Traveling through airports can make anybody nervous as security lines get longer and wait times increase. For some people living with an ostomy, air travel can cause further anxiety.

Universal pat-downs performed by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and uncertainty surrounding procedures at the screening checkpoint can add to an already stressful experience.

Luckily, United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) is working on your behalf to help make your next airport security screening run as smoothly as possible. But you need to be prepared beyond just packing the right supplies and emptying your pouch before a flight. With our tips and latest guidance from the TSA, you’ll be empowered with the knowledge to help make your next travel experience a positive one.

“We have been working with the TSA for over three years now and have established an excellent working relationship,” says George Salamy UOAA’s TSA Liaison and representative on the Coalition. In fact, at a past TSA Disability and Multicultural Conference, OAA was the recipient of a Community Participation Award.  “Recognition by the TSA with this award illustrates how we are helping our constituents, the ostomates, who want to travel with little inconvenience,” George says.

One way we do this is by participating in conference calls where we provide input from the UOAA traveler perspective. The system is a work-in-progress and complaints about invasive searches outside of protocol, though rare, still occur.

Communication is critical in navigating the security process. Inform the TSA officer that you have an ostomy pouch before the screening process begins. For discretion, you may provide the officer with the TSA notification card or a medical document describing an ostomy. Expect to be screened without having to empty or expose the ostomy through the advanced imaging technology, metal detector, or a pat-down. If your ostomy pouch is subject to the additional screening you’ll be asked to conduct a self pat-down of the ostomy pouch outside of your clothing, followed by a test of your hands for any trace of explosives.

You may also undergo a standard pat-down of areas that will not include the ostomy pouch. Remember it is normal protocol for agents to request a pat-down of any travelers. Be aware however that at any point during the process you can ask for a Supervisory TSA Officer, and a private area for the screening as well as be accompanied by your travel companion.

As an ostomy traveler, if an incident occurs that differentiates from the protocol (such as being asked to undress the area around your ostomy) know that this is not allowed. It is important to report this to the TSA and follow-up with UOAA to ensure appropriate and immediate action is taken. Upon review of security footage corrective action may be taken in the form of additional training and/or discussions with appropriate personnel at the airport to help prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Before your next trip view our tips for ostomy travelers. We will continue to educate and communicate with the TSA with the goal of making travel easier for all those traveling with an ostomy. No people living with an ostomy should ever be discouraged from travel whether for work, to see family and friends, a vacation or a journey around the world.

Ostomate or Person Living with an Ostomy?

“Labels are for soup cans.” ~ Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates

by Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager with Keagan Lynggard, UOAA Advocacy Committee Member

The UOAA Advocacy Committee produces many educational resources and self-advocacy tools for the benefit of you; you being a person living with an ostomy or continent diversion. Our dilemma has been what to call you or how to refer to you within the context of advocating, educating, and supporting, as you are the subject of what we write about. Sometimes we call you “a person living with an ostomy or continent diversion”. That takes nine words to describe one aspect of your life and this becomes very difficult and cumbersome to write over and over again in a single advocacy or educational document. There is however, a definite trend on social media and with online bloggers to use the word “ostomate” when referring to you, and the community of people who live with an ostomy.

As a national organization that supports all people living with an ostomy it’s crucial that we are sensitive and choose our words wisely so that they are acceptable to our community. Ostomy surgery is already a delicate topic that is often associated with “bathroom talk”, a topic that already has enough of its own societal taboos. Recently our Committee set out to gather survey data to hear from YOU, the people that our work impacts to identify the more acceptable or best term to use in our advocacy written materials and presentations concerning ostomy awareness and education.

Is this a label?

Our surveys certainly sparked an interesting debate. Many responders assumed that we wanted to “label” our community in a derogatory way versus our intention which was to simply look for a word to identify our medical demographic and represent the people we impact. As I read the comments from our responders and thought about what we were looking for, it made me wonder if this is how “labels” are born? Do they arise when people search for a simple and easy to use term to describe something? What happens when a label sticks and there is a negative stigma or insensitivity to those with a particular condition? As I pondered these questions and continued to review further comments, I realized that many people do prefer a simple word (or label) to identify their medical condition. It helps some people feel a sense of belonging and unity within a unique group. So I’m not sure what we would even call the word: a “term” or a “name” or a “label”? It’s also important to stress that although we were looking for a simpler non-offensive term it wasn’t meant to completely and irrevocably replace a “person living with an ostomy”. In fact, the definition of the word “ostomate” is simply a person who has undergone an ostomy.

And the preferred term is…

Here are the results of our surveys:

Total Votes: 331
34% (113 votes) Person with an ostomy
61% (201 votes) Ostomate
5% (17 votes) Other

191 Votes via Facebook
37% (71 votes) Person with an Ostomy
63% (120 votes) Ostomate

23 Votes via Twitter
48% (11 votes) Person with an ostomy
52% (12) Ostomate

117 Responses via Survey Monkey
27% (31 votes) Person with an Ostomy
59% (69 votes) Ostomate
14% (17 votes) Other

Does age affect preference?

In the Survey Monkey survey we asked a few more questions to gain a better understanding of the responders, such as gender, age, or whether their ostomy was temporary or permanent. 98% of the responders had a permanent ostomy with over 80% being older than 55 years of age. Of this older population 62% were female and 38% were male. Of interest the males were 50-50 in their selection of preferred term. Whereas, only 17% of females preferred “person with living with an ostomy”. If this had been a science experiment, and I had to develop an initial hypothesis, given the social trends on the internet, I would have predicted that the term “ostomate” was going to be more favorable for the younger generation. Our results proved this wrong!

 

We also provided an opportunity for people to list a specific “other” term that they would prefer and only three had a specific response like “Packin’ a Pouch”. For the majority of those who selected “other” they did not list another term but rather said it was actually ok to use “ostomate” or they didn’t care, which in turn would increase the # of who prefer “ostomate”. Nineteen percent (3/16 responses) did not want any term.

For the question “For those who do not like the term ostomate, why?” these were some of the reasons why:

· Because I am more than my ostomy or my ostomy doesn’t define me
· Labels what/who you are
· People won’t know what ostomate means or it always needs more explanation

Until you walk in someone else’s shoes…

Here’s what people were saying:

“I don’t want to be defined by my ostomy. Giving me a title/name defines me. I am a mother, a wife, a nurse, and a friend. Those things define me. Not my ostomy. While my ostomy is a part of my life, it does not define my life. PLEASE get away from the term “ostomate.”

“I prefer to focus on the positive – I am LIVING with an ostomy. Ostomate sounds harsh.”

“I also like “Person living with an ostomy”, but Ostomate is easier. What I really don’t like is use of the word “bag” which many, many people, ostomates, nurses and doctors continue to use. It’s very upsetting!” (Check out the Vegan Ostomy blog on this topic.)

“This term is commonly thought to be someone with a bowel ostomy. Mine is an urostomy. I’d like to see a term implies all ostomies.”

“Living with an ostomy sounds better to me and denotes the fact the ostomy gives a person additional life.”

“It labels people (similar to how one would not want to be referred to as the amputee, the diabetic, the bipolar, etc.)”

“I am not a “joiner” and do not plan on meeting others with similar conditions.”

Of notable interest 16/55 people answered this question with a response that they actually like the term ostomate.

In general our overall analysis found that although we did receive a few “neither” or “either” comments followed with the pattern of commentary along the lines of “my ostomy does not define me”, the vast majority preferred the term “ostomate”. We also received comments that support the idea that those who prefer the term ostomate are those familiar with the literal definition of ostomate, those who are involved/active within the ostomy community, or those who have really embraced this aspect of their life. This sense of community was evident in the survey question showing over 70% of responders belong to some sort of support community either online or an ostomy support group.

There is no right answer.

In conclusion, the Advocacy Committee has decided that in most cases we will continue to use the terminology “person living with an ostomy”, which is less “defining”, in our materials; however, given the results of the survey we will also now more freely and confidently include the term “ostomate” in order to simplify a document or when the term is more suitable for our advocacy purposes. I believe in our society of political correctness, we will never be able to please everyone, but we should always aspire to do our best, be respectful of all and try not to stir the pot by adding salt to wounds that are in the process of healing.

Thank you again to all those who participated in the survey and contributed to helping us gather this valuable information.

By Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager

The overall goal of the UOAA Patient Bill of Rights (PBOR) initiative is to ensure high quality of care for people who had or will have ostomy or continent diversion surgery. To accomplish this it’s important that patients and families actively participate in patient health care.

According to CMS an integral part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) National Quality Strategy is the CMS Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program. It is one of the largest federal programs dedicated to improving health quality at the community level.

Under the QIO program there are two Beneficiary and Family Centered Care-QIOs (BFCC-QIOs) who help Medicare beneficiaries and their families exercise their right to high-quality healthcare. The two BFCC-QIOs are KEPRO and Livanta and they serve all fifty states. BFCC-QIO services are free-of-charge to Medicare beneficiaries.

Depending on where you live (Locate your BFCC-QIO) they are available to help Medicare beneficiaries and their families or caregivers with questions or concerns such as:

• Am I ready to be discharged from the hospital?
• Should I be receiving needed skilled services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, from a home health agency, skilled nursing facility, or comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facility? (Care from a certified ostomy nurse is a skilled service.)
• I’m concerned about the quality of care I received from my hospital, doctor, nurse or others.
Examples of quality of care concerns that pertain to our PBOR include but are not limited to:
• Experiencing a change in condition that was not treated (such as skin infection around stoma)
• Receiving inadequate discharge instructions (such as inadequate individual instruction in ostomy care, including the demonstration of emptying and changing pouch or no instruction on how to order ostomy supplies when you leave the hospital)

*Why should Medicare Beneficiaries contact their BFCC-QIO with concerns?

First, BFCC-QIOs can help when you have a concern about the quality of the medical care you are receiving from a healthcare facility (e.g. hospital, nursing home, or home health agency) or professional. You can also file a formal Medicare complaint through your BFCC-QIO.

Furthermore, according to CMS, when Medicare beneficiaries share their concerns with their BFCC-QIO, they help identify how the health care system can better meet the needs of other patients. Beneficiary experiences, both good and bad, give the QIO Program the perspective to identify opportunities for improvement, develop solutions that address the real needs of patients, and inspire action by health professionals. This is what we are working towards achieving with our PBOR initiative. This is a resource to help the UOAA community make this happen.

Last, Medicare beneficiaries have the right to file an appeal through their BFCC-QIO, if they disagree with a health care provider’s decision to discharge them from the hospital or discontinue services, or when they have a concern about the quality of the medical care they received from a health care professional or facility.

*When and who should Medicare Beneficiaries contact?

A Medicare beneficiary can call 1-800-MEDICARE or your Local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) if he or she:

• Has general questions about Medicare coverage;
• Needs clarification on how to enroll in Medicare;
• Wishes to discuss billing issues.

A beneficiary can contact their BFCC-QIO if he or she:

• Needs to discuss the quality of care received;
• Wants to file a formal quality of care complaint; or
• Needs help to understand his or her Medicare rights.

While BFCC-QIOs are the primary point of contact for Medicare beneficiaries and their families, when necessary, quality of care complaints can also still be made by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.

For those interested in learning more about what to do if you have a concern about the care you received while on Medicare, please refer to this FAQs page produced by CMS.

Be involved in your healthcare and if you are a Medicare beneficiary, take advantage of this resource to self-advocate and ensure a better outcome for yourself.

*Source qioprogram.org

Taking a stand for better ostomy healthcare

By Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager

United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) is an organization that empowers people to get the care they deserve to live life to the fullest. The poor quality of ostomy care received by some in our community limits those lifestyle choices. For people living in the United States with an ostomy or continent diversion healthcare delivery is unequal. A person with an ostomy should be treated as seriously as someone living with diabetes. At hospital discharge, it would not be safe or acceptable for an insulin-dependent diabetic to be incapable of giving themselves an injection, self-managing their diet and blood sugars, and obtaining their supplies. It is not safe or acceptable for anyone living with an ostomy to be discharged without knowing how to prevent dehydration and not have access to care and supplies to live a healthy active life. We can’t let the words “quality healthcare” become meaningless buzzwords for those facing this life-saving/ life-changing surgery. The time has come to take a stand.

To get the ball rolling UOAA recently revised the Ostomy and Continent Diversion Patient Bill of Rights (PBOR), which has become the foundation to stand on, to SPEAK UP. The PBOR states the details of the care people with an ostomy should expect to receive initially and during their lifetime. It calls for healthcare professionals who provide care to people with ostomies, to be educated in the specialty, and to observe the standards of care. It is a guide for patients and families to be active partners in their care, to know what is reasonable to expect so they can collaborate in their care and get the outcomes they deserve.

UOAA has taken the lead to generate this change by promoting the new PBOR and its use. We are excited by the response and support we are receiving and know we can continue to make big strides.

So the little PBOR “snowball” rolling down the hill is gaining momentum and is poised to impact the barriers for people who live with ostomies and continent diversions in America. Be a part of the change, download the PBOR and the Top Ten Ways to use it. Step up and spread the word.

 

By Diana Gallagher, MS, RN, CWOCN, CFCN – Facilitator for the NWA Ostomy Support Group

For many, ostomy surgery is lifesaving but their initial feelings on living life with an ostomy are negative. For individuals with years of unresolved incontinence or inflammatory bowel disease, however, life after surgery is frequently viewed as a positive improvement. For them, an ostomy is the promise of a return to a normal life.

As you prepare for surgery, the following are important tips to help you transition into your new life and embrace living with an ostomy. For more information contact United Ostomy Associations of America at  info@ostomy.org or 1-800-826-0826.

Select a surgeon with valuable experience in the type of surgery that you are facing. General surgeons as well as specialty surgeons can perform ostomy surgery. Specialty surgeons are those who have completed additional education, training, and fellowships within the specialty. These surgeons will be identified as Colorectal or Urology Surgeons. You can find a local physician through the website for the American Society of Colorectal Surgeons or by contacting the American Urological Association.

See an Ostomy Nurse. BEFORE surgery, your surgeon may refer you to a specialty nurse, like a Certified Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurse (CWOCN). If not, you will need to find a specialty nurse. This nurse will help ease your transition into living with an ostomy. Although education may be provided during your hospital stay it can be difficult to focus and remember because of anesthesia, surgical pain and stress. Your ostomy specialist will provide comprehensive education including practice pouch changes before surgery. In addition, he/she will identify and mark the best location for your ostomy. This is important because during surgery it is difficult for your surgeon to know where the waistband of your pants sits, where creases or irregularities exist and other special considerations to consider when selecting that optimal site.

Attend a United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) affiliated support group (ASG) meeting in your community if possible. You may think that you do not need a support group or feel that you are the type of person who does not feel comfortable in a group setting. Put those feelings aside; listening in the beginning is a good start. Join your local group, even if you don’t initially find someone your age with a similar story, there is a lot to learn. UOAA affiliated support groups are truly one of the BEST places to obtain the necessary education, helpful hints, support, and resources. Don’t feel that you are alone.

Determine which supplies will work best for you. In the beginning, you will most likely receive sample products from a number of companies. It is helpful to keep the 2 piece products from each manufacturer separated; wafers from one company will not necessarily snap onto a pouch from another company. The sampling program will help you try a variety of products to learn which ones work best for you.

Order your regular supplies. Once you know what you like best, an order can be placed through a distributor. There are countless distributors to choose from and depending on insurance, your supplies can be delivered monthly or every three months. The first time that you order, it is logical to order a month’s worth of supplies. As your expertise develops, you may fine-tune your list. Insurance normally pays 80% of supplies that are medically appropriate. If you have a secondary plan, the remaining 20% may be covered. Check for a list of the established limits for each product. Reorder supplies so that you are never without the supplies that you need.

Select a place to keep your ostomy supplies organized. Many people keep their basic supplies in a bathroom drawer, others buy a plastic organizer with several drawers that can be moved about. Excess supplies can be stored in a closet but regardless of where you choose to keep supplies, it is best to avoid temperature extremes and high levels of humidity.

Be prepared. In addition to the extra supplies that you keep on hand at home, always keep a small pouch with all the supplies necessary for a complete change with you. Like your other supplies, these should be kept away from temperature extremes and humidity. Hopefully, you will rarely need to make an unplanned change, but being prepared, makes most ostomates feel secure and confident. If you anticipate an occasional return to the hospital, keep a bag packed with your preferred supplies. The hospital may not have the brands that work best for you.

Promptly consult your ostomy specialist for any problems. This might be a decrease in normal wear time, a change in your stoma, or a problem with your peristomal skin. A good practice for all is to hydrate properly to avoid complications.

Recover from surgery and LIVE life to the fullest. Having an ostomy does not change who you are or what you are able to do. After recovery, work to strengthen your abdominal muscles to help prevent hernia risk and enjoy all your old activities including swimming. Every October UOAA holds the Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k where people of all ages prove living with an ostomy does not need to be limiting.

Advocate for yourself. You will find that not everyone is knowledgeable about ostomies. Educate others when possible but always be willing to advocate for yourself and others. You can also help to advocate on the national level by supporting UOAA’s advocacy program and taking part in events like Ostomy Awareness Day held on the first Saturday in October. UOAA works toward a society where people with ostomies and intestinal or urinary diversions are universally accepted and supported socially, economically, medically, and psychologically.

Share your experience and tell your story. Your story has the power to help others as they begin their journey. Connect with others in person or online and offer to help the next person who has this life-saving surgery.

If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer and your condition makes it impossible for you to work, you might be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits.The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees disability programs that provide benefits to those who are unable to work, but who meet specific criteria.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to those who meet the medical criteria that have been established to qualify as disabled and also have meet the past work requirements. To qualify for SSDI, you must have worked enough to earn sufficient credits and pay enough taxes. Usually, that is the equivalent of five years full-time work out of the last 10 years.

The claims process is very complicated. In addition to applying for benefits, you must make sure the SSA gets your medical records, documentation of your symptoms, any physician notes, details of your treatments and how they impacted your condition, and proof that your condition is severe enough to impact your daily living and ability to work.

While advances have been made in cancer treatment and you might have a good prognosis, you might be unable to work while undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation because they can significantly impact your ability to function leaving you nauseated and fatigued.

Before completing an application for Social Security disability, talk with your oncologist. Your oncologist should be familiar with the process and will be able to tell you whether or not he or she believes you would qualify for benefits. Your oncologist can even complete some additional paperwork in support of your claim.

When your oncologist is supportive of your disability application and provides additional documentation, and makes a written statement on your behalf and completes a residual functioning capacity (RFC) form, it can have a significant impact on your disability claim and help you get approved for monthly benefits.

Medical Qualifications and the Blue Book
There are strict guidelines involving the medical qualifications that must be met for an individual to be approved for disability benefits. The SSA uses a medical guide that is called the Blue Book. The Blue Book has different bodily systems listed with different conditions listed for each system. In order to meet the medical criteria, an individual must meet the condition requirements that apply to that condition.

If you are unable to meet those specific criteria, your condition’s symptoms might meet the criteria for specific symptoms or for another condition that is caused by the dominant health problem. Some conditions are approved for benefits solely on diagnosis of a condition but others are more challenging to prove per the SSA guidelines.

Colon cancer applications for disability fall under Section 13.18 of the Blue Book, which is for cancer of the large intestines. To be approved based on the listing, your colon cancer must:

Be a form of Adenocarcinoma AND
returned following treatment
OR
Cannot be removed by surgery
OR
Be squamous cell carcinoma cancer AND affect the anus
AND
returned following surgical removal of tumors or cancer cells
OR
Be a small-cell or oat cell carcinoma cancer
OR
Is any colon cancer that spread past the lymph nodes in the area of the cancer’s original development.

Qualifying for Disability Using an RFC
If your colon cancer doesn’t meet the medical criteria of the Blue Book, you might qualify by using the RFC. This form clearly defines your limitations and how your daily life is impacted. Your physician completes the form to show what you can and cannot do at this point. It clearly states limitations with lifting, reaching, carrying, fingering, stand, sitting, and walking. This completed form will give the disability review team or administrative law judge a clear picture of how your life has been impacted and how you are no able longer to perform work duties.

Applying for Benefits
If you are ready to apply for disability benefits, you can go online to www.SSA.gov and complete the application or call 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment at your nearest SSA office to start the process in person. All forms must be completed in detail and you must have as many of your medical records as possible to support your claim. You can enlist the help of a disability attorney or advocate to help you with your claim and to improve its chances of being successful.

This article was written by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/or by contacting them at help@ssd-help.org.

Bruce and I were so young when we met at a dance, and for the first two decades of our married lives we never thought about life-altering health issues. And then in 1993, I had my first major bowel obstruction caused by an adhesion from a hysterectomy three months before. Suddenly we heard words like peritonitis, bowel resection and small bowel blockages. That vocabulary grew as the ramifications of 22 abdominal surgeries caused more and more scar tissue and concomitant problems. Finally, three years ago, after agonizing episodes and continuous visits to the emergency room, my surgeon and I agreed that it was time to see if an ileostomy would provide some relief.

I virtually bounced into the room with my ostomy nurse as she prepared to mark me right before my surgery, so hopeful that the tide would finally turn. She then walked us to the operating room prep area, preparing me for what was to come. But nothing prepared me for the way I saw myself the first time in my own full-length mirror. My body had betrayed me and I was now “marked” in a very different way. I looked to my lifelong dance partner with tears in my eyes.

Bruce took me in his arms and told me that not only did he love me, but that he had such respect and admiration for me, and I suppose “Lily,” as I refer to my stoma. My mother was Lillian and she gave me my first life, while Lily gave me my new life, and with that a sense that I can do anything. And the best news is that instead of spending time in the emergency and operating rooms, we have time to dance…even closer than ever before!

By the way, I am very proud to say that I am the president of my Ostomy Support Group in New Jersey, and I never miss an opportunity to welcome new or prospective members…how wonderful to be associated with this new life I so desperately needed, and so very much appreciate!

By Megan Herrett

Adequately summarizing what our family has gone through over the past almost ten years requires going back to the very beginning.  Our daughter, Maggie was three months old when we realized that she looked a little jaundiced.  Our pediatrician agreed and ran what would be the first of hundreds of tests to determine what was wrong with our baby and why her liver function tests were so elevated.  After being seen by multiple specialists here in Boise for a few months, we were referred to a doctor at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City in November of 2008.

Photo by: Natalie Koziuk Photography (www.nkoziukphotography.com)

When Maggie was about six or seven months old, we noticed that she was starting to scratch quite a bit.  Her arms, feet, and ears were covered in scabs and scratch marks.  This itching was a side-effect of her liver not processing bile correctly – when not processed by the liver, the bile backs up into the bloodstream and circulates back through the body, resulting in an increase number of bile salts in the body.  It is these bile salts in the bloodstream that make an individual with a liver disease very itchy.

At first, we were able to control her itching through several medications but by the time she was 12 months-old, her itching had become unbearable.  At that time, her liver was deteriorating quickly and she was exhibiting some developmental delays as a result of the incessant itching.  In a matter of weeks, she had pulled out all of her hair and she was maxed out on her medication dosages.

We were presented with the option of an ostomy-placing surgery when Maggie was just over one-year-old as an alternative to a liver transplant.  The purpose of her ostomy would be to (1) drain bile from her body to combat the itching, and (2) slow the progression of her disease by giving her liver a much-needed reprieve.

To be honest, I was devastated when I first heard the words, “ostomy bag.”  I imagined a life where Maggie would never wear a bikini or be a cheerleader or be captain of her swim team – all very big concepts when you are talking about a one-year old child.  I imagined her being bullied because she was different.  But, we needed a solution…and we needed to act quickly.

Photo by: Natalie Koziuk Photography (www.nkoziukphotography.com)

Maggie underwent ostomy surgery on October 30, 2009, and we haven’t looked back.  She is now eight-years-old and is thriving health-wise as well as academically.  Additionally, she is also excelling on a competitive gymnastics team.  And although Maggie absolutely beams on the outside, she struggles with confidence because of her ostomy pouch.  She is fiercely private and does not want any of her peers to know.  My husband and I have worked tirelessly to emphasize to her that her pouch is nothing to be ashamed of – after all, it saved her life and she would not be the person she is today without it.

In 2010, we were blessed by the birth of our son, Winston.  We soon discovered that he was plagued with the same disease and would then undergo the same surgery when he was just over one-year-old.  Although this news was devastating at the time, we have come to realize that it was a blessing in disguise.  Both of them have the same liver disease and both wear ostomy pouches – commonalities that they can rely on when the going gets tough.

I can still recall my “aha moment” though – that moment when I realized that we would not be a family that sat idly by and let her pouch be a source of shame or embarrassment for her.  Maggie was probably two years old at the time and we were in the throes of potty-training, where our previous line of attack of onesies and bib overalls to prevent her from yanking her pouch off, were no longer an option.  She was finally in a shirt and a pair of pants…and her ostomy bag was peeking out from the hemline of her shirt as we left a restaurant.  A man entering the restaurant noticed her ostomy pouch and said, “Ewwwww!  What IS that?”  Although my initial reaction was one of anger and dismay, it was then that I realized that working with her would be only one piece of the puzzle – we also needed to work with the community to help educate, support and raise awareness for those like Maggie so that the shame, fear and embarrassment would fade away to empowerment and pride.

It was this “aha moment” that led me to contact the United Ostomy Associations of America in January of 2016 about bringing their Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k to Boise.  My inquiry was met with a resounding “YES!”  We held our inaugural race on Saturday, October 8th and had over 160 people registered for the 5K and Kids’ Mile events.  We even had participants, including ostomates and ostomy nurses, drive in for the race from Spokane, Washington and Lewiston! And Hollister even donated ostomy pouches to include in our race registration bags.  If nothing else, I am hopeful that this year we laid the foundation for many successful years to come and got some ostomy-related dialogue started.  Instead of “ewww,” maybe people will say, “Oh, I know what that is and that saved their life!”

The Boise Ostomy 5k is now in its 4th year! For more information on our Run for Resilience events around the country visit www.ostomy5k.org

Stephanie shown here with the proclamations she had declared for Ostomy Awareness Day in 2016. (Left side proclamation is from Governor Chris Christie for the State of New Jersey; Right proclamation is from the NJ Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders)

Stephanie shown here with the proclamations she had declared for Ostomy Awareness Day in 2016. (Left side proclamation is from Governor Chris Christie for the State of New Jersey; Right proclamation is from the NJ Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders)[/caption]

In 2003, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I remember telling my family that if I ever had to “poop in a bag” to just kill me. But in 2009, at the age of 35, what 29 year old me would have thought to be a worst nightmare ended up being the thing that saved my life.

In November of 2009, a complication of Crohn’s Disease, Toxic MegaColon, almost took my life. Without surgery, there was a 100% chance I would die. With surgery there was still only a 20% chance I’d survive, but at least there was a chance, so a subtotal colectomy with ileostomy was performed, and 4 days later, I was brought out of a coma.

So grateful to be alive, it was then that I realized that “pooping in a bag” was not what I once thought it was. In fact, having an ostomy was life saving! But the thoughts I had regarding ostomies are not mine alone. For too long, there has been a stigma and much misinformation surrounding ostomies and ostomy surgery.

Because of this, some have chosen suffering and death instead of an ostomy and life. Therefore, raising ostomy awareness is important to me because LIFE is important to me. I want people to know that having an ostomy is just another way to live life to the fullest.

My favorite saying regarding an Ostomy/Stoma is this: You can make it your friend or you can make it your enemy. If you make it your enemy you will have a hard time surviving. But if you make it your friend, not only can you survive, you can thrive.

Love your Ostomy and embrace life!

My colostomy story began when, at age 56, I discovered that I had late-stage colorectal cancer.  A large tumor was discovered during my first colonoscopy, and it was cancerous.  Thus began a long journey that eventually led to colostomy surgery on my 64th birthday.  After the initial surgery to remove the tumor and part of my colon and rectum, I had radiation and two rounds of chemotherapy.  The radiation permanently damaged my intestines and caused a bowel blockage that required more surgery, followed by years of chronic diarrhea and abdominal pain.  I finally found a surgeon in my home state who cut out some of the intestinal damage and gave me the surgery that infinitely improved my quality of life.

Before the colostomy, I was on a very restricted diet, but I can now eat many raw foods, including what I had missed the most for six years—salads!  It has taken me a while to adapt to changing and wearing the pouch, and I have had some “accidents” along the way.  These are usually caused by my skin allergy to adhesives, which causes the skin barrier to fail when I have had a significant amount of stoma output.  Still, I usually have enough time to get to the bathroom before the leak causes a major problem.  I have, however, received some valuable tips on handling and preventing problems online, because there are no ostomy nurses or support groups near where I live.  I have also shared information on how to reduce skin allergy problems and passed on what has worked and not worked for me.

My background:  I am originally from Baton Rouge, LA, and have a Master of Journalism degree from Louisiana State University.  I am a retired Army officer, having spent 20 years on active duty, mostly as a Public Affairs Officer.  I served two overseas tours in Germany and met my husband when we were both Army majors stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco.  My cancer was diagnosed in 2007, while I was working as a civilian for the US Army Cadet Command at Fort Monroe, VA.  My colostomy surgery was performed by Dr. David Beck at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.  He is also retired from the Air Force.