Culture Spoonie Stories

“No Colon Still Rollin” – How Aussie Designer MJ uses her Passion for Illustration to Raise Awareness for IBD

We first came across MJ’s illustrations on Instagram. Her colourful and striking drawings caught our eye and put a smile on our face. We wanted to find out more about the artwork MJ creates and her spoonie story.

MJ lives in Sydney Australia with her husband Fernando and cat Kinya. She studied Graphic Design in college and impressively taught herself web design and coding! She loves tarot, travel, reading and deciding on her next tattoo, as well as painting.

MJ was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2000 when she was just 17 years old.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is a condition that causes inflammation and ulceration of the inner lining of the rectum and colon (the large bowel). In UC, ulcers develop on the surface of the lining and these may bleed and produce mucus. The inflammation usually begins in the rectum and lower colon, but it may affect the entire colon. If UC only affects the rectum, it is called proctitis, while if it affects the whole colon it may be called total colitis or pancolitis.

Crohn’s & Colitis UK

Early in her diagnosis, MJ’s managed her symptoms with medication and diet changes. However over the years, she was also diagnosed with IBS and anaemia, as well as suffering a range of medication side effects including fatigue, lupus and depression. It wasn’t until 2017, upon stopping responding to medical treatments and starting to show signs of early bowel cancer, that she made the decision to have a colectomy.

What is a colectomy?

A colectomy is a surgical procedure to remove all or part of the colon. The colon, also called the large intestine, is a long tubelike organ at the end of the digestive tract. A colectomy may be necessary to treat or prevent diseases and conditions that affect the colon.

Mayo Clinic

The early stages of life with an ostomy

MJ explains what is was like whilst waiting for her colectomy: “Leading up to my surgery, I turned to Instagram, blogs and YouTube to find out as much as I could about what life with an ostomy would be like. There were some accounts that showed having an ostomy didn’t have to be a big deal, you can still lead a normal life and be happy. I was also able to connect with ‘ostomates’ on Instagram – ask questions and get advice which was super helpful.”

“When I was in hospital I decided to document my own journey with ostomy surgery. I wanted to help at least one person with their own ostomy journey, like I had help with mine.”

“I also started to draw little ostomy figures and share those as I hadn’t seen much ostomy art out there. It had such a great response, I kept creating them!”

ostomy surgery illustrations

“I feel that art is often an easy way to spark a conversation about topics like ostomies or IBD. It helps people find out more about these conditions in an approachable and positive way.”

She explains: “I’ve had my ileostomy for almost 2 years now and my health is the best it’s been in a long time. I am no longer on any medication, my blood work is ‘almost perfect’ (to quote my surgeon recently) and I’m no longer anaemic.”

“On my 1 year stomaversary I painted a colourful ostomy awareness mural at Bondi Beach in Sydney. My goal is to paint more ostomy murals around the world.”

mjpix ostomy mural Bondi Beach

MJ now freelances as a Graphic Designer and Illustrator. She works on everything from website design, logos and branding, digital advertising to catalogues and children’s book illustrations.

MJ’s ostomy illustrations

She describes her design process: “I used to sketch on paper first (sharpie and a tiny blank notebook). But now I draw on my iPad with my pencil. I usually draw inspiration from my own experiences with ostomy life (which is why a lot of my characters are blonde). Sometimes my inspiration is sparked from a random conversation, picture or situation. My creative mind usually never sleeps!”

As well as creating beautiful illustrations, MJ has designed a ‘No colon still rollin’ t-shirt.

no colon still rollin t-shirt

“I first saw this slogan on Instagram a while back. I’d seen some ostomy shirts, but they were a bit ‘in your face’ or I didn’t like the font so I thought I’d design my own! I hand drew this lettering in a more subtle style and it turned out to be really popular.”

“I’ve recently drawn an ‘ostomy love’ t-shirt where I’ve been exploring some different colour options.”

ostomy love t-shirt mjpix

You can purchase a selection of MJ’s designs on shirts, mugs and totes from Red Bubble.

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