, and it can be uneasy not knowing what’s around the corner. However, I hope to show that it doesn’t need to be the thing that defines who you are.

I plan to delve into all aspects of my journey to date, from diagnosis, how I dealt with the diagnosis, my medication history, symptoms, relationships, lifestyle and diet changes, etc.

After living with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), for over 20 years, taking steroids, immunosuppressant drugs, chemotherapy drugs, and biologicals, I’ve learnt a lot about this challenging disease.

About me

I am Beth Coldrick, and I was a long-time sufferer of Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease (known as IBD). I am one of 300,000 people across the UK who have been diagnosed and are living with the disease.

Over the last ten years, I have been on and off steroids, constantly on medication, managed my diet and lifestyle accordingly, and have had three life-changing surgeries. I now live with a permanent stoma, which I have had since November 2019, and I had my final surgery in August 2020. I am so happy to be living pain-free with IBD finally!

Here, I would like to share my experience with the disease, as well as my journey to being a skincare brand founder and entrepreneur.

I grew up in Sandbanks, Dorset, right by the sea, and have always felt like I was destined to do something creative to help other people. I have over ten years of experience in the beauty industry and have been in love with natural skincare for even longer. When I was a teenager, I made face masks and body scrubs from ingredients I found in the kitchen at home. My mum was a bit baffled by it all, really, and thought I would grow out of it, but I never did!

I ended up studying Graphic Design and Photography at university in London, which I really enjoyed, but I knew I just wasn’t the type of person to be stuck behind a computer. So, in 2002, I took a break to give myself time to think and figure out what I wanted to do next. I travelled to South Africa for ten months and then to Australia in 2004.

I stayed there for four years teaching surfing and found I was living a more holistic and nourishing way of life. I would spend my weekends visiting gorgeous hippy markets and music festivals where I got to sample lots of yummy new foods and natural skincare products; from whipped shea butter body creams to floral and silky face oils to clay face masks and soaps, I was in heaven and had rediscovered my true calling.

I was so inspired by the Australian natural and organic beauty scene that in 2006, I completed my diploma in Natural Beauty Therapy and Nutrition and started my career in the beauty industry in Australia. Everything was going so well until 2009 when I began to get poorly, so poorly that I ended up returning home to the UK.

My Ulcerative Colitis & Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease.

Ulcerative Colitis is inflammation of the lower end of your digestive system, including your large bowel and rectum, whereas Crohn’s Disease is the inflammation of anywhere throughout the entire digestive tract, from your mouth to your bum.

IBD is an auto-immune disease, and because of that, it can be tricky to manage as every person is unique and handles the drugs differently, so there isn’t a one-drug-fits-all method of treatment.

I had always suffered from stomach issues since I was a small child, but how I felt in 2009 was like nothing I had experienced before. I was rushing to the toilet over 20 times a day, losing lots of blood, being sick, suffering from fatigue, and not eating. Some days, I couldn’t even move.

I had to be put on so many different drugs, including powerful steroids, for nearly four months. It was an incredibly harrowing time for me, and I saw both my physical and mental health deteriorate rapidly in a matter of months. I was gaining weight fast due to the steroids, and my usual positive, upbeat attitude was gone; I felt miserable.

It took a year of being on heavy pharmaceuticals for my body to start fighting back finally, and a year later, I managed to get into remission. After such a terrible year, I wanted to do something for myself, something that would make me happy, so in 2010, I started my own beauty business.

I started working from home, offering waxing, massages, and facials. In my first six months, I’d gone from just three clients to working full-time, and I loved it!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to last, and in 2012, I broke up with my boyfriend. It was a mutual but tough decision. The stress of the breakup triggered my IBD to flare up, and I was back to square one; I was devastated.

I had to go through every painful moment all over again when I thought and hoped I’d seen the back of it all. I was back on steroids, but they didn’t work this time. I still had all the same symptoms; I was still vomiting, bleeding from my bottom, and my stomach was in extreme pain.

I didn’t want to let the IBD beat me, so I carried on as if it wasn’t happening. I studied more, researching ingredients and their benefits, and then completed several courses that taught me how to make natural skincare products.

I expanded my home-based beauty business and, in 2014, opened a high-end salon in Lilliput, Dorset. It was a dream come true, and a massive success, but the unknown and the stress of starting something new meant my IBD got worse, and I found it harder and harder to manage my symptoms while running the business.

My Body Reached Breaking Point

I was the most ill I had ever been and was rushed into hospital for colonoscopies and scans. There were even more steroids and drugs, and then the doctors decided to put me on an IV drip for eight weeks every 18 months. I had to visit the hospital every morning and evening for these transfusions, and after the morning session at the hospital, I would go back and work at the salon.

I was told to rest, but I had to run the business, plus I had hired five members of staff that I couldn’t let down. I ended up getting much worse and much more poorly; I was sick in the salon and passed out at work several times.

I finally had to admit defeat and close the salon in 2018. Not only had I lost my income, but I felt terrible for letting my staff down. I didn’t leave the house for over a year after that. Mainly because I couldn’t leave the toilet – I was going over 30 times a day at that time – but also because my mental health just wasn’t up to it.

I felt weak, lethargic, and very, very ill. I was only allowed to eat white foods such as potatoes, chicken, rice, and white fish at the time. I love colourful fruits and veg, and eating these foods that had no flavour at all was miserable.

One of the side effects of IBD for me was my skin became extremely
sensitive. It was sore and red, and I would often break out with painful cystic acne on my face; I found this impacted my mental health. Skin is the first thing you see when you look in the mirror, and it was part of my identity working in the industry; who wants a beauty therapist with terrible skin?!

My saving grace in this situation was my knowledge and determination to make myself feel better. I started putting 100% of my energy into creating skin products that calm, nourish, and heal my skin conditions. I mixed natural balms, oils, and creams, which dramatically improved my skin and, with it, my confidence. After three months of doing this, my confidence came back, and I wanted to share what I’d learned with others, so I launched BAO Skincare.

My second beauty business was centred on helping people with problems similar to mine and those who wanted luxury, ethically sourced, no-nasties skincare. I made products at home and sold them to friends, family, and ex-clients, and slowly and surely, by word of mouth, my brand started to grow. The success of BAO was incredible, and it made such a difference in my life in so many ways, but it didn’t fix my IBD.
In April 2019, I was hospitalised fully for the first time; it was a terrible night of bleeding heavily, losing all my strength, and passing out. It was when I was in hospital that the subject of surgery came up; they say that ten years is the average time before a sufferer of IBD finally has surgery. Although terrifying on so many levels, I knew I had no choice. All I wanted was a better quality of life and some escape from these horrible diseases, so in September 2019, I had an Ileostomy.

An Ileostomy is a procedure where the small bowel (small intestine) is diverted through an opening in the tummy. The opening is known as a stoma. An ostomy bag is placed over the stoma to collect waste products that usually pass through the colon (large intestine) and out of the body through the rectum and back passage.

I felt the benefits of the Ileostomy straight away, but I knew it wasn’t going to fix me properly. I was still bleeding through my rectum, I had terrible pains, I was still on steroids, and I was having steroid enemas – steroids administered through the rectum to try and take the inflammation down.

It was just two months later that the doctors suggested we remove my large bowel. I said yes straight away: “Get it out of me, take my insides out, I just can’t take this anymore!”

So, they did.

I had a Subtotal Colectomy, where they removed the entire large bowel. Soon after the major surgery, I began to feel better for the first time in years. I didn’t have to take steroids anymore, I was starting to eat a more varied diet, and I was managing my stoma well.
Sadly, this still wasn’t enough. I was still bleeding from my rectum, and it was very uncomfortable and painful. So, in August 2020, I had my final surgery, a Proctectomy, where my rectum was removed entirely, and I am now proud to say I will live with my stoma forever.

Living with a stoma & its psychological impacts

Although I am pretty much cured, I still deal with a lot of other physical and emotional issues daily. I have always been a strong woman, and I can cope with a lot, but this past year, my mental health has suffered.

Gaining 30kg from steroids completely knocked my confidence; I would try on multiple different outfits before leaving the house until I felt comfortable; it was exhausting. I was put on anti-depressants for six months while having my operations and during my recovery, too. I think it was the best thing I could have done; they helped me with my internal battles and have shown me I still have a life to live and that I should be thankful.

I recently sold my flat in England and moved to Bali, where I am running my skincare brand online. I am also studying for a Diploma in Nutrition and building The IBD Coach.

The IBD Coach is a website where I share ways to live happily and healthily with IBD and a Stoma. I share IBD-friendly recipes, nutrition advice, and beauty tips and am building a friendly women’s community. You can also follow my life in Bali with a Stoma on Instagram.

As I write this (February 2024), I have been drug-free for nearly five years and feeling good! I won’t ever live a ‘normal’ life; I have to manage my diet carefully and ensure I don’t get blockages in my stoma by chewing my food fully. I also have to be really careful not to get a hernia, which could result in more surgery, so heavy lifting is off the cards, so I’ve fallen in love with Reformer Pilates.

I think if I have learned anything from the past decade, it is that I am so much stronger than I think; writing my story makes me realise how much I have gone through, and I am so pleased I have come out the other side, happy and healthy (and with great skin).