By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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Videographer / Director: Eva Moss
Producer: Hannah Stevens, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Last year, Heather Matson, 35, was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer and the subsequent surgery left her with a stoma bag permanently attached to her abdomen.
After surgery, Heather, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, faced four months of recovery, but it was during this time that she discovered a way to accessorise her new friend.
She said: “So Petunia, my beautiful little stoma, she’s attached to me for the rest of my life and, so, I have to protect her and she does better when she’s covered up.
“After surgery I found out that I was pretty close to death, as in the tumour was growing at such a large pace.
“I first saw my bag right after surgery and I just cried, I cried because I knew that this was something I gotta live with for the rest of my life.”
Heather, who has been a vet technician for 13 years, has always been drawn to oddball animals and last year, she says, she joined the gang.
She said: “I’ve rescued several animals, we call this house the land of the misfits. Every animal that lives here is an animal that has been rejected, due to missing a leg, missing an eye, being deaf.
“And it was just ironic that I was going to become the misfit of last year.
“I started vomiting every night. Three months after that, I went to the doctor because I knew something was wrong.
"I was told nothing was wrong because I looked too healthy to have anything wrong with me.”
Months later, Heather was finally diagnosed with stage three colon cancer, as well as a genetic mutation called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), which is an inherited disorder characterised by cancer of the colon and rectum.
While recovering at home, Heather decided to teach herself to hand sew and began creating her unique bag covers to renew her confidence.
Soon after she completed her first bag covers, Heather’s roommate and best friend Casey Gwinn helped Heather buy her first sewing machine.
Casey said: “She struggled and I watched her, and she said, ‘I can’t do this’, and she would throw a little fit and I said, ‘Look, just keep on trying, you don’t get it perfect on the first time.’
“I gave her all my change one day and it was enough for a nice little sewing machine and she’s really enjoyed doing it. It’s been fun watching her.”
Nowadays, Heather has enough bag options for every day of the month, from flamingos to Wonder Woman.
She said: “I have several favorite covers. When I wanna have a strong day, I wanna be that independent person, I like my wonder woman.
“If it’s a nice night and I’m going out with my girlfriends and I want to feel sexy, then I gotta go more for the lace and satin. It’s a toss up.
“I started making them just for me, that’s all I wanted, just to make myself confident and sexy and feel like I’m normal.”
Soon after her surgery, Matson started going to an ostomy support group and shared her bag covers with them.
Heather said: “You should’ve seen their eyes light up, like, ‘Oh this is amazing’, especially for the women, they were just overjoyed.
“The biggest, happiest moment was when I even heard it from them, saying, ‘You’re going to make us feel beautiful again’.
“This is like adding a little lace to a support system.”
Since she tested her bag covers out on her support group, Heather has started to sell her creations to people online, to share her bag confidence.
She said: “When people tell me, thank you for what I’m doing for them, I feel like I finally have a purpose.
“I feel like I’m doing something, not for myself, but for other people like me. It’s great - I’m on top of the world.”
While Heather is still facing more treatment, she refuses to let her stoma define her.
Matson said: “I feel pretty good nowadays, I still have a few rough patches but I’m happy, I’m fortunate.
“When I wake up everyday, I thank the amazing doctors that let me enjoy my sunrises and my sunsets.”