Woman proudly shares photos in her underwear to show off her stoma bag
Suffering through an illness can often leave your confidence at rock bottom.
But, one British teaching assistant is determined to change this and inspire confidence in bowel disease sufferers.
Bethany Gallagher, from Sheffield, England, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when she was just 15 years old. The inflammatory bowel disease left her in crippling pain and going to the toilet up to 45 times a day.
After seven years of battling through symptoms including diarrhoea, vomiting, bleeding and extreme weight loss, doctors agreed to let the 23-year-old have an ostomy bag fitted, leading her to cry with joy.
After getting the stoma bag - a prosthetic medical device that allows faeces or urine to be collected in a pouch - fitted in April 2017, Bethany decided to take to social media to share photos in her underwear to encourage others to love their bodies no matter what.
"I started taking and sharing photos of my journey originally for my family and friends. My parents didn’t want me to get a stoma," Bethany explained. "They thought it would open up loads more problems like body confidence issues. They didn’t want to see their little girl go through that. So I set up an account to post pictures to show them that I’m okay and I’m proud of what I’ve been through."
She continued: "I remember thinking one day 'why should I not be proud of my body just because I have been through this?'. The bag saved my life at the end of the day, besides I can’t hide it. It trumps on its own, it really has got a mind of its own. So if there’s no point trying to hide it then I might as well get it out.
"What started as a reassurance for my family has become a massive awareness-raising thing. I get so many people messaging me saying my photos inspired them and they’ve walked down a beach in their bikinis for the first time, I love it."
In addition to Crohn's disease, the teaching assistant has been forced to deal with a string of other conditions, including diversion colitis, an inflammation of the colon which saw her bleed from her rectum up to 50 times a day, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, an incurable autoimmune disease that causes her joints to swell and psoriasis, another autoimmune disease that leaves her with red and itchy skin.
However, nowadays, the 23-year-old - who lives with her supportive boyfriend of 10 years Mike - boasts over 2,000 followers on Instagram who follow her every move and cheer her on during her low days.
Speaking out about how the community has spurred her on, she said: "It hasn’t just helped other people, it has helped me too. It might sound silly but you get so used to the bag that you don’t feel it so when you look in the mirror it can be a bit of a shock like 'ooh I’ve got a bag of poo stuck to me'.
"But seeing the photos has helped so much, it’s made me realise that even with my bag and my scars my body really isn’t that different to other people’s bodies. I want to help everyone else with a stoma realise that. Here’s to being sassy with a stoma."