BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL Barbados
Gem of the Caribbean Sea
Come back to, my island Barbados
Come back to, my Island and me.
Barbados has been the retreat of choice for Victoria Lee and her husband Robin for more than three decades. Robin lived and worked here, and Victoria has been vacationing from the time she was in her 20s. Many momentous occasions were celebrated here as well.
The Scottish couple got engaged and married here, and memories of their reception on the Bajan Queen are still vivid. It was their intention to retire in Barbados, but the constant twists of life dictated differently. It was no wonder then, that Victoria found inspiration and a lucrative burst of creativity by drawing on images of her second home when she was plunged into another valley of illness.
Victoria, 55, has been battling various illnesses from the time she was nine years old. At 13, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, then for “something else” at 23 . Victoria would eventually be diagnosed with the most aggressive form of Crohn’s disease called fistulating Crohn’s colitis at age 40.
Hers is a story of repeatedly beating terrible odds and surviving. The crystal clear waters of Barbados and the other attractions often cheer her, but life has not been a beach for Victoria and her family.
Most of her internal organs have been removed, and she has to wear an ileostomy bag.
“I thought if I was going to die, I was going down fighting. I was dying slowly and it wasn’t nice,” she told EASY magazine.
She is very matter-of-fact with her life story and did not flinch when she told of the more than 40 surgeries she had in a six-year period and bouts of chemotherapy and going blind on five occasions. She was the same with the opening statement that she was given a month to live in 2009.
Victoria had to undergo a pan-protocolectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove the rest of the colon, rectum and anal canal. She developed several complications following the surgery and was bed-ridden for a while. “I thought ‘come on, you’re a positive person, you need to find a way to re-channel your energy,” the woman who is involved in fundraising for Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease said.
“I also thought I needed to focus to find something to make me feel good about myself, because my self-esteem was in the toilet, I don’t feel feminine. I just felt a mess.
“I felt I would love to go back to Barbados for a holiday, that would lift my spirits and I started to look for swimwear, and what was there for patients like me, my grandmother wouldn’t have worn. And it just screamed ‘ah there is something wrong with me’, which makes you feel worse about yourself. So I just felt I could do better than this,” she explained.
With making her own costumes for her singing performances as a background in fashion design, Victoria put her thoughts to paper and came up with several designs, which met with the approval of one of her friends, who “pushed” her into her first competition.
Victoria won and Glitter Beach was born.
“All my designs, the inspiration comes from Barbados,” she revealed, adding that most of the pieces were named for local spots.
The swimsuits were to make women feel good about themselves on the one hand, and to benefit patients who have to wear permanent bags. The suits are popular with “ordinary” people as well, she said.
Glitter Beach has since mushroomed into male and children’s lines, bags, shoes, wraps and other accessories.
“I wanted you to be able to walk directly from the pool or beach directly into a restaurant, go to a beach party, whatever. So everything is coordinated,” she said.
The line has already won her seven awards in the United Kingdom (UK), including the John Logie Baird prize, and she has had requests from North America, the UK and the Caribbean for pieces from the collection.
Victoria was in Barbados on a working vacation last week, networking with some manufacturers to fulfill the growing demand for the Glitter Beach products.
“I hope to bring trade to the island and develop links with Scotland,” she said.
If things go according to plan, the next catalogue will be shot in Barbados around the time of the 2012 Celtic Festival. Plans are also in the works for a charity show and luncheon, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital will benefit from the proceeds.
She is convinced that she survived in order to create Glitter Beach, and so as help prevent other patients from going through what she did, Victoria is donating some of the earnings from Glitter Beach to building a respite house, support services, and research.
Victoria also considers herself “blessed” to be kept here, and sees her family and grandson Matthew in particular, as the inspiration to keep fighting on. Her medical issues are far from over but she continues to ride the waves.
“I think I’m blessed to be here and to be given the opportunity to do something.
I think that is why I was kept here, … to try and make things better for other people. I don’t want anyone to walk in my shoes, I really don’t,” she said as she urged people to monitor their bowels and get any irregularities checked.
BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL Barbados