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.

A Journey From Caregiver to Student, Ostomy Patient, and Nurse

My name is Jennifer Borchek, and I am a recent graduate of Chamberlain University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. I am a licensed registered nurse. I also have a colostomy. While I know that my condition changed a part of me, I also know that it has never defined me, my career choice, or who I have become.

A Career Path of Care

My passion for nursing stems from the love and care that I showed for my ailing grandmother during her time of need. My grandmother suffered from many health issues that demanded around the clock care. At the age of 15, my mother and I became the primary caregivers for my grandmother, so we relocated into our grandmother’s home to care for her as her needs increased. This responsibility was not something I took lightly. I spent many nights rushing down the stairs to my grandmother’s bedside when I would hear the slightest sound that might mean she needed attention. Eventually, the running up and down the stairs and the weight of my worry became too much; I picked an empty spot on the floor near my grandmother where I would sleep with one eye and ear open. By the time I graduated high school, I had developed a good sense of care and a strong interest in continuing my path in health care. I decided what better way to use my experience than to become a certified nursing assistant?

After my certification, I attended a local community college to complete my general education requirements and earn an Associate Degree of Science with honors. This brought me closer to my dream career of becoming a nurse. During this time, my grandmother passed away, and I took a break from school to work in a nursing home. My caring nature was fulfilled at my job by helping others know that their loved ones were well attended to. While working in this environment, I knew I could achieve more, and I decided to apply to nursing school to begin my path as a registered nurse. Soon after, I was accepted into a Bachelor program for nursing. I knew that it would be a challenge to continue my education, as balancing school, work, and family could be difficult, but I also knew that my dream and ambitions were strong. I was ready to face the academic and scheduling challenges ahead, but I was not prepared for the unexpected health issues that I encountered along the way.

A New Path with a Slight Turn

One day, while walking between classes, I started to feel a nagging pressure in my genital area. It became sporadic and seemed to have no pattern or reason for occurring. It would oddly come and go regardless of what I was doing at the time. I thought it would just go away, but it persisted. I spent countless months going back and forth to the gynecologist with the same concern. Consistent medical testing provided no reasons for the pain. For more than a year, I felt as though I was wanting and eventually begging to be heard by the doctor. Examination after examination, I started to think that maybe this was all in my head, and at times some doctors and nurses suggested that too. This was eventually disproved one evening when I felt a sudden burst of blood run down my legs after a hot bath. I rushed to the emergency room only to be told that I was “fine” and to follow up with my gynecologist. I went home that night heartbroken and confused; how could this not be enough to diagnose my health issue? So, yet again, I booked another appointment and headed over to the gynecologist’s office that I’d been to so many times before. After I was examined, the doctor removed her gloves, looked at me and said, “This is not your vagina anymore; this is your rectum. Go to the colorectal surgeon and tell them that you’re bleeding.” She walked out of the room without saying another word. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what she was saying. Why would I need a surgeon? What does a colorectal surgeon have to do with my vagina? I was filled with a furious, confused, frustrated rage, and I was scared. I left with more questions than I arrived with, and now I was heading into unfamiliar territory. Did I have cancer? What kind of surgery would I need?

I later booked an appointment with a knowledgeable and focused colorectal surgeon at a well-respected teaching hospital. It took three very long weeks for my appointment date to arrive.

Diagnosis over Despair

I met the colorectal surgeon and he told me I had to be diagnosed under anesthesia. He suggested it was an anal fistula during the initial appointment. I was not sure what this diagnosis meant or how it happened, but in all, I liked and trusted this doctor. I felt as though I finally found someone who understood what I was going through and could diagnose what I had been complaining about for over a year. I scheduled the procedure during my one-week break from school. I liked that the doctor not only respected me and my concerns and feelings, but I also appreciated that he was very understanding of my desire to become a nurse. He helped me understand that my condition would not prevent me from living a normal life and achieving my degree.

Weeks later, I underwent anesthesia to be diagnosed. My surgeon told me after that I needed more surgeries to treat my newly discovered health issue. I had a rectovaginal fistula and he informed me that I had had it for at least five years. He also stated there was no exact reason why I had developed a fistula. While this made complete sense looking back at all my symptoms, I still cried when I heard this report. Suddenly, all the missing pieces were finally fitting together.

I had a diagnosis, but this was not the end of my battle. I underwent six separate surgeries all while maintaining honors in nursing school. The most recent was my ostomy surgery. During this time, I dropped down to only taking one class and had been unable to work a career-related job because of my health needs. The hours of studying were long and strenuous, but I fought through recovery one day at a time. Hauling heavy books and running from class to class were no longer a part of my day. Healing was just as important as learning, and I managed to balance the two. I often studied while soaking in the bathtub, as this was the doctor’s order to help the healing process.

During the increased workload of nursing school, I met two very caring friends, Laura and Bert, who helped me along the way. They were there for me when things got rough and made sure I didn’t fall behind in school during my health obstacles. I asked for health-related accommodations and was able to have Laura and Bert with me in every class and during clinical. This was a way to be sure that I would have the support and care if necessary. As a new ostomate, I knew anything can happen spontaneously. Having caring and trusting friends nearby encouraged me to relax about my condition and focus on my studies.

More Frustration, but Still Focused

Throughout my path, I was somewhat saddened to learn that ostomy surgery was a necessity. I understood that my fistula was not healing with the multiple surgeries that were performed, so the ostomy became a part of something I learned to accept. Even now my focus is to heal, rather than stress the need to reverse my ostomy before my fistula has completely healed. I was informed by my colorectal surgeon that rushing the process could result in the same challenges I had when I started my journey.

Jennifer with her close friend Jenell, left, whom she met at a UOAA Affiliated Support Group Meeting in Illinois.

Finding Friendship and Support through the Flaws

During my hospital stay for my ostomy surgery, my Wound, Ostomy and Continence (WOC) Nurse informed me that the Loyola University Medical Center held monthly ostomy support group meetings (One of 315 UOAA Affiliated Support Groups in the U.S.) and that she thought it would be beneficial for me to attend. She mentioned a young woman around my age who had recently had surgery. I thought it couldn’t hurt to show up.

I hoped to gain tips on care, products and living life differently with what seemed to be a flawed digestive system. I had already researched some of this online and in magazines, but I decided that more information could not hurt. Three weeks after major surgery, I walked through the door of the meeting room, still in pain and feeling a bit awkward about the whole thing. I sat down behind the youngest person in the room. She turned around and immediately greeted me with a friendly smile and introduced herself and her mom to me. She is in her late 20’s, her name is Jenell, and her stoma’s name is Piglet. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so nervous when Jenell asked why I came to the meeting. When I told her my story she said that it was unlike any story she had heard before. We spent the rest of the meeting talking about all things ostomy. We exchanged telephone numbers after the meeting and quickly became good friends.

Jenell eventually shared her own story with me and the story of naming her ostomy. Most ostomates feel naming their stoma helps them accept the transition of having an ostomy. With Jenell’s encouragement, I named my stoma “Rosita,” symbolizing that an ostomy reminds me of a rose. Jenell has helped me in so many ways by encouraging me about my health condition; she gave me confidence and showed me that even though my body changed, it doesn’t mean I changed as a person. She also taught me how to handle certain situations. For example, because of our invisible illnesses, we feel the need to educate the public on unseen chronic physical conditions. Together, the four of us – myself and Jenell and our stomas, Piglet and Rosita – make quite a team. We have a lot to be concerned about, but we also have a great future and much to be thankful for. We’ll face more challenges, but we’ll do it together.

My own experiences have helped me decide that I want to become a WOC Nurse and tell others with the same condition that they also can live a normal life. I want to help others with the transition of becoming an ostomate. I want others to know that they can follow their dreams, share their successes, lead by example, and show care from their experiences. I decorated my graduation cap to celebrate my decision and I included Rosita in my design to recognize that I have successfully overcome my challenges, and to show my ostomy is part of me and part of my future.

I am ecstatic to be sending out applications to be hired as a registered nurse because I never thought this day would come due to all my uncertain health issues. However, I will have to wait until my next surgery and through recovery. I know I’ll get there eventually because my challenges will not stop my dream!

Appreciation

All in all, I am very grateful for those I have in my life who have supported me: for Jenell for her friendship, for my surgeon with his knowledge and talents, for the WOC nurse that helped me get through my transition of being an ostomate, for my instructors for teaching me so well, for my classmates Laura and Bert and all the support they gave me, for Rosita for being so accommodating of my ongoing issues, and most importantly for my mother to whom I attribute my success. She encouraged my caring nature, has kept me strong and motivated, has lifted me when my spirits were low, and she is the reason I have fought so hard to become a registered nurse!

It’s Ivan’s 4th Birthday!
Four years ago today my amazing doctors, Dr. Leslie Demars and Dr. Joga Ivatury removed a huge tumor out of my pelvis and I woke up ALIVE and in a colostomy which I named (Ivan) after Dr. Ivatury, for life.
The first thing I asked Dr. Ivatury when I woke up was “did we get the f#@%r?” He smiled and smiled and said yes.

The next thing I asked was “am I in a bag?” He reluctantly said “yes.” My reaction? “Ok now let’s get me out of here so we can go to California.” I was working on a Tyra Banks product line at the time and did not want to miss the opportunity.

I was not always so positive. When I found out I had cancer in 2015 and would possibly be in a colostomy bag for life, I was devastated, to the point where I told my doctor “do NOT put me in a bag” so many times that he had to yell at me and say I have been up nights thinking about your surgery, I have no intention of putting you in a bag HOWEVER my job is to SAVE YOUR LIFE. So well, he was right.

I had such a different view on life when I woke up. God left me here to do some work and I was not going to let HIM down by playing small. I was going to live my life HUGE and give back to this world as much as I can.

I did allow myself to have strong feelings and concerns. “What if it smells, or makes noises or someone bumps it?” I would cry after cancer, but life was not over yet. What am I supposed to learn from this lesson and from what I am going through? It took me a lot of work to get to be okay. We got this one life.

I got up and forced myself to get out anyway. It helped so much that my kids, parents, and sister along with my husband and friends were supportive of me along the way.

I wanted to get back to doing the things I had enjoyed before cancer. One love was competing in Fitness America and WBFF shows in 2010 and 2011, where I placed in the top five in one of the shows I did. I knew I needed to love my body again and decided to tell the world in a live video to let people know to love the body you were given.

LeeAnne Hayden competes with her colostomy pouch and all at the 2017 America Fitness weekend in Las Vegas.

I was talking with my husband and friends and said I think I want to compete with “Ivan.” The second it came out of my mouth everyone was so supportive. I was sponsored for my training, plane, suit, costume, all of it. When I got there after months of training I almost didn’t want to do it. However, I knew I couldn’t let my fear stop me, I had to show everyone what I preached. The costume was great. It was a pair of wings that I could open and expand. I was shaking when I took my first steps out on that stage, I took a deep breath and opened the wings, hit my pose and completely teared up when everyone in the audience stood up clapping, screaming and some of them were crying. (Gosh I am starting to cry writing this) It was the most surreal moment ever. I felt amazing and supported and forgot I even had Ivan while I hit all my posing and walked off the stage to my friends in the back screaming and hugging me. It is a moment I will never forget.

There is such a stigma to ostomies, I have heard stories of how people have given up their lives because they didn’t want to be in one. I think we all need to be more vocal about it. So many more people could be saved. Thank you to UOAA for what you do with ostomy awareness!

That’s the way I’ve spent these last four years and I can’t wait to see where my life goes from here! I want to bring everything I have personally been through to all of you so that you may grow and live the life you want and deserve! Huge thank you to my wonderful doctors, my amazing family, my friends, all of you, and especially to GOD for allowing me to remain.

Whatever you want to do in life hope you run for it.

 

LeeAnne Hayden blogs about her life here and produces the LeeAnne in the City Podcast.

Ostomy Strong and Giving Back on the Ice

By Ed Pfueller, UOAA Communications and Outreach Manager

In 2015 things were looking up for Justin Mirigliani. An active father of two, his ulcerative colitis symptoms were in remission. In his free time, he was an avid weightlifter and loved skiing and playing ice hockey.

He probably could have been forgiven if he wanted to skip his yearly colonoscopy, it was his 10th test since his ulcerative colitis diagnosis in 2002. But his doctor made sure he was scheduled, and he went in. It was a decision that likely saved his life. He discovered he had to have his entire large intestine removed due to a severe precancerous condition called high grade dysplasia. A video before his ileostomy surgery shows the raw feelings of this life-changing event and the video below shows his journey to healing and thriving.

Since that surgery on September 24, 2015, he has vowed to do all he can to help others who suffer with IBD and to help remove the stigma attached to those who have a “bag.” Justin is determined to show, through his active lifestyle, that nothing is impossible with an ostomy. Justin has given himself an epic challenge to prove this point. He has continued weightlifting and is trying to become the first ostomate to bench press 405 lbs. You can see this journey documented on his YouTube channel The Strongest Ostomate in the World. (Parastomal hernias are a risk for all ostomates so check with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.)

Though Justin had developed a small bulge around his stoma very early on, he is careful to complete lifts that do not add excessive internal pressure, like deadlifts or squats. He wears a binder to help support the area around his stoma anytime he lifts anything remotely heavy. In the past four years of heavy bench pressing, shoulder pressing, and bicep work, there has been no change in the bulge around his stoma. So as not to neglect his legs, Justin runs flights of stairs with a weighted vest. As he says, “It’s just a matter of improvising.”

Justin has also given back to the IBD community by creating Checkmates Charitable Association. Checkmates’ main event is a yearly hockey game with NHL alumni. Recently Justin decided to expand his charity’s mission to also benefit the ostomy community. “The UOAA Conference in Philadelphia has definitely opened my heart to wanting to include UOAA and do anything I can to help our community,” Justin says.

In 2020 Checkmates is expanding its mission into Canada by sponsoring a “Disease Without Borders” International NHL Celebrity Hockey tournament with its first game this February in Toronto, Ontario. The winner of that tournament will come down to the U.S. to play the Checkmates team at the Philadelphia Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey in April. Justin’s ultimate goal is to use this year as the template for NHL Celebrity Hockey games and tournaments throughout cities in the US and Canada.

Justin says of the fundraiser, “We will never stop striving to make the lives of those with IBD and those living with an ostomy the best lives they can be!”

Like any other nonprofit organization, Checkmates is always happy for helping hands. If you are interested in volunteering with Checkmates please contact Justin. Checkmates is also looking for hockey players who want to play on the same ice with NHL stars. Players must be 18 or older, be able to ice skate forward and backward and be able to shoot a hockey puck.

Justin is grateful to his doctors, who saved his life, he and his family created this PSA to warn everyone to get their colonoscopies. Please share it. It just may save a life!

Until IBD has been eradicated and every ostomate is properly cared for, Justin promises that Checkmates will be on the front lines fighting for these communities to the best of its abilities. Justin believes “No matter what, your illness or ostomy will not hold you back!”