Colonel Justin Blum with Introduction by retired Navy Veteran Douglas R. Stocks

I’ve known Colonel Justin Blum for almost ten years and have learned much of his story over those years. For UOAA’s observance of Veterans Day, I asked Justin to share his story in greater depth. It is typical for us to remember our Veterans as heroes, but we don’t think or even imagine that they also may have been through a life-altering illness or traumatic event resulting in an ostomy. My wife Joanna (an ostomate) and I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Justin and his wife Leah after the Durham Run for Resilience 5K this past October. I was reminded that evening of the hero that Justin truly is, and felt it was time that others knew the story of this humble and well-respected man.

In 1993, when Justin was a Major on active duty in the US Army, he underwent surgery for an ileostomy due to ulcerative colitis (UC) which had progressed to colon cancer. Justin’s ostomy did not slow him down and he became one of the most respected officers in the state of South Carolina and the only member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) cadre with an ostomy.  Justin has had a highly successful career and life of public service. Justin has faced the gamut of living with a chronic illness, to receiving a devastating diagnosis, to ostomy surgery, to survival and finally triumph.

Here is his story:

In the Fall of 1971, I was a freshman at Morris Harvey College in Charleston, West Virginia. I was feeling the stress of being away from home for the first time in my life and of getting adjusted to college life.  I began noticing blood in the toilet after every bowel movement. I told my parents, who took me to a gastroenterologist during my Thanksgiving vacation at home. The gastroenterologist performed a sigmoidoscopy and determined that I had proctitis, an inflammation of the rectum and anus.

I transferred to Rider University in Trenton, NJ, for my second freshman semester to be closer to home, a decision made easier by the fact that Rider had an excellent ROTC program. I suffered with the proctitis and colitis for the next four years with only a prescription for the anti-inflammatory drug Azulfidine to combat the disease. In June of 1975, I underwent my physical exam at Fort Dix, NJ, to go into active duty in the Army. In the course of the physical, the Army doctor performed a rectal exam, and asked, “Do you know what you have?”  I acknowledged that I had colitis. In one of those strange twists of fate, my passion for serving the Army outweighed the colitis so the examining doctor wrote “Fit for Duty”.

For the next twenty years I hid my ulcerative colitis from the Army.  On days that I had attacks, I would explain that I was feeling bad due to having had too much scotch the night before.  Stationed in South Korea in 1976/1977, all too often upon returning to the camp motor pool after patrolling along the DMZ, I would have such severe diarrhea that I could not make it to the latrine and instead would jump into the nearest garbage bin since it was the closest “facility” I could find. I spent the next 13 years seeing civilian gastroenterologists for the colitis and who continued to prescribe Azulfidine. Finally, in 1990, my colitis was so bad I sought help at Eisenhower Army Hospital at Fort Gordan, Georgia where I began seeing Major Armstrong, a gastroenterologist, who informed me that due to my heath condition, resulting from severe flare-ups of UC, he strongly recommended surgery for an ileostomy.  My reaction, not unusual I am sure for people receiving this news, was an immediate, “No! Unless I have one foot in the grave with my back against the wall, I refuse to have this surgery resulting in my living with an ostomy bag!” This was twenty years after my first diagnosis of UC in November 1971. However, just a few years later after a colonoscopy, Major Armstrong told me that I needed ostomy surgery as soon as possible.

On February 28, 1993, I had surgery to remove my entire colon due to UC, which had advanced to colon cancer, and I was left with an ileostomy. As was not uncommon in those days, and even sadly still happens today, I had only one session with the ostomy nurse on how to manage my ostomy.  The day after surgery, I developed a leak in my appliance and called for the nurse, but no one responded.  I looked at myself in the latrine mirror with my ostomy bag hanging down, and I thought I looked like the Elephant Man.  After 10 days I was discharged but did not have access to an ostomy nurse or assistance of any kind except for follow up appointments three hours away at Eisenhower Hospital. I wanted to continue to serve on active duty, so I put my mind toward getting in the best physical condition possible. I started walking 9 miles a day, passed my physical fitness test, and was able to stay on active duty. In 1995 I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and in 1996 retired from active duty and transferred to reserve status, continuing to work for the US Army as a high school JROTC Instructor.

Life as an ostomate was fine except that I was experiencing pain from irritation of the skin around my stoma and I did not know of any ostomy nurses in the local hospitals and I didn’t know where to turn for help except for the still fledgling Internet of 1996. I was able to find a Crohn’s/Colitis chatroom on AOL (America Online). In that chatroom I was able to talk with numerous people who had either an ileostomy or a colostomy. On one occasion, an experienced ostomate was able to talk me through the steps to alleviate an intestinal blockage saving me a trip to the emergency room.  I was able to find an ostomy support group at the local hospital, but because they met at 10:00 AM and I was working an hour away, I was unable to attend their meetings. Despite all I learned from online resources I was still plagued with skin irritation around my stoma site which continued for the next 10 plus years.

Life took a turn for the better when in 2010, I received a letter from the nurse who ran the local ostomy support group, which talked about (the now former) Great Comebacks Program; a national honor program started by ostomate and former point kicker for the San Diego Chargers, Rolf Benirschke. This program recognized people who had lived an exemplary and inspiring life while living with an ostomy.  In 2011 I was the recipient of the Tony Snow Public Service Award, a subgroup of the Great Comebacks Program which emphasizes those in uniform living with an ostomy.

However, it was not the award that changed things for me, it was my ongoing communication with the ostomy nurses that I met through this program who eventually solved the problem of the skin irritation and pain that I had struggled with for so many years.

I have accomplished more in my life as an ostomate as a result of the care I have been able to obtain since my story was brought to the national level. If not for my quality of life-improving dramatically as a result of this assistance, these accomplishments would not have become a reality.  I owe so much to three WOC nurses: Donna Sellers, Joanna Burgess, and Joy Hooper. I met them through the Great Comebacks program, and they have always offered their help readily.  I have now been free from pain for the past nine years.

There are many who do not have the same easy access to professionals that I have had. I am very fortunate! That is why I believe everyone should seek out or become involved with a community of ostomates either through an online support group or hospital-based support group if possible. All ostomates should help other ostomates achieve the quality of life made possible by their life-saving surgery. Having UC and then colon cancer at age 40 meant years of pain and discomfort in my life. Ostomy surgery gave me a new life. Before I retired from teaching, I used my experience with my ostomy to motivate my JROTC cadets, inspiring them to never give up on anything and reminding them they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.  I no longer see myself as the Elephant Man, but as a man with a beautiful wife, supportive children and two amazing grandchildren.  Life is good!

The UOAA thanks you for your service Colonel Justin Blum and honors your accomplishments!

  • 1995 – Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel
  • 1996 – Retired from active duty; continued to work for the US Army as an Army JROTC instructor in the United States Army Cadet Command.
  • 2003-Named the United States Army JROTC Senior Instructor of the year
  • 2009 – Promoted to Colonel, in the South Carolina State Guard
  • 2010- Named Volunteer of the Year for the State of South Carolina
  • 2011- Named US Army JROTC Senior Instructor of the Year for the second time.
  • 2011 – Named the Tony Snow recipient for Public Service
  • 2019 – Lawson R. McElroy Award for Engaged Learning

 

My View: By Connie Confer

Most of the nation is gearing up for Halloween, with all of its tricks and treats. But as a lesbian who wears an ostomy bag, this month also includes some more personal holidays worth celebrating, especially if we want people to feel more accepted and safe.

Did you know that Oct. 5 was Ostomy Awareness Day? Just like the more established National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), it brings an opportunity for people to celebrate their differences and their courage as they announce, perhaps with some trepidation, that they live with certain realities. They hope their family and friends will not shy away. They hope their bosses will not fire them.

That fear is completely rational. Just this week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases that could indeed decide whether someone can be fired for being gay or transgender. We will have to wait for months to hear their decision and how it will impact our laws. But in the meantime, I want to advocate for acceptance, not alienation. I want to argue that open communication creates community and reduces stigma for people in my own life circumstances.

Yes, it is tricky to navigate the reactions of the world, and it takes some courage. But the treat continues to be that we are not alone. The LGBTQ community is indeed a family, with gay pride parades in every major city, and support groups for people who want to come out to their friends or family, or for parents and other family members who want to support a gay or transgender young person navigate in an unfamiliar world.

Connie Confer, left, at the California General Assembly where she has been key to getting proclamations to recognize Ostomy Awareness Day.

Similarly, my local Southern California, Inland Empire Ostomy Association, offers support and practical advice for people who find themselves facing surgery for an ostomy pouch. As do over 300 other United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) affiliated support and Information groups nationwide.

No wonder people worry when they hear they will be among the 100,000 people in the United States who will get an ostomy this year. The treatment for diseases such as cancer or Crohn’s almost sounds worse than the disease. People wear a pouch attached to the abdomen that holds urine or feces that must be emptied and changed regularly. It can be embarrassing to talk about it, but just the same, we must.

That surgery is life-saving. I am living proof. And the routine of wearing the pouch seems quite easy and normal to me now. I find that I can talk about it with people close to me, and that I do not feel any stigma. For others who want to get to a place where an ostomy pouch feels routine, you should consider attending a UOAA affiliated support group near you.

There is no reason to suffer in silence and there is every reason to be fully and proudly yourself, no matter what your reality. And if you are not impacted by these specific things, make sure you are supportive to friends and family who are.

Life lived honestly can be a real treat.

Carolyn “Connie” Confer served as the assistant city attorney for Riverside, California and has advocated for the LGBTQ community for decades. She was there in September when Assemblyman Jose Medina declared Oct. 5 as Ostomy Awareness Day in California in honor of the work of the Inland Empire Ostomy Association.

“Funny how most people think an ostomy is the worst thing that could happen and I only see it as something that saved my life in so very many ways.”  Jeanne D. 

By Jeanine Gleba, Advocacy Manager

It’s such a simple truth – ostomies are life savers and yet, we continue to hear “I would rather die, then have an ostomy.”  That is why this year UOAA introduced the campaign “Operation Ostomy – A Life Saver”. Specifically, for Ostomy Awareness Day (OAD) held on October 5, 2019 the theme this year was fittingly “Ostomies Are Life-Savers”. It’s been exciting to see so many people embrace this theme from making custom life preservers to buying logo t-shirts for their entire families, to using #MyOstomyMyLifesaver to share their personal stories on social media, and educating others with this year’s infographic.

From Left, Gina Day, CWOCN and founder of the Ostomy Support Group of the Poconos and Advocacy Manager Jeanine Gleba pose with this year’s infographic banner at the East Stroudsburg, PA Run for Resilience on Ostomy Awareness Day.

For the second year in a row, our legislative champion was NJ Congressman Donald Payne as he introduced House Resolution 601 designating October 5th as National Ostomy Awareness Day. Furthermore, UOAA was honored to work with this year’s Ostomy Champion Grammy-Award winning recording artist Damon Little who has sung his way into our hearts by inviting all to celebrate and raise ostomy awareness in a video message.

UOAA had new ways to get involved with this special day including producing a new infographic that is available to download and print all year long at www.ostomy.org/ostomy-awareness-day/.   

This year for the first time the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognized Ostomy Awareness Day in both their Medicare Learning Network and supplier newsletters. Also exciting was to have the support of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) as they had a schedule of social media posts such as this one:

In addition, in 2019 we invited other organizations to collaborate with UOAA and had the privilege to raise ostomy awareness and engage the ostomy community during special events with these partners.  In case you missed the events, we are pleased to inform you that you can still tune into them virtually:

  • UOAA co-hosted with the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) and Therezia Alchoufete, MS, RD, LDN to bring you a Twitter Chat on Nutritional Support for People Living with an Ostomy.  If you missed the live chat, you can read it all here.
  • UOAA partnered with the WOCN Society to promote and celebrate ostomy awareness day. Listen to UOAA Advocacy Chair Joanna Burgess-Stocks talk all things advocacy, ostomy awareness and so much more in this special WOCTalk podcast episode! 
  • UOAA had the pleasure of working with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to bring you a very special Facebook Live event with Double Baggin’ It. You can still watch it and learn so much from this inspiring duo and their healthy perspectives of having ostomy surgery!

Each year we expand our outreach with this annual event and here are a few statistics from 2019 activities:

  • Our Advocacy Network contacted legislators in 24 states requesting proclamations for Ostomy Awareness Day. The following proclamations were passed in these 11 places

            * State of California           * State of Colorado           * State of Connecticut

            * State of Massachusetts  * State of Missouri           * State of New Jersey       

            * State of Ohio                    * State of Pennsylvania   * State of South Carolina  

            * Frederick City, MD           * Kennebunk, ME

• 139,442 impressions from the Twitter Chat with a reach of 22,830.

• Over 200 personal #MyOstomyMyLifesaver stories shared on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

• Over 900 people took part in eight Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k event locations and a Worldwide Virtual 5k. 125 volunteered to make these ostomy awareness events a huge success.

UOAA is most grateful to all in the ostomy community who partnered with us or promoted OAD in their corner of the United States.

We hope you’ll join us next year when the big day will be Saturday, October 3, 2020. It will be the 10th anniversary of celebrating National Ostomy Awareness Day!  So get ready for an even bigger celebration.

Although Ostomy Awareness Day has come and gone, its impact will continue to spread across the country with each and every one of us.  Look for more from UOAA for our new “Operation Ostomy – A Life-Saver” campaign to stop stigma and save more lives.

My Colostomy Saved My Life

Without a colostomy, I would likely not be here to write this blog. It saved my life. I am a quadriplegic as a result of a spinal cord injury (SCI) that occurred when I was 16. That was 36 years ago. I am paralyzed from the neck down and SCI impacts the operation of the bowels. In simple terms, to move your bowels you have to use some type of stimulation because the regular nervous system is unable to work on its own.

For many years, I successfully used suppositories for my bowel routine. When they stopped working, I switched to a different type of suppository and began to use numerous stool softeners. Approximately three years ago, my system began to limp along. I couldn’t fully evacuate my bowels and I was losing my appetite.

And then one day my bowels stopped working. At that point I was using multiple enemas without success. I went to the hospital. Unfortunately, I had a history of bowel obstruction surgeries, so no doctor was willing to do a colostomy because of the risk of perforation of my bowels. As an attorney with the Federal government, I was unable to keep up with my job and had to retire on disability. I was bloated as if I was expecting triplets and felt horrible and weak. My quality of life was significantly impacted and my husband was cooking as much soup as he could, and that didn’t even help when it came to my appetite and nutrition. I tried acupuncture, stomach massage, herbal tea, you name it. I was depressed, exhausted, and scared.

My gastroenterologist suggested that I go to Mayo Clinic as a last resort. I traveled from Virginia to Minnesota with low expectations, hoping that the medical team could even just figure out something to help me go to the bathroom.

To my great surprise, Mayo Clinic agreed to do the colostomy. The surgery took place in late June, 2018, and since then I have regained my quality of life and feel like a new person. I have never been healthier. I have energy for work (my husband and I started a business, Happy on Wheels, LLC), social life, and exercise.

Many factors contributed to getting it right. First, colostomy nurses are my heroes. They marked the site for the surgery, fitted me with appliances to start off with, and explained how to apply everything. They trained my attendant on how to attach the flange and we examined the different types of pouches. I left with an initial supply, but they were very clear that it would be trial and error.

The ostomy nurses were spot on about flexibility. Every person is different and trying out different appliances is a necessity. There have been accidents and leaks and I have made adjustments. I have high output and cannot change my bag independently, so I devised a way to use an irrigation bag as a regular colostomy bag during the day, and I use a smaller pouch at night when I’m in bed. Additionally, figuring out the amount of supplies needed is unknown in the beginning. For the first couple of months we were frantically running around because I would run out of flanges and pouches. After about three months, I knew what I needed was able to establish a consistent ordering system.

My advice to anyone considering a colostomy is that the surgery is not the hard part. It is the period afterward when flexibility is needed. It is a learning process and each person is different. No pun intended, but there is no one size fits all.

Don’t get frustrated if your particular appliance doesn’t work. The companies that sell supplies, such as Hollister, Coloplast and Convatec, have very helpful representatives and are willing to send free supplies to try. I encourage new ostomates to also reach out to others who can provide tips on what has and has not worked for them. I have a good friend with a colostomy and her advice has been very helpful. The bottom line is that if you are open-minded and don’t get frustrated, within six months you should have things settled and develop a routine.

Getting a colostomy was a miracle for me. I intend to advise all quadriplegics that after a certain number of years they should talk to their doctor about proactively getting a colostomy before their bowels stop working. I am a happy bag lady!

“Bottom line, I have my life back and I’m only looking forward.” – Josh Nelson

Ostomies are Life-Savers – and Coloplast is proud to be a part of helping spread the word on Saturday, October 5th for Ostomy Awareness Day!

For many people, it’s not often that intimate things – like an ostomy – are discussed openly … but at Coloplast, our passion centers around hearing real-life stories from people with intimate healthcare needs. As we listen, we strive to uncover unmet needs and respond with innovative product solutions to make life easier for people living with an ostomy. We bring this passion to listen, respond, and make life easier to work every day – and we’re proud to stand with the ostomy community in raising awareness of the amazing resilience of people living with an ostomy.

Do you live in the Twin Cities? Lace up your shoes and join our team for the Virtual Run for Resilience!

You, your family, friends, and pets are invited to join Coloplast employees, ostomates in the area, and their families for a “virtual 5K” run/walk/roll along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN – starting at our US corporate office. Attendees should plan to arrive by 10:00 AM to gear up for the race. There will be groups of people both running and walking, so you can move at the pace at which you are most comfortable!

Before the run/walk/roll begins, we will have two guest speakers. Kiza Olson and Josh Nelson, who both have ostomies, will tell their stories, including how an ostomy was a lifesaver for them. Watch this short video from Josh* encouraging you to join us:

This event is open to anyone who wants to help support ostomy awareness. Looking for more information? Check out our Facebook event page. Feel free to join our team and sign up for the event at no cost on the Coloplast team page.

To help you prepare for the run/walk, brush up on some tips on sports and exercise with an ostomy on our Coloplast® Care site.

Don’t live in Minneapolis?

Visit the Coloplast booth at one of the 8 Run for Resilience events nationwide!

If you plan to participate at one of the run/walks held nationwide, make sure to stop by the Coloplast table and meet our local representative! We’ll be handing out free temporary tattoos so you can wear the “Ostomies Are Life-Savers” slogan proudly on your sleeve.

We’re proud to be a part of the effort to build awareness that ostomies are life-savers – and a key contributor to really feeling like you can “have your life back” is finding the right product fit. As bodies change over time – aging, gaining or losing weight, getting new scars or a hernia – it’s important to check that you still have the right fit. That’s why we developed BodyCheck: in 8 easy steps, this online tool will identify the best combination of product(s) to provide a secure fit to your individual body profile. At our booth, we’ll have information on using BodyCheck to ensure you still have a secure fit – and a free magnet reminding you to check your body as things change.

Take a selfie!

If you get the temporary tattoo or magnet –  we’d love to see how you display them! Snap a picture and share with us on social media with the hashtags #OstomyAwarenessDay #OstomiesAreLifeSavers  #RunforResilience

 

*Josh is a SenSura Mio user who has received compensation from Coloplast to provide this information. Each person’s situation is unique, so your experience may not be the same. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether this product is right for you.

Editor’s Note: this blog post was provided by Coloplast Corp, a Gold Sponsor of UOAA’s annual Run for Resilience Ostomy 5K events that benefit UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization

National Ostomy Awareness Day is celebrated this year in the US on Saturday, October 5, 2019. At Hollister Incorporated, we are proud to stand with the broader ostomy community to show how we are #AllinforOstomy. We invite everyone to join together in spreading awareness or engaging in activities that can impact the day-to-day lives of people living with ostomies and their caregivers.

Participate in a Run for Resilience Ostomy 5K Event!

For some, the best way to celebrate and support ostomy awareness is to get out and enjoy the day, even better to do so together with the people we care about. In that spirit, we celebrate Ostomy Awareness Day again this year by supporting United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) as the exclusive Diamond Sponsor of the annual Run for Resilience Ostomy 5K events. The events help increase awareness about ostomy and continent diversion surgery and encourage positive dialogue. Bring family and friends with you to participate in one of these fun events nationwide. Many feature kids’ activities, a DJ, a division for people with ostomies, and awards. Visit ostomy5k.org to find a run near you. While you’re there, stop by the Hollister booth and say hello!

If you can’t make it to one of the live events, you can still participate by registering for a Virtual Walk, Run, or Roll at a location near you. Even a treadmill counts! This year Hollister Associates will participate in a virtual event near our Hollister Incorporated headquarters in Illinois, and at our distribution center in Stuarts Draft, Virginia.

Gearing up to participate in one of these events? Get in the mood with the All in for Ostomy playlist on Spotify.

Show off your Stoma Sticker on Ostomy Awareness Day or Any Day!

By wearing a “stoma” where people can see it, you can start a conversation, raise awareness, and show support for the ostomy community on Ostomy Awareness Day and every day. Place the sticker over your clothes on the lower right or left side between your navel and hip, where ostomies are typically located. Then, take a photo or video and share it on social media with the hashtags #AllinforOstomy and #OstomyAwareness. Because any day is a good day to support and celebrate ostomy awareness, Stoma Stickers are available for order year round! Visit stomasticker.com to order a free educational Stoma Sticker, shipped anywhere in the US.

Visit www.hollister.com/ostomyawareness to learn more!

 

Editor’s Note: this blog post was provided by Hollister Inc. the exclusive Diamond Sponsor of UOAA’s annual Run for Resilience Ostomy 5K events that benefit UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Working with Takeda to Educate Others about Gastrointestinal Disorders

 

Ten years ago, I would have introduced myself as Gwen. Today, I am Gwendolyn, a version of me that’s been to hell and back with Short Bowel Syndrome, or SBS. A me who’s come to know a strength she had no idea she possessed. Gwen, before SBS, was career-driven, rushing through life. Everything for me was fast-paced—work, home, and family. But that was ten years ago, before SBS barged in and reshaped my entire life, stripping me of my identity. With August being SBS Awareness Month, I am sharing my story about living with SBS and an ostomy, as a way to drive awareness of this disease among others like me who are impacted.

I’m your typical New Yorker. What comes up, comes out. But not when it comes to SBS. It’s not the prettiest of conditions, is it? Intimate details aside, no one really understands what we’re going through. When I was diagnosed, I felt so isolated. To this day, I still have flashbacks of being in that hospital bed, wondering why. I wasn’t comfortable discussing what I was going through. No one deserves to feel alone with SBS. We are not hopeless. I don’t believe that. I’d like to believe that what I’ve been through is for a reason. Maybe sharing my story is my reason—to help people see that SBS can be a beginning, and not an end.

I entered the workforce shortly after completing high school. In 1991, I began working in construction. The minute I walked onto a job site, I felt at home. I started out as a temporary receptionist and after various projects, I worked my way up to office manager. I worked in construction for over 20 years. Come 2009, I was the administrative manager for the largest construction project in the country. I was happily married, living in the Atlanta suburbs, and enjoying any time I got to spend with my precious granddaughter. Life was good. I really felt like I had arrived. In fact, I was so focused on my job and being everything to everybody that I wasn’t giving the pain I’d been experiencing the attention it deserved.

By then, I’d undergone three separate abdominal surgeries: one to remove my appendix at age four, another to address a small bowel fistula at age 27, and finally a hysterectomy at age 40. For years, I’d been experiencing intense abdominal pain, which I’d alleviate with a pain reliever here and a pain reliever there. Until, one day, the pain relievers stopped doing the trick, and I’d just about had enough. I decided to finally seek medical attention. Turns out, I had quite a bit of scar tissue and adhesions leftover from my past surgeries. After talking it over with my doctors, I decided to go ahead with surgery to clean it up.

As far as I knew, the surgery was a success. I was released from the hospital on my 54th birthday. Two weeks later, my daughter came over and found me, incoherent, with a greenish fluid seeping through my surgical dressing; my temperature had spiked to 104 degrees. I was rushed to the hospital and immediately sent into surgery. I had developed a bad sepsis infection as a result of multiple fistulas found within my small bowels. I underwent two additional surgeries, which required the removal of portions of my small bowel, and was placed in a medical coma. While in the coma, my husband made the decision to have an air ambulance fly me to a larger facility where I was immediately rushed into surgery—again. This surgery would end up costing me additional portions of my small bowel and my colon as well.

I remember waking up days later and having no idea what had happened. So where am I? At a different facility, and in critical condition, so bad that they’d previously advised my daughter to say her goodbyes. My abdomen was completely opened and connected to wall suction. I also was left with an ileostomy. I’d have to now receive nutrition via total parenteral nutrition (TPN) twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. At no point did anyone say a thing about SBS.

I was admitted in May of 2009. I ended up going home in April of 2010. My body couldn’t seem to hold off the ongoing infections. It seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong did. Let me tell you, I cried a lot. I couldn’t help but think, Why me? What had I done to deserve this?

My husband came to visit every day after work and stayed with me in the hospital on the weekends. One day he came in and I was having one of my uncontrollable crying spells. He lost his temper. He said to me, “What the hell are you doing? You are not doing anything to help yourself!” He spoke the truth; no sugarcoating it. I got angry. But you know what? I needed to get angry. I needed to feel something other than self-pity. I stayed angry for a long time after that day—not at him, not at the doctors, but at myself for not doing my due diligence. It was hard for me to admit that. As an administrator, I was used to surveying contracts, invoices, as well as familiarizing myself with the details. Yet when it came to my health and being my own advocate, I felt I had failed. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t start now. My husband helped me see that. He got me out of bed every single day to walk. He would wrap me up in blankets, place me in a wheelchair, and take me outside in the dead of winter in order for the sun to hit my face.

I managed to make it back to see my original gastroenterologist in April 2010 after I was discharged from the acute care facility, who for the first time diagnosed me with Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS), or what he called “short gut.” After my diagnosis with SBS, it took me a long time to come to terms with it; no one told me how different my life could be. I had no choice but to do a little soul searching, and it was there I met Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn wasn’t scared; she wanted some answers. Gwendolyn knew that, in terms of healthcare, there had to be more options out there.

After I was discharged, I returned to the hospital in May of 2010 in order to reverse the ileostomy and close the opening in my abdomen. I prayed that, afterwards, things would go back to normal. Boy, was I wrong. I had lost 75 percent of my small bowel and 25 percent of my colon.

I was tired of relying on TPN. By that point my doctor and I reduced the amount of time for my infusion requirements at home. There were nights I couldn’t bring myself to connect to TPN, and my husband had to do it. I got tired of wearing the backpack if I went out, and people asking, “Are you going camping?”

My infectious disease doctor recommended a gastroenterologist he thought would be a good fit. He was right. At my first appointment with her, she listened to my case and evaluated treatment options that would help me reach my treatment goals.

To help monitor my health and stay where I want to be medically, I keep a daily log, which includes voids, bowel movements, when I take my medication, daily activities, and what foods I’ve eaten. I even log my blood pressure and temperature. I see my gastroenterologist every two months. A log takes the burden of remembering off my shoulders, and all of my doctors seem to appreciate the effort. I have an amazing medical team. My gastroenterologist. My infectious disease doctor. My therapist. My nephrologist. And my primary care physician. But my surgeon, he was a gift. The last time I saw him was in April of 2017. I had been his patient for eight years. Before I left his office, he gave me some of the best advice to date; he said, “It’s time to go ahead and live your life.” I can hardly talk about that man without crying. He saved my life, in more ways than one.

The reality is, I have good days and bad days. On my good days, I spend that time making cupcakes for my granddaughter. I make a mean cupcake. I do laundry. I go out with friends. That’s right—I leave my house! I don’t go anywhere without my little toolkit. Inside my purse, I’ve got baby wipes, disinfectant spray, odor eliminator, rubber gloves, and hand sanitizer. But you know what? It works for me.

While I don’t miss some of the old Gwen, I do miss her tenacity. So I’m working on getting a little of the old me back—saying “yes” to opportunities and working on relationships with others.

When I was diagnosed with SBS, I wish that I had done more research to learn what the future could be like living with SBS. I think that would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache. So I’m going to tell you what I wish someone would have told me. If you’re not comfortable with where you are, do something to get where you want to be. If you feel like something is wrong, do something about it.

To learn more about Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS), please visit shortbowelsyndrome.com. You can also engage with #shortbowelsyndrome on social channels, especially during the month of August, which is SBS Awareness Month.

Editor’s Note: This educational article is from one of our digital sponsors, Takeda. Sponsor support along with donations from our readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

By UOAA Advocacy Manager Jeanine Gleba

Under UOAA’s national advocacy program we develop position papers on topics concerning people living with an ostomy or continent diversion. This official “position” is formally approved by the Board of Directors. These important documents might give background information, description of the impact on our community, and in some cases, advocate for change. 

These papers also provide a perspective into UOAA’s views, and can be used by you, to strengthen your own self-advocacy efforts. Individuals and UOAA Affiliated Support Groups can use them when talking to key decision-makers such as your elected officials, the media, or anyone who wants to know more about where UOAA stands on the topic/issue. 

UOAA currently has position statements available on the following advocacy efforts:

 

Disability Integration Act (DIA) (S117/HR555)This civil rights bipartisan legislation would require insurance providers to cover community-based health care services for people with disabilities as an alternative to institutionalization. The DIA would ensure that people could not be prematurely forced into nursing facilities because they couldn’t get assistance with health-related tasks such as maintenance and use of a stable ostomy. This is a good thing and we support it! UOAA’s position is here

Medicare’s Competitive Bidding Program – UOAA is actively working to maintain the current Medicare reimbursement system for ostomy and urological products. Currently ostomy and urological supplies are not included in the Competitive Bidding Program and we want to keep it that way. UOAA’s full opposition is here

Opioid Crisis – UOAA wants to ensure that any plan, especially legislatively or regulatorily, to address the opioid crisis considers the needs of those who require the use of opioids for non-pain treatments of medical conditions such as high output stomas for some people living with an ostomy or fecal continent diversion. UOAA’s position is here

Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act (S668/HR1570) – This act would eliminate cost-sharing for initial and follow-up colorectal cancer screening tests such as removal of polyps for Medicare beneficiaries. Cost-savings for senior citizens and move lives saved is a no-brainer. UOAA’s position is here.

All of our position statements are available for download and printing on our advocacy webpage.  We encourage our community to frequently check this page as efforts get updated or closed, and new issues may arise.

Living 10 steps from death’s door can take an emotional toll. My name is Makeda Armorer-Wade and I am an inspirational life coach and best-selling author. In July 2010, I received my first ostomy and January 2016, I received my second. While both surgeries were difficult physically as well as emotionally; my first was more difficult than the second, because I was not included in the decision in any way. It was an emergency surgery following a resection surgery a week earlier. The decision was made during a follow-up test and they were actually drawing on my belly in the elevator on my way up to the room. It landed me in the ICU and 10 steps from death’s door.

The second ostomy surgery was a decision that I made based on the recommendation from my GYN and surgeon. I was so debilitated that this was my only option. So although it was very difficult, it was less traumatic than the first, because I was involved in the decision and I thought I knew what I could expect.

I went to the United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) and read everything that I could. I went to what I call, “Ostomy School.” I did my best to connect with patients who were having a similar experience. Because I have lived with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis from the age of 16; I’ve understood the necessity to research and learn all that I can to manage my condition. Crohn’s disease was not a common diagnosis at the time I was diagnosed, and giving up wasn’t an option for me. Connecting with others and gaining knowledge was freeing. The more I learned, the more comfortable I became with living and embracing life with my new friend (ostomy) Rosebutt Buttercup. Yes, I named her. I was able to support new ostomates by participating in the monthly Mt. Sinai post-surgical support group.

Having my second ostomy has given me the freedom to go back to work, take care of my family, swim, cycle, attend social gatherings, participate in community service and travel. Sometimes listening to the despair of my fellow ostomates and experiencing my own despair at times, for lack of knowledge is what spurred me into action. I wanted to be an example, that there is still life to be lived after an ostomy. Our mindset is important. Where our mind goes, the body follows. Life is what we make of it.

As an author, coach and public speaker. I use my platform to share my story, as evidence that life can be all the things that you are open to making it. I am advocating for sponsorship to release a course that will be available for a small fee, to anyone who has an ostomy, considering getting one or a caretaker of someone who has one.

The biggest positive about living with an ostomy is understanding that without it, I would not be here. The first one was reversed, but as I moved toward having my second one I knew enough and it was the only way. I made the decision to move forward and I am not looking back. I had to embrace that I was enough and the new possibilities for my life were endless.

I realized that as long as I follow my P.L.A.N.(c), I have fewer challenges. I Prepare by anticipating each scenario; I Let go of Shame for all of the things that I can’t always do; I Ask for help when needed; and I Never give up no matter what. Repetition breeds mastery.

So, I share with others that having an ostomy is just an alternative way of going to the bathroom. We all have to go the bathroom. But now, I have the benefit of having more control over when I go. An ostomy is life-saving. An ostomy is an opportunity to really live your best life on purpose.

And while you may not feel that way in the beginning. It does get better. My advice as an experienced ostomate, is to get as much information about your surgery prior to getting it, if time allows. Speak to people who are successfully living with and managing their life with their ostomy. Read, watch videos and ask as many questions as you may have. And then work your P.L.A.N.(c). Be inspired, Be encouraged, Be hopeful. I believe in you. The possibilities are endless.

Summer is quickly approaching and before you know it we will be in Philadelphia at UOAA’s 7th National Conference. With so many new and exciting things planned it is sure to be the best ever! I know whenever I attend a conference I plan well in advance and create my own personal schedule to ensure I do and see all that is of particular interest to me.  This includes conference sessions, social activities and taking some time for local sightseeing in a place I may never have been before. I also always go out of my way to try a new food or beverage native to a particular city or state and in this case it will be an iconic “Philly cheesesteak”.   

As UOAA’s Advocacy Manager I’m very excited that this conference is being held in Philadelphia, a city so very rich in history and quite frankly home to our country’s first advocates.  Here is my twist on ways you can take advantage of this city and our conference, if you have a soft spot for things “advocacy”-related:

  1. Be sure to sign UOAA’s Ostomy and Continent Diversion Patient Bill of Rights during Exhibit Hall hours at the UOAA booth. These signatures will be collected for potential use in advocacy efforts to improve quality in ostomy health care. You also can see one of the 12 surviving original copies of the US Bill of Rights at the National Constitution Center while in Philadelphia.
  2. Pay tribute to our country’s first advocates and visit the Independence National Historic Park to walk in Independence Hall where our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
  3. Celebrate your independence and and see the most famous cracked bell in American history – the Liberty Bell.  You can see it for free at the landmark Liberty Bell Center.
  4. Calling all superheroes!  On Wednesday, August 7th at 2:45 pm attend the UOAA Advocacy Session United Ostomy Advocates to the Rescue”! Come hear first-hand from some of UOAA’s advocates on how they use their “superpowers”, and also learn more about current advocacy efforts underway at UOAA. Leave our national conference empowered to make a positive difference!
  5. Many times in advocacy we face an uphill battle and feel like an underdog. For decades now Philly has been known for the ultimate underdog tale in the Rocky movie series. Show your resilience and run/climb the infamous Rocky stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  There are 72 stone steps and at the top you can chant “Yo, Philadelphia! I did it!”. Or you can take a picture at the statue of this legendary “Italian Stallion” located near the bottom of the steps.
  6. Philadelphia is known as the “City of Brotherly Love”.  Show your love for the ostomy community and go to Love Park to get a picture at the “LOVE” statue designed by Robert Indiana.

    Love park

  7. Be sure to stop by UOAA’s booth in the Exhibit Hall to pick up some of our self-advocacy tools and educational resources for use when you get back home in your own advocacy efforts.
  8. When it comes to advocacy and activists I can’t think of a more wiser and inspiring person than the fascinating and influential Benjamin Franklin! Not only was he one of the founding fathers of the United States, but he was an author, politician, postmaster, printer, inventor, scientist, diplomat and statesman. Of interest to the ostomy community is that he was the inventor of the flexible urinary catheter and founded the first public hospital!  If you have time, visit the Franklin Science Museum or just drive by the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. As an advocate I am inspired by so many of his famous quotes. I often say the key to advocacy is not only raising awareness and educating others, but also patience and perseverance.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes by Ben Franklin:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

“He that can have patience can have what he will.”

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

    9) On Saturday, August 10th, at 2:15PM, please pop-in to contribute to UOAA’s first-ever research study by completing a short survey.  This data will help us make improvements to the underserved ostomy population. Upon doing so, you will also be entered into a drawing to win a prize!

   10) Join us during the conference Closing Ceremony at 3:30PM on Saturday, August 10th where we will be recognizing for the first-time the top advocate in the ostomy community! The Mighty Advocate Award, sponsored by UOAA, is a new biennial award intended to honor one individual for his/her significant accomplishments and contributions to support UOAA advocacy efforts and/or has brought greater ostomy awareness in the United States. Your presence will help make this a special moment in our advocacy history!

 

In conclusion, I’m excited to put a name to the face of the many advocates who have emailed me or have worked with me on advocacy efforts over the past couple of years, and meeting more of the people we strive to make an impact every day in our work at UOAA. See you in Philly!