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Alumni Western Be Extraordinary The Campaign For Western

Jessica Grossman, BA'11

Western News | January 13, 2011

jessica grossman
Staring into the face of ostomy

Jessica Grossman wants you to know she was your average university student; she went to class, studied hard, involved herself with clubs, had fun with her sorority sisters and looked forward to graduate school.

A completely normal life for a completely normal fourth-year MIT student.

The only thing differentiating Grossman from most students – and for which you would have no idea unless she told you – is that she has an ostomy.

An ostomy is a surgically created opening from an internal organ (such as the intestines or ureters) to an external point on the body, usually in the abdomen, so that diseased or damaged portions of the patients’ organ can be removed or treated for disease. Bodily excretions such as stool, mucus and urine pass through a stoma into a special bag on the outside of the body the wearer empties on a regular basis.

Ostomies, used in the treatment of diseases of the intestines and/or bladder, are most commonly used to treat inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohns/Colitis as well as certain cancers.

“It’s not a nice topic, having to talk about how you go to the bathroom. So we have to make it something else,” says Grossman, whose provocative photographs are putting a new face the surgical procedure through a new nationwide campaign called Uncover Ostomy.

“There are a lot of people who think once they get it they think they’re ugly, they have to wear baggy clothes, and they can’t dress up. Well, you can’t even tell that I have it.”

To be exact, Grossman has an ileostomy, where a portion of the small intestine is re-routed to an artificial opening on the abdominal wall. After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 9, she says her life was saved at 13 when she had the surgery.

Now 22, the Toronto-native has joined forces with the Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society in partnership with the United Ostomy Associations of America for a unique awareness campaign asking readers to share the Uncover Ostomy message online through social networks and help to positively shape the online ostomy conversation.

What began as a story she first shared in her Grade 12 media program class, earned Grossman a scholarship to Western and now sees her speaking across the country.

“There’s a side to the campaign which is to teach about ostomy and tell people to be proud of it,” Grossman says. “People have a difficulty talking about it if they don’t know what it is, so there’s the awareness side. And then there’s the support side for the ones that do have it to say it’s okay and you can talk about it.

“I thought that if the general public became aware of what an ostomy was, then ostomates themselves could feel free to say, ‘Oh yeah, I have one of those,’ and have their peers know and understand that having an ostomy did not change who they were or what they could accomplish.”

With more than 20,000 unique hits to the website (uncoverostomy.com) in less than a year, Grossman feels the message is starting to get out. The Facebook page (facebook.com/uncoverostomy) is not only a medium for advertising the campaign, but it has become a support group for the online ostomy community.

Along with the Grossman’s blog (uncoverostomy.com/blog/) and Twitter account (@JessGrossman), the medium to promote ostomies in a positive and normal light are stronger than ever.

Grossman has also been invited to sit on an advisory board at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital for a special project to change ostomy education in both the medical field and for families and patients alike.

“My common theme when I talk to groups is being positive,” she says. “If you are negative about it, then your life will be negative. If you tell people you have this horrible thing, they’re going to think it’s horrible. You’re going to live in a pool of negativity. I want to tell people I have it, it’s no big deal; it saved my life and I can do whatever I want. It’s not a pretty topic, but I’m trying to make it one.”

Read the complete story: Western News


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