By Hollie Bone
A bowel cancer survivor who felt humiliated by her colostomy bag has used hundreds of the medical pouches to make a WEDDING DRESS in a bid to end the taboos surrounding them.
Support worker Angela Elders, 56, from Bolton-le-Sands, Lancs, was told she was imagining things and too young for cancer when she suspected she might have the same disease as her mother five years ago.
But after two years of stomach pains and unexplained bowel movement changes, the married mum-of-two was diagnosed with stage three cancer in 2014 and was fitted with a colostomy bag for a year – leaving her so embarrassed, some days she struggled to leave the house.
The gran-of-one is now in remission and has had her stoma reversed, but was left determined to break the stigma around the illness – so set about designing a dress by pulling apart and sewing together various sizes of the bags.
Angela, a 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.
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.
“I decided I wanted to make a dress from them, and turn them into something beautiful.
“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.
“Every time I’ve asked someone ‘what do you think it’s 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.
“I’d love someone to wear it for their wedding, it’s very unusual and I could alter it to meet someones particular wants or needs.
“When Natasha put it on it, she said it felt like it was her wedding all over again.”
Following six months of chemotherapy, Angela underwent surgery to have her colostomy bag removed for good in October 2015, but the impact it had on her life inspired her to use her degree in fashion design to bring about change.
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.
At the event on Saturday [OCT 19], the frock was modelled by her daughter, Natasha, 30, but 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.
Angela said: “Making the dress took me much longer to make than I thought because they are 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.
“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.
“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 said 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 offer seamstress advice to other colostomy bag wearers so that they can have their clothes adapted to meet their needs.
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.
“I was fitted with a colostomy bag and I was so embarrassed. 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.
“I was so relieved when they told me that they had successfully reversed my stoma, but I can still understand what people go through.”