During college – while still struggling to control my symptoms – I got married and subsequently had two children. I then worked at the University of Maryland and later at the US Department of Agriculture. While I loved my work, it was stressful, which aggravated my medical condition. After an episode of colitis that required four blood transfusions, I finally realized that I couldn’t keep going. It was time for surgery.
It was a blessing in disguise for two reasons. Not only did surgery rescue me from a life of chronic pain associated with ulcerative colitis, but the surgeon discovered severe dysplasia, which would have likely led to colon cancer. This was the turning point in my life.
“I guess people around the world have stomas. We are not alone!”
“I’ve heard that some people with stomas never leave the house. I, on the other hand, never stayed in my house when I got ‘Shlomo the Stomo’”, says Phyllis. “Once I no longer had to worry about finding a bathroom because of my ulcerative colitis, I was free!”
Phyllis credits her ostomy for giving her the opportunity to travel the world. She has visited South Africa, Swaziland, Madagascar, Costa Rico, Ecuador, Thailand and Australia. Living with an ostomy, Phyllis was free to sleep in a tent, snorkel and go on safari.
She speaks of one interesting hiccup while in the rainforest of Ecuador. Phyllis’ husband contracted a stomach bug leaving him temporarily bed-ridden while she continued to explore the rain forest. Unfortunately, ‘Shlomo’ did not take well to the stomach bug, and Phyllis experienced a few accidents. Phyllis found herself running low on supplies. When her husband was feeling better better, they drove into Quito, capital of Ecuador, and found a drugstore that actually carried her exact size ostomy system wafer. “It was truly a miracle,” says Phyllis. “I guess people around the world have stomas. We are not alone!”
And although I already had a degree and a successful career, I went back to school and got a TOESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) certificate. I did this in honor of my mother, who was born in Poland and couldn’t read or write. Now, I help people from other countries learn English.
My hope is to continue helping people after this life by donating my body to a medical school. While the students who get my body will find a few parts missing, I’m a firm believer that it’s the defects that make us perfect.
Getting an ileostomy was not the end of my life; it was the beginning. I’m so happy that I want to help others.