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Road to recovery: how one woman turned her life around


AFTER UNDERGOING surgery for major surgery, which resulted in the removal of her colon and appendix, Sam Shakes found herself depressed and an alcoholic. But, fortunately, her journey didn’t end there. Now an author, Shakes talks to The Voice about her path from sickness to wellness.

“In April 1998 I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (a bowel disease) and by November, underwent life-saving surgery. This resulted in the formation of a stoma (opening formed in my abdomen) and expelling stool into a bag. It was expected that I would be on medication for the rest of my life.

"I could not think at that time. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me but it was. I was living in denial and put all thoughts of it to the back of my mind. This bad news led to a life of alcoholism and depression. At one point I found I was drinking every single day and I didn’t know that could happen to me,” Shakes said.

Her drinking was a desperate cry for help. Those around her did not understand the emotional and mental battles she was going through after her life changing surgery dramatically changed both her body and her relationship with it and the world around her.

HELPING OTHERS: Sam Shakes shared her story in her book

It was a dark time for Shakes, 47, but after some time she was able to take control of her life, seeking counselling sessions from mental health charity Mind before publishing a book, Then Life took Control: A Journal from Sickness to Wellbeing, in 2010, which recounted her experiences, how she overcame them and her message of hope to those experiencing the same.

“I drastically improved my health by making a few small changes. If I could do it then anyone could. I remember my dad saying to me, ‘the mind kills and the mind cures’. It’s about having a positive mind and knowing that you are supported by a higher being and nature all around you. I wrote a book based on my experiences to offer hope to those who have experienced the same as well as to pay tribute to the amazing staff at the Homerton Hospital in Hackney, who, through life-changing surgery saved my life,” Shakes said.

CREATIVE: Shakes with her artwork and merchandise

In addition to her debut book, which has been well received, selling 900 copies and listed as recommended reading for nurse specialists by the Nursing Standards Journal, Shakes has published two more books about her ordeal to help medical professionals understand the patient’s perspective while recovering from major surgery.

An ardent fundraiser, Shakes’ weekly stall at Homerton Hospital contains her books, artwork and other merchandise with 10 per cent of the proceeds from items sold donated to Homerton Hope, which supports the hospital. She also does the same at the King’s College and Whittington hospitals. Her artwork inspires and promotes health and wellbeing and can often be seen on the cards, mugs and t-shirts she has available on her stall.

“Along my journey of recovery, I discovered a love for sharing my story creatively. As well as having published three books based on my experience of surgery and overcoming my bouts with alcohol and depression, I developed an interest in art. I discovered painting and loved it. I share my art and stories to motivate changes that will improve people’s wellbeing – to show there’s an alternative to medication. I’ve helped hundreds of people and see it as my calling to give back not only to those who helped me get my life back but also to those who feel they are losing theirs,” she said.

FUNDRAISER: Shakes sells her creations to raise money for charities

Since graduating from Middlesex University in 2007 with a degree in health studies with race and culture Sam has gone on to deliver health lectures, travel the world and even complete the Millennium Walk raising £335 for Crohn’s and Colitis UK, proving that one can still live a healthy, happy life without a colon and appendix.

“Terri Porrett, a nurse specialist who I dedicated my book to, told me during my time of crisis that there are people in the world who turn their adversity into an advantage. I have now made that my life’s motto as I share my story with others,” Shakes said. “Life is not always plain sailing. We will face trials but they come to help us to stretch and develop. Changing your mindset will bring change to your lifestyle so don’t lose hope.”

Discover more of Sam Shakes' work at

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