Whether Temporary or Permanent UOAA information and Support can help you Succeed in Life with an Ostomy.

By Ed Pfueller, UOAA

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer often has no warning signs or symptoms, and it affects more than 140,000 men and women each year. It is largely preventable with screening and treatable if caught early.

What can you do? Congress has introduced a bill Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act (S668/H.R.1570). This act would fix a problem in Medicare that is a major deterrent to senior citizens getting screened. Currently, Medicare covers screening colonoscopies at no cost to the patient, but if polyps are removed during the screening procedure, beneficiaries are hit with unexpected costs.  Ouch!  This bill waives Medicare coinsurance requirements with respect to colorectal cancer screening tests, regardless of the code billed for a resulting diagnosis or procedure.

You can click here to help UOAA and other advocacy organizations advocate for final passage of this legislation in 2019.

You’ll also find that colorectal cancer survivors engage with United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) all year long.

If your cancer requires surgery you may have been told you’ll need an ostomy. In many cases, this is a temporary ileostomy (from the small intestine) or colostomy (large intestine). This may be required to give a portion of the bowel a chance to rest and heal. When healing has occurred, the colostomy can often be reversed and normal bowel function restored. A permanent colostomy may be required however when a disease affects the end part of the colon or rectum.

A colostomy is a surgically created opening in the abdomen in which a piece of the colon (large intestine) is brought outside the abdominal wall to create a stoma through which digested food passes into an external pouching system. A colostomy is created when a portion of the colon or rectum is removed due to a disease process such as colorectal cancer or a damaged area of the colon.

If you need lifesaving ostomy surgery remember-you are not alone. 725,000- 1 million people in the U.S. of all ages and backgrounds live with an ostomy. You too can do this, but it is critical to connect with UOAA resources. Especially seek out one of our almost 300 UOAA Affiliated Ostomy Support Groups in the U.S. before, or shortly after, your surgery. Peer support and preparation can put you on the path to success in what will be a challenging time both emotionally and physically.  Ask if the hospital has an ostomy nurse and insist on having your stoma placement marked before surgery. These and other self-advocacy tools are paramount and outlined in our Ostomy Patient Bill of Rights.

Our new ostomy patient guide is available to all who need it and is a great overview of what to expect. Our colostomy guide has even more in-depth information. You may feel too overwhelmed as you are discharged at the hospital to fully understand ostomy pouching systems and accessories and lifestyle considerations. If you have a question medical contact your doctor or nurse, in you have a quality of life question- UOAA likely has the answers.

Let’s clear up a few myths right from the start and learn some facts about living with an ostomy. After the healing period outlined by your surgeon you can swim, bathe, be intimate, travel, and embrace a new normal life. After some trial and error, you may also eat most of the foods you have been able to eat in the past.

Certified Wound Ostomy and Continent Nurse Diana Gallagher has outlined Tips for a Succesful Recovery After Ostomy Surgery for us that you should use as a roadmap for success.

Contrary to what it may seem from social media not everyone with an ostomy will be a candidate for a reversal operation. We also have a blog post to learn more Facts About Ostomy Reversals.

We do encourage you to read patient stories and tell your own story. People have ostomies for a wide variety of reasons and people with bowel diseases you may not have been aware of often have an increased risk for colorectal cancer. This includes ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, pre-cancerous polyps, and hereditary syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), or Lynch syndrome.

Celebrate Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and connect with Fight Colorectal Cancer or the Colon Cancer Alliance on how to make an impact. And even if your ostomy is temporary, remember to speak out on Ostomy Awareness Day on October 5th, donate or join our advocacy efforts, or a support group to give back to the next cancer survivor in need.

UOAA is proud to be a member organization of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT). The NCCRT is a collaborative partnership with more than 100 member organizations across the nation, committed to taking action in the screening, prevention, and early detection of colorectal cancer.

Support Made the Difference Before Reversal

I was halfway through a 10-hour drive home to Lancaster County PA from Dayton, where I’d just finished a Relay For Life, when I felt the first pains in my lower left side. Thinking they were just cramps, I shrugged them off and kept driving. The cramps persisted though, so I popped a few Naproxen and tried to put my mind on something else.

Eventually I decided to stop at a hotel and sleep it off, then worry about it later. Whatever it was, I couldn’t do anything about it now, I’d call my doctor when I got home. A hospital “just happened” to be next to the hotel I chose, after bypassing 4 others.

When I checked in, though, I was so cramped up that I couldn’t even stand straight. I was sweating, weak, and had a bout of diarrhea. I had always been pretty healthy, so I had no frame of reference for what was going on with me. I figured I had a flu bug or maybe a cyst. I tried eating, taking a shower, more Naproxen, but nothing helped.

Finally at 1:23 am I felt a compulsion to go to the ER. I had no idea what was going on with me but I knew I needed to be checked out. After being checked in, I had a CT scan. The surgeon came back to me himself and announced that I had a ruptured colon and that I was going to have to go into emergency surgery. He could either sew it up or I’d have to have a colostomy.

I had never had issues with my colon and thought colostomies were for “old people”. Alone, still 4 hours from home, I had no clue what I was in for.

I woke up hours later in a drugged daze. The surgeon came in to say that he’d had to do the colostomy. “The hole was so big I could put my thumb through it!” he said in amazement. I looked down at my left side to see this new, strange thing called a colostomy bag attached to me. How was I going to live with this?

At home, I connected with several different sources that I couldn’t have done without. A home health care nurse who showed me how to use and live with the bag, a WOC nurse who educated me, an online support group with fellow ostomates, who were always there for tips or to hear me vent.

I thought my life would be suppressed. But I was still able to swim, jog, bike, go out to eat, travel, and all the others things I did before.

I was fortunate to have a reversal three months later. I recovered quickly with no further health issues. I have a scar, but it reminds me to be thankful for the surgeon, nurses, and support group people who helped me along the way-I could not have done it without them.

Learn more about Jennifer’s story before and after her emergency surgery on her blog.