A woman has posed for photos wearing just underwear to reveal her stoma bag to the world for the first time.
Natalie Wicks shared the pictures a year to the day from when she had a ‘life-saving’ urostomy on 14 June 2016, after battling cervical cancer.
Despite being extremely anxious about what other people would think, she posted the pictures on social media for all her friends and family to see.
To her surprise, she was inundated with positive comments, which she says gave her a huge confidence boost.
The young mum, who has not been able to work for five years since her cancer diagnosis, suffered with depression and weight loss due to the complications surrounding her bladder.
When attempts to save it with complex surgery were unsuccessful and Natalie had the urostomy, she believed no one would ‘ever want her again’ – until now.
Natalie, from Pontypridd, South Wales, said: “When I thought about having a bag for life, I thought I would be so ugly. I didn’t want it, I didn’t think it would be something that people would see past.
“My friends had never seen my bag. It took me a long time to come to terms with it. I thought I was ugly and disgusting. I used to cry myself to sleep about it thinking ‘I’m not going to find my Mr Right’ as nobody would want to be with me because of it.
“I couldn’t bear to look at the comments after posting the photos to begin with. But then my friend Laura Evans, who took the photos, told me I had to read them. It was so emotional and overwhelming.
“It’s really helping me to build my confidence slowly, that people have accepted it and think that I look good.”
Natalie says the long battle she has faced since her cervical cancer diagnosis in 2012 had made the necessity to ultimately have a urostomy all the more heart-breaking for her.
The brave mum underwent a hysterectomy aged just 24 in October 2013 before the hole in her bladder caused by radiotherapy was discovered in early 2014 – leading to yet more major surgeries.
Natalie said: “The chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment worked and they stopped it in March 2013 but I was still bleeding and in pain.
“The doctors had operated and lifted my ovaries prior to my cancer treatments to try save them, but now there was too much damage done by the radiotherapy.
“I don’t know how I got through the hysterectomy. My grandad was, and still is, my rock.
“I’m very lucky and grateful that I already had two children.
“But the hysterectomy didn’t solve the problem. I kept getting blood clots and then I became incontinent.
“After more tests they found the radiotherapy I had had for my cancer treatment had burnt through my bladder. The effect of radiotherapy carries on for a while and it was a side effect.
“By early 2014 I really wasn’t good. I was in hospital more than I was at home. They told me I would need to have a Mitrofanoff.”
Far away from son Mason, now seven, and daughter Bailey, now nine, terrified Natalie went under the knife yet again for a Mitrofanoff – a procedure which attempts to form a new bladder – at a London hospital in October 2014.
But after more complications, lasting two years, she says she transformed from a confident size 12/14, weighing around 12 stone, to a shadow of her former self – weighing just five stone, 10 pounds.
Natalie said: “I was on my own in London. It was really frightening and very depressing. The operation didn’t work out. I was getting infections which kept putting me back in hospital. It made me very ill.
“As a result I couldn’t bear to eat. I was depressed. Before I became ill I was a size 12/14 and I went down to a size six.
“After going through such a big operation, I had thought it would be okay. I thought I would have been ‘normal’.”
Since the urostomy she claims she has massively struggled to accept her bag.
But now, at seven-and-a-half stone, Natalie says she was ecstatic to finally find the strength to show off ‘the real me’.
Natalie said: “Since the operation, only a handful of people knew I had it. It took me a couple of months to even show my children.
“When I came to do the pictures and the post, I felt like I just wanted to lift the weight of it all from my shoulders. I wanted to be confident for the summer.
“I’d considered getting the pictures done for a few months, but several times I backed out and cancelled appointments with photographers. I just couldn’t do it at the time.
“Then Laura said to me I should do it. We had a laugh, and my cousin, Chloe, was there as well. It was much better to do it with them, they made me feel comfortable.”
Natalie says the overwhelming response to her pictures on social media has helped hugely in boosting her confidence.
“I’ve started to think a bit differently now. I guess my stoma and bag aren’t ugly, because they saved my life,” she said.
“I just couldn’t bear to look at the pictures to begin with, but the amount of comments I’ve received has helped. I know people know about it now.
“I’m not at that stage yet where I feel totally comfortable with myself. I used to be quite busty and curvy. I miss that figure sometimes.
“But I’ve seen other people share pictures of themselves on social media like I have, and it shows you that there are a lot of people with stomas, and they’re still beautiful people.”
Currently single Natalie says she now wants to take her new-found confidence out into the dating world too.
Natalie said: “I’m trying to start dating again. I’ve been on dating sites before and spoken to people, but I don’t really tend to tell them about my bag.
“It’s hard, people ask the normal questions like what I do for a living, and my illness has even taken things like that from me.
“I think I do care what people think of me. But after doing the post I think I will probably just tell people straight away.”