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Kimberly's Story: Finding Joy in Life After Illness and Trauma

by Naomi Schwenk |

Kimberly, an Abilitee Ambassador, wrote the following about her experience with cancer.


After being diagnosed in July 2015, at the age of 47, with Stage 2 Rectal Cancer and a fist-sized tumor in my sigmoid colon, life changed on a dime. The day I was diagnosed and with tears in my eyes, I told my husband on the solemn car ride home to stop and buy champagne, so we could toast to me kicking cancer’s butt.

From that day forward, I had no earthly idea just how hard that battle would be. After completing six weeks of oral chemo combined with 33 radiation treatments, losing 30 pounds, becoming bedridden from pain, and awaiting my scheduled tumor removal surgery where I would have received a six week temporary colostomy, I suffered a bowel obstruction and perforation.

Upon awakening from emergency surgery, my surgeon promptly told me that I almost died that day. I was left shaken with that sobering thought of death. That very day, I decided that I would embrace and celebrate each and every day, that I would be granted going forward. I was also introduced to my new stoma and colostomy bag, who I named Fred, after the stoma nurse suggested I name it. With Fred, I took ownership of it from the start and asked to change my own bag the first day. I figured the bag was a huge part of why I was still alive and that prompted major gratitude for my new side buddy. The surgeon told me I would have to keep my ostomy for two years, in order to get clean scans because of my perforation.

While recovering from surgery, I learned to walk again on a walker and after six weeks of physical and occupational therapy, I began to take short daily strolls. While on these walks, I learned to stop and actually smell the roses, take nature pictures and relish the nature that I was too busy to appreciate before my diagnosis. One week before beginning my second round of six months of port chemotherapy, my mother died at what might have been my weakest point.

However, I reminded myself that life is a gift and I still had my husband and children cheering me on to win this fight. So, I recommitted to my fight by setting goals beyond the completion of my chemo protocol. Two months shy of finishing almost a year of treatment, I walked the Rugged Maniac 5k and completed 24 of the 25 obstacles. Later that year, I went on to become a published author in an international best-selling anthology, “Women of Faith: Their Untold Stories Revealed”, a technology blogger, motivational speaker, pole fitness enthusiast, burlesque performer, hosted my own virtual World Ostomy Day 5k, and traveled to Jamaica and Canada.

Although, life as an ostomate has its many challenges, I have chosen to keep my ostomy permanently despite the numerous ER visits and hospitalizations for blockages, food intolerances, and late side-effects from treatment, which I still battle with until this day. Throughout all of those challenges, I will be happily celebrating four years as an ostomate in November. This decision helped me to keep pushing forward to reclaim my life on so many levels. In September, 2018, I traveled to Australia to participate in Melbourne Fashion Week as a model for the “Access to Fashion” Runway show highlighting disability and fashion inclusion and was also photographed for the book project “Underneath We are Women” showcasing 100 women with diverse backgrounds and body types. In March, 2019, I was photographed again for a second book project in Houston, Texas, “The Skin I’m In” 2nd edition, which also promotes living our best lives in the skin we are in.

It has been an honor to grow in my advocacy for cancer warriors and ostomates alike. I believe that everyday if there is breathe in our body, we have the chance to live our best lives on whatever level we can make that happen. After performing in burlesque shows in Oregon, Houston, and Dallas, I have seen how much of an impact showing my colostomy bag, now named Toodles, has on the audience and other performers. Many people share that once they get their colostomy, they feel like they are shut out of the main stream of life. I want to show a different picture of life with ostomies and disabilities.

One of my goals is to teach movement/dance classes to people like myself, with different disabilities to embrace, reclaim, and own their unique femininity, sexiness, and sensuality. In 2020, I will be declared cancer free, so I will keep living fully and striving to promote advocacy. I have learned in this journey of life, that giving thanks and each day is a gift, so the practice of giving thanks even when in severe pain, battling illness, and life’s challenges goes a long way.

- Kimberly Holiday-Coleman

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