When people see me they see Allison -- a goofy, outgoing, big-hearted friend, sister and daughter. Not a cancer patient. And that's what I want. I won't allow my past -- my cancer -- to define me.
For the past three years, I have suffered through many health issues related to colorectal cancer. I'm alive today thanks to my radiation and chemotherapy treatment as well as a surgical colectomy received at MD Anderson. I now have a temporary ileostomy and ostomy bag.
Although my ostomy bag presents some challenges, I haven't allowed it to stop me from living. In fact, cancer has made me realize I need to start living more.
Adjusting to life with an ostomy
It took a while to adjust to my new life and find ostomy hardware that allowed me to live a normal lifestyle. At first, I had skin irritation issues, leakage and other side effects. I spent so much time at MD Anderson that I felt like I was renting a room in the wound ostomy clinic. But between the nurses, my dad, who's a dermatologist, and my mom making endless phone calls, I finally found what worked best for me. That didn't happen overnight, though, and many days ended in a good cry.
I now change my ostomy bag once a week and have a routine that takes less than an hour. I don't have to worry that the ostomy bag won't stay on. In fact, nobody can even really tell I wear one, and I recently participated in MD Anderson's Love Your Body Day Fashion Show. My new motto is: Love your body no matter what, and be proud of your scars because they are not something to be embarrassed about.
Colon cancer treatment at MD Anderson
I'm so lucky to have had my MD Anderson team for the past three years. Everyone in the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center knows me well because of how often I visit. They always make me feel welcome and are friendliest when I need it most. They have seen me through many health issues related to my treatment. My amazing surgeon, John Skibber, M.D., did more than just grant my wish to not have a permanent ostomy; he also saved my belly button, which is surprisingly important to a young woman.
Robert Wolff, M.D., has been my rock through my ups and downs, acting outside his field of expertise when needed and always making sure I was properly taken care when hospitalized. In return, I made sure I had sweets waiting for him when he stopped by.
My ostomy bag won't slow me down
Because of what I have experienced, I now realize that no one can truly understand what others are going through. That's why I now volunteer to talk to other young adult cancer patients through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one support program. I remind the other patients that I speak with that they are not alone in the struggles we young adults face before, during and after cancer treatment. I hope learning about my experiences helps them. I know that sharing what I've been through, both good and bad, has helped me heal.
I read a lot of inspirational quotes during my treatment, but the one that meant the most to me was: "Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage do!" The last three years have been difficult, but my attitude has made a huge difference.
I recently went to California to learn how to surf with First Descents, a free outdoor adventure experience for young adults with cancer. After that, I went white water rafting on a treacherously fast river with my family. Next up: I'll venture into the world of dating with an ostomy bag.
I simply don't plan to slow down because of an ostomy bag. I can do the same things as everyone else. I just might have to do them a little differently.