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.

 

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.

Don’t let an ostomy stop you from having some summer fun

By Annemarie Finn

When I received my bladder cancer diagnosis and the treatment plan, a radical cystectomy with an ileal conduit, I was devastated. Like so many, I went through many stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Sadness and Depression, and finally, Acceptance. It felt like a double whammy. It seemed like the “cure” was worse than the disease. I would be forever changed. It was hard to wrap my brain around. It is one of the reasons I decided to write about my experience. I had no idea what to expect and did not know where to turn. I saw some videos of survivors with ileal conduits but, I did not relate with the speakers. They were 20-30 years older than I was. I really did not want to envision a life as an elderly person before it was time.

I can use a public restroom without having to sit on the gross toilet!

What would my quality of life be? I was terrified that life, as I knew it was over. Would I be able to work? What activities would I be able to do? What would I never do again? I had so many questions and fears.

So, what can I do now that I have a urostomy?

Honestly, I can do everything I could do before. When you first get out of surgery, you are hardly able to walk around your room. When you go home, the end of the driveway is a monumental trek. By persevering and trying to walk more everyday, I was able to go from measuring distance in feet to measuring in miles. Today, I try to walk 5-10 miles a day! I have hiked intermediate trails in the hills of Eastern Massachusetts. I have discovered miles of trails in my hometown that I didn’t even know existed. I am probably healthier than I was before I got sick.

Can you take a bath?

People often ask if you are able to bathe with a bag. It is very nerve wracking initially to expose your stoma. They are fairly active. I call my stoma, Squirt, when he (yes, it’s a he) acts up. He does spray urine. Picture a male toddler squirting. That’s what it’s like. We have no control over it. That’s why we wear a pouch.

As you can see, a urostomy after a radical cystectomy is a life changer, but in a good way.

You can wear your urostomy bag in the shower. You do not need to cover it or keep it dry. It is a good idea to dry the skin around it with a hair dryer on low when you are done. You can even take your bag off and shower without it. I am over two years out from my surgery and that is how I prefer to do things on my change day. I change my bag every 3 days. I prepare all of my materials (bag, ring, barrier, paper towels, remover spray) then remove my bag. I then take a shower. I wash the skin around the stoma with just water or soap for sensitive skin. Just make sure you do not leave behind any lotion or any residue that would affect the barrier sticking to your skin. I keep paper towels ready to catch any drips when I am done and dry the skin with a hair dryer on the cool setting. I then just put on my prepared bag. I have some skin issues and find this helps with the itching and discomfort. It feels so good not to have the bag on for a while.

What about swimming?

I am a water rat. I can be in the water for hours, literally hours. It doesn’t matter if it is in the ocean, a lake, or a pool. I have done them all. Personally, it has not affected the amount of time I am able to wear a pouch. I am still able to go 3 days. I am able to swim, kayak, and paddleboard with my urostomy. I even just float. It has not interfered with my love of water at all. Even better, I can wear a regular bathing suit. I have worn tankinis for years, and not because of my urostomy. I no longer have a toned teenage body. I don’t even have a toned 30 something body. I like 2 piece tankinis as they hide a multitude of sins. After I got my urostomy, I decided to buy regular 2 piece bathing suits. Ironically, I am much more comfortable with my new imperfect body than I ever was before. My family laughs at me because, where I was self-conscious before, I now show off my body. Maybe it was having so many strangers looking at my most intimate body parts in the hospital or maybe I am proud of my battle scars. You cannot see my bag with my bathing suit on. It’s honestly no big deal.

There are so many other things I have been able to do since my urostomy. I ride my bike. I participated virtually in the Norton Cancer Institute Bike to Beat Cancer, a 35 mile bike ride. I did it in steps but I gave myself a pass since it was only months after my surgery. I garden, do yard work, spread mulch, work, travel, you name it. As you can see, it has not limited me in any way. Because of my urostomy and thanks to my night bag, I can sleep through the night without having to get up to use the bathroom. That means I can drink up until I go to bed! I can sit through long car rides and movies with said night bag. I can use a public restroom without having to sit on the gross toilet! I can write my name in the snow!!! That is not conjecture, I actually did it. My sex life is good. I am planning a European vacation. Both of those will be the topics of future blogs.

What about what I can’t do

The list of what I can do is long. What about what I can’t do. I can’t pee like I used to. I am careful about lifting. I had a hysterectomy with my radical cystectomy so no more children for me. Since I was in my late 50s when I had my surgery, it’s not really an issue but, I am trying to be honest here. That is something to consider if you are younger. Definitely talk to your doctor if you want children. I can’t play the piano, but I couldn’t before. That’s about it.

As you can see, a urostomy after a radical cystectomy is a life changer, but in a good way. You can still do what you did before and even try new things. Even better, it is a life saver. Go out and live your best life. That’s what I am doing.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing Ostomy Advocacy and Giving Back

 

By Angie Davenport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m free, living with my ostomy!

 

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

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

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

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

Somewhere along the way, I found my strength.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Second Opinion Leads to a Life-Changing Ostomy

In the spring of 2014, I had completed another colonoscopy for my ulcerative colitis. It was my fifteenth colonoscopy in twelve years and many prescriptions of drugs later to curtail the bleeding of the polyps in my intestine.

I had a very productive career and life with a CPA practice for 34 years. In Grapevine, Texas I served on the school board and as a city council member, and was named “Citizen of the Year.”  But bleeding and bathrooms were getting on my nerves, so I called the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, unbeknownst to my gastro doctor.  I told them that I wanted another opinion.

After four days of extensive tests, discussions, colonoscopy, the doctors at Mayo concluded that the polyps were entirely too large to remove by minor surgery without bigger risks, and that removal of my large intestine was recommended. Cancer was discussed at length including risks and possibilities with large polyps and various medical unknowns involving my circumstances.

My large intestine was removed January 4, 2015. The surgery was in my home town and I had a great ostomy nurse that taught me all of the intricacies of the ostomy pouch and supplies. I returned to retirement life again here in the Mountains of Texas where it is cool in the summer and we return to Grapevine for the winter where we had our careers.

I am 76 today and walk with my dog 3 to 10 miles each day.  I play golf anytime I can. I am very active in my small town and I play the organ at our church each Sunday. I am not overweight and enjoy eating most anything.  I find it necessary to chew every piece of food very well.  I avoid nuts, corn, kale, popcorn, and tough fruit skins.

I love life and I am so happy for the decisions I made.

Living with an Ostomy and IBD led her to become an Unexpected Beauty Queen and Advocate

 

Hi Everyone! My name is Robin Brown, I’m a 40-year-old wife, momma & farm girl. I also happen to have an ostomy and the title of Mrs. Washington World America!

My relationship with my guts has been a long battle….even as a child I suffered from severe ulcerative colitis symptoms but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I had my first bowel resection at age 21 as result from an infection following an appendectomy. I lost my marriage and some guts but I finally got some answers…or so I thought. The next ten years were a rollercoaster of medications, treatments, alternative therapy and surgeries(15 to be exact.)

I was miserable. My family was miserable. But, I’d had enough and didn’t want any more treatments. Soon I was back in the hospital and one doctor reviewed ALL my info and said he knew exactly how to fix me…OK, just one more surgery then. Well, he was right…he fixed me!! I was no longer having incontinence issues, I could eat again (personalized diet plan) and was feeling great compared to the previous ten years. End of story right?!

WRONG! Less than a year after surgery I was in an accident where I was crushed between our off-road truck and the back wall of our garage. It was a literal and figurative blow that nearly took my life. I had holes in my large intestine, holes in my small intestine, a shattered pelvis, four broken bones in my back and an aortic aneurysm. I had to undergo countless operations, hours of physical therapy and I was even put into a coma while doctors worked fixing one piece at a time.

After everything began to heal I realized how broken I was. After the accident, I lost myself. I had worked as a medical assistant for years and loved working in healthcare. Now that was gone. I was finally a mother after trying for nearly ten years. Now I couldn’t even lift my two-year-old son for a hug. I took great pride in being a partner to my husband. Now I needed him to help me sit on the toilet. I was stressed and depressed. My UC symptoms worsened by the day and now that I had shortened guts it caused a multitude of other problems like rectal prolapse (twice!) which led me to finally agree to get my colostomy pouch. I cried, a lot.

Being home, then in and out of the hospital, and no longer able to have a 9-5 job I decided to start a little online business selling skincare and cosmetics. Not really to make money but just to feel like I was doing SOMETHING! I had to get out of this funk. I was hiding. Hiding from my husband, even though he had an easier time accepting things than I did. Hiding from my reflection- because every time I saw myself I felt depressed and sad. I was hiding from the world by wearing bulky sweatshirts in the middle of summer so no one would see my bag. Then one day in my online makeup group I shared a bit of my story. The response was amazing and beautiful and that’s when things began to shift. One afternoon I received a message from an old friend suggesting I compete in a Mrs. Beauty pageant since the focus is so much on what you do to inspire rather than just what you look like. Me? In a pageant? Probably not. Then a few weeks later the same suggestion from another. Ok universe…I hear you. I decided to apply for the Mrs. Washington America pageant and was quickly named Mrs. Mason County.

Great! What in the heck did I sign up for? Before surgery, I swore off swimsuits and anything tightly fitted. Now, not only will I wear a swimsuit on stage but I’m going to ask to be JUDGED?!?! What on earth was I thinking? Now, in addition to volunteering and fundraising, each queen must have a platform. Something they want to bring awareness to and are passionate about. The obvious choice for me was gastrointestinal disease and ostomy awareness and education, but that’s not the most beautiful platform and can make people uncomfortable. As quickly as the idea came, fear and doubt began to creep in and I promptly began thinking of other ideas.

At my first pageant event, a holiday party to meet all the other queens, we were introduced to a designer that would be custom designing an opening number dress for each of us! As I chatted with the designer I quietly mentioned I had a colostomy bag and could we design something to hide it as much as possible because I wanted to feel beautiful. A short while later I bumped into a sister queen at the elevators. She introduced herself and wanted to know if she could ask a personal question…of course, I said! She asked if she overheard my conversation correctly that I had a colostomy bag? Yes, yes I do! “Really?!? Where, I don’t see it?” She continued, “are you happy you made that choice? What’s the hardest part? Does it hurt?” A million questions rolled off her tongue at once and then she shared her struggles with GI disease and the fact that an ostomy has come up in her doctor’s appointments and she was terrified and thought life would be over¬– until she met me! I knew right then, I had the right platform and that by sharing my story I could help others in ways I never dreamed.

At that moment a woman approached. She wanted to let me know her husband has an ostomy and seeing me on stage gave them so much hope and even though I didn’t win they were cheering for me! Again, I had to thank the universe for letting me know I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

In the months leading up to the pageant, I began volunteering at hospitals and schools, sharing about differences and acceptance. I had the opportunity to be a speaker with a major medical company to share my ostomy journey and provide input to how they can better serve our community. I even went live on Facebook and showed my bag to the world!

In a few short months, I became empowered and proud of my body and my spirit again. I walked the stage in a swimsuit like I was a supermodel, rocked a gorgeous FITTED gown with grace, and with a smile heard myself say the word bowels, as it proudly rang through the pageant auditorium.

Guess what? I didn’t win. I did not even place in the top 10. I went to the coronation party with a stage smile and promptly excused myself with my best friend by my side. She knew I needed to cry. As we reached the bottom of the grand staircase I could feel the tears of disappointment welling, and her hand grasping tighter to my arm letting me know I just had to keep it together for a few more seconds. At that moment a woman approached. She wanted to let me know her husband has an ostomy and seeing me on stage gave them so much hope and even though I didn’t win they were cheering for me! Again, I had to thank the universe for letting me know I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Soon after, I applied to represent Washington at the Ms. World International pageant after a few weeks and committee meetings later, I was selected! I am now Mrs. Washington World America and I couldn’t be more proud to represent my state and the ostomy community at the upcoming pageant.

I never thought I’d have an ostomy. I never dreamed this farm girl would be a beauty queen. I never imagined my trials would become my triumph and my story of hope. Throughout my life, many have attempted comfort me with the words “everything happens for a reason.” This honestly just kept me waiting for a moment of clarity and answers but that moment never came. I found no reason! I think sometimes bad things just happen and it’s up to us to give them meaning and purpose. For me this is it. Sharing my story, my triumphs, my tragedies. All in the hope that it can be a light for someone stumbling in the darkness.

 

Robin Brown will be this year’s Ostomy Awareness Day Champion for UOAA. Check out all the ways to get involved and join with her on Saturday, October 3, 2020.  

Bladder cancer and urostomy surgery do not stop Annemarie from living her best life.

I am a bag lady. I am highly educated and employed, yet carry a bag wherever I go. I don’t leave home without it. Because of bladder cancer, I have a urostomy. Like many other women, it took some time for my diagnosis. At 57, many of the symptoms I experienced were attributed to my age: menopause, UTIs, kidney stones, fibroids, etc. Thanks to the fibroids, I was scheduled for an ultrasound. It was my gynecologist who found the bladder tumor. She referred me to a urologist. In fact, she insisted. Her office called to make sure I followed through. I met that week with a local urologist. He did a scope. I saw him look at the nurse, concern written on both their faces. He started talking about surgery and apologizing for the diagnosis. In my naivete’, I had gone to the appointment by myself. I don’t remember him even saying the words, but I had bladder cancer.

Scans and a transurethral resection of a bladder tumor (TURBT) were scheduled for the following week. Usually an outpatient procedure, I was in the hospital for 4 days due to heavy bleeding after the TURBT. The tumor was large and the doctor couldn’t get it all but he thought it had penetrated the muscle. Unfortunately, the pathology was inconclusive so he did another TURBT the following week. The outcomes were exactly the same so we both decided my best chances were for a second opinion at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Throughout our discussions, he explained what my future might entail. It looked likely that they were going to have to remove the bladder and I would either have a new “bladder” or a bag. Quite honestly, I had no idea what it entailed, but I was horrified.

Dana-Farber is an amazing place. I had a whole team in place: a medical oncologist, an oncology urologist, a nephrologist, among others. The plan was an MRI to confirm the tumor’s pathology, a nephrostomy tube, chemotherapy and, if the cancer had not spread, a radical cystectomy. If it had spread, I would not need surgery but would be eligible for palliative care. Who would have thought surgery is the best case scenario. Due to claustrophobia, and despite anesthesia and Ativan, I moved so the MRI was inconclusive. I needed another TURBT. Thanks to my new amazing surgeon, the tumor was removed and the passage to my kidney was cleared. The pathology of the tumor showed no spread to the muscle and an ultrasound showed no more kidney hydronephrosis. Even better, I would no longer require chemotherapy. I did try immunotherapy with BCG but it did not work. The cancer was aggressive so we had to treat it aggressively. My radical cystectomy was scheduled for January 25, 2019.

It took me a long time to get there. I even asked what would happen if I did not receive the surgery. I would be dead in a year.

Wow, that was sobering. Because of the proximity of the tumor, I did not qualify for a neobladder. I would have to have a urostomy. Every time I talked about it, or even thought about it, I cried. I felt like I was going to be a freak. I offered my husband a divorce if he wanted one. I was devastated and frightened. I have learned that fear of the unknown and our imaginations are far worse than the reality. While so much of what had happened to me was out of my control, I did have control over one thing: HOW I handled everything. I decided knowledge was power. I was fortunate. My hospital had a class for urostomy candidates. For the first time, I was able to see an actual urostomy pouch. I was given hands-on instruction on how to change a bag. I met ostomy nurses (the best people in the world!) who would be helping me.

I decided I would be the one to handle my changes, right from the start. I would take control.

My surgery lasted 7 hours. I needed a transfusion but things went well otherwise. The surgery was not easy. People have described it as feeling like you were hit by a bus. I never really had any pain. It was easily managed with Tylenol. However, I was so weak. I eventually needed an iron transfusion. The one thing I wish I had gotten for my return home was a shower chair. Showers were the worst for me. It took me two months to feel more like myself and another month before I felt ready to return to work. I also cannot say enough about getting a good ostomy nurse. I have been described as a delicate flower (surprising to those who know me). I have very sensitive skin. The nurse was a Godsend to me in trying to manage all of my skin issues. After my visiting nurse visits ended, I continued to see the ostomy nurses at the hospital where I had my surgery. It took a year but, through trial and error, I finally have gotten a handle on things.

I had a few leaks. They were usually caused by user error. They were not the huge floods I expected. Honestly, none of this was as awful as I expected. So many people said this would be my “new normal”. I can’t stand that term. I call it my new reality. There isn’t anything normal about having a urostomy. However, it is very doable. I now wear two-piece bathing suits. I didn’t before. I am wearing the same clothes as I did before. I can kayak, hike, ride my bike, swim for hours, anything I did before. I was here for the birth of my first grandchild. I am back to work, a job that I love. I am not shy about talking about my bag to others. It is not a secret. In fact, I am kind of proud of it. I am alive and life is good.