March woman Pollyanna Harvey bravely speaks out about illness and the stigma of stomas
A young March woman has spoken out to beat the stigma surrounding stoma bags after undergoing life-saving surgery.
Twenty-three-year-old Pollyanna Harvey is on the mend after having a six hour operation three weeks ago to remove her colon after Ulcerative Colitis left her crippled with pain and suffering blood loss.
The supermarket worker first started to suffer symptoms of the debilitating illness in 2016 when a flare-up left her in agony and being rushed to hospital by her worried mum.
Within hours she had the diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis a long-term chronic illness that affects an estimated one in every 420 people living in the UK. This amounts to around 146,000 people.
There is no real understanding of what causes the illness which could be genetic, linked to diet and possibly mental health, it can develop at any age, and it is most often diagnosed in people like Pollyanna, aged from 15 to 25 years old.
Once diagnosed Pollyanna, who has had to put her wedding plans on hold to deal with her illness, was on six or seven lots of medication a day to try to keep the condition under control.
But that did not beat the crippling flare-ups or the need for her to use the toilet dozens of times a day. The last flare-up began in October last year and despite intravenous and oral steroids doctors were struggling to bring the symptoms under control.
Pollyanna said: "The doctor told me that it was only going to get worse and I would eventually need a stoma, possibly even within the next year. He asked whether I would rather have a planned procedure now or wait until it needed to be done as an emergency.
"I decided to bite the bullet and go through with a planned procedure, and to be honest I think it was the best decision. Obviously it was really painful after the surgery but now I am getting over it and everything is settling down. I feel so much better, I don't need to take lots of medication, I'm not in pain any more and I'm dealing with the bag just fine.
"It is not uncomfortable and to be honest I forget I have it. There is a lot of stigma about the bag but I'm sure there are many people in March that have them and people just don't realise.
"Ulcerative Colitis is a horrible condition, it was affecting my joints and the pain was so bad I was having to use crutches at times. I don't think people have much understanding of just how awful it can be and of course it was affecting my work because I would have to have time off every time I had a flare-up.
"I want people to understand about the condition and how serious it can be and also to accept that having a stoma bag is no big deal. It has saved my life. While I was ill I was losing lots of weight, the steroids were making me bloated and I was losing a lot of blood, which was making me anaemic.
"Now I feel great and I hope to be back at work within the next few weeks. I will have to take it easy to start with because of the surgery but I feel I now have a bright future ahead of me.
"I had intended to speak out to turn something horrible into a positive and to raise awareness locally, but I have had national magazines contacting me, so it looks like I will be spreading the message much wider, which is great."