Living 10 steps from death’s door can take an emotional toll. My name is Makeda Armorer-Wade and I am an inspirational life coach and best-selling author. In July 2010, I received my first ostomy and January 2016, I received my second. While both surgeries were difficult physically as well as emotionally; my first was more difficult than the second, because I was not included in the decision in any way. It was an emergency surgery following a resection surgery a week earlier. The decision was made during a follow-up test and they were actually drawing on my belly in the elevator on my way up to the room. It landed me in the ICU and 10 steps from death’s door.

The second ostomy surgery was a decision that I made based on the recommendation from my GYN and surgeon. I was so debilitated that this was my only option. So although it was very difficult, it was less traumatic than the first, because I was involved in the decision and I thought I knew what I could expect.

I went to the United Ostomy Association of America (UOAA) and read everything that I could. I went to what I call, “Ostomy School.” I did my best to connect with patients who were having a similar experience. Because I have lived with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis from the age of 16; I’ve understood the necessity to research and learn all that I can to manage my condition. Crohn’s disease was not a common diagnosis at the time I was diagnosed, and giving up wasn’t an option for me. Connecting with others and gaining knowledge was freeing. The more I learned, the more comfortable I became with living and embracing life with my new friend (ostomy) Rosebutt Buttercup. Yes, I named her. I was able to support new ostomates by participating in the monthly Mt. Sinai post-surgical support group.

Having my second ostomy has given me the freedom to go back to work, take care of my family, swim, cycle, attend social gatherings, participate in community service and travel. Sometimes listening to the despair of my fellow ostomates and experiencing my own despair at times, for lack of knowledge is what spurred me into action. I wanted to be an example, that there is still life to be lived after an ostomy. Our mindset is important. Where our mind goes, the body follows. Life is what we make of it.

As an author, coach and public speaker. I use my platform to share my story, as evidence that life can be all the things that you are open to making it. I am advocating for sponsorship to release a course that will be available for a small fee, to anyone who has an ostomy, considering getting one or a caretaker of someone who has one.

The biggest positive about living with an ostomy is understanding that without it, I would not be here. The first one was reversed, but as I moved toward having my second one I knew enough and it was the only way. I made the decision to move forward and I am not looking back. I had to embrace that I was enough and the new possibilities for my life were endless.

I realized that as long as I follow my P.L.A.N.(c), I have fewer challenges. I Prepare by anticipating each scenario; I Let go of Shame for all of the things that I can’t always do; I Ask for help when needed; and I Never give up no matter what. Repetition breeds mastery.

So, I share with others that having an ostomy is just an alternative way of going to the bathroom. We all have to go the bathroom. But now, I have the benefit of having more control over when I go. An ostomy is life-saving. An ostomy is an opportunity to really live your best life on purpose.

And while you may not feel that way in the beginning. It does get better. My advice as an experienced ostomate, is to get as much information about your surgery prior to getting it, if time allows. Speak to people who are successfully living with and managing their life with their ostomy. Read, watch videos and ask as many questions as you may have. And then work your P.L.A.N.(c). Be inspired, Be encouraged, Be hopeful. I believe in you. The possibilities are endless.

I  had been increasingly struggling with symptoms for over two years with medical personnel brushing me off because I did not fit the norms for bladder cancer and didn’t check off enough risk factors for it. By the time of diagnosis, at the age of forty, I was perpetually in pain and discomfort, I was periodically urinating blood clots and I was unable to sleep through the night due to the pain and frequent urination. I felt like I spent most of my time and energy running to the restroom. I even had one ED physician laugh at me and assume that I didn’t know my own body well enough to know whether I was urinating blood clots or having issues with my menstruation cycle.

I had my urostomy surgery on September 23, 2016 after receiving a bladder cancer diagnosis on August 12, 2016. I had Stage IV Bladder Cancer with a T4, muscle-invasive tumor.

Having my surgery has allowed me to get back to my own life and start living again…mostly without pain. I’m able to sleep through the night again and I do not spend most of my time running to the restroom.

I have been working in a pediatric GI office since 2012, so not only was I aware of ostomies and that a person could live a long, productive, great-quality life with an ostomy, I also had my very own personal ostomy support crew. My coworkers are amazing and have been so supportive through everything…several nurses have even given me ostomy/stoma care tips and helped me address potential concerns. One nurse, a true-blue friend, even helped me change my bag a couple of times when I first had my surgery and was in rehab!

Finding Support

During my chemo treatments, I first started looking at online resources and started reaching out. I remembered that my WOCN told me there was an active local ostomy support group. It wasn’t until November 2017 that I was physically able to make any meetings in person.

Encountering the Greater Cincinnati Ostomy Association GCOA was the best connection I could have made post-everything. I originally tried to connect with people through the American Cancer Society and the Cancer Support Community, but bladder cancer is sort of a red-headed stepchild of the cancer community. It affects many on a number of levels, but NO ONE talks about. Not everyone diagnosed with bladder cancer has to go through the extreme treatment measures I did, so there are varying experiences within the diagnosis. However, going to the local cancer-focused groups was very frustrating and discouraging for me as most of the people I met there were breast cancer survivors whose experiences did not have any similarities to my own. There were no local bladder cancer-specific groups in my area and there still are not.

When I finally connected with UOAA/GCOA, I found more understanding, empathy, compassion, and comradery in the first meeting than I had in several with the cancer organizations. People definitely made the difference. Online support was okay, but even there I was sometimes frustrated with the set up because it too easily turns into a forum for sharing memes and complaining about their situations. There’s not a lot of educational conversations or intellectual discussions about what I was experiencing, which was something I was craving.

Becoming Active Again

I am still experiencing neuropathy in my feet and ankles as a side effect of the chemo treatments that I will probably deal with for life and I am still working on getting my strength and energy back, but I am gradually reclaiming everything that I did before. I fell shortly after my last chemo treatment and spent about 3 weeks in the hospital/rehab before getting discharged on a Friday and returning to work the following Monday because I had exhausted all of my medical leave and it was either return to work or lose my job. I did not want to deal with the stress of job hunting after all I had been through and going on disability indefinitely was a luxury that I could not afford, so I returned to work completely bald and using a walker. The first day back, I could barely make it from the front door to my office chair. Still, returning to work was one of the best things for me because it forced me to have to rebuild my strength and be active.

I now work 40+ hours a week again with a team I love supporting and I volunteer with the GCOA and Hughes High School, my alma mater, as much as I can. I took over the presidency of the GCOA back in January. I still live alone on the 2nd floor of my quaint, inner-city, 2-bedroom apartment. I enjoy spending time with friends and extended family. Last May, I rented a car and went on a road trip by myself to Columbus, OH to participate in the BCAN Walk to End Bladder Cancer and catch up with some amazing people that I have in my life. I will be taking a plane and train trip in August to attend the UOAA National Conference and go on vacation in upstate New York afterward. I am finally able to start walking and being a bit more active again and have started trying to figure out how to do some of the higher energy things I used to do (like dancing and workout videos) despite the neuropathy, which sometimes makes it hard for me to coordinate my feet. It’s all a process though and I try to take it one day at a time. I’m hoping to be able to take a trip to Argentina in 2020…your attitude and determination are what makes the difference and I’m determined to accomplish things that I have always wanted to do despite the obstacles I’ve had in my past.

Raising Awareness

Both bladder cancer and urostomies are extremely rare and there are huge discrepancies in diagnosis and treatment of bladder cancer, especially with women and minorities. It has been really important to me to bring awareness to both issues because I truly believe that lives can not only be improved, but saved by advocating, educating and raising awareness of bladder cancer and ostomies. So many people immediately think that having your bladder or part of your colon is going to end life as they know it. In part, they are correct, but not in the way that most people think at first thought. People with ostomies can live long, productive lives and be amazing leaders in their communities…just like anyone else. Just because you will always have a medical condition that requires the use of medical equipment does not mean that your life is over. It is different, that’s all. We’re all different though, having an ostomy just makes you extra special.

When my urology oncology surgeon told me that he wanted to remove my bladder (along with various other abdominal parts), I didn’t hesitate at all and said, “Okay. So what’s next?” I knew that my life would be over if I didn’t get an ostomy and I knew that my life would not be over with an ostomy. It was one of the easiest medical decisions I have ever made. He could have asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee it was that easy. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have struggles and the journey wasn’t a challenge because I did and it was, but I am grateful that I had a choice of life or death and that I was able to choose life so I could get on with mine. Raising awareness for bladder cancer and ostomy awareness means that I could help someone make that life-saving decision that much more quickly and that they would be able to move onto healing and gratitude that much more quickly, instead of being bitter, pissed and depressed over losing a non-essential piece of themselves.

I have raised money, made social media posts, written articles, blog, had discussions, and encouraged others to go outside of their comfort zone to seek support. Additionally, I fairly quickly began being more involved with my local ASG and am committed to thinking outside the box and expanding opportunities to reach people where they are at and, hopefully, encouraging to become/remain involved and to share their own stories.

Staying Positive

I’m alive! I’m not in constant pain and discomfort. I can sleep through the night and not be up every 10 minutes to go the bathroom. I don’t have to do that “gotta go” dance while standing in line for the ladies’ room. I can hook up to my Foley for long trips or binge-watching and not have to move for hours. My bladder does not interrupt me in the middle of the best scenes when I go to the theater. I’m able to concentrate again. I can relieve myself while standing up or writing my name in the snow (gotta see a little humor in the situation)!

My advice is to just focus on living your life. The closer you get to doing everything you did before, the more positive the picture of life with an ostomy becomes. Yes, you can live without those parts and you can still be an active person. Your life and your dreams are still unlimited…it just might take a little extra preparation and planning, depending on your personal diagnosis and situation, but real life and real dreams take hard work, no matter who you are! You have to work for the things in life that you want anyway…no matter who you are or what your circumstance is, but the harder you have to work for something, the more worthwhile, valuable and meaningful it is to you. Only you can make the decision on how meaningful you want your journey to be though.

Overcoming Challenges

Most of my challenges are from my cancer treatments and not from having an ostomy. Still, bending and twisting are sometimes challenges. I do have a hernia that I way too quickly achieved by sneezing and, although it does not typically bother me, it is something to keep in consideration when I am trying new movements or lifting heavier objects. I have neuropathy and slight hearing loss as side effects of my chemo treatments and those are more annoying and challenging than my ostomy issues. Every once in a while, I have a leak, but I generally carry at least a few supplies with me so I just try to catch it quickly, change and move on. I’m really fortunate to have amazing friends, family & coworkers who are really understanding and supportive when these things happen and they don’t bat an eye when I need to deal with these things. Overall, I’ve pretty much learned to have a new definition of “normal” and I take things day by day and slow down when I need to and, most of all, when new things come up, I TRY instead of just giving in.

Advice for those who may need ostomy surgery?

Don’t think twice! No, it isn’t always easy and it isn’t always an easy choice. Sometimes, it’s all very hard. Yes, life will be different, but, in the long run, it’ll be worth it and at least you will still have a life to live.  If you give the ostomy and yourself a chance, having an ostomy will ultimately give you a better quality of life. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to others who have had similar experiences…that’s how you get through the challenging moments, days, and weeks. Also, I feel like it is critical to share your own story in some way, shape or form. Not only does it help others get through their situations, but it is a great way for you to heal and get through your own story. Sharing your story is a way of honoring yourself and allowing you to shed light on your own strength because many times you don’t realize just how strong you are. Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Keeping your story bottled up inside and not even sharing it with the people you love is detrimental to your journey. You matter and so does your story, so share it.

Making a Difference

Last year, I hosted a virtual Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k walk locally and I had 6 humans and a canine share in a beautiful day at a local park. It was great to share my story with people who hadn’t heard about it before while walking. Prior to my own surgery, my team at work and I would wear blue and green on Ostomy Awareness Day in support of the patients and families we care for.

I have grown up participating in similar events and have always found them inspiring and empowering. This year, we hope to have even more participation and invite everyone to meet at a group meal afterward. I will be attending my first UOAA National Conference in August and I’m excited to make new connections and learn more information that will enable me to assist others in getting back into life after receiving an ostomy. I would like to see others get involved in these events because it gives them connections, information, support and empowerment. There is no substitute for making connections in real life with people who have tackled the same problems, fought similar battles, and, most of all, WON. There is strength in numbers and we are all stronger together.

About 4 years ago, I awoke to the alarm on my cell phone, and for some reason it seemed to be extra loud this time. I had probably only slept for about 2 hours, but still, I anxiously jumped out of bed with a nervous sense of excitement. Today was the day that would forever change the path of my life. Today was the day that I was headed to the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix Arizona to have an extremely risky abdominal cancer surgery with no real guarantees that I would even survive it. I had no idea that today was the day that would begin the toughest fight of my life.

You see, at the age of 51, I was diagnosed with “Pseudomyxoma Peritonei secondary to Well-Differentiated Mucinous Adenocarcinoma of the Appendix”. Ultimately this means that years ago, a cluster of cancerous cells had formed in my appendix which caused it to eventually explode. Subsequent to this painful event, the cancerous cells spread themselves throughout my abdominal cavity attaching and growing on the exterior of several organs and producing a considerable amount of ascites fluid. My surgeon explained to me that my condition was extremely rare, and risky with maybe a 30% chance of survival. He agreed to perform the surgery, but looked me in the eyes and said only if I will agree to do my part and be willing to fight for my life!

After the twelve and a half hour long surgery, I woke up to my family hovering over me, and praying for strength and healing. As I became more aware of where I was, I began to notice the multiple tubes, cords and electronic devices attached to me. The doctors and nurses were constantly coming in to check on me, making adjustments to my I.V., monitoring my pain level, and recording my vital signs. A little later, I was paid a visit by my surgeon and he introduced me to someone referred to as my ostomy nurse. I didn’t even realize that I had this bag attached to my abdomen until she asked for my permission to inspect it. Prior to the surgery, I remember my surgeon explaining to me and my wife that an ostomy bag was a possibility, but this was the least of my concerns and I didn’t really comprehend what that actually meant. Along with a couple of other organs, my colon was completely removed and I now had to embrace life with an ileostomy.

Robert at the Arizona Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k, “the sense of family, acceptance and understanding at this event provided much needed encouragement.”

 

For the first year, I dealt with it as best as I could, but in the back of my mind I believed that soon, I would be able to have the reversal surgery and no longer have to deal with an ostomy. As I was approaching the one year anniversary of becoming an ostomate, on Facebook I came in contact with a beautiful soul by the name of Jearlean Taylor. You have probably heard of her, and know that she has been a double ostomate since early childhood. We chatted for a while, and after a detailed discussion, I was convinced that having an ostomy wasn’t so bad. A few days later, I sat down with my surgeon to discuss the possibility of the reversal surgery, and we concluded that in my case, I would actually enjoy a better quality of life by keeping my ileostomy, which now has been named Paco.

Now that the decision had been made to keep Paco, I began to research ostomies and discovered the United Ostomy Associations of America. Come to find out, they were having an ostomy conference in California the very next month, so I

Robert at UOAA’s National Conference where he discovered he was welcomed into the “ostomy family.”

booked it, and made my way to Cali. Not really knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised and almost overwhelmed with gratitude as I was so warmly embraced into the ostomate family. I learned so much about ostomies, and the stories shared by other ostomates really inspired me and gave me the courage to now tell my story. Last year, I finally felt I was physically strong enough to participate by walking in the Run For Resilience Ostomy 5K in Mesa, Arizona. Again, the sense of family, acceptance and understanding at this event provided much-needed encouragement.

 

I am inspired to inspire others by publicly sharing my journey of conquering cancer and living with an ostomy. Through music, speaking and near the completion of my first book, I am telling it all so that others will realize that life experiences will ultimately make you, and not break you. I have come to the realization that my ileostomy has not only changed my way of life but has actually contributed to saving my life. I am forever grateful…

“It’s easy to say what you’re willing to die for, but there is freedom in knowing what you’re willing to live for”.

–Robert Harrion

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The Black and White of it? Support is Everything.

By Tricia Hottenstein  stomamama.com

I recently shared an article about a little boy who was bullied so badly that after twenty-six surgeries, he decided to take his own life. It hit me so hard. I read it with tears rolling down my face, my heart hurting for his loved ones and my soul hurting for the things he must have felt. I read it after spending a long weekend in the hospital and after undergoing three of four surgeries in just two months. I read it knowing the hurt of bullying and the feeling of people looking at me with any variant of disgust when seeing or talking about my ostomy bag. I read it after writing and sharing what was basically a diary entry of overwhelming emotions. It is by no means comparable, but it made me think a lot about the strong support system around me. I know that my mindset is shaped so greatly by those handpicked few who always have my back and in the midst of this article, fresh in my own rehashed wounds, my gratitude for life and the way it all works out has increased. I can’t be certain I’d have made it through the last few months had they happened to me a year ago when I was already down and struggling. Support is everything.         

I’ve had an ex who was (and still is) really supportive and caring, and one who made me cry and feel worthless in a hospital room. I’ve also had an ex who couldn’t hide his lack of understanding or his overly dramatic gags when he saw me changing my bag. The embarrassment and disrespect was the exact reason why I decided to mention my stoma the very first time I met my boyfriend. I had since decided that anyone who was less than understanding would be an immediate no. I was afraid of dating with an ostomy, but I was no longer willing to feel like a burden or anything less than sexy. I would be okay being single and building myself back up on my own.

And then practically out of nowhere, I was on a date. I was nervous in spite of it going so well, or maybe because it was. I spent many moments of conversation wondering if they were the right moments to bring up the surgery. I speak so freely of my bag to everyone. I answer questions from coworkers, friends, family, and strangers without thinking twice. This is my bag; it saved my life! It is worth talking about. But how do I casually bring this up without awkwardly ending a date? What if his response wasn’t what I wanted it to be? Although, that’s the point, right? I’m old enough, I’ve been through enough. No more on the fence with anything. It is black and white and I’m not moving forward with any more gray.

“Tell me something about yourself that would surprise me.” To be honest, I don’t even remember if he eventually answered the question. All I know is he stared at me. This moment of oh shit in my mind as he was staring at me, half laughing, shocked to be put on the spot. So I just went for it. “I don’t have a colon!” More stares, more shock. I explained the scenario in a nutshell. The disease, the surgery, and the bag I’ve had for several years.

“Well… I guess…that’s kind of shitty, huh?” The words hung in the air before we both laughed. And in all honesty, my reaction to that response could have been a variable one depending on many factors. But really, how better to respond? Because I don’t want someone who will constantly feel sorry for me, or who will treat me any differently. Rather, I want someone who will make me laugh, who will be understanding and upbeat, and who will continue on with the conversation afterward as if it is no big deal. Sure, there were questions to be asked, but not a single one of them seemed to really matter. And there it was, in black and white and bar lights: this glimmer of hope.

As it would turn out, it couldn’t have come at a better time. A few short months later, I was back in hospital gowns and waiting rooms. And not once did he flinch. Not when I delivered awful news, not while he sat next to me in pre-op, not when my bag leaked in the middle of the night or I got frustrated and had tears running down my face. The reality is, most of the time I didn’t even have time to process things before he was reassuring me I’d be okay and distracting me with nonstop laughter.

When I’m in the trenches, when I’m alone, when I think too much, it is easy to go to a place of overwhelming emotions. I have spent more than half of my life with this disease, and surgery went so well that I thought the rest of my life would be smooth sailing. I was finally meeting people who had never known me as sick. It sounds so irrelevant, but it is a huge deal. I remember several years ago when a family member introduced me as “the sick one.” It was intended to be harmless. Intended simply as a way for their friend to put a face to the person they had obviously spoken of. The person undergoing IV therapy, taking twenty-some pills a day, piling up medical debt, and seeing the best physicians while still unable to leave the house most days. It cut through me and it scarred deep. But post-op, there was this moment in life where that was no longer me. Now I was strong. I was an adventurer. I was healthy.

The frustration when that all came crashing down was audible. Suddenly I was right back down to the some of the lowest points in my life. I was again “the sick one.” Somehow even when things had been slowly going downhill, I was blinded enough by the highs to be shocked when I was back to square one. I was angry. I felt sorry for myself and felt alone despite the people around me. I started to prepare myself again for the life full of battles, ready to sink back to that person who laid in the fetal position on the sofa, unable to eat or move or laugh from deep within my belly. I just kept thinking, over and over, that this is my life. I had a whole other vision for it after my ostomy surgery, but this person, right here, in a hospital room getting bad news? This is my life.

Until the person next to me, the person who responded to the news of my ostomy when we first met with a poop joke, responded with another poop joke. The kind that made me laugh so hard that all the ugly tears shook off my face. And as he wiped the remnants of them away, he reassured me. With a few simple words, he reminded me of my actual life. Reality. Yes, I am the sick one. But I’m also the healthy one. In black and white, that is my life. Some days I will be an adventurer. I’ll feel healthy, I’ll laugh, and I’ll enjoy the smooth sailing. And some days I will be sick. I’ll be a warrior. I’ll look for hope and rely on others. And their support will be everything.

 

UOAA Resources:

Emotional Concerns

Sexuality

Living with an Ostomy

 

The Benefits of Giving Back In Spite of Your Health Challenges

By Lynn Wolfson

We all want to feel like valuable members of our community. However, many times we are held back by personal issues, lack of time or just a complete lack of knowledge on how to contribute to help others. For those who have not had the experience, they do not know the emotional elation that one gets by helping others.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I was born with a genetic disease that prevents my digestive track from functioning as it should. Consequently, I am fed through my heart (Total Parental Nutrition), I defecate into a pouch attached to my abdomen and I catheterize to urinate four times a day. All of this medical equipment did take me years to accept and learn to take care of on my own. However, once I learned, accepted and had my independence back, I wanted to give back to my community.

I started by participating in my local UOAA affiliated ostomy support group. I attended national ostomy conferences and met many people who also had ostomies. I then joined the Digestive Disease National Coalition in Washington, DC and learned how to lobby for Bills which are needed for the digestive disease community on Capitol Hill. There I met many people active in the digestive disease community and joined The Oley Foundation.

Lynn Wolfson is assisted by her service dog Zev as she travels for advocacy and conferences around the country. Lynn has battled Hirshprung’s disease since childhood.

After several years of attending national conferences with the United Ostomy Associations of America, The Oley Foundation, and The Digestive Disease National Coalition, I decided to create my own support group. I named it: The Weston Ostomy Tube Feeding Group. The group meets monthly from August to May and discusses many important issues regarding people with ostomies and enteral/parental patients.

Then I decided I wanted to help my local community. I started going to the Jewish Community Center and learning how to knit hats for cancer patients. I had not knitted since I was a little girl. I was not too optimistic since I have tremors. However, the ladies in the group taught me how to knit on a loom. I now make beautiful hats which I donate weekly to cancer patients. I was really feeling proud of myself.

One week there was a senior fair in the ballroom at the JCC while I was in my knitting group. I took a break from my knitting to go and check out the senior fair. While walking around the fair, I saw “Jet Express” and I stopped and asked about it. I was told that this was a service which the Goodman Jewish Family Services provided to seniors for $100 a year. The service is to pick up seniors and to bring them to medical appointments, shopping or social engagements. They needed volunteers to pick up these seniors. This sounded like fun to me. I called up Pam at Jet Express and signed up.

Since signing up, I have enjoyed taking seniors to medical appointments, the beauty salon, shopping or just spending the afternoon with a senior going wherever they would like. I find the seniors so interesting. I have one senior that has lived in Florida since the 1950s and she tells me what South Florida was like when she first came. Some seniors are here alone. Their children live out of state and they are lonely. I have one senior who I take out to lunch weekly. I find I learn so much from these seniors and I bring them home so happy. As happy as they feel, I always feel happier that I could do this for them.

Left, UOAA Advocacy Manager Jeanine Gleba with ,right, Lynn Wolfson taking part in the DDNC Day on Capitol Hill.

I then found out about The Cupboard – the kosher pantry which services individuals or families who cannot afford groceries, and Holocaust Survivors. The Cupboard is also part of the Goodman Jewish Family Services. I go to the Cupboard weekly to take grocery orders from the clients and help deliver the groceries. Since I cannot carry due to my medical equipment, I have a partner who can carry the groceries when I am delivering. I do the driving. Again, I really enjoy meeting and talking with all the clients. They are so appreciative of everything we do for them!

Many of the clients who are having a difficult time, emotionally, physically or financially are so elated when they see us, as they know they are not alone. I know for myself, that each one of us was given a “deck of cards” on life and there is no one that has received a perfect deck. We all have “rotten” cards. Those people that can overcome these “rotten cards” will be the most successful and happiest. However, as humans, we all need a hand in helping us to overcome our individual challenges.

Once we can master our personal challenges, there is no greater joy than giving back to others. Helping others helps each of us to love life even more and appreciate our individual gifts. Life is a matter of attitude. Those with a positive attitude can not only overcome their own challenges but also help others do the same.

By Tricia Hottenstein

The problem with being strong is that people expect you to always be strong. When your body has been put through so much, people expect it to willingly fight through anything. After life hands you a few too many lemons, you’re expected to just make an extra-large lemonade. The problem is, sometimes I can’t be strong. Sometimes I just don’t want to be.

When I get a new diagnosis or the old one flares up, I don’t always react with immediate strength. When I wake up to a leak or suffer through an obstruction, I don’t always react with immediate strength. When I need to call off work or cancel with friends and feel like I’m letting people down, I don’t always react with immediate strength. And sometimes, my lack of strength is why I need to cancel. Because it is damn exhausting sometimes. Dealing with life, dealing with an ostomy. Dealing with doctors and tests and medicine. With random pain or nausea. With what seems like a constant cycle of bad news after the last bad news. Dealing with an independent and stubborn 5-year-old when I’m not at my best. It’s exhausting.

And I just don’t want to be strong. I want to slump down in my seat and sob. I want to be needy, and helped. Most of the time, I feel like the benefit to

The author gets some much-needed self-care that is so important in life with an ostomy or chronic disease.

this life is that it made me a better person, a better friend. I can support someone through their hard moments because I’ve been through enough of my own. I may not be the most compassionate person in the world, but I will be there. For even an acquaintance. I will help anyone I can, however, I can. But the downfall is that sometimes I want to be the person on the other end. I give my strength to so many other people, yet for the most part, I feel I rely mostly on my own. And most of the time, I am strong enough for that to be possible.

Although I always think I’ve had this strength, having an ostomy made it necessary to rely on myself. By the time I had the surgery, I learned what I could and couldn’t eat. I had to self-navigate my triggers and try to make sense out of them. Oftentimes, I needed to coordinate doctors with specialists and be competent enough to fill in the blanks of my medical history. Mainly, I just had to deal. With the embarrassment, the unpredictability, and the often crippling pain. And then I had surgery, and had to be strong all over again. I had to relearn what I could and couldn’t eat and figure out all the tricks for keeping my ostomy happy. The learning curve was a tough one. Sure, there are support groups. But this is also an individual journey and I needed to be self-sufficient and strong.

But mid-meltdown? I am not. I want to be weak. I need to take a moment to feel sorry for myself. I do not want to hear about how I can beat anything because my body has already tackled everything else. I need to cry and process all the thoughts swirling in my head. I need to feel frustrated at the nonstop barrage of crap being thrown at me. I need to let my shoulders fall and my eyes sink. I need someone to be there for me the way I hope I would be there for them. I just need a moment. Because honestly, I AM strong. And I am damn proud of it. I try to be positive and handle things with composure and as much grace as my body (and personality) can put forth. And once I stop feeling sorry for myself, I will stand up and shake off and go forward and tackle everything on my plate with a vengeance.

I just need a moment.

More on Emotional Health

From Imperfection to Perfection

By Ellyn Mantell

My parents came in two different sizes…my father was extra large and my mother was narrow and slim. While it is not unusual for a daughter to model after her mother, I would say that my modeling was extreme. My mother not only was very weight conscious, she was very rigid and restricting of food and drink, and binging was a big part of her life, and as I found out later, unnamed bulimia. Her daily guidelines for foods to be consumed had a critique that usually ended with “remember, Ellyn,” she would repeat, “a moment to the lips, a lifetime to the hips!”

Blueberries, watermelon, and oranges were on her DO NOT EAT list since they had too much sugar. Meat, potatoes, breads were all annotated with what could just as easily have been a skull and cross bone. So as long as I followed her dictum, I would be narrow and slim like her, or so I thought. The problem was, however, that although I inherited her very narrow and slim upper body, I inherited my father’s larger and rounder lower body. Regardless of how much I tried, I was never to be lithe in my legs and hips. College not only brought the “freshman 15,” it brought anorexia and eventually, bulimia. So I lived with an eating disorder that lasted for years, and the reality of body dysmorphia that plagued me for decades. And now, as an ostomate, I am finally grateful and humbled by my beautiful body…because it is an incredibly resilient organism and I am so proud to own it!

For over two decades my strong little body fought through surgeries, hospitalizations, PICC lines, infections, abscesses and lack of bowel motility. And yet, regardless of my physical state, I would expect it to be thin and attractive, fitting into whatever garment I wanted to wear. I never questioned its strength, its ability to weather weeks in the hospitals or the most grueling of tests and procedures. It was never an issue of can I travel alone to Rochester, Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic by myself and stay for two weeks to have bowel retraining. I just wanted to be certain I could exercise, eat “normally” and not put on weight. Regardless of how many scars I had down and across my abdomen from 23 abdominal surgeries, the goal was to fit into my clothes and like what I saw on the scale. Enduring an enteroclysis study (a wire inserted down the nose to be able to see into the small intestine) I steadily focused on what I would allow myself to eat once I was finished. In retrospect, my expectation of my infirmed body to be perfect was abominable, and I would never, ever support anyone I love put that expectation on their body.

And then four years ago, I had my ileostomy, and suddenly, my now very obedient body gave way to an imperfection I was forced to acknowledge. The first time I saw my reflection in the mirror after the surgery, I was horrified. My high-output bag, which is transparent, was reaching down my short frame to my right mid-thigh. But after the shock of my appliance and pouch, I began to relax and look at the possibility that I could have a new life, free of hospitals, surgeries and worry. I began to see the beauty in my stoma, and named it, as many do. Her name is Lily because my mother, Lillian, gave me my first life, and Lily has given me my second.

No longer striving toward an unrealistic goal, I am no so proud of the ability I have to live and love my life. My little body is strong enough to advocate for others; it is strong enough to lead my support group; it is strong enough to visit those suffering in the hospital, and it is strong enough to start a grassroots movement to open our ostomy center, one of the few in New Jersey! On a personal note, I am strong enough to enjoy my beautiful family, my wonderful circle of friends and celebrate each and every day. And I have learned that perfection may never really have been a possibility for me or others, but imperfection makes me very, very happy!

Finding Confidence and Rocking Your Own Style with an Ostomy

By Tricia Hottenstein

I was packing to head out on a short vacation to Atlantic City and had all my outfits ready in my brand new suitcase. But when I went to pack my swimsuit, I started thinking about walking around at a hotel pool with my ostomy bag sticking out. Something about a hotel pool as opposed to just walking on the beach made me uneasy. I figure I don’t know the people on the beach and they’ll never see me again. But in a hotel for several days? Those people would recognize me. They’d see me dressed up for a nice dinner and know that underneath all that jewelry and makeup, there was a person with an ostomy bag glued to their stomach. A person who earlier in the day had a wet ostomy bag sticking out between their swimsuit pieces. And let’s be honest. A wet ostomy bag is a revealing ostomy bag. There’s no questioning what’s hiding inside of it. Something about that wasn’t okay with me.

Generally speaking, I feel pretty confident about my ostomy. It saved my life and I went from a love-hate relationship with it, to a genuine love of it, to more of a state of ignorance that it even exists. I’m not shy about telling people my situation and I will often show it to people who ask questions. But when it comes to swimsuits, the struggle has been a little more mental. I’ve previously tried one-piece suits and I hate them. I hate the way they pull on my bag when they get wet, the way they stick to every crevice of my body, the way I constantly check to make sure my bag isn’t leaking the second it starts to puff up. I tried bikini styles. My body is not made for a bikini, and the more often I wore it, the more sure of this I was. And then, hallelujah! The high-waisted trend hit stores, and I found a happy medium. A high-waisted bottom to cover most of my bag while still allowing it to breathe, and a cute colorful top that would hopefully draw attention away from the bag peeking out from my bottoms.

I love that I didn’t need to strip a whole wet swimsuit off in order to empty my bag, and I could easily flip it out after the pool to dry it off (which is a necessity in order to keep my sensitive skin from getting angry). The high waist also gave multiple coverage options and I could choose when and how my bag would be displayed. I could tuck it into the bottoms and feel secure, or leave it out over top of the suit if need be. I chose to secure my bag slightly flipped up inside the bottoms with just the top sticking out. Now this I could rock. And I did. But around complete strangers who would be seeing me over and over again, while never actually talking to me to understand who I was and what I’ve been through? It bothered me.

I bought a pretty cover-up. I tried on several new suits, but none worked the wonders I’d hoped they would. I even considered stopping on the way to the shore to keep trying. And then the lights of Atlantic City sparkled before me, and the tropical drinks and palm trees were calling me from the pool. So I went for it. I wore the cover-up and walked to the pool. Of course, I got stuck with several people in the elevator and noticed their eyes glancing down, and my fidgeting was more than noticeable.

I walked in the pool room and found a chair in the corner. I ordered a drink, hopped in the hot tub, and looked around. And I noticed every single other female in there looking as insecure as me. Ladies with towels draped around them the second they were out of the water. Women with tee shirts instead of swimsuits. Some just sitting on the outskirts, partially hidden by palm trees, in regular clothing. And suddenly I was okay. Forget this bag on my stomach. Every single person has something about them they don’t always love. I’ve got stretch marks I don’t worry about, and plenty of extra flab that doesn’t bother me. But for some reason I was getting caught up over this little protrusion on my stomach; a scar of a war I fought hard against and finally won. And I love this thing!

I was honestly upset with myself over the few days for the waver in my self-confidence. I got out of the hot tub, walked around to the pool, and held my head up a whole lot higher. And everyone who’s eyes glanced downward? They looked at me genuinely, some smiled. Because people who rock their scars in public have already changed perceptions. Chronic illness is becoming less and less of a taboo subject. We’re shaking the world by the shoulders. And THAT is beautiful.

Tricia Hottenstein blogs about life as a mother and living with an ostomy at stomama.com

By Heather Brigstock MSN RN CNL

On Sunday, October 7th 2017, my family and I went to bed just like we do every night. School lunches were packed and sitting on the counter ready for the next day. A load of laundry sat in the dryer ready to be folded. Our community of almost 200,000 people was going about its usual routine. We had no idea our world was about to be turned upside down.

I felt my wife get out of bed and assumed it was morning. The faint glow of what I thought was daylight came streaming through our open window. “What time is it?” I asked. “2 a.m. and I smell smoke” she replied. I sighed and rolled over, desperate to get back to sleep. I didn’t smell anything, but she insisted on going outside to check. She quickly returned to tell me she heard explosions outside. This news lured me out of my bed and I went outside to see what she was concerned about. The sky in front of our house was a red glow and we heard explosions in the distance. The blare of sirens reassured us that the fire department was already alerted to whatever this fire was. But something didn’t feel right. Neighbors started pouring out of their houses, some packing up their cars and leaving. Our cell phones were oddly silent despite our expectation that if we were in danger, we would have gotten some kind of alert. The bells at the Catholic Church down the street started ringing at 2:30 a.m. We decided to turn on the radio and see if there was any information about where this fire was. The explosions were getting much closer and the red glow in the sky was growing. Within a minute of listening to the radio, we learned that our town was burning down around us. Flames were surrounding our town on three sides and moving at a speed of over 200 feet per second. Cell towers were overwhelmed so none of the calls we made to alert our friends would go through. The hour that followed was a chaotic blur that is etched in our minds forever. We pulled the kids out of bed and told them to grab anything that could not be replaced. The four of us frantically ran around the house grabbing family heirlooms, photos and packing overnight bags. We crated our three cats and put our fire safe containing important documents in the car. Adrenaline was coursing through us, propelling us to grab everything that could possibly fit in our cars. We had no idea where we were fleeing, so we packed some of the emergency food and water that I always keep on hand. My fourteen-year-old was sobbing, looking for her favorite childhood blanket. My mind kept jumping from being ultra-focused to going blank. I couldn’t remember where basic things were and I kept coming back to the same thought: how did this happen?

The hours, days and two weeks that followed were a painful mix of emotional trauma, sleep deprivation and extreme stress. The National Guard and first responders from all over the country and even Canada, rolled into town. Pictures of the devastation dominated my social media newsfeed. My friend’s homes burned to the ground, with many getting out with only the pajamas on their backs. Hundreds of people were unaccounted for. For two full weeks the fires raged; the wind would shift and flames would change direction, threatening different neighborhoods. Night brought a sinking feeling since the darkness hampered the firefighting efforts, and seemed to carry with it a fear of the unknown. Two out of our three hospitals were evacuated and closed, with flames licking their walls and patients in gowns loaded onto buses. Thousands of people were living in shelters, sleeping in their cars and tent camping in parking lots. The collective grief in our community hung in the air, almost as thick as the toxic smoke that burned our throats. Entire portions of our city were destroyed.

My family and I evacuated to my parent’s house, 30 miles north of Santa Rosa. A couple of days after the fire started, I began getting messages and texts from nurses. People with ostomies were living in the shelters and they had no time to pack their supplies when they evacuated. Since hospitals were contaminated and closed, getting supplies from them was not an option. I alerted UOAA of the issue as I quickly started organizing an effort to gather donated supplies from manufacturers. Living through that experience taught me many things about disaster preparation as someone living with an ostomy.

Before the Disaster

*Prepare now-don’t wait! We have a false sense of security when we think that disasters won’t happen in our town. I never thought a wildfire would rage through my city. Preparing properly could not only save your valuables and ostomy supplies, it could save your life.

*Make a go-bag-A go-bag is a bag that is packed at all times, in an easily accessed place that you can grab as you run out the door in the event of an evacuation. It should contain extra ostomy supplies and necessary medications in addition to important documents. According to FEMA, you should pack your go bag with enough supplies for 3 days. This includes food, water, flashlights etc. Visit ready.gov to see a complete list of recommended items for your go bag. During the fires, we were evacuated for two weeks but many of my friends were evacuated for four weeks, so plan your ostomy supplies accordingly.

*Make lists and assign tasks-Have a family meeting and decide who is responsible for what in an emergency. Instead of everyone running around frantically, each person would have a list of tasks. One person should be in charge of medical supplies and medications. Make a list of family heirlooms/irreplaceable items and where they are located. Don’t forget laptops or thumb drives if that is where photos are stored.

*Make a communication plan- During emergencies, cell towers can be overwhelmed and calls will often drop. In our situation, texts would send but since it was the middle of the night, people outside our area were sleeping and never got our frantic messages. Afterward, we discovered that most cell phones have a way to allow texts/calls to alert from certain numbers even if the phone is on silent. For example, if my phone is on silent for the night but my mom calls me, my phone will ring because it is now set so that her number overrides the silent setting. Learn about the features your phone has for emergencies. Also designate a meeting place outside the area so that if there is a rushed evacuation and your family is separated, you know where to meet each other.

*Keep emergency supplies together-We discovered that all of the emergency supplies I had carefully gathered were not located in the most efficient places. I had food and water in the garage but our emergency radio and first aid kit were out in the shed. I had purchased N-95 face masks but I couldn’t remember where they were. Having the items isn’t enough, they need to be located in a place where they are fast and easy to access. The same rule applies for ostomy supplies-keep them together in a place that is accessible.

*Plan on extra water if you have an ostomy-For emergency preparedness, the Red Cross recommends planning for ½ gallon of water per person per day. However, that is for the average person. If you require more water due to your ostomy or an underlying medical condition, plan on more. You may want to purchase fluids that are enriched with electrolytes to prevent dehydration.

*Keep gas in your car and cash in your wallet- During most disasters, one of the first things that happens is everyone rushes to get gas on their way out of town. Gas stations quickly ran out of gas during the fire. Credit card machines also went down in many locations so cash was the only way to pay for gas. In this era of electronics and technology, always have a backup plan.

*Take pictures- Go through your home and take pictures of each room. This will serve as proof for your insurance company of what you own, and it will also remind you of what you own so you can claim your losses. Take a photo of your medical supplies as well. Store these pictures in more than one place; I recommend keeping them digitally on your phone and hard copies in your go bag.

*Know your insurance policy- Dust off that policy and read it. Know what coverage you have, and make sure you have enough coverage. If you are a renter, strongly consider purchasing renters insurance. If you rent and do not have renters insurance, you can lose everything.

During the Disaster

*You are not replaceable! First and foremost, do not take unnecessary risks to save material items. Your safety is more important than anything else.

*Communicate your needs- If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have the medical supplies or medications you need, don’t wait until you run out to tell someone you need help. Shelters usually have volunteer nurses/medical staff on site. Talk to them and any other organizations who are on site to let them know you need help. It takes time to get supplies and medication arranged so giving medical staff a heads up before you run out is best. Use UOAA’s list of Emergency Supply Resources or contact a local support group in the area you have been evacuated to if you need help locating supplies.

*Know your rights- If you live in a federally declared disaster area, you are entitled to replacement prescriptions and medical supplies. Call your insurance company to find out what you need to do to replace what you lost. If you are covered by Medicare, information regarding replacing lost medical supplies in a disaster can be found on their website www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

*Register with Red Cross and FEMA- If you are impacted by a disaster, the first step in accessing assistance is to register with these organizations so they know you are among the affected.

The Aftermath

*Recognize the impact of trauma- Once the disaster is over, the news trucks leave town and the rest of the world goes back to their normal routine. In the impacted community, the devastation of what occurred remains and nothing is the same. Almost 5,000 homes were lost in my community. I have friends that are still displaced over 2 months later. Entire sections of town are gone and we drive by them every day. We drive by places where we know some of the 45 people died. Trees are frozen in time, charred but forever arched in the wind gusts from that night. The smell of smoke still lingers in certain areas. Toxic ash still kicks up into the air. Rows of chimneys are the only thing that remains in many neighborhoods. Several schools burned down along with many businesses, taking those jobs with them. Housing is extremely difficult if not impossible to find. People are still living in their cars and camping in parking lots. The people who lost homes are of course grappling with overwhelming trauma, but the trauma also impacts anyone who lived through that night. Driving through flames and watching your friends’ homes burn down are not things that are easy to forget. Once I knew our home was going to survive, the survivor’s guilt crept in. Recognize what you’ve been through and seek out professional support if you need it.

On behalf of Sonoma County CA, thank you to every first responder who came to help us fight this devastating fire. Thank you for fighting flames at the walls of our hospitals and thank you for saving the thousands of homes you were able to save.

For more information on how to prepare for a disaster, visit www.redcross.org , www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov

Ostomate or Person Living with an Ostomy?

“Labels are for soup cans.” ~ Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates

by Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager with Keagan Lynggard, UOAA Advocacy Committee Member

The UOAA Advocacy Committee produces many educational resources and self-advocacy tools for the benefit of you; you being a person living with an ostomy or continent diversion. Our dilemma has been what to call you or how to refer to you within the context of advocating, educating, and supporting, as you are the subject of what we write about. Sometimes we call you “a person living with an ostomy or continent diversion”. That takes nine words to describe one aspect of your life and this becomes very difficult and cumbersome to write over and over again in a single advocacy or educational document. There is however, a definite trend on social media and with online bloggers to use the word “ostomate” when referring to you, and the community of people who live with an ostomy.

As a national organization that supports all people living with an ostomy it’s crucial that we are sensitive and choose our words wisely so that they are acceptable to our community. Ostomy surgery is already a delicate topic that is often associated with “bathroom talk”, a topic that already has enough of its own societal taboos. Recently our Committee set out to gather survey data to hear from YOU, the people that our work impacts to identify the more acceptable or best term to use in our advocacy written materials and presentations concerning ostomy awareness and education.

Is this a label?

Our surveys certainly sparked an interesting debate. Many responders assumed that we wanted to “label” our community in a derogatory way versus our intention which was to simply look for a word to identify our medical demographic and represent the people we impact. As I read the comments from our responders and thought about what we were looking for, it made me wonder if this is how “labels” are born? Do they arise when people search for a simple and easy to use term to describe something? What happens when a label sticks and there is a negative stigma or insensitivity to those with a particular condition? As I pondered these questions and continued to review further comments, I realized that many people do prefer a simple word (or label) to identify their medical condition. It helps some people feel a sense of belonging and unity within a unique group. So I’m not sure what we would even call the word: a “term” or a “name” or a “label”? It’s also important to stress that although we were looking for a simpler non-offensive term it wasn’t meant to completely and irrevocably replace a “person living with an ostomy”. In fact, the definition of the word “ostomate” is simply a person who has undergone an ostomy.

And the preferred term is…

Here are the results of our surveys:

Total Votes: 331
34% (113 votes) Person with an ostomy
61% (201 votes) Ostomate
5% (17 votes) Other

191 Votes via Facebook
37% (71 votes) Person with an Ostomy
63% (120 votes) Ostomate

23 Votes via Twitter
48% (11 votes) Person with an ostomy
52% (12) Ostomate

117 Responses via Survey Monkey
27% (31 votes) Person with an Ostomy
59% (69 votes) Ostomate
14% (17 votes) Other

Does age affect preference?

In the Survey Monkey survey we asked a few more questions to gain a better understanding of the responders, such as gender, age, or whether their ostomy was temporary or permanent. 98% of the responders had a permanent ostomy with over 80% being older than 55 years of age. Of this older population 62% were female and 38% were male. Of interest the males were 50-50 in their selection of preferred term. Whereas, only 17% of females preferred “person with living with an ostomy”. If this had been a science experiment, and I had to develop an initial hypothesis, given the social trends on the internet, I would have predicted that the term “ostomate” was going to be more favorable for the younger generation. Our results proved this wrong!

 

We also provided an opportunity for people to list a specific “other” term that they would prefer and only three had a specific response like “Packin’ a Pouch”. For the majority of those who selected “other” they did not list another term but rather said it was actually ok to use “ostomate” or they didn’t care, which in turn would increase the # of who prefer “ostomate”. Nineteen percent (3/16 responses) did not want any term.

For the question “For those who do not like the term ostomate, why?” these were some of the reasons why:

· Because I am more than my ostomy or my ostomy doesn’t define me
· Labels what/who you are
· People won’t know what ostomate means or it always needs more explanation

Until you walk in someone else’s shoes…

Here’s what people were saying:

“I don’t want to be defined by my ostomy. Giving me a title/name defines me. I am a mother, a wife, a nurse, and a friend. Those things define me. Not my ostomy. While my ostomy is a part of my life, it does not define my life. PLEASE get away from the term “ostomate.”

“I prefer to focus on the positive – I am LIVING with an ostomy. Ostomate sounds harsh.”

“I also like “Person living with an ostomy”, but Ostomate is easier. What I really don’t like is use of the word “bag” which many, many people, ostomates, nurses and doctors continue to use. It’s very upsetting!” (Check out the Vegan Ostomy blog on this topic.)

“This term is commonly thought to be someone with a bowel ostomy. Mine is an urostomy. I’d like to see a term implies all ostomies.”

“Living with an ostomy sounds better to me and denotes the fact the ostomy gives a person additional life.”

“It labels people (similar to how one would not want to be referred to as the amputee, the diabetic, the bipolar, etc.)”

“I am not a “joiner” and do not plan on meeting others with similar conditions.”

Of notable interest 16/55 people answered this question with a response that they actually like the term ostomate.

In general our overall analysis found that although we did receive a few “neither” or “either” comments followed with the pattern of commentary along the lines of “my ostomy does not define me”, the vast majority preferred the term “ostomate”. We also received comments that support the idea that those who prefer the term ostomate are those familiar with the literal definition of ostomate, those who are involved/active within the ostomy community, or those who have really embraced this aspect of their life. This sense of community was evident in the survey question showing over 70% of responders belong to some sort of support community either online or an ostomy support group.

There is no right answer.

In conclusion, the Advocacy Committee has decided that in most cases we will continue to use the terminology “person living with an ostomy”, which is less “defining”, in our materials; however, given the results of the survey we will also now more freely and confidently include the term “ostomate” in order to simplify a document or when the term is more suitable for our advocacy purposes. I believe in our society of political correctness, we will never be able to please everyone, but we should always aspire to do our best, be respectful of all and try not to stir the pot by adding salt to wounds that are in the process of healing.

Thank you again to all those who participated in the survey and contributed to helping us gather this valuable information.