These days, Kim Mullins refers to her ostomy bag as her "hardware" and jokes that conversations about colorectal cancer are pretty risqué. But managing life with a permanent ostomy--a pouching system worn against Kim's abdomen that collects waste from her large intestine--hasn't always been easy for the long-time Murfreesboro resident.
Kim was just 50 when she was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer in 2018. Her treatment team consisted of Dr. Brian Lee of Saint Thomas Cancer Care and Dr. Victor Gian of Tennessee Oncology. She spent that summer completing oral chemo and 28 rounds of radiation therapy at Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford, followed by surgery in the fall with Dr. Mark Manwaring of Saint Thomas Cancer Care. As fighting cancer and adjusting to life with an ostomy bag became Kim's everyday reality, she found creative ways to manage her busy career during a transition from healthcare consulting to healthcare compliance. Kim couldn't sit down post-surgery without experiencing brutal posterior pain, so she typed from a standing desk. Her ostomy bag frequently leaked, so Kim experimented with different supplies until she found a pouching system that worked reliably for her body. To help her process her emotions, manage doctor's appointments, and juggle the demands of professional life, Kim created a makeshift journal that was part-calendar-part-diary-part-
Today, Kim is in remission. She's thriving in her career, she's lost 40 pounds, and she has more time to spend with her husband Jeff and their sweet dog Bailey. Though it would certainly be understandable if Kim chose to relegate cancer to the back of her mind, she's chosen instead to press in deeper--to let that pain shape her present-day goals. So that others won't have to deal with the frustration of unexplained ostomy bag leaks, Kim worked with Penney Shafer of Saint Thomas Cancer Care to create an "Ostomy Support Closet" that is open to everyone who wants to try different styles of pouching systems. Located on the Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford campus, the closet is to open anyone who needs a temporary or permanent ostomy bag for any reason, including diverticulitis and other non-cancer diagnoses. When Kim learned that Nashville and Columbia, Tennessee, offer ostomy support groups, she decided to launch the first group of its kind in Murfreesboro. The group is a safe place for people who wear ostomy bags to ask questions, vent, cry, or even laugh about the inconvenience of it all.