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The 'Couple' Statues: A patient story

We are delighted to share this story, which was written by Linda Boulter, who had a colostomy created following a rare form of cancer in her pelvis in 2020.  Linda writes short stories for charities and has had one published in Colostomy UK’s Tidings magazine.  We have sent a big thank you to Linda for submitting her stories to Salts Healthcare for us to share with our employees and on our website.


The ‘Couple’ Statues

As soon as the consultant told Julia she was to have a permanent stoma, immediately and probably in shock, she made up her mind she would keep that to herself. No one will ever know apart from her daughter who was sat with Julia whilst she received the devastating life changing news.  There was an awful lot more for Julia to take in, like the major surgery, where she would wake up with a stoma. This would be followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Julia could only focus on the stoma and nothing else. 


“You mustn’t tell anyone Stella,” Julia emphasised to her daughter when they left the hospital.  “But mum, it's nothing to be ashamed of, at least tell my brothers.”.  “No, I don’t want them or their three wives to know, never.”  Stella realised that it was best to change the subject, her mum had a lot to digest. She did wonder if she should let her brothers know but ask them to keep it to themselves, but then she thought better of it as it would be disloyal to her mum.


Stella had one friend called Dave who had a stoma: an ileostomy. (A stoma can be for a colostomy on the left of the abdomen, an ileostomy on the right hand side, or a urostomy to collect urine.) She decided to call Dave, but not mention her mum, just to chat.  Later that evening when she was home, she called Dave. His wife Paula answered and they had a chat before Paula put Dave on.  “Dave, do you mind people knowing about your bag?”.  “No Stella, I couldn’t care less, I’ve had it for years, not bothered what people think. Bags save your life and it's under your clothes.”


They chatted some more and made an arrangement for the four of them, including Stella’s husband Joe, to meet up for drinks and food in a few weeks’ time.  Stella relayed how the appointment went to husband Joe over their evening meal. She omitted the ‘bag’ part, although she didn’t feel right about it, just a sense of loyalty to her beloved mum.


Over the next few months Stella supported her mum through the operation, which physically she recovered well from. Mentally was a different matter. Her brothers, although concerned and caring, kept in the background, leaving Stella to deal with the appointments and hospital visits with their mum.  Stella could not persuade Julia to be open with her brothers about the full extent of her treatments and outcomes, however Stella had confided in her husband but sworn him to secrecy. She just needed to offload and had never kept any secrets from him.


There was a time when Julia was to have a short break between therapies. Joe suggested that Stella took her mum away for a few days, just the two of them.  “It will do your mum good Stella. Why don’t you take her up to Northumberland, maybe you could stay in a B&B up there? Julia always likes it up there. I don’t mind, me and the kids will be fine for a few days, even if we live on oven chips and fish fingers!”.  Stella kissed Joe on the cheek. He was such a kind-hearted man, always thinking of others and so supportive. She felt very lucky and very blessed.


That evening, Stella searched various sites on the internet and found a small B&B in the Northumberland coastal town of Newbiggin by the Sea. She booked two separate rooms for four nights. She thought it best to book separate rooms knowing that her mum would want some privacy regardless of how close they were.


The very next day, she went to see Julia and surprised her with the news of a mini break before further treatment began. Julia was delighted but then the nerves set in.  “How can I manage with this ‘bag’ Stella, when I’m not at home?”.  “The same way as you do when you are at home, mum. Anyway, it’s booked and we’re going.”


A week later, Stella kissed Joe and the children goodbye and went to pick up her mum. They set off on the three hour journey from Julia’s home to Newbiggin. When they arrived, they settled in their cosy rooms, then went out for a walk. It was late afternoon, the sun kept peeping out from behind the clouds and it was quite windy, although warm. Despite Julia feeling exhausted from the treatment she had received, she felt quite invigorated and positive whilst they walked along the main road which ran adjacent with the promenade and beach. She put her arm through her daughter’s as they both looked in the independent shop windows and noticed that all the shops were filled, something that was very unusual these days. Julia thought back to the town where they lived. Both Julia and Stella and her family lived on the outskirts, quite near to each other. Julia thought of the empty shops, getting tattier each year they remained empty, the mail piling up inside. She thought of the ‘womble’ volunteers, tirelessly picking up the rubbish, particularly in certain areas where fast food outlets were and nearby car parks, where revellers ate their fast food, then dumped the packaging and sometimes uneaten chips underneath their cars and drove off.  


Stella spoke and Julia stopped daydreaming and smiled at her.  “Look mum, all the little streets lead to the promenade.”.  They walked down one, then turned to the right and began to walk along the prom overlooking a sandy curved beach. There were a few people walking, some with their dogs, but it wasn’t overcrowded, it was just perfect.  “Look at that couple Stella.”  Stella looked out to the sea and on a platform, not far out, were two statues. They were statues of a couple looking out to sea so you could only see the backs of them. The ladies walked a bit further on and read the interpretation board which explained how the statues were made and how large they were. They were actually twenty feet tall! They just looked ‘normal’ height when you looked at them. Julia loved them, she stood there looking at them. It was something so different, so unusual. It reminded her of her late husband David. How they used to stand on the beach on holiday, hand in hand and watch the waves and sunsets, particularly in Norfolk. She felt tears well up.  “Are you okay mum?”  Julia looked at Stella and smiled.  “Yes love, it just reminded me of your dad and me in Norfolk.”  Stella hugged her mum, then decided they had been out long enough and should head off to a nearby pub for a meal before going back to the B&B for the night.


Julia had been a widow for the past seven years. She desperately missed David. It had been such a shock when he died, he hadn’t been ill, he just had a massive heart attack. She just wished David was there to hold her hand as she endured the treatment she was receiving. But then she was relieved he didn’t have to see her body with the ‘bag’ on.  She whispered that to Stella when they were in the pub.  “Mum, dad loved you. He wouldn’t have bothered about that as long as he had you.”  “Yes, I know,” Julia sighed.


They had a lovely meal and a glass of wine each then made their way back to the B&B in good spirits. When they left to go to the separate rooms. Julia kissed her daughter goodnight.

“Thank you love, I adore it here. See you in the morning.”.  Julia went to her room and began to get ready for bed. As she took off her clothes, she noticed her body in the long mirror opposite. Her cheerful mood suddenly changed, she felt so down when she saw herself in the mirror. She picked up her nightdress and dashed to the bathroom and had a quick shower, brushed her teeth and went to bed. Thankfully, she was asleep within a few minutes and didn’t wake up until seven in the morning.


She woke up feeling quite refreshed and surprisingly happy. She met Stella in the dining room and they enjoyed a light breakfast together, whilst engaging in conversation with the host, a lovely, friendly lady called Lynne. Lynne explained some of the history of the town, including the restored beach, the two churches and the maritime museum. Two other guests came into the room for breakfast and they all chatted together. By the time Julia and Stella went out, it was past ten o’clock.


The two ladies spent the day walking along the beach, looking in the shops, lunching in a lovely cafe in the centre and occasionally popping back to the B&B to have a rest and use the toilet. Julia was starting to feel slightly more confident coping with the ‘bag’ whilst not at home. Obviously, having the support of Stella helped. Stella, though, had quite a bad headache which came on around teatime. She was prone to migraines, so Julia suggested she go and lie down in her room until she felt better. Stella didn’t argue and went to her room to rest. Julia went to her room and made herself a coffee. She took the coffee and a packet of the complimentary biscuits to the chair by the window and just sat looking at the view of the sea. It was such a beautiful evening so she decided that when she had finished her drink, she would take a walk along the promenade.


Later, as she strolled along the prom, taking in the sunset, colouring parts of the cloudy sky with a shimmering red, she began to feel a sense of contentment. She knew she still had a long way to go with treatment but she felt unusually positive. She had so much to live for. She walked up some steps from the promenade, to a seat which was surrounded by a mass of wild poppies. She sat on the seat looking out to sea and stared at the statues of the couple. If they were real, she thought, what would they be thinking as they looked out across the North Sea?


Julia sat for some time looking at the statues. She wondered how they survived the winds, without being blown off their platform. They reminded her of her beloved David and how they used to stand on the Norfolk beaches, just watching the waves, deep in their own thoughts. They didn’t need to chat all the time, they were happy just being with each other. What would David think about her nor telling their sons all of what she was going through? She knew he wouldn’t be very pleased with her, he believed in being honest and open with their family. They were all very close then.  


Eventually, Julia knew what she had to do. She stood up and made her way back to the B&B. She looked in the guest lounge and was surprised to see Stella watching TV. She walked in and Stella stood up and hugged her mum.  “Are you feeling better love?”.  “Yes mum, I took some paracetamol, had an hour's sleep and I’ve felt better since I woke up, so thought I would come in here and look out for you.”.  They both chatted for a while then went off to their separate bedrooms.


The next day after a light breakfast, they set off for a leisurely walk along the promenade.  “Last night, I sat on that seat up there, Stella. Can we both sit there for a bit?”  They both sat there for a while, not speaking, but each deep in thought.  Eventually, Julia spoke “These wild poppies look lovely Stella.”.  Stella nodded. She thought it was all beautiful in Newbiggin and even better that the weather had been kind and most of the time the sky, despite being cloudy at times, was blue and not grey and gloomy.  “I’ve made a decision, love. I need to be more honest with your brothers. I thought about what you said about how your dad was. I sat here last night, amongst the pretty poppies, looking out on the statues of the couple. Your dad wouldn’t have been happy with me, keeping secrets in the family and unnecessary secrets at that. When we go home, I will call each of your brothers. The bag has saved my life so far. It's manageable and I’m alive. I’ve been silly. Coming here has brought me to my senses, so thank you so much darling.”.  Julia put her arm around her daughter and kissed her cheek.  “Come on love, let's walk.”.  Stella had tears in her eyes. She loved her mum.


The two of them walked along the prom, arm in arm……sending a silent thank you to the man and lady ‘couple’ statues. The couple statue’s future was to continue to look out to sea, whilst Julia’s future was to continue with positivity and in memory of her beloved David, to share everything with the family, good and bad.


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