Why they Happen and What to do

Elaine O’Rourke and Ostomy Nurse and Phoenix Magazine columnist Anita Prinz discuss ostomy leaks, reasons why they happen, what to do and how to help with skin breakdown. There is lots of valuable information in this interview for even those who have had their ostomies for many years. Elaine has had her ileostomy since 2005 due to Crohn’s disease and has had her fair share of leaks over the years until finding the right pouching system for her. If you are having persistent leaks then you should always consult with an ostomy nurse who can help find a solution for you.

You can find Elaine on Facebook and her “3 simple ways to overcome fears about your Ostomy” program at www.ElaineOrourke.com/ostomyprograms/

Saturday, October 3rd, 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of Ostomy Awareness Day. In partnership with United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA), Hollister Incorporated is proud to stand with the entire ostomy community in celebration. Every ostomate has a voice worth hearing and we aim to embody ostomy confidence of our worldwide community with #OstomateVoices.

Spread Positivity and Share Your Voice

We’re connecting and empowering our worldwide ostomy community to share their own unique experiences—their challenges, their achievements and the joys of their daily lives. Share your words of encouragement that have helped you along your ostomy journey. Your story might help someone who might be struggling. Using your words, we’ll create a unique social card that you can share with your friends, family, and community. Share your voice here!

Join Us for a Virtual Cooking Class

Join us for a virtual cooking class on October 3rd with private chefs Ryan Van Voorhis, a fellow ostomate, and Seth Bradley of Nude Dude Food™, one of Chicago’s most sought after private dining and catering services. Register today to connect with others in the community and cook a delicious meal. Register today!

For more resources on nutrition with an ostomy, check out UOAA’s Food Chart or download the “Eating with an Ostomy” Nutrition Guide.

Show Off Your Stoma Sticker

Stoma stickers are a great way to raise awareness, start a conversation, or show support. Order your free Stoma Stickers in time for Ostomy Awareness Day, shipped anywhere in the US.

Share a photo or video of your Stoma Sticker on social media using #StomaSticker to be part of the conversation. Or show off your Stoma sticker while running in your virtual Run for Resilience Ostomy 5K and share how you celebrated #OstomyDay2020.

Share your #OstomateVoices and personalize your next Instagram or Facebook Stories with the Hollister “Ostomate Voices” digital stickers. It’s easy – search “Ostomate Voices” in the GIF library when creating a Story and you’ll find the whole collection, including a UOAA lifesaver and Stoma Sticker!

For more resources and interactive ways to get involved, visit Hollister.com/ostomyawareness.

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

It can be hard to talk openly about living with an ostomy, but at Coloplast, our mission guides us in our everyday work and our employees embody a passion around hearing real-life stories from people with intimate healthcare needs. We have gotten to know Joel through his story, his resilience to keep fighting, and we are proud to stand with the ostomy community in raising awareness of ALL people living with an ostomy.

Join us, Joel and ostomates across the nation in participating in the Virtual Run for Resilience for the 10th Anniversary of Ostomy Awareness Day (OAD) on Saturday, October 03, 2020.

Joel’s Story

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 17 years old. Nine years later I had a very bad flare up that put me in the hospital fighting for my life. When the doctors first told me that the best option was to have ileostomy surgery, I was so upset but I was in so much pain I was hoping that it would make me feel better. When I finally woke up from surgery and realized I had an ileostomy – I cried. I didn’t even want to look at it. It took some time, but I got used to it, my stoma saved my life.

After surgery, the scariest thing for me was not knowing how I was going to move forward in life with an ileostomy. As soon as I got out the hospital, I began to work out every day, even if it was for 25-30 minutes. In 6 months, I was able to build my strength up enough to complete and graduate an intense 4-month police academy. Today, I continue to do what I love and recently completed my personal training certificate.

I am telling my story to tell you that you should never give up on something – even if it seems impossible. Stay strong, stay positive and keep pushing forward!

I am excited to walk, run with you all on Ostomy Awareness Day for the Run for Resilience and hope you will join in with me! I created this video, “Tips on Running with an Ostomy” for you all. I am always looking to connect, and support others so feel free to reach out to me if you need help, want to chat, or just need some support. You can find me on Instagram at @crohnically.fit

Join us for the Run for Resilience

Having an ostomy should not hold you back from participating in the run/walk. Our Coloplast® Care team is here to support you if you want to chat, just give us a call at 1-877-858-2656. We also have resources on our website on sports and exercise.

Coloplast is proud to be a part of the effort to build awareness that ostomies are lifesavers, visit our website to request a free sticker for OAD and join our contest for an opportunity to win some swag! We can’t wait to run/walk with you on October 03! Make sure to follow us on Instagram @coloplast.us for updates leading up to the event!

 

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

 

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

 

By Ellyn Mantell

From the time I can remember, constipation was always an issue for me. I assumed I was doing something wrong to cause it. It turns out that I was born, like so many, with a redundant foot of bowel, which in layman’s terms, means that my colon was not only oversized, but a portion of it went in the wrong direction. Here is what I mean…the colon or large intestine ascends on the right side (ascending colon) and goes across the abdomen (the transverse colon) and descends the left side (the descending colon.) That is exactly the path that stool takes in its journey to leave the body. My redundant foot of bowel meant that the transverse colon actually went up at the connection to the descending colon, for a foot, before heading downward, so stool had to travel against gravity before leaving my body.

My first barium enema was when I was 10 years-old, and although we didn’t know what the problem was, I was always told at that time, and every subsequent test, that my sluggish bowel would be an issue for me, (and it truly was, until my ileostomy 6 years ago). So, it came as no surprise that I was also told, each colonoscopy or c-t scan, that I had severe diverticulosis, which could become diverticulitis, a problem that often requires medical intervention.

The diverticula are small sacs that form along the mucosal lining of the colon, often due to straining to move stool through the intestinal tract, which puts pressure on the intestinal wall (which causes the bulging). This issue can worsen with age, medications and other causes of constipation. If the diverticula are inflamed or rupture, serious infection can result, which then is called diverticulitis.

While diverticulosis doesn’t cause discomfort, diverticulitis can be terribly painful, cause fever, constipation or diarrhea, nausea and fatigue. Several in our Ostomy Support Group have had resections of their colon and ostomies due to diverticulitis. Some choose to be reversed after the several weeks of healing necessary to allow the connection in the intestine to do its job. Others choose, instead, to live with their ostomy, which offers them freedom from constipation.

There are ways to avoid diverticulitis, and they are manageable for most. Eating a high-fiber diet rich with fruits and vegetables and whole grains is a great place to start. You may remember that I have also mentioned that is a smart way to enhance our immune system, which may help fight Covid-19. Add more fluids, and if possible, pitted watermelon, for an extra kick of fluid. These tips will soften waste and help it pass more quickly through your colon. That may reduce the risk of diverticula becoming inflamed. Also, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are very helpful.

Many physicians recommend reducing red meat; some used to say avoid nuts and seeds, although that restriction seems to have changed. As I tell others with an ostomy especially those with an ileostomy, if you eat nuts and seeds and fresh fruits and vegetables, which are healthy and filling, please chew, chew, chew, since that is the best way to avoid inflammation or a blockage.

Many medications can impact motility of the bowels, so be mindful to changes when you add or delete medications, and please address with your physician any concerns. And most important, if you notice any changes, pain, distention, nausea, vomiting or generalized discomfort in your abdomen that has you concerned, do not wait. Speak with your physician and consult UOAA’s blockage card and don’t be hesitant to go to the Emergency Room if needed. Much can be done to not only make you feel better, but to prevent a manageable situation from becoming extremely serious!

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

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/ 

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

Email: Elaine@ElaineOrourke.com 

The Annual Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k is Coming to You!

 

It’s a good year to celebrate your life. To get outside in the fresh air and get moving again if you can. To speak out and make noise that “Ostomies Are Life-Savers” and not something to be stigmatized or feared.

To keep everyone safe and adhere to any local COVID-19 guidelines all Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k events are being held virtually this year. That just means you can run, walk or roll wherever you want (even inside on a treadmill) and still be a part of Ostomy Awareness Day activities on Saturday, October 3, 2020.

We’ll be celebrating an ostomy community that has shown resilience long before “resilience” became the buzz word of the year. With your registration for the Worldwide Virtual Ostomy 5k, we’ll mail you a race bib, unique 10th Anniversary Ostomy Awareness Day Race T-Shirt and special stickers and sponsor giveaways. If you want to show your state pride and live in Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, Idaho, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon/Washington please consider supporting your local “Virtual 5k event.” You may have the additional opportunity to pick-up a race bag along with the t-shirt and giveaways at a safe location organized by the local race directors. (MI Run participants T-Shirts, race bags and materials will be mailed.)

You don’t have to be a runner or walker to support these charity events. This event has traditionally been a critical fundraiser for UOAA and the advocacy, resources, and educational materials provided for anyone in need of ostomy or continent diversion surgery. The canceling of in-person events will be a fundraising challenge we’ll need help to overcome. 

Please consider donating or starting a fundraiser like Catherine Salisbury Catherine shared her inspiring story on the fundraising page she created on the Virtual Run Sign-Up website.  

I was diagnosed with a hereditary colon cancer disease, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), in 2015. This diagnosis both saved and drastically changed my life. In 2016 I had a total proctocolectomy surgery with a temporary ostomy for three and a half months.  In 2019, desmoid tumors were constricting the blood flow to my j-pouch so I had to have it removed and had a permanent end-loop ileostomy created.  It has been an incredibly difficult journey, but I am beyond blessed with an amazing support system. My family and friends have kept me going through this whole crazy journey. I am beyond grateful for them.

I hope to raise money to help other ostomates who do not have the same incredible support team I have. -Catherine Salisbury

You may be surprised by how supportive others will be if you share your story and create a fundraiser. Catherine increased her fundraising goal to $1,000 after the response from her supportive friends and family helped her reach her original goal.

We also have incentive gifts featuring the “Ostomies Are Life-Savers” logo for those who reach goals of $250 and $400 and anyone who donates or raises $30 or more will receive a special bandana for themselves or their pet.

Starting a Group/Team is also a great way to connect with friends and family wherever they live so they can show support for your journey.  Groups of WOC nurses can claim bragging rights for regional participation (the team WOC This Way in Indiana is leading) and co-workers may have fun in challenging other departments. New this year we are excited that supporters of WOCN Society’s Fund the Future program are coming together for the We All Walk Together Team.

UOAA Affiliated Support Groups such as the one in DuPage County, Illinois looks forward to gathering members for a virtual event every year and are forging ahead with a team and fundraiser even as they anticipate COVID restrictions will not enable them to all meet up together at their usual park location. The year’s Exclusive Diamond Sponsor of the Ostomy 5k, Hollister Incorporated, is also planning another employee-wide event and we expect to hear about other sponsor events soon.

Ostomy Support Group of DuPage County at their Virtual Ostomy 5k in 2018, the group will be back this year with social distancing guidelines in mind.

For some extra motivation consider starting a couch to 5k training group with some friends to get ready and feel great in October. 

Wherever you choose to run or walk be sure to let others know about it to truly raise ostomy awareness. Take pictures of yourself doing your virtual race and email them to us or share/tag them with our public Facebook page. Hashtag your photos or stories #RunforResilience and we may repost on Twitter or Instagram.

We are very grateful for our national sponsors who help offset the costs of the events and believe in this mission. They have stepped up during this difficult year and remain committed to this event and the cause of ostomy awareness. 

Rally your friends, co-workers, and family to the cause of ostomy awareness. People are still choosing death over life with an ostomy and it’s up to you to help show the world what people living with an ostomy are really capable of.  

 

Register for a virtual event near you or for the worldwide Virtual 5k. Sign-up before 9/11/20 and save up to $5. The special price of $17.50 includes a special 10th anniversary of Ostomy Awareness Day technical t-shirt (Michigan is $22.50 shipping included). Worldwide Virtual Event Registration is recommended for those not near one of our local virtual events t-shirt packet pick-up locations.

Click Here to Register

Click Here to Donate or Start a Fundraiser

Having an ostomy should not prevent you from swimming. Below are some helpful tips to get you feeling confident in the water, whether it’s in your own backyard pool or at a beach.

  • You can swim or be in the water while wearing your pouching system. Remember, your pouching system is water-resistant and is designed not to leak with the proper seal. Water will not harm or enter your stoma.
  • Prior to swimming, make sure your seal is secure.
  • Empty your pouch before swimming. Also, ensure your wafer has been on for at least an hour prior to getting wet. If you are nervous about output, eat a few hours before jumping in.
  • If you use a filtered pouch, use a filter cover sticker on your deodorizing filter to prevent water from entering the pouch. You can remove the cover once you are dry.
  • Wear what makes you feel the most comfortable. Swimming with an ostomy should be fun and worry-free regardless of what you’re wearing. Shop with confidence knowing there are so many options that could work for you.
  • Always carry extra supplies in case you are somewhere where supplies may not be available.
  • For extra peace of mind, use barrier strips if you will be swimming for an extended time.

me+ Team Member Tip: “I tell people who are scared to swim with an ostomy to spend a few hours in the tub on a lazy day. If your pouching system holds up to that, then the pool should be a breeze.” ~Sarah B.

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.

By Ellyn Mantell

While walking this morning it occurred to me that for many Ostomates, the heat is very challenging. Ileostomates, in particular, are prone to dehydration because our stoma is always productive. In Mother Nature’s inimitable creation, the colon, or large bowel, is responsible for absorbing fluids and allowing them to be reabsorbed into the body. Since ileostomates either no longer have a colon or it is no longer being used, the precious fluids are flushed from the body through the stoma. Hence the rapid filling and refilling of the pouch, which can be worse in the heat.

Naturally, drinking water is advised. UOAA’s new ostomy nutrition guide recommends you “Make a habit of drinking water throughout the day. At the same time, limit or avoid beverages with added sugars and artificial colors and sweeteners.”  Many of us may have difficulty drinking enough to support our anatomy, so we need to be mindful of symptoms that we are lacking the hydration/dehydration balance.

Some symptoms of dehydration include headache, fatigue, dark or decreased urine, lack of concentration, dry mouth, feeling disoriented, shortness of breath, dry skin, stomach cramps. Additionally, leg cramps, loss of appetite, drowsiness, tingling in fingertips and muscle weakness are all concomitant to dehydration.

Learning to live with the chronic dehydration possibility presented to ostomates is certainly attainable. For me, since I do not have a high blood pressure issue which might preclude adding salt, it means adding it frequently at meals. It is strange to servers at restaurants when I ask for the salt shaker, and many have asked if I mean the pepper shaker? We have become a salt-resistant society. But there are those of us who need it for our fluid balance. Additionally, I have a handful of a salty snack before bed, such as pretzels, since nighttime muscle cramps can be very painful and cause sleep deprivation. I keep a bottle of tonic water in the refrigerator, as well as a jar of pickles for those times when nothing else works. For muscle cramps I recommend an over the counter foam moisture. The manufacturers recommend using it prophylactically at night, but I have found it usually very fast-acting when I have foot or leg cramps, so I apply as needed.

Many Ostomates swear by sports drinks like Gatorade, but truthfully, although I have a bottle in the refrigerator at all times in case of fever, I find it difficult to drink. However, if presented with the option of drinking it or winding up in the Emergency Room for fluids, I will imbibe gladly! It’s recommended you dilute sports drinks to reduce the sugar content as well. At some of our Support Group meetings I have heard of many different electrolyte balancing drinks and powders, so you may find one that works for you.

UOAA recommends you drink 8–10, eight-ounce glasses of water/fluid daily. If you have a urostomy this also helps prevent UTIs and keeps urine diluted. Concentrated urine also can cause odor.

View UOAA’s Eating with an Ostomy Guide for more hydration tips such as avoiding excess caffeine, eating foods with a higher water content and sipping your liquids slowly.

It has been recommended that Ostomates drink more than simply water, since it flushes through the system and little gets absorbed before it exits through our pouch. Drink with meals, since food slows down the transport of fluids. Bring fluids with you when you are out and about, since being busy may cause us to forget the responsibility we have to stay hydrated. Lastly, in addition to feeling awful when we are dehydrated, being in that state puts a great deal of pressure on our kidneys, and can lead to kidney failure and lightheadedness, which can lead to falling.

Although this sounds ominous for summer fun, being mindful and smart will help us to relax and enjoy ourselves…after all, with the Covid experience, we have learned to grab the good and be grateful we are as healthy as we are!

 

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

Chances are you will be able to return to your normal diet not too long after your operation. It is good to keep in mind that foods that were good and healthy for your body before your operation are still good for you. A well-balanced diet is recommended for most individuals.

Although your ostomy nurse more than likely will give you tips and advise you on your health and diet, here are some alternative helpful suggestions for maintaining a proper diet after your ileostomy or colostomy surgery.

Start Small

Ease your way back to proper nutrition with small quantities of food. It is recommended to eat 3 or more times per day in smaller quantities and portions. Try to eat these meals at the same time each day to help regulate bowel movements. Eating more frequently and in smaller quantities will help aid your body’s ability to process food and help with unnecessary gas.

For the first several weeks after your surgery, eating simple and bland soft foods will be easier to digest. Keep in mind that chewing your food well also adds to the ease of digestion – the more broken up it is, the easier it will be to process. Take your time with introducing high-fiber foods back into your diet as these will be harder to digest and can cause blockages.

If you are trying new foods it is advised to try them slowly and one at a time. This will help you to have a better understanding of how your body works with the new foods and if any will cause excess gas, constipation, strange odors, or diarrhea. Slowly incorporate them into your diet and make note of how your body responds to them. Remember that every body is different and what affects someone else may not affect you in the same way, this is why it can be helpful to keep a journal or diary of how your body responds to different foods.

Drink Lots of Liquids

It is important to drink lots of liquids with an ostomy. If you have an ileostomy, even more specific ileostomy dietary guidelines will be helpful. Dehydration can happen as you lose more fluids daily after an ileostomy, due to the fluid not being reabsorbed into the large intestine. Make sure to hydrate even more on hot and humid days or if you are participating in active sports. (Sports drinks and other high electrolyte drinks can help with this.)

Coffee and tea are fine to drink, but water and juices are still better sources of liquid, so be careful not to use coffee or tea as a substitute for water.

Can I Drink Alcohol With my Ostomy?

Alcohol is fine in moderation, you may want to try one drink (or even a half) and wait and see how it affects your body. Like other carbonated beverages, beer may cause extra gas and uncomfortable bloating but every body is different and what affects one person, may not affect you in the same way.

Ostomy Problem Foods

Even though you can still enjoy most of the foods you loved before surgery, there are some foods to be aware of after your ostomy, specifically foods that are hard on digestion and can cause blockages. The following is a list of common foods that can cause problems, as they don’t break down easily:

Nuts
Seeds
Popcorn
Dried fruit
Mushrooms
Raw-crunchy vegetables

Eat these foods in small quantities and be sure to chew them well. If you think you have a food blockage, you should call your doctor or ostomy nurse. Having an ostomy certainly doesn’t mean you have to completely change your diet. By steering clear of a short list of problem foods and making sure to stay hydrated, you can get back to enjoying the foods you love.

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.

Finding Hope in the Stories of Others

By Scott Steehn

All stories have a beginning, and mine is no different. It started on a cold, slate-colored February day in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1992. I was a successful standup comic who had headlined clubs and theaters in all 50 states and seven foreign countries. I was recently engaged to my soulmate, and we were making plans for a big October wedding. I was just finishing up a great week at a terrific comedy club in Erie and, as I prepared for my two shows on Saturday night, I felt like everything couldn’t have been going any better. But, in just 12 hours, none of those things would matter.

It started when I was onstage during the first show. I began having abdominal pain on my left, lower side. It wasn’t a huge pain and mainly felt like a had a fairly intense need to move my bowels. I finished up my show and made a beeline to the restroom. And…nothing happened. Nothing at all. The NEED was still there, and, in fact, it was getting worse. I, of course, had been constipated before, but this felt somehow…different.

I did my second show, but the pain was now almost unbearable. I headed back to my hotel, stopping only at a drugstore to pick up a laxative. I had convinced myself it was just constipation and had even assigned the blame to the shrimp dinner I’d had the night before. “Fresh Shrimp” in February…in Erie?! What did I expect to happen?

I took the laxative. And I waited. And tried. And waited some more. And then the pain got bad. Real bad. I could barely walk and couldn’t move without intense pain shooting out from my left side. Now I had a new theory. Burst appendix. This was before the days of Web MD, and I was limited to only what my imagination could conjure to freak myself out. So, not wanting to die a ridiculous death in the Erie Hilton, I called a taxi and headed to the hospital.

They got me into an exam room in short order. The doctor examined me and, taking advantage of his fancy medical degree, immediately eliminated appendicitis. So much for that. He then told me he had an idea what it was but wanted an MRI to confirm the results. A quick trip through the “donut of doom” confirmed his initial diagnosis. It was something called diverticulitis. He explained how we all have small abscesses in the colon and how they usually don’t cause any problems. Sometimes, however, those abscesses become infected. It causes horrible pain and constipation, and once it gets this bad, it has to be treated with antibiotics and mass quantities of fluids. I spent a painful week in the hospital and was discharged with very specific instructions on how to adjust my diet and lifestyle to prevent a recurrence. I thanked all the staff for the great job they did, signed some papers, checked out…and promptly ignored his instructions for the next 20 years.

Christmas Eve, 2012. My wife has had enough. The final straw came when I was unable to make it upstairs for the family gift exchange. As soon as it was over, she came down and told me we were going to head to the emergency room. I didn’t have the energy to argue. Plus, I knew she was right. I’d been feeling terrible for almost three years. Something was definitely not right. It seemed like it emanated from the “diverticulitis spot” that I had become intimately familiar with due to the flare-ups I suffered through two or three times a year. The only confusing part was I had undergone a colonoscopy six months prior and had received a clean bill of health. Only much later did I learn that I had received a negligent result. My doctors all agreed- there was no way my problem could have been missed.

I should have known I was in trouble when, after the emergency room doc saw me initially, he asked me if I’d like anything for pain. I jokingly said, “Sure, how about some morphine?” He immediately replied, “Okay, we’ll get that going for you.” Uh oh. A little later he told me I had a blockage that had been caused by a buildup of scar tissue from the repeated flare-ups of diverticulitis. They needed to get rid of the infection and then remove the two damaged sections of bowel. Surgery was scheduled for New Year’s Eve. Merry Christmas and Happy freaking New Year!

I spent the next week in a morphine haze. I met my surgeon, a brilliant young lady who looked impossibly young for someone with that much schooling. She explained that they were hoping to remove the damaged sections laparoscopically. It was a relatively simple procedure that would require a couple of days of recovery in the hospital, a week or two at home, and then back to my normal life. The alternative would be invasive surgery, much longer recovery time, and, while the healing took place, I would need to have a colostomy. Due in part to my opiate fog and also due to my refusal to accept reality, I was 100% convinced everything would be done laparoscopically. No worries.

The first thing I noticed when I came to was something in my throat. Something huge and foreign. As my world blinked into focus, the nurse was there to explain to me that the damage was much worse than they had anticipated. Full surgery had been performed and I was going to be in the hospital for a while. The drugs were very helpful in allowing me to deny exactly what exactly that meant. I was much more concerned with getting the tube out of my throat and the catheter out of the other end. That cavalier attitude about my situation would soon change.

The nurses and staff were great. They changed my colostomy bag for me and allowed me to STILL not grasp my situation. That all changed when I met the ostomy nurse. She was tasked with teaching me the intricacies of daily life with a colostomy. Reality came crashing through the door when I spent 30 minutes hiding in the restroom in tears unable to change my bag. I can’t do this! This isn’t fair! (Conveniently forgetting the 20 years I had spent ignoring my doctor’s orders) Gathering myself, I sucked it up, and FINALLY was able to do it on my own. I was discharged and sent home to recuperate and heal for 30 days before heading back to the hospital for takedown surgery.

I’d like to tell you a story about how well I adjusted. About how I was brave. About how I was thankful to be alive. About how I now appreciated my friends and family even more. About how I would now refused to take all the beauty of life for granted. That’s the story I’d like to tell. But I can’t. It would be a lie. Even though none of you know me, I promised myself I would be 100% honest about my journey. Warts and all. So here goes.

It was awful. I hated every minute of it. I thought having a colostomy was gross. And hard. Life wasn’t fair. NOTHING was fair. I can’t do this. There were the usual indignities. Accidents. Broken seals. Excess gas. I was in hell. Never for one moment did I think how my situation affected those around me. How my actions and attitude affected my family, and, my wife in particular, who only wanted me to get better and get back to being the man she married. As an added bonus, I was also taking 12 Oxycodone a day for pain, and, rightly suspected, now had a raging opioid addiction. My day consisted of sleeping, crying, bitching at my family, thinking about death, and dealing with my new, hated, appendage. Day after day. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Then, one day while noodling around on the internet, I found UOAA. I started reading about my condition. And I started reading other people’s stories. I found out just how many dealt with this particular challenge. I was stunned. And the more stories I read, the more my respect grew. People who had to deal with this for years. For decades. Tears streamed down my face as I read their stories. I’d love to tell you everything changed that day. How my attitude changed overnight and how I became Mr. Positivity. Alas, it wasn’t that simple.

What DID happen, is I became embarrassed about my actions. I had always prided myself on being a tough guy who dealt with problems head-on. The more I read on ostomy.org, the more I knew this was a lie.

Every day I read the stories of real heroes. Men and women who possessed the biggest superpower of all, the ability to live a normal life despite adversity that was currently bringing me to my knees. To say they inspired me, would be an understatement. Closer to the truth would be, they saved my life.

They gave me practical advice, “insider tips” on everything from bathing to sex, and something I hadn’t felt in a long time. They gave me hope. I never posted on the UOAA discussion board. Hell, I don’t think I even registered. Due to my “temporary” status, I really didn’t think anyone wanted to hear my whining. If everything went well, my life would go back to “normal,” while these people would continue to lead quietly heroic lives day after day, year after year. I didn’t feel worthy. And I still don’t.

That’s my story. Sure, there’s more, including an unsuccessful takedown, massive infection, emergency surgery, and an ileostomy for a few more months. There was a wound vac, and an in-home nurse to change my dressing daily. And, of course, after 6 ½ months of daily opioid use, I still had to deal with that King Kong-sized habit. Yet, in the end, I was okay. It probably took almost two years to feel like me again. And even that isn’t completely accurate.

I recovered, I felt better physically, but “myself” was different. I was more appreciative, more humble, and more thankful. I was well, but I’d never be the same.

So, thanks for reading. Thanks to Ed Pfueller for giving me an opportunity to share my story. Thanks to the whole team at UOAA and, for that matter, all of the sites designed to educate, inform, and help everyone on this particular journey. Lastly, more thanks than I could ever express to all the men and women who bravely shared their stories through blogs and forums. Thanks for your bravery. Thanks for your humor. And thanks for giving me the courage to understand and accept my condition with, what I hope, was grace and determination that would make you all proud. God bless each and every one of you and may your lives be full of the joy and love that you so richly deserve. I am forever in your debt.