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Recovery: in pictures

The past few weeks have been tough, recovering from an emergency surgery that knocked me off my feet.  During this time, I have had so little control and I have been unable to do much for myself, which has been so difficult.  But I am so lucky to have my Timm who has been there through it all, he has bathed me, cooked for me, sang to me, sorted my medication and just been my hero.  I’m also lucky to have a budding photographer in my child Eli, who has snapped a few shots during this very rough time.

Enjoy.

recovery surgery partner help to bath

recovery surgery partner help to bath

recovery surgery partner help to bath

dosette box medicine box

TED stockings surgical stockings

TED stockings surgical stockings

cup of tea recovery nurse

timm cleasby

holding hands matching dr who tattoos

sam and timm cleasby

get well soon

holding hands

playing guitar feel better

playing guitar feel better

playing guitar feel better

All images by Eli Cleasby from Timm Cleasby Photography

 

Love Sam xx

Are photo shoots naff when you have teenagers?

I LOVE photographs, I have thousands, both on my phone, on hard drives, in albums, on the walls and in boxes hidden away.  I adore looking through them and remembering brilliant times and revelling in just how small and precious the kids were.  Now they are teenagers.  And honestly, they don’t really want me to photograph them ever.  I have to steal their photos off instagram…

My husband is a photographer and though he takes beautiful images, he rarely has time to shoot us and I doubt the kids would stand for it anyway. Plus, if he is photographing us, then he isn’t in the shot!

And so, you can imagine their faces when I told them that I had booked a family photo shoot for us all.  “Muuuummmmmmmmm it’s so flipppinngggg weeirrdddddd!” “WHHHYYYYYYY??? You know what we look like!!!” and my favourite “Im not doing one of those all pile on photos where the dad lays on the bottom and then you stack up in height order…”

all pile on awkward family photo

Photo: Awkward Family Photos

And then the day came around and I drove four miserable faces out to Kelham Island in Sheffield to meet our photographer Corinne from Corinne Hills Photography.  She is a personal friend of ours, and I knew her relaxed and natural style would fit in so much better with our family than any white background shot or weird posing.

Corinne usually shoots in very natural settings, she is a forest schools teacher and so is usually found in the woods playing with sticks and making fires and so I knew I was pushing her slightly in wanting an urban setting for our shoot, but we agreed that it would be the same as her other work.  We’d go for a walk and she would quietly photograph us.

I was a bit worried that it might be weird or naff, that it really was something you only did with little kids.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong, it felt natural and easy and the images of my beautiful kids in their teen years (Thom is nearly there at 12, Ellie is 14 and Charlie is 16) made me cry. She captured the reality of our family, the silliness and the imperfections, she caught the moment I accidentally hit Ellie in the face and the repercussions of that! She caught my children’s personalities and their quirks and the photos make my heart swell.

If you would like Corinne to photograph your family, get in touch through www.corinnehillsphotography.com though you may have to wait a while as she is laid up with a broken ankle and is very pregnant! But I guarantee you, it will be worth the wait!

Enjoy!

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

Love Sam xx

 

Sexualising disability or normalising life with an illness?

As my photographs of an old photo shoot with my stoma have gone viral last week, I have been subject to a few comments about sexualising disability (and some just telling me that ostomies are gross and I should put it away, but that is a WHOLE other story!!!) and I wonder am I guilty of that?

The short answer is fuck yeah! And you know why?  Because my sexuality, my femininity and the person I am didn’t get removed along with my colon.  The long answer is about how disability is seen in our society and also how women are viewed in society.

In 2013 when I had my colectomy and an ileostomy formed, I did what we all do in times of uncertainty and I googled it.  What I found were some great charities such as Crohns and Colitis UK and I A Support, but what I wanted was a personal story, something that I could relate to.

Looking at images was even worse, there were either terrifying images of stomas that were infected or prolapsed or photographs of smiling old ladies… Nothing that I saw helped me, it frightened me, upset me and made me feel that life as I knew it was over.

And that is why a month or so after my surgery, I made the decision to have some photographs taken.  It helped that I lived with a super talented photographer! I wanted some images that represented ME.  The person I was before and the person I wanted to find under my scars, dressings and emotional pain.  I knew I was under there somewhere, and the camera helped me find myself again.

When I saw the photos I was so overwhelmed.  I saw some great images of me.  And then my ostomy.  It made me realise that I was still me, that my stoma was such a small part of me and all the other characteristics were still there.  It empowered me to speak out more, to share my photos and share my story.  And to this day, I tell you now, I am DAMN proud of every one.

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

People like to say that I did this for Facebook likes, for twitter followers or to boost my blog stats.  And I suppose they are right.  I share all my images because I want to reach as many people as I can who are feeling lost in their illness, who feel that the world has forgotten who they are and only sees their disability, to the people who want to know that life goes on after ostomy surgery.  I want to help as many people as I can and if sharing my images does that then bloody go me!

I would also like to point out that there are HUNDREDS of photos on this site and only a handful are what anyone could consider ‘sexualised’.  I wouldn’t say I sexualise my disability, I would say I normalise it.  I show photographs from every part of my life, there are photos of me playing with the chickens, hanging out with my kids, with my husband, my mum, in gym gear, at the beach… I show all parts of my life because my illness and my disability do not change all those parts of me.

I know that my audience feel that I help raise the profile of the diseases, that I support many and that I inspire others to speak out and to be brave.  I know this because they tell me so and I have to laugh at those who think this is simply an ego trip or a numbers boost!!

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

I don’t prescribe getting your hoo-hoos out to anyone, I do not suggest that taking your clothes off for a photograph is for everyone, in the same way that body building, dancing or wearing a bikini isn’t for everyone.  What I do talk about it self love.  I talk about body confidence and in taking positive steps to you living a happy, fulfilled life.  The path to this is different for everyone, for me as a photographer and a photographer’s wife it was through imagery.  I would have done EXACTLY the same shoots beforehand.

If I choose to show my sexuality alongside my disability and you don’t like this, then I suggest you click away, go look at a different site, or even better go read a book, talk to someone or make someone happy!  If my sexuality makes you feel uncomfortable, then please step away. It’s fine, honest!

But don’t slut shame me.  Don’t belittle my plight to make a difference in the world by judging me on the images that show my undercrackers.  It is so easy to use a woman’s body against them, to suggest that any showing of flesh is in some way a dart in the heart of feminists everywhere, to imagine that my professionalism is affected in any way by an image that shows my stoma.

I am a feminist in that I believe in equality for men and women, it is odd isn’t it that when we see the semi-naked photographs of men that there is no backlash, no one suggesting they are belittling the campaign by showing their bodies, yet when women do it, we are subjected to judgment and mocking.

sam cleasby stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

The facts are that I am a woman.  I have a stoma.  And I live in a country where I have free speech and the freedom to show images of myself.

The facts are that I make a difference.  I help many people and I do it in my own way.

The facts are that I am so bad ass and I will carry on raising awareness, supporting people and kicking ass!

 

Love Sam x

#stomaselfie – going viral again!

I am very proud of the photographs I had done with my stoma and ileostomy bag and last week, they went viral!  Appearing in the Metro, Daily Mirror, BT online and The Independent as well as media outlets around the world including lots in Scandinavia, my photos went a little crazy under the hashtag #stomaselfie.

stoma ileostomy femininity #stomaselfie

The purpose of the photographs were to lift the veil, so to speak, on what is under the ileostomy bag.  When I was in hospital before my surgery to remove my colon, I googled images of stomas and I was horrified, all the images were very medical, many stomas that were having issues with prolapse or infection and my fear was intensified.

What I wanted was to show stomas in a way I hadn’t seen before.  To show that my stoma didn’t remove me of my femininity, sexuality or who I was.  I wanted to show the world that it was nothing to be ashamed of, that I was proud of my ostomy and that it really wasn’t as terrifying as I had once imagined.

stoma ileostomy femininity #stomaselfie woman with stoma ileostomy ostomy stoma images

 

I have received many messages of support of these photos, telling me that I am helping to reduce the taboo and stigma.  For that I am very proud and though I was afraid to first show these, I am happy to know that by sharing the images, that I am making a positive impact to the lives of those with stomas.

I know it is a little controversial and some people don’t think I should be showing my stoma, some think it is akin to photographing your bum hole and so it is inappropriate.  Some think it is just a little gross… But the truth is that millions of people worldwide live with a stoma, and if me showing these photographs help just a few of them, then I am happy.

stoma ileostomy femininity #stomaselfie stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

Unfortunately, some media outlets have got the information wrong and say I have crohns, a colostomy and that these images were inspired by Bethany Townsend’s bikini shots, the truth is I have Ulcerative Colitis, I HAD an ileostomy (I now have a jpouch) and these shots were taken and shared in October 2013 well before the shots of others with ostomy bags went viral!

Thank you to the Metro, Daily Mirror, BT.com and especially The Independent for sharing the photos and spreading awareness, pride and support for people with ostomies around the world!

#stomaselfie sam cleasby stoma ostomy photo shoots sam cleasby

 

Unfortunately, there have been some nasty comments, but I know that putting yourself out there with images like this will always divide opinion.  I know that showing my stoma will bring out the worst in some, but it is so important to share to try and change the opinions of those who think it is “disgusting”.  I receive thousands of amazing comments filled with lovely words and I know I make a difference.  I don’t do this to get attention or for likes on Facebook!! Hahaha!!! I do it to make a difference and I believe that I do.

nasty Facebook comments trolling internet keyboard warriors #stomaselfie

 

Nice, huh? But then you get comments like this that make it all ok…  

“Certainly brave, and since the photos have popped up online I’ve shown my son – 4 years old why he has such a large scar across his tummy and what used to be there. It’s not something I’d ever Google to show him, but because it had popped up I thought it would be helpful for him to see and understand why it’s there”

“The whole point of these photos is to empower and take away any found shame about having a stoma! People will never ever feel the depth of pained shame to having a stoma and just how much it affects people’s lives and how it affects confidence in relationships and families. Complaining about such fickle things as people’s levels of decency is, to me, insulting! … and above all ignorant!”

“a stoma is like having an artificial leg you would never turn round to someone on the beach and say eeww put that away…I’ve not long had mine and at the start I was devastated as I had always been aware of my figure but my stoma saved my life and when anyone says anything negative about it…I just think I had hours to live and that was my only option…it saved my life”

“Amazing wonderful beautiful strong brave are just a handful of words I would use for these people. Much more than I ever will be! Some of the comments on here are just disgusting, but I dont expect anything less from uneducated morons who havent got a slightest clue on what a “real” issue really is! The models in these photos are heroes in my eyes!”

You can see more of my shoots here, here, here and here.  All photos are by Timm Cleasby at The Picture Foundry and are copywrited, please don’t use my photos without permission as it makes us a bit sad.  Get in touch and we can discuss usage terms.

 

Love Sam x

 

My beautiful scars

I have a lot of scars, and with another surgery planned in the next few weeks, I will have a few more too…  I am not ashamed of them, they are the signs of my IBD journey, the battle scars of my fight of the last ten years.

My family is half Indian, and so unfortunately I have some issues with keloid scarring.  When you have damage to the skin, in healing itself the body produces more of a protein called collagen.  Collagen gathers around the damage and builds up to help the wound seal over in a scar.

However, some scars don’t stop growing. They “invade” the surrounding healthy skin and become bigger than the original wound. These are known as keloid scars. Keloids affect around 10-15% of all wounds and is more common in people with darker skin particularly African, African Caribbean and Indian people.  (This information comes from the NHS website, take a look for more info and if you are concerned, then go see your GP)

For some people, scars can be associated with poor self esteem and negative body image.  They can be an external sign of their internal struggles and people may feel embarrassed or ashamed of them.  I get this, occasionally I feel self conscious if I see people staring at my scars, this only happens at the swimming pool or beach as I am well past wearing crop tops!

But I have always found scars quite appealing, they suggest a story, something interesting that happened to that person.  My husband is covered in scars from years of skateboarding and snowboarding and we always say that chicks dig scars… Turns out dudes dig scars too!

I have done a few photo shoots before to show my stoma and ileostomy bag before, and so I thought I would have a few of my post j pouch body.

I have been through a lot in the past couple of years, a lot of difficult times, embarrassing and upsetting events, yet I am pleased to say that through it all, my scars are one thing that I haven’t struggled with.  I know they are large, and some would say unsightly, I know they are really visible and somewhat shocking.  But I had three kids before these surgeries and so I already had a lot of stretch marks and a caesarian scar.  Perhaps having these before made the transition to more noticeable scars easier for me to deal with?

After my first son, I went from a size 6 to a size 16… I gained a lot of weight and was COVERED in stretch marks.  I was embarrassed and upset by them, when a family friend told me that I should rejoice in those marks.  They were my tiger stripes, my war wounds, the sign that my body had created another human being!!! Those marks, she told me, were beautiful and something to be proud of.

These scars are a similar thing, they are the marks that show the struggle I have been through.  They remind me of my bravery, my fight, my winning.  They tell a story and they make me smile.

My scars are beautiful.

2B0A5169

2B0A5171

2B0A5176

2B0A5179

2B0A5180

 

All photographs are by Timm Cleasby from the Picture Foundry and cannot be used without permission.  Take a look at The Picture Foundry website, it is the photography company I run with my husband.

 

Sam xx

Ostomy photoshoot – 50s pin up

There is a lot of negativity when it comes to ostomies, I have heard many a time things like “Id rather die than wear a colostomy/ileostomy bag” “I don’t want to look like a freak” “Im not normal if I have a bag” etc etc

It is absolutely gutting to hear comments like this being made in public, the fact is that these bags save lives, we aren’t choosing to have them as a fashion accessory, they are there because the people who have them have been so sick and battled so hard that they now have to live with an ostomy.

As you may know I have done a couple of photoshoots before in order to demystify the whole process, to show how small a part of me my bag is.

I decided to do one last shoot before my pouch surgery next week and the theme was 50s pin up.  I wanted to show that people living with an ostomy can be sexy, fun and cheeky… That this little bag doesn’t define who I am, it is just a small add on to my body that allows me to function in a way I have been unable to for 10 years.

Im a bit nervous at putting these up so please be kind, I do this because I want to make a difference, I want to show people what an ileostomy bag is like, and that it doesn’t stop my femininity, sexuality or sense of humour because when I had my surgery I was so terrified that I would lose those things.

Enjoy x

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

 

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

 

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

 

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

 

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

 

 

Please like, comment and share these images with anyone you think they could make a difference with.
Thanks so much for looking

Remember that you can make a difference, to donate to Crohns and Colitis UK you can text CCUK14 and your donation amount to 70070
e.g. If you wanted to donate £5 you would text: CCUK14 £5 and send it to 70070.

Or online through Just Giving

 

Thank you so much to my husband Timm for The Picture Foundry for photographing me for this shoot.

 

Sam xxx

I am an IBD Warrior, hear me roar…

When I was in hospital after my surgery I happened upon the hashtag IBD Warrior and seeing and reading other people’s IBD journeys, their struggles and ultimately the way they overcome what is such a shit illness inspired me and gave me the strength to move forward and to blog about my own journey.

So when I had my stoma photo shoot, we also did quite a few other photos with different styles.  The last few months have been tough but through it all I have tried to stay strong, keep fighting, be a kick ass woman and an IBD Warrior.

We all have an inner strength, sometimes that strength shows itself through having to fight for your life, sometimes its in a quiet confidence, at other times it is having to speak out for what is right or in being strong enough to just get through bad times one day at a time.  Even when we feel weak and defeated, we have within us the ability to adapt, to change and to move forward.  Sometimes it is easier to find than others.  Sometimes its so hard to find that we have to speak to friends or family and borrow a little bit of their strength till we can remember where our own warrior is hiding.

The next time I feel frightened and like the world is against me Ill look at these shots and remind myself of how far I have come and that I am an IBD warrior.  Hear me roar…

ibd warrior inner strength confidence ostomy ileostomy bag

ibd warrior inner strength confidence ostomy ileostomy bag

ibd warrior inner strength confidence ostomy ileostomy bag

ibd warrior inner strength confidence ostomy ileostomy bag

ibd warrior inner strength confidence ostomy ileostomy bag

ibd warrior inner strength confidence ostomy ileostomy bag

All photography by Timm Cleasby at The Picture Foundry

Love Sam xx

Stoma and Ileostomy photoshoot

When surgery became a possibility I did what we all do these days and googled it… THAT was a mistake (seriously don’t google stomas, you’ll give yourself nightmares!!)

Many images are medical, none are particularly flattering, most are terrifying.

Since having my subtotal colectomy and ileostomy I have realised that neither is anywhere near as frightening as I thought they would be.  My bag is barely noticeable and my stoma is kind of cute to be honest!

I had two separate emails from women recently, one saying she had a stoma and an ileostomy a few years ago and didn’t leave the house for six months till she had the takedown surgery.  And another from a woman due to have surgery who spoke of her fears of being ‘ugly’ and ‘disgusting’.  Both emails broke my heart.  I feel so sad that this life saving operation has such a bad reputation when it comes to looks and self esteem.

I understand the feelings.  When I first had my surgery I was to scared to look at my stoma.  The thought of my intestines being on the outside horrified me and from the images I had seen online, I believed my femininity and any form of attractiveness would have been removed along with my diseased bowel.

Since then I have been googling A LOT – I wanted to find some powerful, beautiful images of women with ileostomy or colostomy bags and stomas to share on this blog.  I struggled…. There are some model shoots for stoma products that I found cheesy.  There are plenty of medical photos and quite a few selfies!

So I decided that as I live with a photographer and Im not really a wallflower that I may as well do a photo shoot to show off my bag and stoma and hopefully to create a series of photos that show femininity, sexuality, creativity and beauty.

I would LOVE your feedback as Im feeling quite nervous about putting these out there…  I wanted to show others the true face of stomas and ileostomies.  Im obviously not a model, Im a normal size 16 woman with wobbly bits and stretch marks.

I have a stoma and I wear an ileostomy bag but they are such a small part of what I am.  I hope this can inspire others who have had or are due to have the surgery.  Your body is awesome.  This surgery saves lives and that little bit of intestine doesn’t change who you are – be proud, be confident and be amazing.

Love Sam xx

All photography is by the awesome Timm Cleasby of The Picture Foundry.

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shootstoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white

woman with stoma

ileostomy and stoma photos

ileostomy and stoma photo shoot black and white female woman with colostomy bag

ileostomy and stoma photo shoot black and white female woman with ileostomy bag

ileostomy and stoma photo shoot black and white female woman with ileostomy bag