Luke Bennett is a 20-year-old student who had been suffering for years with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease of the large intestine where the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, which causes extreme discomfort and severe gastrointestinal distress.
After being hospitalized for the condition during a vacation in 2012, Luke tried multiple different prescription drugs and therapies to try to manage the symptoms and nothing worked.
"I was just about keeping my head above water when I made the brave decision to have elective surgery to have my large bowel removed," he wrote on the Crohn's and Colitis UK Facebook page, along with the selfie below.
"The thought of having a 'bag' is terrifying as most of the young people you see around you are confident with their bodies and its the time in a persons life when they should be enjoying life without any worries," he continued. "However, life isn't always kind to us and the decision for me was either to have surgery and live with a stoma bag, or continue with this disease until I was going to need emergency surgery in the future."
He reveals that he had a sub-total colectomy about 5 weeks before this photo was taken, saying that he feels like a different person since having the surgery and that even the post-op pains were nothing like the pain he had been experiencing prior to the operation.
"I've learned that living with a 'bag' isn't as terrifying as I anticipated. It's just another part of me which I have to learn to embrace," he added. "I hope for the people reading this with young children who are suffering with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, or for young people themselves living with the disease, that my story helps you in anyway to not feel frightened if surgery is ever offered to you or if it your only option. It has definitely changed my life."
The photo quickly went viral and tons of people have commented that they have either had the surgery themselves or are facing surgery and that Luke's post was very encouraging and helpful for them. Some people have even posted their own selfies and shared supportive words for other commenters facing the operation.
As if Luke's brave selfie and the words he shared weren't inspiring enough, the support the commenters are providing for each other - many of which are mere strangers, connected only by a common struggle - is truly touching.