me+ Community member, Sarah Biggart, shares how she experienced feelings of Medical PTSD throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic with her ostomy. Sarah’s blog was written in November of 2020, but remains relevant as we continue to navigate through the Pandemic.

Last Thanksgiving, following a beautiful dinner and a house filled with family and friends, I had to take my Dad straight to the emergency room. After a decline in health, my dad passed in January. The last months of his life had been a slog through the fog; however, saying goodbye was peaceful and everything about his passing brought me peace. It was time. Just as I was emerging from this fog, a new storm was approaching. A virus, spreading globally and forcing bustling cities into lock down: COVID-19.

As a person with a complicated medical history, I was definitely paying attention, and started taking precautions very early to mitigate risk. As anyone who lives with a compromised immune system and chronic illness knows, when we get sick, it can have a way of snowballing.

I was always aware of Medical PTSD, and recognized it in myself. The trauma of long health battles, surgeries and hospitalizations made my fears of the virus very real. I felt more affected by that fear than ever. It can be triggering for me to even smell rubbing alcohol; so smelling the strong hand sanitizers creates a visceral reaction.

When I saw people receiving nasal swabs, it took me instantaneously to having NG Tubes inserted. I could feel it, and I averted my eyes. When I saw images of people laying intubated, I automatically could feel the sensation in my throat. I remember all of those sensations so vividly. They are a part of my trauma.

It’s honestly hard to lay down exactly what this past year has been like emotionally for me. On one hand I am filled with gratitude that I am able to stay safe at home. I work from home, my child participates in remote learning, and although my husband does still go outside the home to work, we have stayed safe and happy in our cozy home. We’ve tried to keep our family traditions and make new memories.

Unfortunately, this year has also been a very bleak reminder of how my health and quality of life hang in a very delicate balance. If I were to get the virus, I have major concerns about my ability to survive. Seeing my community’s complete disregard for the health and safety of those around them has also been disheartening.

I often think about my ostomy supplies. When it became hard to get essentials this Spring, the thought of not having access to the pouches and wafers that I need was especially daunting. What would my life be like if I was unable to pouch my stoma?

Doctors figured out how to create ostomies long before companies like ConvaTec were around to innovate. Hearing stories of ostomates before me who had life-saving ostomy surgery, but could not manage them in a sanitary way, weighs heavy. What would my life be like without my supplies? I think of the pioneering ostomates, using rags and mason jars, and other archaic methods. They were true survivors!

So here we are in November. Instead of a full Thanksgiving table, it will be just the three of us this year. While our country is facing an unprecedented public health crisis, my family will continue to stay safe, stay home and mask up. I wish nothing but peace, health and happiness for all of us.

The Pandemic Tree

Early on, to make things fun we pulled out our Christmas Tree, topped it with a roll of toilet paper and strung up some lights. We crafted ornaments and added them to commemorate milestones and events. It was silly and fun, and for us, all bets were off during quarantine. Our family mantra became healthy, happy and sane, we did what we could to get ourselves there. The Quarantree became a Halloween Tree, and now has transformed into a Fall tree. It continues to make our home feel cozy and festive and truly brings us joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor’s note: This article is from one of our digital sponsors, ConvaTec. 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.

Why You Should Join UOAA as an Official Member

By Alyssa Zeldenrust

(National Conference attendee since 2011, DuPage County Support Group (suburban Chicago), Co-Chair of Events for Young Adults)

UOAA friends, educational tools, and vendor fairs have been lifesavers for me, so I’d like to share a bit about why I’m a member and what UOAA has to offer.

United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. (UOAA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports, empowers, and advocates for the 725,000 to 1 million of us Americans who are living with an ostomy or continent diversion (like a J-Pouch.) There is no need to feel alone, approximately 100,000 new life-saving ostomy surgeries are performed annually in the United States.

Without UOAA and medically diverse friends, I don’t know where I’d be today.

You can join one of the 300+ Affiliated Support Groups in the U.S. for local peer support and information. Whether you’re new or an ostomy veteran, you can get a lot out of UOAA resources.

I make sure every younger person I see at UOAA’s National Conference is welcomed into our group.

In my personal experience with my local support group, it’s a great way you can make friends who truly understand your situation. If you’re an ostomy veteran, you’re incredibly important to the new members of the group because you can guide them through difficult situations. Local ostomy friends are great because you can do social events in addition to support group meetings. I’ve gone to concerts, dinners, and parties with local buddies and it makes me feel so welcomed because nobody judges my body and we all tend to have a little bit of a dark sense of humor after a few years of illness or surgery.

Everyone should also become an official National Member, there is a membership for medical professionals as well. UOAA offers the National Membership for Individuals for an annual fee of $20.00. As an Individual Member you will receive UOAA’s:

  • National Membership pin and a stoma rose pin
  • Monthly e-Newsletter
  • New Ostomy Patient Guide
  • Plus, you’ll be notified when new or updated educational materials are available.
  • Have voting rights for our national elections
  • Can be nominated to be elected to serve on our Board of Directors
  • Will get a membership packet that includes a special promotion code to subscribe to The Phoenix magazine at a discounted rate.

Joining is also about standing up and being counted for advocacy purposes.

When I was too sick to attend the Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k my parents and fellow support group members made sure I was there in spirit with my face on masks.

Some local support groups host regional conferences that can be great. I had so much fun at the Midwest Regional Conference when I was lucky enough to go, and I left with a bunch of notes and new products to try.

National conferences are usually held every two years (Houston, Texas Aug 11-13, 2022 is next!) and are major events that turn me into a tornado of attempted hospitality. I make it my personal mission to find all the younger crowd and make sure nobody is left out and everyone has a chance to bond outside of the educational sessions. We have fun going all out with the parties and dancing up a storm. One of my favorite things has always been the vendor fair because you always find new things to try, and you can talk to people directly about their product. The educational sessions are so good that sometimes I truly have trouble choosing, so then we split up and take notes for each other.

A few people admitted to me later that they didn’t expect to leave with new, actual friends. That sort of thing just makes my heart happy. Without UOAA and medically diverse friends, I don’t know where I’d be today.

 

A version of this article first appeared on Allysa’s blog Partially Unstuffed

 

 

Written by: Brenda Elsagher, Director of Affiliated Support Group (ASG) Affairs, United Ostomy Association of America

Support. I’m not talking about my bra, although it could win an Oscar for a supporting role! I’m talking about the kind of encouragement you get from knowing another person with an ostomy.

I freaked out when I was 39 and had to have a colostomy. I wanted a point of reference and needed to talk to someone who had a stoma. I wanted to know what to expect; I wanted to prepare my body and mind for the changes coming my way. There was no internet and no social media. I didn’t even know there was any other kind of ostomy besides a colostomy.

My Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse (WOCN) was a great source of comfort. She calmly explained, without horror, that excrement (OK, I think she actually said “stool” – and I wouldn’t have used either of those words) would be coming out of my abdomen and into a bag that would somehow adhere to my body.

She made it sound like it would become so natural, as if I was adding a quart of milk to my shopping list. No big deal. You’ll get this in no time at all. And she said all of this with a confident smile – a genuine one, not a fake one like when people are trying to help you through something awful. I felt she meant it! So, I let myself believe her.

During one of my subsequent visits to her office, I saw a newsletter that listed a meeting time for people living with ostomies. I went to the meeting, and realized that this was my tribe. For many attendees, these gatherings were the only ostomy support they had, other than their loved ones who tried to understand but could never quite get it. Besides, here were people I could eat a meal with while talking about changing ostomy pouches. You can’t do that with every crowd! I met life-long friends at those meetings, and that was an unexpected perk.

Then I heard of a conference, the United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) national conference, where people came from all over the USA, and some from Canada and other countries too. It featured classes, social events, great speakers, and time to get to know more people with ostomies. A young man I talked to recently told me that he met someone at the 2009 conference who changed his life and made all the difference. If we only knew the power of a quiet conversation and how its impact can be phenomenal. We can be a resource for one another. That’s why I suggest regular telephone check-ins or video calls with UOAA Affiliated Support Groups (ASGs), because both can play a crucial role in helping someone feel connected.

I also found information galore and updates on the latest innovative technology for people with ostomies in The Phoenix magazine (the official publication of the UOAA), which still exists today. Not long after, I got America Online (AOL) and felt like I was on the forefront of technology. I had a computer, and now the internet. Imagine horns blasting – my world opened up and the exchange of information worldwide was awesome. Even more ways to communicate! A woman in Colorado who read my book, “If the Battle is Over, Why am I Still In Uniform,” emailed me, decided to get a colonoscopy, and was spared from cancer. That is a satisfying feeling, to know you gave up a year of your life to write a book and it saved another.

I began to speak across the USA. Who would have thought that 25 years later I am still talking about bowels and butts, or dare I say the lack of them in some cases? The people I have met, the conversations I have had, the opportunities that have come my way – all because I chose to meet with a small group of people. That experience led to an abundance of support, not only for me but for others I know with ostomies or continent diversions, because of all that we shared. Some shared their misery, some shared their success, and some listened, learned, and began to feel that they could deal with their situations. Finding the group was life enhancing, and even life-saving in many cases. I kept coming to help others, but have been helped in return many times over. A phrase that I often heard at the meetings was, “Someone reached out to me in the hospital, and I want to do the same.”

In my new role as the UOAA Director of ASG Affairs, I have come full circle as a volunteer. I meet so many people across the USA that are actively reaching out to others, and helping them on their paths to recovery of mind, body, and spirit. I am their cheerleader. Sometimes I can offer a suggestion or teach them how to use Zoom to stay connected. I have always known that the UOAA had our backs but I have now found so many more resources on their website that I never knew existed. There are over 300 ostomy support groups in the USA for people with ostomies and continent diversions. And for people who don’t like to go to group meetings, there is an individual membership too that gives them full access to an abundance of resources.

There is no right way or wrong way to have an ostomy. You don’t have to shout it out to the world, but there also is no reason to be ashamed about it. I honor your privacy, and thank you for honoring my desire to be public. Both are good. We are alive and grateful!

 

This article originated in the Hollister Secure Start services eNewsletter. For more ostomy resources at your fingertips, subscribe here.

Brenda Elsagher is an author, international speaker, and comedian, and also volunteers with the UOAA. She has been living well with an ostomy for 25 years. Find out more about Brenda at www.livingandlaughing.com, and follow her on Facebook @BrendaElsagher. 

Financial Disclosure: Brenda Elsagher received compensation from Hollister Incorporated for her contribution to this article.

 

Editor’s note: This article is from one of our digital sponsors, Hollister Incorporated. 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.

By Makeda Armorer-Wade

How many times have you thought “why me?” Well I get it.

An Ostomy is not an elective surgery. Most people who get one are having challenges with a health condition, or an accident that will require them to get one. I got my first Ostomy after a four-decade battle with Crohn’s disease. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I can’t remember which bowel resection I was up to. But I know that something had gone dreadfully wrong. I had the surgery and had just moved from step-down (one step below ICU, where you are kept until you become stable), to a regular room. 24 hours into that room assignment something inside began to rupture. That night I contacted my doctor who scheduled me for an intrusive test five hours later. I was in too much pain to tolerate the test, at which time they realized that I would have to have an emergency ileostomy. I was in the loneliest place in the world. I had just had a seven-and-a-half-hour surgery and I had to go back in. I did not know how my body would be able to handle it.

My family who had come to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, were told once again, that emergency surgery would have to be done in order to save my life. Nobody was prepared for the news of an ileostomy. (An ileostomy is when they divert your intestine from the inside to the outside of your body, usually at the lower end of the small intestine called the ileum.) Neither myself or my family knew what this was, and while they explained it to me I began to ask what other options we had. Of course, the answer was “none if you want to live”. I responded the way that I always do with “ok, let’s just get this done”. I didn’t have time to express fear. Because, I saw the look on my family’s face as they began to draw on my belly in the elevator to determine the site of the surgery. I was scared, angry and worried because I had no control, so I prayed.

My ileostomy taught me a lot about life and stamina. I became even more determined to learn everything I could to make this a smooth transition.

After the surgery I had my consultation with my WOC nurse and began my new journey. She was pretty amazing in how she explained everything and made sure that I understood the mechanics of taking care of my Ostomy. It was a daunting task. It was one of the longest days of my life and a big blur. My family was super supportive as I was so weak. But they didn’t have a clue what to do. They were ready to take direction from me. And while I have managed to keep a stiff upper lip through the first 14 lifesaving surgical procedures, this was different. I was grieving. I knew I had to figure it out, and my only consolation was that eventually it would be reversed (this is called a take-down). Well, I can probably tell you about that in another blog.

My ileostomy taught me a lot about life and stamina. I became even more determined to learn everything I could to make this a smooth transition. After learning to walk 10 steps from death’s door, over the course of 18 different surgeries, I eventually learned to work my P.L.A.N.© and you can too.

P.L.A.N.© stands for Prepare, Let go of Shame, Ask for help, Never Give up!

I tell my clients all the time that “life will teach you some things; that which you want to learn and that which you don’t.” In life we don’t always get to pick our lessons, but I am so happy that I learned a ton of them here. It allowed me to come to the conclusion that my fellow Crohn’s Warriors and Ostomate brothers and sisters needed the same support that I did after surgery. And so I am here. I am not a doctor or a nurse, just someone who cares about you. I wrote books and created a learning platform ThePossibilitiesLifestyle, to support your experience with the books and provide The Possibilities Lifestyle Coaching. My goal is to help and support as many people as I can. Please, I want you to remember this.

 

Editor’s note: This educational article is from one of our digital sponsors, ConvaTec. 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.

By Elaine O’Rourke, Ostomy & IBD Health Mentor

When you are able to talk honestly about sex and intimacy, it will help build a healthier relationship. A chronic illness or an ostomy can bring up different issues around relationships, whether you are single or in a partnership.

You may wonder when to tell a potential partner about your medical history or how to rediscover passion within your current relationship. You may need to get creative with how you are having sex and pleasuring each other.

How to communicate effectively

This is the key to everything in life! So needless to say it is the key when you are in a relationship. Yet, it can be so difficult to communicate effectively.

Personally, I try to express, with compassion, what I am experiencing and being open to hearing their perspective. This will help open the dialogue about sex and intimacy.

It is so important to get comfortable talking about your ostomy, IBD or any chronic illness with your partner. If you’re not feeling sexy, desirable or if it’s painful to have sex then your partner needs to know. Likewise, your partner may be having difficulty accepting your new body and feel guilty about that.

Seek help if you need it. As an Ostomy/IBD Health Mentor I help people with many of the emotional issues that arise.

Check out this video clip from my talk on “Intimacy” at the Girls with Guts retreat last year.

Your partners perspective

It can also be really difficult for your partner to witness you go through so much pain.  It’s important to nurture your partner too. Ask them if they have questions about your ostomy or how things work. They might be feeling nervous and afraid. By opening the conversation you are helping them to voice how they are feeling and how they are dealing.

Sex

The act of sex includes sexual intercourse. But this may not be possible for everybody. Or you might discover that it feels very different depending on what surgery you have. It might be painful or you may not be able to have an erection or ejaculate. (See videos on Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy and Men’s Health with IBD or Ostomy).

If you are in your head and worried about what your partner thinks, or if you are embarrassed or self-conscious about how you look, then it will be really hard to let go and enjoy sex. Feelings of being inhibited need to be addressed. This is an area included in my ostomy and IBD programs.

Rekindling your relationship

Practicing patience and knowing you have to give your body time to heal. Your partner needs to know how you are feeling. If you are dating someone you need to explain to them what’s going on. It’ll either make or break a relationship. 

If sexual intercourse isn’t possible then get creative with other ways of pleasuring each other through oral sex, touching, kissing, cuddling, sex toys.

Logistics

Before sex I always empty the pouch. I’m not taking any chances! You will feel much better about things and your partner will be grateful too.

If a position doesn’t work for you then you have to let your partner know. Know your boundaries.

Take your time to get to know each other again, to become familiar with how your bodies work together now. Be patient with each other. And make it fun. Remember the more comfortable you are about your body, the more comfortable your partner will be.

If you are having a flare up, or going through cancer treatments then chances are you are not feeling sexy at all and a cuddle is all you can handle.

Intimacy

Intimacy requires really opening up more and letting someone see you for who you are. Being able to share you fears and worries, being vulnerable, honest and authentic.

Intimacy is different to the act of sex but when combined then it makes a really healthy relationship.

Intimacy creates sensitivity. When you are intimate you become sensitive to yourself and to others.

When to tell someone about your ostomy or illness

Each relationship is going to be different. It may also depend on how long you’ve had your ostomy or illness.

Personally I wouldn’t intend to tell someone on a first date that I have an ostomy but if the timing is right then I might.

Most importantly, is to honor how you are feeling. It’s all about what you are comfortable with. You want someone to form an opinion on your personality and not based around your ostomy or diagnosis.

Sometimes, just having an ostomy has been a great way to NOT have a one-night stand!

If you are having a one-night stand then tell the person beforehand. But try not to go into a feeling of rejection if they don’t want to proceed. They are probably doing you a favor in that case! (See video below on Overcoming rejection with Chronic Illness or Ostomy).

I’ve found that when I explain the events leading to my ostomy how ill I was and then there is more empathy and understanding of why I’ve an ostomy and all that I’ve endured.

Resources

Blog and video on Sexual Issues with an Ostomy has great information along with the https://elaineorourke.com/sexual-issues-with-an-ostomy-or-ibd/

UOAA has a sexuality guide which explains the types of surgeries, and how they affect sexual function and the emotional component as well.

Make sure to grab your FREE GUIDE: ‘3 simple ways to eliminate fears about your ostomy” by visiting Elaine’s website www.ElaineOrourke.com

About Elaine

Elaine O’Rourke is an Ostomy/IBD Health Mentor and the creator of the program “Surviving To Thriving: Overcoming Ostomy Challenges So You Can Live a FulFilling Life”.  She is a certified Yoga Therapist & Teacher since 2003, Sound Healer, EFT & Reiki Practitioner, Recording Artist and International Retreat Leader. Her lighthearted and fun personality shines through her teachings/programs as she loves to inspire others.  She is a contributing writer to the national Phoenix Magazine and UOAA, presenter at the UOAA National Conference and speaker at Girls with Guts retreat. 

YouTube: Elaine O’Rourke Yoga, Ostomy, IBD

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ostomyibdlife/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ostomyibdlife/

Web: www.ElaineOrourke.com

By Ellyn Mantell

Welcome to my fantasy.

We all have our fantasies, so come along with me as I describe one of mine…new ostomates (those with ileostomy, colostomy or urostomy, all having had stoma surgery) would begin their adjustment to their new life with all of their questions answered, they would have knowledge and be welcomed into an Ostomy Support Group, they would have a connection with a Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse (WOCN) and they would recognize what a gift, what a lifesaver an ostomy is.

My concern is that this is not the usual for ostomates, either new or even those who have them for many years. In New Jersey, particularly where I live, there are many resources available, and yet, even in our sophisticated arena, many ostomates leave the hospital uninformed and underserved. Prior to Covid-19, I visited patients in the hospital or in rehab facilities to answer their questions. I brought journals and pens so they could write their emotions, concerns, and observations, and refer back to their notes as they made progress. I am so anxious to return to that important undertaking as soon as it is safe to do so.

When I had my surgery in March of 2014, my surgeon told me I would be in the hospital for 5-7 days. However, I felt so well, so quickly, that I was able to leave 4 days later. That was pushing the envelope, but I was so used to recovering from abdominal surgeries, having had 22 before that, my ability to go into recovery mode was well-entrenched. The majority of patients need so much more time, and now, even 4 days is more than they are offered.

Back to my fantasy, and my pipe dream of a great transition for new ostomates:

How can questions be answered, and knowledge gained as needed? 

The majority of ostomies, even those performed in an emergent situation, require marking the abdomen for placement of the stoma (opening.) That is typically done by the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse (WOCN) and that is the person who comes to the patient’s room post-op to begin to prepare the ostomate for life at home. In an ideal world, the WOC nurse has written information to share, which once home, will make more sense, and provides contact information for any questions. Additionally, the ostomate is put in touch with the United Ostomy Associations of America to become part of a bigger group of kindred people.

How do we find Ostomy Support Groups in our area?

I am involved in three Support Groups, becoming president of one already formed when I had my ileostomy, and then worked with WOC nurses at two other hospitals in the area to form new ones. Until Covid hit, these were growing so nicely. But we are meeting virtually now, and staying as close as possible, knowing that the day will come when we are back together. It is wonderful to see “my people” who share my concerns, experiences and fears and accomplishments. We help each other in countless ways. People reach out to me through the WOC nurses in the area, United Ostomy Associations of America, The Phoenix Magazine, the American Cancer Society, three hospitals, and through word of mouth. Because I am so open and revealing about my ileostomy and Lily, my stoma, I believe my name pops into the minds of people when they know someone in need.

Ostomies are Lifesavers! “Read all about it!”

An ostomy provides the gift of health for many, many medical situations, including cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, motility issues and devastating organ injury. We live in good times for our supplies and the ability to try new and innovative appliances and accessories. The Phoenix Magazine is a great resource for all, and assists in wading through the confusion many feel. Motivational stories and practical guidance round out the offerings.

A final word about those we call our Angels…the Wound and Ostomy Nurses.

Establish a relationship with one, and if there is an Ostomy Clinic or Ostomy Center in your area, use it! These nurses are your connection to properly-fitting appliances, the correct supplies and accessories, questions and personal support, as well as the ability to refer to a Support Group. More and more are entering the private sector and providing services such as home visits, particularly to those who cannot travel to a clinic or office, and your surgeon may even have one in the office to help navigate the transition to life as an ostomate. We call our WOC nurses our Angels, and that is exactly what they are, ladies and gentlemen with big wings to support us!

 

Ellyn Mantell is a UOAA advocate and Affiliated Support Group leader from New Jersey. You can follow her personal blog at morethanmyostomy

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).

 

Two ostomy community leaders discuss effective ways to stay positive when times get tough.

Living through a crisis is hard for anyone, but there is an extra layer of concern for people with ostomies. Hollister sat down with two influential people in the ostomy community to find out how they cope during challenging times.

Amber Wallace is the creator of the Ostomy Diaries YouTube channel and social media platforms, and Dr. Paul Wischmeyer, MD is a critical care, perioperative, and nutrition physician at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Both Amber and Paul live with an ostomy.

Q: How can people with ostomies stay healthy both physically and emotionally when facing a crisis?

Amber: The best way to take care of your emotional health is to take care of your physical health. Continue to take your supplements. Stick to a schedule and make checklists. During a difficult time, I do the same things at the same time every day and that helps. It’s also important to get enough rest and exercise, even if you have to find a routine online. Grief and anxiety can manifest physically if you don’t put those things into practice.

Paul: I agree with taking the proper supplements. Some of us with ostomies absorb vitamins differently, so it’s important to consult your doctor before starting a regimen. Exercise is also very important. As a senior in college, I was doing research with a doctor at Mayo Clinic. One day he said, “Paul, you’re getting soft and look a little out of shape – do you want to keep getting sick? You should start running and taking better care of yourself.” I had never had anyone say that before and was motivated (and a little miffed) so I started running and ran almost every day for a year. And when that same doctor performed my tenth surgery to remove my failed ileal pouch, it took only four hours instead of eight. Afterwards he said, “Your abdomen looked like you never had surgery – your adhesions were gone! Whatever you did in the last year, you should definitely keep it up!” I haven’t stopped running and exercising since.

Q: What can we do to stay healthy if we have to travel during a health crisis?

Amber: It’s important to keep a change of ostomy supplies on your person when traveling and make sure to stay hydrated. We all have leak stories. One time I was hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains and my pouch fell off. I had to change it in a porta potty! And, of course, I use hand sanitizer constantly, especially on my phone.

Paul: I’ve had leaks on planes and have had to run to the washroom with it pouring down my leg. Never a dull moment with an ostomy some days! I keep supplies in a small kit. I also always wear an ostomy belt, which helps keep my pouch secure. When my wife and I travel now we wear masks and bleach wipe everything we have to touch.

Q: Where should people turn when having a really bad day?

Amber: Stay connected with nature and focus on things that are beautiful. Take a moment and be still. Keep grounded and turn to your faith. It’s OK to cry and let those emotions out. Recognize it, feel it, and embrace it. There’s a myth that if you ignore depression it will go away. You have to deal with it before you can move ahead. Last year after my wedding I was feeling down and didn’t know why. I was too ashamed to tell anyone. So I decided to speak to my doctor. He ran some tests and it turned out that my vitamin levels were out of whack. Never be ashamed to talk to your doctor, that’s what they’re trained in.

Paul: Well, as I shared before, exercise has been a true lifesaver for me. When I’m down I also often turn to my family. Being vulnerable is hard especially when you’re sick. I often have trouble loving myself with a body that could turn on me and threaten my life at any moment. Just a few years ago, I was sick again and needed three surgeries and a prolonged hospital stay (almost a month). My wife slept every night at my bedside in the hospital. Through that I realized that perhaps I am loveable no matter what. When feeling depressed, another resource I often use is to connect to the ostomy community on Instagram and other social media. I’ve seen so many people get support from others all over the world. It’s definitely healing to share your story…and to hear others and know you are not alone.

Q: A crisis can present problems with participating in milestone events, such as graduations and funerals. How can people still stay connected?

Amber: If it’s a death, you can honor them by the way you live your life and stay positive. That’s how you can keep their memory alive. If it’s a graduation or birthday, plan something with the person or people when you’re feeling better or the crisis is over. Connection is so important. Check-in with people, even your happy friends. You never know what they’re going through. Gratefulness works too, I write down one thing I’m grateful for each day and put it in a jar.

Paul: I agree about gratefulness. In our family, we play a game every night called “3 GOOD THINGS” where we all go around and name three good things that happened each day. At our hospital, we are spending conscious time thanking people for the little things they do. Getting out of your head and thanking someone else is so essential and therapeutic. It’s so important especially if you’re down. Gratitude is as rewarding to yourself as it is to the one you’re thanking.

 

This is an excerpt from “Tips for Coping in a Crisis” in the Hollister Incorporated Ostomy Learning Center. Read the full article here.

 

Editor’s note: This article is from one of our digital sponsors, Hollister Incorporated. 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.

 

Getting to a place where you feel confident in yourself and your new routine might take some time. There are many factors to consider following your ostomy surgery, but there are also many resources available to you while you are adjusting to normal life. Having a thriving social life is not out of the question, and with some time and patience with your body, you will be living your best life.

Beginning Stages

In the beginning, it will be important to keep some sort of a journal or diary as you experiment with new foods and beverages. Figuring out how different foods and beverages affect your body will influence your social life with regards to dining out. It might be helpful to eat smaller meals more often throughout your day as you record what foods tend to cause more gas or which foods are harder for your body to break down. Remember to drink lots of water and chew your food well.

As you move from blander and softer foods to a more regular and high-fiber foods, you will notice more regularity in your bowel movements. Understanding your body’s schedule will be key in planning outings, dates, and events. As you begin to venture out of the house more, remember to bring extra supplies with you and locate the restrooms should you need one with short notice.

Getting Out There

As your confidence builds, and your ostomy becomes routine and normal to you, saying ‘yes’ to more things will become easier and easier. If you were an active person before your surgery, you will be able to resume your active lifestyle. Whether going to the gym, running along the beach, hiking through a forest, or playing a pick-up game of basketball, exercise is key to keeping you mentally, emotionally and physically fit. While you will need to be cautious in the beginning so you can fully heal, there are few limitations on what your body can do with ostomy. If you are having a hard time figuring out what clothing or specific products will help to keep things in place during your activities, Coloplast has put together solutions for a variety of different sports and activities.

Making friends aware of your new ostomy can be intimidating at first. Preparing an informative, concise story to tell people may help ease your mind. Connecting with your friends and family can help you to stay positive and hopeful and will make the transition back to regular life much more manageable. Share as little or as much as you feel comfortable about your ostomy, but keep in mind that talking about it can be beneficial to both parties.

If you are in a romantic relationship, it is likely that your partner is already aware of your surgery and new ostomy. Good communication and honesty about your feelings and your partner’s feelings will be vital to the future of your relationship. It may take time for you to feel ready to be sexually active following your surgery, but exploring this as a couple and in the timing that works best for you will go a long way in helping your relationship succeed.

Meet Others Like You

You are not alone in this new change to your body. There are many people living with an ostomy already out there who are interested in connecting and sharing their stories. It can be helpful to talk to someone who is in a similar situation and who will understand the ups and downs of this new routine. Getting connected to a group or network that shares your story can be radically healing and help with your confidence and self-esteem, not to mention broaden your social network. If you aren’t ready to venture out to a group just yet, you may want to begin by watching and hearing stories from others living with an ostomy to see how they were able to travel, date, go back to work, stay active, and enjoy a healthy sex life.

Whatever stage you are at in your recovery and healing process; if you are adapting to a new routine with your pouching system or working your way to sexual confidence with a partner, know that it is possible. While it may feel daunting to say yes to a date or go out to dinner with a group of friends, with just a little extra planning and the support of others, you can have a thriving social life with an ostomy.

 

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.