A Bowel Cancer Survivor Has Made A Wedding Dress Out Of Colostomy Bags To End Taboo
Typically, a wedding dress is made from intricate lace, silk, chiffon or layers of satin. But a bowel cancer survivor has had other ideas, designing and making a wedding dress made out of colostomy bags.
Angela Elders from Bolton-le-Sands, Lancashire, has made the unusual dress out of hundreds of the medical pouches she once felt ashamed to wear, in a bid to end the taboos surrounding them.
Support worker Angela, who started experiencing unexplained bowel movement changes and stomach pains, was told she was imagining things and was 'too young' for bowel cancer when she was 51.
She suspected she might have the disease, but it took two years of symptoms before she was finally taken seriously and at that point had stage three bowel cancer.
Angela said: "Before I was diagnosed, I kept going back to the doctor because I really didn't feel good and I asked if it could be bowel cancer because my mother had it, but they just kept saying I was too young.
"Eventually my family insisted that I go back and I pushed them to conduct a proper test, and I'm glad I did because they told me I had stage three bowel cancer and only a few months later they were able to remove the whole tumour."
Angela then had to undergo chemotherapy and during it, she had an opening in her stomach created called a stoma. It meant her colon could be redirected through it to a colostomy bag, which would then collect her stools.
"I was so embarrassed," she said.
"My mum had one but she had kept it very private."
"I used to live in my jeans and all of a sudden I couldn't wear them. I had to start altering my clothes just to make them fit again."
"I had a few accidents with my colostomy bag so whenever you go out with friends or go shopping you're worried about it and you're thinking about where the nearest toilet is.
"You wonder whether you should go out and you totally lose your confidence."
Following six months of chemotherapy, Angela could finally have surgery to reverse the stoma and have her bag removed.
But the impact it had on her life left now 56-year-old Angela thinking about how she could help others, so decided to use her degree in fashion to bring about change.
She wanted to break the stigma and stop colostomy bags being the elephant in the room. So after attending the 2018 Lancaster Slow Fashion show, which celebrates recycled garments, the former textiles teacher decided to start collecting more than 100 of the medical pouches to create a ball gown for this year's show.
Drawing up and stitching the entire dress by hand, it took Angela two hours a day for a week to work the difficult material into the glamorous gown she had envisaged, by pinning varying sized bags onto a handmade satin corset and sewing them together.
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The former textiles teacher, even roped in married daughter Natasha, 30, to wear the stunning frock and hopes a bride will wear the dress one day.
"I decided I wanted to make a dress from them, and turn them into something beautiful," she said.
"I got in touch with a company which sent me a load of them, but as I started talking more and more about it, people began donating their old colostomy bags that they don't use anymore."
But making the dress took Angela longer than expected, as it was "quite a difficult material to work with".
"At one point I had pinned all the bags down and I took them over to the sewing machine and they all just started flying everywhere," she added.
She hopes the dress will encourage more conversations about bowel cancer, especially since it was shown at this year's fashion show in Lancaster, on 19th October, modelled by her daughter.
She said: "People don't really talk about bowel cancer, they are very open about other cancers but not this because it's considered embarrassing.
"People have asked me 'what's a colostomy bag?' - they have never seen one before or know how it's used.
"Every time I've asked someone 'what do you think it's [the dress] made of?' they guess tent material or recycled items, but when I tell them it's colostomy bags their jaws hit the floor, they can't believe it."
She hopes one day someone will wear it at their wedding.
"It's very unusual and I could alter it to meet someone's particular wants or needs," she added.
"When Natasha put it on, she said it felt like it was her wedding all over again."
"After the show people were coming up and asking me if it was really made out of colostomy bags and asking if they could touch it, they were amazed by how beautiful it looked.
Now the creative cancer survivor has even vowed to rent out the dress to help raise awareness, and hopes that a celebrity colostomy bag wearer may volunteer to give the garment another day out.
"I'd love to see a celebrity come forward and admit they have had a colostomy bag and volunteer to wear the dress to help us raise awareness, it looks lovely on."
Although Angela has been in remission for over four years, she still understands what victims of bowel cancer are going through and is passionate about doing anything she can to help.
As well as renting out the dress, the charitable colostomy champion also now offers a seamstress advice to other colostomy bag wearers so that they can have their clothes adapted to meet their needs.
This woman is our hero.
Featured Image Credit: Caters