(Courtesy Photo)

Almost a million people in the United States live with an ostomy pouch worn outside their bodies to collect digestive waste, after their diseased intestines or bladders had to be removed. It’s the kind of surgery that comes with a huge stigma. But Lois Fink of Fort Collins wants to people to know it’s not that bad.  She’s written a book called “Courage Takes Guts: Lessons Learned from a Lost Colon.” She wants to reduce the fear and stigma of ostomy surgery, having gone through it herself.

Fink tells Colorado Matters she was a teenager when she found out she had Crohn’s disease, which attacks the gastrointestinal tract. Pain, fevers and exhaustion grew over time. She became anemic. When she was diagnosed, her doctors told her she wouldn’t need the surgery that would mean relying on a pouch. That turned out not to be true. At age 34 she was told she needed a total removal of her colon and rectum.

Terrified at what that meant, she avoided the surgery for two years. She rarely left home, and dropped to 90 pounds. But once she had the surgery, her health began to turn around. Now she wears a pouch, attached through her abdomen wall to a portion of salvaged bowel. She empties it several times a day, and replaces it completely once every five days. The pouches are odor-proof and hard to detect when she’s dressed.  Perhaps most importantly, Fink says she can do things she couldn't before, including going swimming.