My name is Keith Thomas; I am a 59-year-old bus driver from Swansea, in South Wales and I now live in Llanelli.
Diagnosed in 2008 with Ulcerative Colitis, after many years of illness, my bowel finally gave up on me, in 2012, and I had to have a total colectomy. Prior to this, my working life had become increasingly difficult. All through my illness, I worked as a Quality Control inspector and then a Purchaser, with a bus-seat manufacturer. This was a very difficult time; I had one of the worse sickness records ever. I would always try to get to work but when you get a hundred yards up the road on your journey to the factory and then, due to the colitis, you soil yourself, you must make the decision: do you shower and try again or just phone in sick? Unfortunately, the phone call usually won. On days like this I felt so ill and depressed,
I didn’t know if going back to work would ever be an option. Well I can tell you now, that getting back to work really is an option. After my life changing operation, I was back in work after only six weeks.
I work forty hours a week as a bus driver, so having an ostomy has, in reality, meant that I have been able to return to a pretty normal life. Having an ostomy and being able to work is very important to me and I have made sure that working is no longer the obstacle it used to be.
Life feels amazing; illness is a dark old place and realising that you came so close to losing your life really makes you appreciate it on a completely different level. I want to tell whoever will listen that I have a stoma called “Homer” and that he saved my life. I want to show others that there is life after illness and doing a full–time job is possible. I work with a lot of people and I would say 90% of them know about my stoma. I am treated no differently by my colleagues or management because I have a disability, albeit a hidden disability.
I choose to use disabled toilets whenever possible, as they provide more room to empty my bag, but I have had no problem emptying it in a train toilet, and even an aeroplane toilet. Being an ostomate just means a different toilet routine and it is up to the individual how they approach these challenges. Personally, I tackle it head on – and it works for me. I can safely say that six years later I have an amazing life. I know I am one of the lucky ones, having a totally positive ostomy experience so far, with no problems or leaks to talk about.
It can be something that preys on your mind though. A while ago, I was driving my bus between Llanelli and Swansea, a journey that takes about an hour, when I noticed a strong smell of poo in my driver’s cab. My first reaction was, “Damn– I have a leak in my bag.” I looked down at my shirt and saw nothing but the further I drove, the stronger the smell got. This was very confusing and a little worrisome. When I reached my destination, the mystery was solved. A lady got off with her baby in a pushchair and said, “Sorry for the smell, driver; he has filled his nappy.” Phew, what a relief that was!
After my operation, I decided to expand my social media presence and use it to share my experiences and offer advice and support to others. It took off and started to grow rapidly, mainly due to my Twitter account. This, in turn led to a lot of other things: a few blogs, a swimwear photo shoot for ostomy wear, charity fundraising, and guest-speaking at an event for Respond Healthcare about my life after illness. I even managed to appear in a 2017 calendar published by Stomawise. I take great pleasure in talking to other people about my ostomy and if it helps just one person to cope a little better, then job done. I am now a regular blogger, plus, I have posted quite a few videos about my ostomy on my YouTube channel and on social media. In fact, over the lockdown, it’s very important, that I make sure I exercise by walking regularly. In 2018, I completed a year–long challenge which involved walking 5km once a week for 52 weeks. In doing this, I raised over £1,300 for Crohn’s and Colitis UK.
Just before COVID, I was asked to be part of the BeTheChange campaign where a working party of ostomates speak-out to get people’s perceptions and toilet signage changed, relating the use of public Disabled toilets. I am glad to say from my experience, living with a stoma is not the horrific thing some people think, and I would choose it over illness every time.
Please feel free to contact me through my Twitter feed @keiththom2014, if you want to ask me anything. I’m always here to help.