Caring for a child with short bowel syndrome (SBS), a serious and chronic malabsorption disorder, can often feel isolating and disheartening.1, 2, 3 Unexpected barriers and challenges can make the condition difficult to manage and live with. And, because SBS is rare, finding information and support can be especially difficult. But for my daughter Mariah and me, this life with SBS is not about injustice, it’s about empowerment – a lesson Mariah has taught me better than anyone. As she puts it, “Mommy, I picked this life, and I picked you to be here to do it with me.”

Hearing those words years ago through the smile of my young daughter has been the ultimate source of strength for me. Mariah was born with most of her small bowel and half of her colon missing and was diagnosed with SBS at birth. She doesn’t receive nutrients as well as she should, which can lead to malnutrition, dehydration and other physiological complications. However, she was also born with incredible, innate resilience – that resilience has empowered me to break down walls and advocate fiercely on her behalf along our journey.

Finding strength has not always been easy. At the time of Mariah’s birth, the doctors said she would not live past one year. Essentially, I was told that my daughter had a death sentence. I did not accept that. But even though I didn’t doubt that she would survive her SBS diagnosis, I still grieved. Then, eventually I said to myself, “We will be the exception. We will be unique, and my child will thrive.” And, ultimately it was Mariah who created her own reality by not only surviving, but thriving. She simply shocked everyone.

Mariah is now ten years old, and she’s just like other kids in so many ways. For example, she certainly doesn’t like to clean her room! She is also her own wonderfully special person – she is a trickster who loves playing jokes on her brother and sister, and even kids around with nurses and staff during difficult hospital visits. She is equally nurturing and an avid caretaker of the sunflowers in our garden.

As Mariah gets older, I want to encourage her to become independent in every aspect of her life and to be curious about her SBS management. She already likes to gather her own supplies and has taken a particular interest in flushing out her own line (of her total parenteral nutrition [TPN]). Mariah doesn’t have the eating aversion that some kids with SBS might develop, so I allow her to eat whatever she wants and stock up her assigned “snack pantry” with what she chooses. Giving her the option to choose her own snacks is just one way that we’re building and supporting Mariah’s self-reliance in her SBS care and daily life.

This sense of independence helps Mariah feel like her true self because, as other parents of children with SBS likely know, the disease is not always pretty. That was especially true of Mariah’s experience following a surgical procedure known as an ileostomy. An ileostomy is a surgically created opening from the ileum, the lowest part of the small intestine. The intestine is brought through the abdominal wall to form a stoma. We agreed to do the ileostomy after she had been experiencing incredible pain when trying to use the bathroom. She would have acidic bowel moments and fissures – it was just awful.

The ileostomy was a temporary solution at best but was by no means perfect. We never had enough bags (or ileostomy pouches) and living with an ileostomy was challenging for us. At Mariah’s school, I would try to encourage curiosity and acceptance by telling the other kids that Mariah was an “alien from another planet” to explain her pouch. While a somewhat satisfactory explanation for most of the kids, she still experienced bullying from some of them. Thankfully, Mariah has always been confident in letting those bullies know that even if they weren’t being very nice, she would love them anyways. She punished them with kindness. It’s just another one of those things that makes her “Mariah”. Ultimately, Mariah was able to have the ileostomy reversed a few months ago which was a relief to us all.

In the moments of struggle that come with her SBS, Mariah has always responded with even greater moments of strength – sometimes even more strength than I possess myself. She has already had 40 surgeries in her first ten years of life, and on one occasion I decided to do her makeup with “winged” eyeliner before her procedure. However, when she came out of surgery, her makeup had been smeared. When she saw that I was crying, I told her the white lie that it was over the ruined eyeliner rather than let her see how hard it was watch her endure another challenge. Yet she was the one who said, with an unbothered smile, “Mom, stop! It’s not that serious, we’ll fix it later.” Her spirit is my strength, and that spirit inspires me to advocate fiercely for her every day.

In general, I feel there needs to be greater advocacy for the lives touched by SBS. It’s rare, and in my experience, there aren’t many people who can bridge the gap between parents’ understanding of the condition and the knowledge that medical professionals have. Although people living with SBS often have a circle of care that includes healthcare professionals across various disciplines, it can be difficult to merge everyone’s insights and get on the same page.

I have learned that to speak the same language as medical professionals, you must be invested and passionate about your research. For me, Google is my best friend. I research online to understand things like the vascular system and other biological processes. I read medical case studies online. I look at clinical studies. I constantly do my own fact-finding because I want to understand how a treatment will impact my child. The best way to do that is by arming myself with information as I fight to ensure she receives the care and treatment plans that are most appropriate for her. 

It can take time to find medical professionals who are comfortable when a parent says, “I respect your opinion, but I’ve done my research, as well, and we’re not going to do that; we’re going to do this instead.” I’ve learned that you can, in fact, get through brick walls. Although sometimes it’s by going over, around or under versus breaking through. And when medical professionals don’t think I’m at their level, I have no problem “putting on my heels” to get there so they hear me.

Although I am not a physician, I do have a PhD in Mariah – no one knows her better than I do. I know that when she has an infection, her eyes will turn bright green. When she’s going to have a fever, she sleep talks. I’m compelled to ask the deeper questions about why a doctor may believe a new treatment or procedure is necessary. This sometimes has forced us to switch providers because in my view, “protocols” are not personalized to Mariah’s needs. Every person with SBS has a unique experience.

We are ALL human, doctors included. And we can make mistakes, learn and grow. All the things that I didn’t know when Mariah was diagnosed with SBS have helped me remain teachable and earnest in advocating for her. I’ve learned so much more by recognizing what I don’t know. Being humble enough to take advice has given me the greatest defense.

Nevertheless, it is challenging to constantly find resources and support, especially as a single parent. Trying to make ends meet at home while managing Mariah’s SBS journey is an ongoing challenge. Even when reaching out to other parents in the SBS community, it can be difficult to find balance. But the biggest support I find is that I don’t feel alone. When I talk to other parents in the community about our experiences, they just get it. I don’t have to explain Mariah’s condition or worry I will feel crazy. I can just ask, “Do you experience this?” and they say, “Yes, we got you!”  Immediately, I feel less alone.

This journey takes strength and resilience, there is no doubt about it. Even with the support of the community and loved ones, ultimately, no one really knows what it takes for Mariah to be Mariah. They don’t know she has to carry a backpack for her nutrition. They don’t know what it looks like when I have to hold her for 15 minutes after her three daily shots. But they do see her strength, and they are compassionate towards the way Mariah knocks down every obstacle in her way, even those that would probably defeat others. I am humbled that this is our walk, and I believe it was given to us for a reason.

Just as the community encourages me and reminds me that I am not alone, I hope to encourage others in the community who may just be starting out on their SBS journey or struggling along the way. When talking to parents of newly diagnosed children, I want them to know that every child is unique, like a fingerprint. It’s all about believing that your child can do what they need to do. The most important thing is to know you’re doing the best for your child at every step of the way. This condition does not have to be a death sentence. And, if your child is anything like mine, he or she is likely stronger than you ever could have imagined.

To learn more about Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS), visit https://www.shortbowelsyndrome.com/. To join the community and talk with others who are living with SBS, check out https://www.facebook.com/TakedaSBS.

This article was created by Takeda.

 

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.

 

My name is Katie Lee, and I was diagnosed with stage 1 rectal cancer at age 33, only eight months after the birth of my second child. My tumor was ultra-low in the rectum and required much of my involuntary sphincter muscles to be removed to achieve clear margins, so I opted for a permanent […]

I want to tell my story concerning my ileostomy in order for people to understand how it is living with one and how a person can live a normal life and more.

I had my original ostomy surgery 49 years ago in 1972 – you can imagine how surgeries, techniques and medicines have progressed since then. Twenty-five years old at the time, I spent several weeks in the hospital recovering. At age 24, I experienced my most serious bout of ulcerative colitis, and after several months with a tremendous amount of blood loss, it was determined that I would be better off having my colon removed, living with an ileostomy and staying alive, period.

Needless to say, it was a difficult transition from a “normal” body to one with a bag/pouch attached to my abdomen forever. Discharged from the Navy a couple of years before my surgery, I had been enrolled at the Ohio State University, and so decided to finish school and get my teaching degree. After the original colectomy procedure, a few more surgeries were required to correct a protruding ileum, but finally things settled down to where I could get back to a normal life.

Trying to live life to the fullest, I appreciate every day that I’m alive.

Admittedly, life was a little rough for a couple of years after my surgery, especially when it came to dating. I was embarrassed to mention my ileostomy and even today, am reluctant to tell people. it’s probably a personality trait, but I feel I need to get to know people before I tell them about me. However, the day I met my wife-to-be, I told her about my ileostomy and we have been together ever since; go figure.

In the past 49 years, I have graduated from college, gotten married, had a son, worked for the government, taught high school, coached football and tennis, and traveled extensively. I played tennis for many years, as well as golf. I’ve camped in the Rockies, the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons, traveled throughout the United States, hiked the Camino di Santiago in Spain and spent many vacations in Italy. I’ve hiked parts of the Appalachian trail and still love hiking to this day. An avid speed walker for the last 10 years, I qualified for the Senior Olympics two years ago and this year.

Working as a personal trainer for 15 years has been a satisfying retirement job. I still play golf and walk four to five miles almost every day. I wrote an exercise manual a few years ago, The Hotel Motel Workout, and have filmed and posted exercise videos on the internet.

Trying to live life to the fullest, I appreciate every day that I’m alive. One further surgery was necessary for a revision to my ileostomy a few years ago, but I feel blessed that the doctors talked me into having the original ostomy surgery 49 years ago. Life is good.

When Paige started seventh grade, she was excited to meet new friends and begin new classes, like most 12-year olds! Her life quickly changed when she began to experience medical complications. At the beginning of seventh grade, Paige started having to make frequent visits to the bathroom, as much as 12 times a day. Paige and her family sought out answers and treatment at a nearby hospital where the doctors found a parasite in her colon called cryptosporidium, which causes diarrheal disease.

Due to her Ulcerative Colitis diagnosis at the age of 10, the parasite was life-changing for Paige, as it destroyed her colon. “They told me that with how bad my colon was, I should have died.”

Paige went through a variety of treatments to save her colon. This started with receiving Remicade as an IV treatment…Paige’s body did not respond well. The next step in treatment was to try a j-pouch, again her body did not respond well to this treatment, but a j-pouch was tried one more time with the same outcome. After her two failed j-pouch operations, Paige continued to be sick and only had 8 feet of intestines left. Her mother, Cristy, discussed with her doctors to do something different since the j-pouch was not working, and that’s when Paige had surgery to receive a permanent ileostomy. After months of hospital stays, her life was saved with her ostomy. Paige’s journey doesn’t stop there. After being discharged from the hospital, Paige had trouble finding a pouching system that helped provide a secure fit to her body.

“We left the hospital with an ostomy pouching system that had a 12-hour wear time, at best,” says Cristy. “I went mama mode and searched for a better product. Luckily, we found a great gal on the other end of the Coloplast® Care phone line who answered all our questions and gave us just that!,” she said.
Once Paige found a pouching system that worked for her and started to gain her confidence back, she saw the need to create more resources for teenagers living with an ostomy, because there wasn’t much out there!

“I play volleyball, I go to camps that are just like me (Youth Rally), I attend high school dances, I go on dates…I do it all! Coloplast helped me find the best fit for my body. They may be able to help you too. I have used Coloplast for 4 years now and I still feel confident in my pouch.”
According to Paige, living with her ostomy is not always easy. Along with the physical challenges, there are mental challenges from her experiences as well. Paige encourages anyone experiencing mental challenges to speak up and find someone to talk with.

To help other teenagers living with an ostomy, Paige and Cristy contacted Coloplast, and they partnered together to create a care guide specifically for teenagers!

Throughout this booklet, Paige hopes to share the tips and tricks that worked for her as well and provide answers to common questions.

Download a free copy of this teen resource here: https://www.coloplast.us/landing-pages/teen-booklet/

*Paige is a Coloplast product 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 article is from one of our digital sponsors, Coloplast. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Michael Seres started 11 Health as a direct result of his experiences as an ostomate. He had suffered with Crohn’s disease for over 30 years and after a small bowel transplant, he needed an ostomy. He felt alone and powerless. The bags were hard for him to get used to and they did not help to manage his condition – they just collected output. He started blogging and tweeting about his journey and found tens of thousands of patients who felt the same way but were too anxious or disempowered to do anything about it. Michael made a commitment that he would devote his life to making a difference for these patients.

Despite his health struggles, which included fighting and beating cancer multiple times, he found the strength to start a healthcare company that shares his single-minded focus of helping patients, and in particular ostomates. The company is called 11 Health as Michael was the 11th person in the UK to have had the pioneering transplant procedure. Only a few of the 10 that went before him survived the procedure. Michael did not just survive, he thrived and accomplished so much in his short life.

Advocacy was always a part of Michael’s life. He always found time to prioritize it amidst the challenges of running an international business and managing his health. In his talk at Stanford Medicine X in 2017, he talked about a revolutionary idea of using social media for doctor-patient communications. Michael believed that patients were the most underutilized resource in healthcare and he spoke beautifully about it in his famous TEDx Talk in 2018. The need for the patient to be at the center of patient care ran through his core. He felt that patients should not be passive end users. Instead, patients should be engaged in medical decision making and empowered by education and self-care tools. Michael’s reach was spread wide and he advocated for patients to the leadership of Google and even on a panel alongside Bill Clinton.

We lost Michael last year. Whilst our hearts are still filled with sadness, we are more determined than ever to deliver his vision of changing healthcare and making it patient centric.  He believed passionately in the ‘everyone included’ philosophy. A movement for change supported by doctors, nurses, policy makers but most importantly, patients. Making that change will be Michael’s legacy.

We are creating a special birthday Gutsy Gathering on March 23 from 3-7pm EST in Michael’s memory. It will not be a day to mourn. It will be a day to celebrate the achievements of an extraordinary man by inviting some equally extraordinary people to talk about their personal or professional involvement in the patient experience. Sessions will focus on themes relating to advocacy, confidence, community, and change.

The Michael Seres birthday Gutsy Gathering will be an annual event and an opportunity for friends to meet in a face-to-face setting. This year it will be virtual, with speakers joining us from around the world from across the ‘everyone included’ spectrum. The live sessions will run from 3-7pm EST and participants can come and go as their schedules allow. The event is free, and registration is required at www.gutsygathering.com. Our esteemed list of speakers continues to grow and can be found on the registration page. Please join us!

 

Editor’s note: This article is from one of our digital sponsors, 11 Health. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Colorectal cancer survivor Allison shares her ostomy story. “No one truly understands what you are going through physically and psychologically more than those who have been there themselves.” Check out her mythbusting videos and more.

Embracing Ostomy Advocacy and Giving Back

 

By Angie Davenport

I’ve had my ileostomy for 38 years due to ulcerative colitis but I only recently went public to encourage other ostomates.  Over the years I’ve helped many individuals by word of mouth while keeping my ileostomy private to the outside world. I have always wanted to be a blessing on a wider scope though to others with ostomies.

I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1980 when I was three months pregnant.  At first, I thought it was pregnancy symptoms.  After a major episode, I was treated with medication for ulcerative colitis.  My son, James was born a few weeks early due to complications.

After the birth of my son in March of 1981, everything was under control and I eventually relocated from Warren, Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia.  While living in Atlanta I had a major setback with ulcerative colitis and I had to fly back to Ohio immediately and went directly to the hospital.

After several weeks of treatments in the hospital, my doctor came into my hospital room one night and said we have to do surgery or you won’t make it 24 hours.  I’ll never forget my mom crying and praying for God to give her my disease so I could have a normal life.

When I received my permanent ileostomy in March of 1982 I was a young 23-year-old single mom.  It was the day before my son’s first birthday.  I had never heard of an ostomy.  When I woke up in ICU I was devastated, ashamed and frightened.  I thought my life was over.

Once I became strong enough physically and mentally I moved back to Atlanta.  I was still feeling ashamed and frustrated until my physician in Georgia recommended I attend the local United Ostomy Association (the precursor to UOAA) support group.

While living in Atlanta I became very involved with the UOA group and completed the visitor training program.  I enjoyed visiting new ostomates at the hospital. I felt the freedom to be involved because no one really knew me in Atlanta. I remained active until I relocated back to Ohio in 1985.  That same year I married my high school sweetheart and we will celebrate 36 years of marriage in November.

Although I was very private about my ostomy I was very successful in my career. I became the first African American female officer at our local bank and functioned in several positions without the exposure of my ileostomy.  After the downsizing of my employer, I later worked 10 years at Great Lake Cheese until retiring in 2016.

What is my purpose in life?  How can I make my mom proud?

I’ve enjoyed my life as an ostomate.  I love traveling, cruising and shopping.  I was known in the business community as a person that loved to dress. I taught Dress for Success at the bank for all new tellers.

The past few years were filled with so much grief, with the most current being the death of my mom on July 4th 2019, only three days after my 60th birthday.  I was feeling the deep void of losing a brother and both parents within 4 years, depression was setting in.  I had support but I felt helpless and lost.  What is my purpose in life?  How can I make my mom proud?

Most will remember 2020 as a horrific year with so much sickness, death and devastation from a deadly pandemic.  For me, I utilized the time to seriously seek God for a purpose in my life and being quarantined turned out to be a blessing in helping me find my purpose.

I knew my testimony would bring awareness and hope to so many people.

I became more involved via social media with other ostomates.  I’ve met some wonderful friends and it became rewarding to encourage others that had shared similar experiences as me.  My heart was really saddened when I read an article about a young man that had gone to court for the right to die because he didn’t want to live with an ostomy.  I wept.  Also seeing how some individuals can’t afford the basic ostomy supplies and had to use grocery store bags and tape to secure their ostomy bags was heartbreaking.  I knew then, that there was so much more I could do for the ostomy community.  I knew my testimony would bring awareness and hope to so many people.

As a member of Jearlean Taylor’s Ostomy Stylzz Facebook Group I participated in a virtual fashion show.  She is a personal inspiration to me and that show boosted my confidence to a much greater level.  I felt a relief to go public.  I chose August 14th, 2020 to go live on Facebook and share my story.  I felt such freedom once I finished.  There were family members, coworkers, church and community friends that responded and supported me in disbelief.  For the past 38 years, they never knew I had an ostomy.

One family friend messaged me and told me that he was scheduled for surgery but has canceled many times, but because of my video he felt he could now go through it.  I still check on him to make sure he’s not having any problems.  That made going public all worth it.  But what else could I do?

I decided to participate in the Run for Resilience Ostomy 5K.  I registered over 20 walkers to participate virtually in several cities and I exceeded my fundraising goal by almost 100%.  The highlight of the day was my local mayor stopping by to present me with a proclamation from the City of Warren in support of ostomy awareness. Our local newspaper also highlighted the event.

…because of my video he felt he could now go through it.

After posting my Ostomy Awareness Day photos and story on Facebook I was contacted by so many family and friends willing to support me in the future.

With the pandemic still active, I’ve been limited in getting out in the public but I do try to make an effort to encourage other ostomates daily.  I’ve connected with my local Affiliated Support Group leader and I’m looking forward to greater things once we can meet publicly.

On, March 6, 2021 I will be a 39-year ostomate.

I’m on Facebook and I have a Youtube video discussing my ostomy journey.

I’m free, living with my ostomy!

 

Discovering Strength in the Struggle from J-Pouch to a Permanent Ostomy

If you asked me 20 years ago when I was in college if I thought I could be a strong ostomate, I would have just stared at you in shock. Strength and I were not the best of friends. In fact, it was one of the things I often questioned about myself. I had no idea what was something worth crying about.

That all changed three years ago when I was put to the test when I went from sudden rectal bleeding as a result of ulcerative colitis, to having to remove my colon in a matter of four months. During the next three years, I had four more operations from trying the j-pouch and failing, to finally getting a permanent ostomy just this past December.

Somewhere along the way, I found my strength.  I dealt with major emotional and physical changes faster than I could even process.  I had to adapt to a whole new way of life and a whole new way of looking at myself.

Somewhere along the way, I found my strength.

These three years have been incredibly hard. They have tested me in every way, broken me down to smithereens of myself, and caused me to question everything. The true strength that just suddenly overcomes you when you least expect it is something you don’t really understand until you are there and have no other choice. Life after that is forever changed.

Along the way, I started to feel strong. I was amazed by what both my body and my mind could accept and turn into a positive. I started to really take care of my physical health, and in the three years that I have been the sickest in my life, I became the most physically strong I have ever been by participating religiously in barre class. This physical strength, along with the help of the ostomy community, is what helped me to then discover my mental strength.

I literally stared death in the eye and won.  It is hard to even write that today.

Feeling very alone, I stumbled across some ostomy bloggers one night while scouring the internet.  Reading their patient stories blew my mind at the time, because I didn’t comprehend how they could just accept living with an ostomy.  But all that changed and I began to understand when I was so sick that it was no longer a choice if I wanted to keep being a mommy.  The decision to have a permanent ileostomy was the best choice I ever made.

This physical strength, along with the help of the ostomy community, is what helped me to then discover my mental strength.

I just had what I hope to be my final surgery and got my permanent ostomy on December 1, 2020. Since then, I have made some promises to myself. I want to be my absolute best version of myself now that I am able to really live again.  I want to help as many people with IBD and facing the possibility of an ostomy as I can.  I want them to see what I have come to see, that they too can use such an incredibly difficult period in their life to find their strength and their best version of themselves.

“God said to me, I am going to show you pain.  And then you are going to help other people who are in pain because you understand it” (Lady Gaga).

 

 

Outdoor Adventure Does Not Stop with an Ostomy and IBD.

Hi my name’s Charlotte!

I grew up in New Hampshire as the youngest of three sisters. I had a pretty normal childhood and was raised by a wonderfully supportive family who fostered in me a sense of independence and love of adventure. In 2007, at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. That diagnosis later changed to Crohn’s disease, and it changed my life forever.

My IBD progressed rather quickly and about nine months after my original diagnosis, I had my colon removed, a temporary ostomy, and a j-pouch created. I lived with my j-pouch for five years, and those were some of the toughest years of my life. Despite a failing jpouch, pooping my pants every day, and a variety of other debilitating symptoms, I was determined to continue living my life. I was able to graduate from high school, bike across the country while in college, and complete my academic coursework as an Occupational Therapy student on time (despite dropping out of college in my Sophomore year because of my Crohn’s disease). I was not going to let Crohn’s get in my way.

In 2013 after agonizing over the thought of ostomy surgery (I had been adamant for years that I would not have an ostomy), I finally told my surgeon I was ready, and underwent surgery for a permanent ileostomy. I felt prepared for ostomy surgery this time around because I went to local support groups in Boston to learn more about living life with an ostomy. I also found a surgeon who understood me and what I wanted out of life. My ostomy changed my life again, and this time for the better. I’ve had 3 stoma revisions and my Crohn’s does pop up every now and then, but I have so much more freedom in my life with my ostomy.

In 2014, after graduating with my Master’s in Occupational Therapy, I was able to move to Alaska to take my life back and pursue a life of outdoor adventure (and work). I started sharing more about my ostomy with my community which increased my confidence. I worked to establish a collaborative medical team, including my surgeon, GI doc, and physical therapist/pelvic floor therapist who have helped me take control over my life and continue an active lifestyle. I’m a passionate OT working in Anchorage. I enjoy running, biking, skiing, climbing, hiking, backpacking, camping, and spending any time outdoors. My family, boyfriend, and friends are my greatest sources of support, and they inspire me to live my life fully.

In addition to my passion for the outdoors and exercise, I enjoy empowering others to learn more about themselves and how to thrive with an ostomy. When I first had my ostomy, there weren’t many resources out there, but I stumbled upon the Ostomy Outdoors blog which provided helpful resources for my outdoor journey with my ostomy. That’s in part why I created my blog, backcountryostomy.com, to support other ostomates returning to active lifestyles after ostomy surgery.  And I recently started my business, Restorative Ostomy Solutions to empower Occupational and Physical Therapists to feel more confident working with ostomy patients.

Through rehabing myself from six major abdominal surgeries, I have learned what it takes to pick myself up after each setback and continue on my life journey. Because life if so much more than my diagnosis and my ostomy!

Excerpt from the story One Man’s Journey From Bladder Cancer

The day for my fourth cystoscopy had finally arrived. My doctor smiled and asked if I was ready for this exam. With a nod from me, turned off the lights, and guided the instrument into my body. He reiterated that there were cells in my bladder. I felt a large lump in my throat, and my face began to flush. Because these cells had been so aggressive and returned after the three previous treatments, there were no additional medications that could be used. He explained there were several other choices: (1) do nothing, (2) having a neo-bladder constructed, and (3) urostomy surgery. We would discuss these options in a few weeks.

Note: Each person is unique, and so are the methods used to treat this cancer.

An appointment was made for this consultation, and within two weeks I would see my doctor. In the interim, I had given careful thought to all three options. Doing nothing could be taking a huge risk. If the cells should travel into the muscles of the bladder, my life would definitely be in jeopardy. There was a chance these cells might metastasize to other organs of my body. We could wait and see if they did travel. However, this was not a chance I wanted to take. A neo-bladder, created from my intestines, would allow me to still urinate through my penis, but required much effort to adjust to, and a longer recovery time. It also brought with it the possibility of incontinence, or not working properly, necessitating additional surgery. The neo-bladder is also a relatively new form of treatment that many urologists choose not to use.

My final option was to have my bladder and prostate gland removed surgically. Compared to the construction of a neo-bladder, the recovery time was shorter. It had been proven to be successful in eliminating cancer and allowing patients to resume normal lives. This return to normalcy would occur after an initial adjustment period when the patient learns how to use and care for the Ostomy Pouch. Over time this would become routine.

After more consultation… My faith and confidence in my physician and in my decision to receive “external plumbing” (the ostomy pouch), gave me peace of mind up to the day of surgery.

Road to Recovery

My hospitalization would soon be terminating. However, before leaving I insisted on seeing the Ostomy Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) making sure that I felt confident applying and removing my ostomy pouch. Even though the hospital wanted to discharge me, I was persistent. Managing my ostomy pouch will be a lifelong endeavor. The CNS reviewed the process of changing the pouch and demonstrated it several times. Her patience, warm smile and reassurance made me feel capable of handling this task on my own and confident to be discharged from the hospital. (Keep in mind that it is a patient’s right to determine whether or not he/she is ready to leave the hospital)

On My Own

After then spending time in a rehabilitation facility It was great to finally be home, and feel independent. As a widower, I was fortunate enough to have met a woman whose companionship helped to avoid a great deal of loneliness. Had she not been there, returning to my empty house would have heightened my feeling of isolation. Thinking back, yes, I certainly could have managed by myself. However, her presence made my transition from the hospital, rehabilitation facility, to home that much easier. Many patients who are single, or don’t have family/friends to support them when returning home, can find this a mixed blessing. They may feel independent, yet experience loneliness. Anxiety may occur over fear they may lack the ability to manage by themselves. The services of a visiting nurse, physical/occupational therapist, or a mental health professional can be provided to alleviate these concerns. The availability of these services were discussed during my exit conference from the rehabilitation center.

Adjustments To Be Made

Anxiety arose as I continued on my journey to recovery. The first of these emotional hurdles, especially for newbies is attaching an ostomy bag securely, preventing leakage. Having a spare pouch and supplies, along with a change of clothes, solves this concern. My medical supplier provided a small pouch to carry these items. Initially, I had many questions about the ostomy pouch. However, when various concerns arose, (getting this device on properly, leaks, or supplies), my nurse responded to these questions promptly and gave me the reassurance I needed. Trust me, I continued to have questions for months after my surgery. By that time I built up enough confidence in using this device, and it became more routine. Ostomy nurses serve as a great resource. They also recommended a monthly support group. Knowing what others have gone through, and how they dealt with their post-surgical life, can be very helpful.

Thanks to my Ostomy Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), two additional Leak Prevention Supplies (LPS) were suggested: (1) A belt attaching to both sides of the bag to hold the wafer and pouch more securely in place, and (2) A U-shaped elastic barrier fitting around the bottom of the adhesive which attaches to your body and wafer. These items can be requested from your medical supplier, and may help give some peace of mind. These remedies have worked for me. Timing for emptying the pouch is another adjustment. This usually occurs when the bag is 1/3 to 1/2 full. For me, this point is reached hourly, possibly because my kidneys are located in the front of my body. For others, this may occur up to 2 1/2 hours. However, empty points are individualized.

Timing this process initially limited me from going places beyond one hour. For many of us, noting the location of bathrooms is something we typically make prior to leaving for a destination. Even before surgery, I spotted the location of the bathrooms. If you think about it, for many people who still have their bladder, nature calls them frequently. Whenever this need arises, they go on “bathroom alert.” We don’t have this urgency or stress of finding a bathroom as they do. We can anticipate when to empty our pouch and can plan our pit stops in advance. This is a positive of having an ostomy pouch. Think about that.

Ways to judge the timing of emptying the pouch also become routine. Checking your watch, cell phone, or clock helps the timing factor. Generally, If I were to go to a restaurant, at most, twenty minutes away from home, I’m able to wait until I have eaten my meal before emptying my bag. For others, gauging the timing may involve the length of events (movies, shows, etc.) or the time it takes to reach a destination. It’s an awareness that you will develop. During your recovery period, fatigue could be an issue. Initially, I tried to do too much, too soon. Don’t fight this feeling. You don’t have to prove anything to yourself or anyone else, about how well you are recovering. Listen to your body. If it’s telling you to rest, do that. Remember, the fatigue lessens over time, and your strength does return. For me, it took approximately four months.

Don’t Try to push yourself. If you do you might become frustrated and that doesn’t help. In fact it may extend your recovery time.

Pouch Changing 101

I had devised my own schedule for changing the ostomy pouch — every Friday and Monday. A rule of thumb is to change it every three-four days. You will decide what days, how often, as well as choosing a medical supplier that offers products that best suits your needs. After leaving rehab, one company had offered supplies to me. If you, like me, prefer their products, then stick with them. If not, check other distributors and request samples from them. Many people experiment with several companies before finding the products that work for them.

After experiencing a few glitches, (ie; tearing a pouch, or unable to remove the protective piece covering the wafer),you realize some possibly could be avoided in the future. Being aware of these mishaps helps to avoid future problems, and will make the process of changing your bag go more smoothly. In addition, once you have repeatedly gone through this part of your life without a bladder” it doesn’t require too much thinking or time. Perhaps this thought may be difficult to believe, but it does happen.

Don’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go as planned. Use these experiences as problems to be solved.

You may find other obstacles to overcome. The good news, once these challenges are met and conquered, they make this part of your life more tolerable. It may seem as though you’ll never feel comfortable. The more you are aware of this process, and follow it repeatedly, the easier it is to make the required adjustments. Those who have traveled along this path can be very helpful. They have been for me. The more information you receive, the less stress you will experience.

Be patient with yourself don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have.

Yes, there are adjustments to make and new roads to travel. Through knowledge gained from resources, along with your own experiences, make this continuing journey just another routine part of your life. However, it takes time and effort. HAVE PATIENCE!!

It has been several years since my surgery. I have learned a lot, and have made adjustments to my life. You can reach this point as well.

YES, THIS IS SOMETHING YOU NEVER EXPECTED. YES, THERE ARE ADJUSTMENTS YOU WILL NEED TO MAKE. YES, THIS PROCESS TAKES TIME. YES, THIS WILL BECOME ANOTHER ROUTINE PART OF YOUR LIFE.