Pageantry with purpose: from stoma surgery to catwalk confidence
Jessica Mary Logan
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Jessica Mary Logan describes her challenging journey to a J-pouch that led her to establish a pageant to inspire body confidence in people with invisible illnesses
Back in 2017, my irritable bowels had been giving me severe constipation for some time. By April, I had begun to leak mucus, with signs of blood, which was preventing me from going to work and socialising, and I was even having accidents at home.
From then, I was in and out of the doctor’s surgery. I was given a calprotectin test, which measures for signs of inflammation in the bowel. My results came back as far above the normal level, and I was booked for a colonoscopy, In July, while I was waiting for the procedure, I started having abdominal pain and bleeding severely, up to 30 times a day. I ended up being admitted to hospital, where treatment began right away. Within 3 days, the colonoscopy was performed, and it confirmed acute severe ulcerative colitis. I was given the drug infliximab, but this was not enough. I required emergency surgery to form a stoma. I was in complete shock—I felt my life was over.
Photoshoots helped Jessica find body confidence in her stoma and internal pouch
The complications continue
When the operation went ahead the following week, I woke up feeling disgusted at the sight of my stoma. Things didn’t get easier from there. I had severe bowel obstructions following discharge, which meant I was in and out of hospital for 3 weeks until August, when I went for more emergency surgery, and they found and fixed a twist in my bowel. Once this seemed sorted, on the day of discharge, an infection meant my wound burst open! You can just imagine how fed up I was—I wanted my life back.
" ‘I was in complete shock’
I continued to get bowel obstructions, so a J-pouch was discussed, which would hopefully improve my condition. My surgeon kindly held off until after my wedding day. The ceremony and celebration was amazing, but I had to leave my reception party early due to a severe bowel obstruction, which upsets me to this day. Luckily, I managed the ‘mini-moon’ with no major issues—other than my bag being swabbed at the airport!
The second stage of my surgery went ahead in April 2018. In typical Jess style, I had complications, so I needed a blood transfusion. However, I had become accustomed to laughing these added issues off, so I managed to remain
positive. In July 2018, an entire year since my first hospital admission, the final stage of surgery went ahead, with my wound kept open to avoid it bursting. In the end, the wound took 6 months to fully close up.
Life with a J-pouch
Although I still have to deal with occasional bowel obstructions, the J-pouch has, thankfully, made them less severe and common. However, I do have to try to avoid carbs, fruit and vegetables, and I regularly take laxatives and drink cola. There are other challenges: I occasionally get pouchitis; I have had ulcers in my small bowel; and I am currently bleeding because of inflammation in my cuff. Despite this, my issues are a lot better than they were before surgery!
" ‘Things didn’t get easier from there’
After my fourth operation, I started showing signs of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). I just put it down to healing and expected it to wear off, but, after numerous tests to rule out other issues I was officially diagnosed with CFS in the autumn of 2019. This has a big impact on my life, as I sleep a lot and struggle to do everyday tasks, such as shopping, without having a nap afterwards. On my worst days, I can’t even get to the toilet without help.
Struggling to cope
As you can imagine, all these challenges have had an impact on me mentally. I have dealt with depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia from a very young age. After I had my stoma, at first, I feared that it meant no one would love me anymore. I was anxious about accidents and confrontation at disabled toilets. At times, I had suicidal thoughts.
However, after around 6 months, I came to terms with my stoma. Since having the J-pouch, my mental health is still up and down, mainly because of my CFS. It makes me feel useless, as I’ve had to give up a successful career; I can’t do housework like I used to, and I have to build up my energy for events, so I stay in bed a lot.
Despite my daily struggles, I aim to not let my illnesses define me, as I’m thankful for the surgery that saved my life. I do as much as I can to raise awareness of invisible illnesses, to stop the judgement and discrimination we sometimes receive for using disabled facilities.
Even a severe bowel obstruction could not stop Jessica from having an amazing wedding
My scars tell my story
I’m proud of my scars. They tell my story, and I feel they are beautiful. I began to embrace my stoma bag in 2018, when I took part in a photoshoot. I was part of a similar group shoot with other women in 2020. Sharing these photos has become a part of the #wearegoodenough campaign, which I helped start to empower others and help them realise that, despite the negative feelings, unpleasant symptoms and potential discrimination, they are still amazing.
" ‘I aim to not let my illnesses define me’
I am a young committee member of Birmingham IA (Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Support Group), and I have set up a local support group for those with bowel issues. I have created merchandise and posters and hold events to raise awareness of health issues that can be hidden from sight.
Pageantry and purpose
Back in March of 2019, I started attending pageants to build my confidence and empower others. In February 2020, I was lucky enough to compete in Royal International Miss UK. I came second place for role model and third in my age category. I have, of course, signed up to compete again next year.
" ‘I’m proud of my scars ... they are beautiful. ’
I am even planning to host a pageant with a twist, the Warrior Charity Pageant, for anyone who has an invisible illness. The proceeds will be donated to relevant charities, including Crohn’s & Colitis UK, Colostomy UK and Purple Wings. It remains to be seen how we will adjust our plans for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
I feel it’s important to turn our negatives into positives. Holding events and raising awareness has given me a sense of purpose again.
Jessica at Royal International Miss UK
Warrior Charity Pageant
Date: Saturday, 8 August 2020
Open to: People of any age or gender with an invisible illness
Ticket: £30 contestant, £5 adult, £3 child (chaperone required, free entry)
Rounds: Fashion, evening, swimwear/sportswear, talent
Side awards: Photogenic, congeniality, hair, smile, catwalk, confidence, personality, inspirational, charity queen/king (raised the most for their platform)
Jessica Mary Logan is a J-poucher, pageant contestant and an advocate for people with invisible illnesses
Photos: Stuart Randle, Ant Bradshaw and Ten Foot Tall
Makeup: Abby Louise MUADownload Now