Michaela, Stomach Cancer, by Thomas Webb & Angelo Kehagias

“My open zipper scar”

Photo by Thomas Webb

Photo by Thomas Webb

My happy, ordinary life took a turn for the worse at just twelve years old when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis (Chronic bowel diseases that affect your bowels) I was put straight into hospital and placed on lifelong medications. I had never taken a tablet in my life but now it was to become my morning and night ritual.

Photo by Thomas Webb

Photo by Thomas Webb

My teenage years were taken over with being sick. I was hardly attending high school and after a year in and out of hospital my body showed signs of another weakness. During a routine blood test the doctors found that my liver markers were through the roof high! After a quick liver bioscopy it was determined I had Primary Schlorasing Colangitis, a liver disease that over time causes your liver to crash and burn. So another medication was added to the menu.

In my opinion, age 14 is meant to be a year that you start figuring out what you might like to do with your life, you start dating and going out with your friends to lunch, without parents following. But for me life took another blow. It wasn’t the inside that was affected this timel; it was the outside. Overnight in hospital I broke out with scarring and abscesses over my face, chest, back and shoulders. The doctors still don’t know exactly what caused it, but I knew I would never be the same again.

If I couldn’t stare at myself in the mirror then how would I be able to go out in public?

If I couldn’t stare at myself in the mirror then how would I be able to go out in public? I couldn’t wear a singlet because people would see my scarring, stare and make comments that would hurt. I’ve heard nasty comments like, “why are you even out in public? You’re making my kids feel sick.”

So my new ‘uniform’ was a long sleeve t-shirt and a sweater and I thought that would last forever. The amount of nights I cried myself to sleep is countless; it felt like my life was over. The scarring was the worst thing that had happened at that point. I thought to myself that if I get married one day I’d need to wear a turtleneck under my dress, because how could someone love me with this skin if I couldn’t love myself?

A year on (2009) and medications still weren’t working to control my Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis so it was decided that I needed to have a total colectomy (full large bowel removal). I was 15, it was my first major surgery and I was so scared. I knew my abdomen would never look the same and that scared me the most. I had scarring on the top half of my body and now I would have scars on my stomach too! After the surgery I had a few months of reprieve. The scar didn’t bother me as much as my skin did so I thought maybe I was getting better and it was time to try and deal with my face scars. But before I could put that mentality into place it was 2010.

I had just turned 16 and was getting sicker and sicker. After many weeks in hospital I was diagnosed with Signet Cell Gastric Adenocarcinoma. All I heard come out of my doctor’s mouth was “Stomach Cancer.”

‘WAIT, HOLD UP! You have the wrong patient,’ is all I could think. But no, it was definitely me. After weeks of contemplation it was decided: I needed to have a Total Gastrectomy. My super long surgery went down on August 9th 2010. Everything went to plan until ten days after when I was rushed back onto surgery. They opened me up and fixed me, which lasted for two more days before they opened me up again! I think back now about that time and think, ‘I’m like a zipper, a zipper that was opened and shut for nearly three months’. That’s when my family nicknamed me the Open Zipper.

It took me three years to start dealing with my scars. I wore baggy t-shirts, baggy sweaters and long pants just so no one could make comments about them. I felt like one more comment would push me over the edge and there would be no returning because I would be gone, gone to the point that I would have taken my own life because of it.

In December 2013 it was a hot day and I just could not deal with putting something on over my singlet just so people wouldn’t say anything rude or hurtful. Then this revelation happened; if I’m comfortable in my own skin and my family and friends are ok with my scarring, then everyone else just needs to deal with it! That day I walked out into the big open world in a singlet and shorts…I didn’t even get one comment. I got a lot of stares but I know they were staring because I was a good-looking girl.

Michaela was treated like a rock star for the day during her Rock Scars photoshoot with musician Reece Mastin in September 2015.

Michaela was treated like a rock star for the day during her Rock Scars photoshoot with musician Reece Mastin in September 2015.

I still struggle, but I’m getting there. Being in a Rock Scars photoshoot with the gorgeous Reece Mastin has helped me immensely. I started my Rock Scars day feeling nervous and sick. I ended it feeling like I was a model and a rock star. Reece and I got along so well and the photoshoot was so much fun.

In 2013 when I began to feel more confident I started my own cake decorating business called Mikup Cake. I also make and sell different types of Rocky Road and Almond Bread as well as Seasonal products at market stalls. The business is still in its starting phase, but we have worked over 20 markets and it is my absolute passion. I love that I have the ability to make a client’s day with a personalised cake. Hopefully soon I will have a shop front and be able to hold kids cooking days.