Living to tell the tale: forever ostomy heart

01 October 2020
Diana Arango of the Ostomy Heart Foundation recounts her emotional stoma journey from despair to embracing love for herself and others
Diana Arango of the Ostomy Heart Foundation recounts her emotional stoma journey from despair to embracing love for herself and others

Diana Arango of the Ostomy Heart Foundation recounts her emotional stoma journey from despair to embracing love for herself and others

‘I used to think I was the weirdest person in the world, but then I thought, “there’s a lot of people like this in the world, there’s got to be someone like me that feels bizarre and damaged in the same way that I do.” I can picture her, and I imagine that she must also be out there thinking of me. Well, I hope that”, if you are out there and read this, that you will know that, yes. It is true. I am here, and I am just as weird as you are.’ – Frida Kahlo

The incredible and sad tale of innocent Diana and her gutless operation

There are people like me who keep secrets under their clothes, mysteries that we carry hidden and that society ignores, as well as scars that reveal our vulnerability. At the same time, we tell our stories. Today, through these lines, I want to reveal my story without fear and without shame, and with the hope of revolutionising people’s preconceptions of beauty.

I am Diana Arango. I am 36 years old, and I am Colombian, of Antioquian origin. In 2016, when I thought I had my whole life under control, a diagnosis knocked at my door and changed my life completely. I had stage 2 colorectal cancer, and the only option for survival was to undergo surgery that would change my body—but save my life. The surgeons would have to give me an ostomy, and I would have to carry a bag on my belly for the rest of my life.

Diana’s colostomy saved her life

Chronicle of a death foretold

Ostomy? Colostomy Bag? What were these things? Once these were explained to me, I felt I was gone. The only word I could fixate on was ‘death’.

I didn’t believe I could get through this. Perhaps foolishly, I looked for options other than surgery. It was impossible to accept that the price I had to pay to be healthy should be having a part of my intestine outside of my abdomen for life. I didn’t *want* to die, but I didn’t think I could live like that either.

However, that dark dimension that I believed promised death became my renaissance, and this was the beginning of my metamorphosis.

The Ostomy Heart Foundation brings together people in Colombia living with a stoma

The ostomate in her labyrinth

Cancer meant a second chance in my life, and now I am grateful for it. This challenge made me the person I am today. My femininity and my pride had been shrunk to their smallest expression. The stretch marks, cellulite and chubby fat that were once my obsession became nothing compared to the physical and emotional scars that I would have to face.

The unwelcome pouch in my abdomen propelled me like a balloon to see life from a different perspective. The ostomy has taught me many things, the most important of which is to live in the moment and understand that the only thing we have is the now.

Of course, it was not easy. Looking at myself in the mirror, 10 kg lighter and with my humanity exposed on my abdomen—that crushed my self-esteem. ‘Now what am I going to do?’ ‘How do I get back to my life? Will anyone ever love me like this?’. Questions like these made me plunge into a deep depression that briefly obscured the miracle that this condition really meant to me. I was alive! But what for?

The Ostomy Heart Foundation brings together people in Colombia living with a stoma

One hundred years of solitude

It was then that I hit rock bottom. I understood that the only person who could get me out of this hole was myself. I thought of the verse from the bible: ‘and I will take her to the desert and speak to her heart.’ I did not have anywhere else to dig. I was alone in front of myself. It was at that moment that I realised that, if I didn’t recognise and accept my reality, the world around me would not do it for me. I had two options: I could spend the rest of my life in bitterness or I could learn to dance in the rain. This meant learning to see the positives of having this second chance.

Since then, I have taken my ostomy to heart. The pouch has taught me to love myself as I am. What little extra I do or do not have does not define me. It has taught me that we are more than just skin—and that our essence is what truly defines us.

Showing my vulnerability and displaying who I truly am has made me stronger, and it has made my fears melt away. My path has led me to believe that there is a reason behind every adversity. We can get rid of our old selves, with all the pain, frustration and resentment of the past. We can get rid of what makes us cry and what makes us unhappy. We can make way for the new opportunity that an ostomy offers us.

Diana’s stoma gave her a new perspective

Love in the time of having a stoma

As time went by and faced the experiences I needed to face, I decided to tell my story through Instagram. I’ve created an account called @ostomy_heart. This has been very positive, especially here in Colombia, where the taboo about ostomies seems especially strong. Initially, I couldn’t find any first-hand information, but then I met people who helped me in my journey.

This set a desire growing in my heart to give others what I had received. I wanted to help other ostomates cross the threshold to acceptance and self-esteem. Out of this, in 2018, the Ostomy Heart Foundation was born (@funosheart). This is a place full of love, where new ostomates can find an identity in their life with a stoma. It is open to ostomates not only in Colombia, but also other Latin American countries. It is a place where they can find the tools they need to rejoin the social world.

It feels like a divine dream has come true and given me purpose. It has taught me that the true value of life is found in helping others.

Diana Arango lives in Colombia and runs the Ostomy Heart Foundation