Canadian model is on a mission normalize ostomies: 'You can live a great life'
Toronto model Jessica Grossman is making waves online when it comes to advocating for ostomy awareness.
Jessica Grossman is making waves online when it comes to advocating for ostomy awareness.
The Toronto-based model recently went viral after opening up about her experience undergoing ostomy surgery. She was even featured in People, and spoke candidly about her health journey and reclaiming her identity.
Grossman chatted with Yahoo Canada about her experience, and how she's helping to reshape the face of the modelling industry.
According to the Canada Ostomy Society, an ostomy is "a surgically created opening made into the bowel or urinary tract for the purpose of eliminating waste materials (stool/urine) from the body."
Grossman's ostomy journey began at the age of eight, when she first started experiencing stomach pain.
"I wasn't eating dessert and my mom found that very concerning," she told Yahoo Canada.
When her family worried about the fact that she was losing weight at such a young age, Grossman made the first of many trips to the hospital.
After running a few tests, it was determined that she had Crohn's Disease — a condition that runs in Grossman's family (her uncle was diagnosed at 13). Grossman was immediately put on a special diet and given medications to help treat her diagnosis.
According to Crohn's and Colitis Canada, one in 140 people live with Crohn's or Colitis in the country.
'From the age of 11 to 13 I was basically in and out [of the hospital]'
Then, at the age of 11, Grossman caught the stomach flu and never fully recovered. Eventually, she had to undergo a blood transfusion after being taken to the hospital in extreme pain.
"From the age of 11 to 13 I was basically in and out [of the hospital]," Grossman recalled. "The first big treatment I remember doing in the 7th grade was that I was put on an all-brown food diet.
"I could only have brown bread, and plain chicken, and I could only have fake cheese which is hilarious because I'm vegan and gluten-free now!"
However, this curated diet didn't do much to help. Grossman was subsequently put on steroids, cancer medication, and other treatments, although nothing seemed to do much in terms of helping her feel better. At one point, she was put on a permanent IV, which her parents learned how to hook up for her every night.
'If that's how I'm going to live then I guess I'm going to have surgery'
After a doctor at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto told Grossman that her colon was toxic, she was then faced with a difficult decision to make at only 13.
The doctor explained that option one entailed having her colon removed and wearing an ostomy bag. Option two was not moving forward with the ostomy surgery, although there was a good chance Jessica wouldn't survive, according to her doctor.
"I had already agreed," said Grossman. "I didn't have to think about it. If that's how I'm going to live then I guess I'm going to have surgery."
After her surgery and lengthy recovery, Grossman began to notice that there was a gap in the public knowledge surrounding ostomies. She typically saw older generations seeking information on the surgery, and didn't see experiences like hers reflected anywhere.
"I started realizing there wasn't enough [information] out there for someone like me. There was no one out there showing it off in a positive light," she claimed. "I decided to come in and change that."
When Grossman was in university, she founded Uncover Ostomy, a blog detailing her experiences as a student learning to navigate her life following ostomy surgery.
Since launching in 2009, the platform has since grown, and is now an online publication that focuses on featuring positive ostomy stories from around the world.
Grossman credits social media for giving her the ability to share her story with people from around the world.
"It's very different now than where it was in 2009," she explained. "It's been amazing to see the conversation and the education, and the acceptance grow so quickly."
Now 33, Grossman is happily married and proudly shows off her ostomy bag in order to spread awareness. Although her ostomy surgery does not define her, she is a firm advocate when it comes to sharing information and working towards normalizing ostomies.
"That's why I do this," she said. "To show that there is a positive side and you don't have to take drastic measures. You don't have to let the disease kill you. You can live a great life."
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