Have you ever wondered what you should be doing to fill your time as you recover from ostomy surgery?

After my first surgery at the age of 17, and even after my third surgery at the age of 23, I spent most of my time lounging around my parents’ house, waiting for the day that I would be cleared by my surgeon to return to “normal” activity. My parents would coax me out of the house to go on one walk a day, but I spent almost all of my time watching television and YouTube videos and sleeping.

Fast forward to age 30. At age 30, I ended up having my sixth major abdominal surgery. And by this point in time, I had been working as an Occupational Therapist (OT) in a hospital setting for six years. For six years, I had been helping other individuals recover and rehabilitate from major illness and injury. I had also spent years recreating in the mountains and enjoying a highly active lifestyle. So when I found out that I needed a stoma revision, I knew that my recovery would look very different from my previous surgeries. I knew that in order to improve my recovery time, decrease my risk for complications, and get back to the mountains, I had to put in more work.

For those who are less familiar with the rehabilitation professions, “Occupational Therapists enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent – or live better with – injury, illness, or disability” [1] and “Physical therapists [PTs] are movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education” [2]. Although I’m an OT, seeking out my own rehab professional to work with was the best thing I could have done.

I already knew a lot of the basics of how to rehab myself, but having someone else who I would be accountable to and who I could bounce ideas off of was a bonus. I knew from my training as an OT that one 30-min therapy session prior to abdominal surgery, reduces the risk of complications by 50% [3]. So the first thing I did was set up an appointment with a pelvic health therapist prior to my surgery. I was able to find a local pelvic health PT to work with, although, both OTs and PTs may specialize in pelvic health. I sought out a pelvic health therapist because of her specialty training in digestive and urinary systems and the interaction between the abdomen and pelvic floor. In my time working as an OT, and in my time spent working with many PTs, I’ve learned that there are fundamental areas that ostomates should be targeting after surgery to improve their outcomes. Working with a therapist in the following areas can be quite beneficial:

Therapeutic Breathwork. Breath is necessary for life. If you aren’t breathing properly, you certainly won’t be getting back up on your feet and recovering from surgery any time soon. Breathing properly can also help decrease the pressure in your abdomen (i.e. intra-abdominal pressure) which decreases your risk for parastomal hernia and other complications.

Mobility Training. Focusing on walking in a strategic manner following surgery can also set you up for success in the long run. Not only is walking good for building up your endurance again, but it is a great way to begin engaging your core in a gentle manner.

Core Recovery. After surgery, your abdomen can be very tender. But it’s important to begin exercising in order to coordinate your abdominal muscles again and gain strength so that you will be less likely to injure yourself in the future.

Functional Daily Activities. Finally, as you go about your day-to-day routine, some tasks will feel more difficult than they used to. For example, bending to put on your socks can be painful and can pull at your incision. Working with a therapist on strategies to increase your independence and return to the daily activities you enjoy is invaluable.

I’m lucky that I decided to become an Occupational Therapist. It has enabled me to empower myself with knowledge about the human body and recovery from surgery. But you don’t have to be a therapist to have a positive recovery experience and lead a fulfilling life. If you’re feeling stuck, seek out a rehabilitation professional. You deserve quality care and support to feel confident and strong after surgery.

Wishing you well on your ostomy journey,

Charlotte

As you start your journey to recovery, you’ll experience that life after ostomy surgery is a new reality. No matter how far after surgery you are, you will need to adapt to your condition and cope with your new situation. If you’re looking for additional support during your ostomy journey, consider enrolling in Coloplast’s free online support program, Coloplast® Care! It is a personal product support program designed in collaboration with nurses to provide you with individualized product support and lifestyle education, and product access coordination. Coloplast Care is available when you need it – whether it is through our online educational resources offering reliable product and lifestyle advice, news and tips customized for your situation, or over the phone with our team of dedicated Ostomy Advisors. We’re here to help!

Visit us at www.ostomy.coloplastcare.us or call 1-877-858-2656.

Information from Coloplast® Care is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice and should not be interpreted to contain treatment recommendations.

About the author:

Charlotte Foley, MS OTR/L, CBIS, received her Occupational Therapy degree at Boston University and began her career in the adult Inpatient Rehabilitation setting. She now works in the adult Acute Care setting at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Because of her own personal and professional experience, Charlotte founded and runs her own education and consulting business, Restorative Ostomy Solutions, to empower individuals to feel strong and confident as they recover from ostomy surgery.

Charlotte has received compensation from Coloplast to provide this information.

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.

 

References

[1] AOTA (2021). What is Occupational Therapy? Retrieved from

https://www.aota.org/conference-events/otmonth/what-is-ot.aspx.

[2] APTA (2021). What Physical Therapists do? Retrieved from

https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy/becoming-a-pt.

[3] Boden, I., Skinner, E., Browning, L., Reeve, J., Anderson, L., Hill, C., Robertson, I., Story,

D., & Denehy, L. (2018). Preoperative physiotherapy for the prevention of respiratory complications after upper abdominal surgery: pragmatic, double blinded, multicentre randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 360:j5916. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5916

At sixteen, I got my first job doing janitorial work at an amusement park. As you might imagine, I wasn’t thrilled by the work, which included cleaning the restrooms. I remember coming home and complaining to my mother that I wanted to quit. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, her response would soon take on important meaning for me and the way I would approach the rest of my life. She said, “No, honey, you can’t quit. Our family does NOT quit.”

Her message of perseverance was never more critical than following the moment that changed my life forever – a turning point that resulted in my diagnosis of short bowel syndrome (SBS), a serious and chronic malabsorption disorder. Since that moment, I have had to show up for myself every day and make the decision to never quit.

In October of 1999, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, my family’s car was hit head on in a two-lane highway when someone crossed the center line and struck us. I was in the backseat with my then-girlfriend (who is now my wife) buckled in with a lap belt when we were struck. The seatbelt wrapped around my waist and caused me to lose blood flow to my intestines, which then had to be removed. I was left with no absorptive function and diagnosed with SBS. Though some people may arrive at an SBS diagnosis as a result of other gastrointestinal (GI) conditions, my introduction to SBS was abrupt. One day I was a college basketball player and homecoming king. The next I woke up in the ICU being told I would likely never eat or drink again.

The accident left my wife similarly injured — and also diagnosed with SBS — while my mom and stepdad also suffered injuries. Following the accident, our family church would bring food to the house to help out, only I couldn’t eat it. Seeing those casseroles had always been a sign of care, but in those early moments it was torturous. Getting the care I needed early on was a struggle – so much so that my grandma, an amazing supporter of mine, was one of the first people to step in and learn how to administer my total parenteral nutrition (TPN). I’ve been on TPN every night since then.

Due to my SBS diagnosis, for nearly two years, I also needed a jejunostomy, which is an opening created through the skin into the jejunum (part of the small intestines) that can be used for a feeding tube or as a bypass during bowel resection. The sudden need for an ostomy was difficult to accept at first, as I adjusted to my new life with SBS. As time went on and I finally became a bit more comfortable with my ostomy, I remember landing an interview for an internship I really wanted. However, I was so nervous during the interview that my sweat actually caused my ostomy to leak. Although I got the internship, which was a big step towards my personal goals, the experience was a learning curve in becoming confident in the balancing act I’ve had to develop over the years.

I was able to have the ostomy reversed before my college graduation and even graduated on time – a huge victory in the early stages of my SBS journey! But despite triumphing over those physical challenges, I had more hurdles to face, particularly in terms of my mental and emotional health.

For so long I had identified myself as a basketball player, an athlete, and in a single moment I was told that I would never play again. I cannot describe how devastating that was to hear. I wanted to fight, to call on the determination that had been a large part of my high school and college athletic career, but it was so hard to have that motivated mindset after being blindsided by a diagnosis of a rare disease.

Understandably, I was completely down in the mud for the first few months. I would lie in bed watching movies for hours because facing my reality was too heavy. After months of watching others live out their lives in those movies, I decided that I needed to stop avoiding the fight. I decided that, just as I had trained as an athlete, I now needed to train myself to live. I knew I had to focus on what I could control, lean into the discomfort and push through the obstacles to live life on purpose. Something I’ve come to call “living an intentional life.”

My decision to adopt an intentional mindset and train myself to live turned small steps into monumental milestones. The first thing I tasted after those initial months without any food at all was a red cherry Life Saver candy (ironic, right)? That was my small step. When I tried to make the leap to solid food, I admittedly pushed too far, too fast. Doctors told me that I could eat three bites of food, that was all. So, I bought myself a six-inch Subway sandwich, cut it into three pieces, and ate it in three bites! Regrettably, this wasn’t great for my digestive system at the time. But, it was a learning experience and it felt like progress to me.

To the disbelief of my doctors, and others around me, this shift in my mindset – my transition from victim to victor – translated to my physical health as I began to make steady progress. Nevertheless, I experienced challenges as I navigated how to best advocate for myself and balance my SBS management goals with my personal goals for living my best life.

It took a while to understand which types of care were best for me and the way I wanted to live my life. I am very thankful for my wife, who is a wonderful advocate, registered nurse and fighter. She is the one who was first able to step in and say, “No, this is not acceptable,” when working with my care team. It was hard at times to identify the right care solutions. For example, I initially had a Hickman (or central line), but the wires meant I couldn’t swim or shower. Both were too important to me to give up. Since I do not need to access my port for most of the day, I chose to have a high access port (chest level) that I can access each night instead of a central line that would interfere with my daily routine.

Adjusting to the new port was yet another obstacle, as I need to access it via needle. At first, I would get so nervous every night before that needle stick and I would just cry. But I am grateful I can trade that small amount of time each night for the ability to hold onto some important parts of my pre-SBS routine when I’m not hooked up throughout the day. For example, I remember how happy I was to take my first shower, something that I used to take for granted. I definitely used up all the hot water in our house that day!

These adjustments taught me to accept that I was not invincible and to instead focus on what I can control, taking small steps each day and forming habits to benefit me and my health. Though I have been on TPN every night since the accident, my TPN has evolved and is no longer my only source of nutrients. Now I take in ~30% of my nutrition from food and ~70% from TPN. I’ve also learned that sufficient levels of sodium and hydration are important, so now I salt everything and use lots of hydration tablets.

With my doctors’ support, I was able to start running again. In the beginning, I started with a few steps. Over time, I build up to just one mile each day. Then, I slowly built myself up to two miles, then three. Now, I have completed five half marathons! I continue to swim and play basketball, some of the things I worried I had lost forever because of my SBS diagnosis – I am so grateful they are still a part of my life.

I am also fortunate that my workplace includes a supportive team made up of healthy, go-getters who share similar mindsets to mine when it comes to living an intentional life. This work environment has encouraged me to meet my personal goals, including starting my own financial advising firm. Living with SBS can make the workday uncomfortable and unpredictable. But I establish boundaries and habits that set me up for success, such as the ability to avoid having meetings first thing in the morning or right after lunch when I might need to step away to manage gastrointestinal issues associated with my SBS. And my assistant is a great support in that area. Having those people in your life who have your back is everything.

Self-motivation is big for me, but connecting with others in the SBS community has been motivational in a different way. My wife and I went to advocacy group conferences early on, and I found it encouraging to hear from others with SBS. For example, a man who had been living for 55 years on TPN while continuing to thrive and take control of his journey inspired me to share my own story in hopes that others will see how it is possible to still live a great life with SBS.

I have experienced some very deep lows in my SBS journey, particularly in the beginning, but have learned to embrace the victories. I’ve even faced death, on one occasion in a very close call due to a staph infection near my port. It had brought my blood pressure down to 15/10 and forced the doctors to remove the port immediately. Yet, I’ve also seen the beauty of life – I have witnessed the first breaths of my children and so much more. I truly love life, and these experiences only further solidify my faith and perseverance.

This is a journey of ups and downs, but the downs don’t last. I believe we are not given more than any of us can handle, and I know that I can handle so much more than I ever thought I could. My faith, the blessings I have experienced in my life and the support of my care team, family and many others have brought me back to life. I would encourage anyone living with or caring for someone with SBS to be transparent about the challenges they may be facing and embrace them. Find opportunities within the obstacles and be intentional with your life.

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.

 

Photo Cred:  Dave Camara / Camara Photography

 

By Ed Pfueller, UOAA Communications & Outreach Manager

If you’re looking for Patrick McKinney you’ll likely find him outdoors. Depending on the season, McKinney, 54, of New Market, Maryland, can be found speeding down a ski slope, powering up a hill on his bike, tending to horses, or photographing his daughters playing sports.

That wasn’t always the case.  In 1984, as a 17-year-old, while donating at a high school blood drive, he was found to be anemic. The formerly active teen had been experiencing incontinence with blood loss for 18-24 months and was afraid to tell anyone.  After confiding in his mother and seeking a diagnosis, a colonoscopy revealed ulcerative colitis. By his mid-twenties he found himself hospitalized several times after his body stopped responding to conventional steroid-based therapies.  In 1993 he had the first of five surgeries that over the years eventually led to a temporary ostomy and a j-pouch. He was plagued by stricture problems and other issues with the j-pouch. “With the j-pouch I was still going to the bathroom 15-20 times a day when it was bad,” McKinney remembers. When another surgery was required in 2004 because his j-pouch perforated leaving him septic, his doctor at the Cleveland Clinic prepared him for the fact that depending on how it went, McKinney could wake up with a permanent ileostomy.

“It’s like being a kid again, wind blowing in your hair takes you back to your teenage years”

Indeed that was what happened and he experienced the struggles so many new ostomates have while trying to adjust both mentally and physically. McKinney now says, “Getting an ostomy was the best thing that ever happened to me, I got my life back.”

McKinney credits reading Rolf Bernirschke’s book Alive & Kicking for encouraging him to not be held back by his ostomy. “His book got my life back on a normal track. I started being an advocate and lived life again.” McKinney recalls.

McKinney wrote to Rolf and was honored to receive a Great Comebacks Eastern Region Award in 2008, which included the chance to meet the inspiring former NFL Man of the Year.  Since then he has embraced taking part in sports he had never even tried before having ostomy surgery.

McKinney’s first major post-surgery athletic challenge was competing in a half-marathon in Sonoma, California in 2009. The success of it inspired him to try other competitive sports. A family ski trip to Colorado piqued his interest in alpine ski racing. After entering an amateur event in 2014, he was surprised to learn his time qualified for nationals in his age group. After that he was hooked on “running gates.” McKinney has been alpine racing ever since and is a member of NASTAR’s Team Zardoz and the United Ski And Snowboard Association (USSA) Mid-Atlantic Masters Ski Racing Association and trains at Montage Mountain in Scranton, PA.

During the rest of the year, McKinney can most often be found on his bicycle touring the rolling hills of rural Maryland. As a member of the Frederick (Maryland) Pedalers Bicycle Club he rides over 3000 miles per year including events like the Tour de Frederick and the Civil War Century.

“It’s like being a kid again, wind blowing in your hair takes you back to your teenage years,” he says. For those hesitant to try riding again McKinney advises “Being prepared helps to put your mind at ease.” “Have a plan and know where the bathrooms are at local parks, I empty right before to go out. The back pocket on a cycling jersey is perfect for bringing extra supplies and wipes. My ileostomy tends to not have much output when I’m being active.”

In 2019 McKinney heard that UOAA’s National Conference was coming to Philadelphia, PA and welcomed the opportunity to see Rolf again and check out the unique event. Talking to other ostomates at the conference inspired him to do more with UOAA. “It helped me realize this is a chance to see what I can do, and that it is the right time to get more involved with the Frederick Area Ostomy Support Group.” McKinney has been an active member and is now the group’s President, supporting their activities even as in-person meetings were suspended this past year. In just the past few years he has offered his perspective as an ostomate to nursing students at a local community college and as an ostomy patient visitor. In support of Ostomy Awareness Day, he helped to procure proclamations from local government and organized a walk for the Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k, a major fundraiser for the programs and services of UOAA.

“Getting an ostomy was the best thing that ever happened to me, I got my life back.”

“The biggest thing is to provide some hope.  Almost everyone is devastated and so unsure about how to live through this experience,” McKinney says. On a national level, McKinney is now a member of the United Ostomy Associations of America Education Committee.

“I try to lead through living my best life. Sharing what I can do, but also keeping in mind to listen to your body. Get out there and walk, or ride on a bike.  For most, an ostomy will not impact that, I try to be encouraging and positive.”

His advice for other ostomates looking to get active? “Your only limitation is your mind.  If your doc says you are healthy enough do it, hydrate, hydrate, and always be prepared.”

By Elaine O’Rourke, Ostomy/IBD Health Mentor

Peristomal hernias are something that every ostomate should be aware of. Although a hernia can occur for a wide variety of reasons, there are some common factors to take into consideration, such as weight, age, level of fitness and other health issues.

Nurse Anita Prinz, CWOCN, is my guest in this must-watch video and we discuss hernias in detail. She shares a very informative slide show as well as showing different types of hernia belts and ostomy products that are useful if you have a hernia.

You will see and learn what hernias look like, how they form and preventive tips.

There are a great variety of hernia support belts on the market which can make a big difference. But you should be fitted/sized for your hernia belt as every body and stoma is different.

It is so important in the weeks following surgery not to lift or do anything strenuous. Even coughing can cause a hernia. Always proceed with caution especially when you are starting to exercise. If you are trying to get in shape and have not been active before surgery then you are advised to wear a hernia belt.

You might benefit from one-on-one instruction from someone such as myself who is trained and knows how to exercise safely and strengthen and engage the core with an ostomy. Hernias do not go away so you should consult your medical professionals to get more advice. Surgery can be done but be aware that hernias can reoccur.  Ask questions and be well informed.

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

Nurse Anita is available for a private consultation. www.AnitaNurse.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: ElaineOrourke.com

By Sarah Biggart

ostomy pool side

Though having ileostomy surgery 15 years ago gave me my life and freedom back, it does bring its own unique set of concerns and challenges in daily activities and pouch changing schedule. I typically change my full appliance every fifth day.

Change day is day one, and I change my entire pouching system again on day five. I feel confident in my appliance, and this changing system has worked really well for me. Leaks are few and far between; however, as is true for most ostomates, they do happen occasionally. Leaks can happen to all of us, although my longest stretch without a leak is five years – not too shabby!

For me, my daily routine includes showering, exercising, getting sweaty – and weather permitting – swimming and jacuzziing in our community pool with my friends, family and neighbors. Even while doing all of these regularly, a five day wear time holds up for me.

So now, let’s talk what I like to call “Moisture Math”, and the moisture related variables that may affect my wear time.

Travel & Convenience:
If I am going away for the weekend, or traveling, I will do a full pouch change the night before I leave. I have always been a “better safe than sorry” girl, and being an ostomate has reinforced that mindset. If I can get away with not having to do a full pouch change in an unfamiliar setting, I will, just for my own ease and comfort. I’ve been held up traveling before, and it can feel stressful and uncertain. When you’ve had to sleep in an airport, just the added comfort of knowing I have a few days before needing to do a full change is just one less thing to be concerned about. So when setting off on a journey, I like to start with a freshly changed system.

Weather:
I live in a very mild climate, not too much heat and humidity at any given time. My Ostomysecrets® Underwear keeps my pouch away from my body, and it helps limit complaints about excessive heat and moisture. I am a person who enjoys travel and adventures! Sometimes I wind up in warmer, muggier parts of the world. On those sweaty days, walking and exploring in the heat, moisture math joins the pouching equation. A couple of summers ago my family, friends and I spent 10 days in Florida, in July. Between walking an average of 10 miles each day enjoying Walt Disney World, swimming in the pools, afternoon downpours daily and being a general sweaty mess, I went to a very strict every other day change. It was more moisture than I typically deal with, and going back to my better safe than sorry mentality, it seemed like my best course of action. My sting free ostomy care products helped to make frequent pouch changes more gentle on my peristomal skin. I would do my changes at night in our room, in the air conditioning, so that my wafer had plenty of time to adhere to my skin before heading back into the sweltering Florida heat.

Daily Activity:
We all find our own way of managing our changing schedule, most Ostomy Nurses (WOC nurses) would recommend 3‐5 days of wear time. What I would definitely advise against is waiting until you HAVE to change due to a leak. Before you realize you have a problem, waste is coming into contact with your peristomal skin, and that may lead to skin damage. Above all, you want to keep your skin healthy, happy and intact. So when would my daily activity impact my wear time? Again it’s moisture math! I mentioned earlier that I like to swim and jacuzzi; a quick dip for an hour or so is very different than a big day out that involves being in a wet bathing suit all day. If I am planning a big day out on the water, in the pool, at a beach or waterpark, I figure that in to my changing schedule. For example if day one was Thursday, and day three is a big day out involving water, when I get home, I’ll typically shower and do a full change.

I’m always mitigating risk, and making smart, informed decisions regarding my ostomy. Adjusting my routine accordingly to moisture variables helps to keep my peristomal skin healthy allowing me to enjoy whatever life brings my way. Whether you are new to the ostomy world, or a seasoned pro like myself, planning ahead – just a little – may help you to experience life to the fullest.

More information from ConvaTec

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.

 

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!

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.

My name is Jodi Capobianco, I am 54 years old and have a permanent ileostomy.  Five years ago I was diagnosed with severe off-the-charts constipation and was to receive a temporary loop ileostomy.

I am so thankful that I did not let having an ostomy get in the way of me missing out on this awesome adventure.

Shortly after my surgery, I began having problems. To make a long story short, my colon became diseased and they removed it giving me a permanent ileostomy.  Unfortunately, shortly after my colon was removed I developed an abscess.  I actually ended up developing seven more before an amazing surgeon figured out that I had a leak.  He performed a small bowel resection and made my loop ileostomy an end.  That was over two years ago.  I was so weak when I came home I was using a walker.  I can honestly say life is now amazing. In fact, I just got back from rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon for eight days.

There were no bathrooms, heck there was no nothing just the big outdoors. I went with my husband, our trip started on a Saturday morning when we flew from Boston to Arizona. I was pretty pumped when my ostomy was not an issue while going through security.  Not that it is a big deal to be patted down, but it was nice to be able to skip it.  When I fly I try to limit my intake so I am not having to empty on the plane.  I also stay away from anything carbonated when I am out, so no bubbles.  We arrived in Arizona after traveling for about 9 hours. We headed to our hotel, where of course our room was not ready and got lunch.  I knew I would be near a bathroom for the afternoon and evening so I ate what I wanted.

That night was the orientation for the trip. I learned we would on the bus for about three hours the next morning with no bathroom break. Departure time was 6:45 am.  I decided not to eat breakfast but brought a bagel with me. I ate about an hour into the trip. I knew I would be able to use a porta-potty at the boat launch.  On the morning of the trip I changed out everything.  I ended up using wafers that were precut.  I usually cut my own but I did not want to have to deal with that. I used closed-ended bags that were waterproof. I am usually a drainable girl, but again I knew there really would not be a place to drain anything especially during the day. I also used three brava strips for reinforcement, and I use a ring under my wafer.

I had two complete changes in my dry bag, then in my shorts or pants I had three bags in a zipper pocket, I also kept a bag in my backpack in case we went hiking.

We were all given two dry bags for our stuff, one we could get to during the day and one we could not.  In my day bag, I had enough supplies to do two complete changes, 5 disposable closed ended bags as well as five bags I could put the disposable bags in.  The first night when we stopped at camp I was given my own ammo box.  This was a metal box that sealed.  I was able to put all my waste into it.  In the morning I would give the box to the trip leader, she would empty it and then when we stopped at camp for the night she would discretely give it back to me. The only bathroom in the camps were either behind a tree or rock and they consisted of a yellow bucket with a toilet seat on it to pee in and a metal bucket that contained waste.  I would pee in the yellow bucket but luckily did not have to deal with the smelly bucket for pooping in.  I would simply pop bags on and off when I needed to.

When we arrived at the camp for the night, which generally was a large sandy area by the side of the river, we all helped unload the boats.  Once the boats were unloaded, one would find their campsite for the night, lay out a tarp and sleeping pad. This is when I would take a minute to get organized. For me, this consisted of placing two closed-ended bags and baggies in a plastic cup near my sleeping bag.  This was so I could change in the middle of the night if I needed to. I also would place my headlamp nearby so I could find it easily in the dark and see what I was doing.

When popping a pouch on and off, I would place a small baggie (I used the blue ones that came with my bags) under the disposable bag so when I unclicked and popped it off it went right into that bag.  Next, I would pop on a new pouch and be good to go.  For the most part, I changed bags when we got to camp, right before bed, once in the middle of the night and when I woke up.

Having the precut wafers and closed ended pouches made all the difference in the world.

During the day I would set myself up as follows:  I had two complete changes in my dry bag, then in my shorts or pants I had three bags in a zipper pocket, I also kept a bag in my backpack in case we went hiking.  I would change bags after breakfast before getting on the boat and when we stopped for lunch.  I was generally good until we got back to a camp.

To change I would hide behind a rock or a tree or sit on my sleeping bag with my back to everyone.  I also had a small package of biodegradable baby wipes with me.

There were two times I had to change everything.  The first was three days into the trip.  I got off the boat and my skin itched.  This is generally a sign for me that something is leaking.  I had been in the water a ton this day so I was not surprised.  I peeled off all the adhesive from the brava strips as best I could, dried the area off, and put on a new wafer and popped on another bag.  The second time was two days later.  I knew that this time I really needed to wash the area and try to get a bit of the adhesive off my skin.  So, I went down to the river with a small washcloth that I had packed.  I took everything off and dipped the washcloth in the river and then scrubbed my skin as best I could.  I dried the area, covered my stoma with the cloth and went back to my campsite where I put on a new ring, wafer, brava strips and pouch. I did this all while trying not to get any sand on my skin.  Having the precut wafers and closed ended pouches made all the difference in the world.

The last day on the river was a half day.  Once we got off the boats we are onto a bus for three hours.   Luckily there was a real bathroom stop.  Here I just switched out bags.  We got back to the hotel and into the shower I went.  I had so much adhesive on my skin.  I used a ton of adhesive remover, then took a face cloth and washed the whole area.  My skin looked pretty good for being engulfed in adhesive for 8 days lol.  It took a while to get all the adhesive off.  It felt amazing when it was.  Obviously, when I got out of the shower I dried off and put on a new ring, wafer and bag, no brava strips.  My skin was very happy for this.

I am so thankful that I did not let having an ostomy get in the way of me missing out on this awesome adventure. I refuse to let anything get in my way of living.  I attribute the success of this trip to closed-ended bags, precut wafers, being organized but also for patting myself on the back and having an awesome attitude.

It’s summer and you should not let your ostomy stop you from swimming, exercising and having fun in the sun. Sweat and lots of time in the water can decrease the number of days between pouching system changes for some but there are some simple things you can do that can help. Elaine shares in this video several tips to get your wafer to stick longer. Check out her advice to prolong adherence of your ostomy pouching system especially when swimming, exercising and sweating more this summer.

UOAA also has more information on swimming and advocacy tools for any issues with access in public facilities.

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

Elaine O’Rourke is 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.  

Web: www.elaineorourke.com

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

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Email: Elaine@ElaineOrourke.com