By Molly Atwater

Ah, November… the leaves are changing colors and falling from the trees, the jack-o-lanterns have been put away and exchanged for candy canes, and the Black Friday sales emails have started trickling into our inboxes. That can only mean one thing: the holiday season is upon us! It’s safe to say that our celebrations in 2020 will be a little different than what we’re used to. A non-traditional Thanksgiving or holiday gathering can be hard on all of us now that the CDC is suggesting limiting gatherings to just those in your household. (They’ve got some suggestions on safer alternatives to consider here.) Regardless of how we’ll celebrate, there are still lots of cookies to bake, memories to make, and laughs to share. But what does that mean for those of us with ostomies? The holiday season is inherently stressful, but adding medical issues on top can feel overwhelming. But fear not – with a little extra planning and mindfulness, you can handle the next few weeks like a pro. Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you have a HAPPY holiday!

Travel Prepared

If you must travel during this time, make sure you pack more than enough supplies. Odds are you won’t need all of them, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. My rule is to figure out how many bag changes I expect to perform while I am away, and then pack double that amount of supplies.  That way, even if I have to do extra bag changes, I never have to worry about running out of my necessities. I also pack in-bag odor reducers and a small bathroom aerosol spray so I don’t have to feel self-conscious about any expected or unexpected ostomy smells.

If your holiday plans include traveling by airplane, pack your supplies in your carry-on. Airlines are notorious for misplacing luggage, so keeping your supplies with you at all times can save you a lot of worrying. Also, go ahead and download one of the UOAA TSA advocacy cards to make your security checkpoint experience easier. For even more peace of mind contact TSA Cares 72 hours before your flight for additional assitence. Don’t forget to throw an empty water bottle in your carry-on to fill up once you’re at your gate to prevent dehydration. 

Enjoy Meals with Peace of Mind

When it comes to eating, everyone’s post-ostomy diets are different. For some, ostomy surgery can open up foods that were previously off-limits, while for others, options might be more limited. Regardless of your digestive system’s abilities, take the opportunity to make your meals a little more festive! If you can eat things you’ve missed for a while, go for it! But if you’re dealing with more restrictions, all is not lost. Maybe you could make macaroni and cheese with turkey-shaped pasta or try your hand at some homemade applesauce.

Chew, chew, chew! A lot of the foods we eat over the holidays are out of our normal diet, so give your body some help with digesting. It’s not a ton of fun to step away from the festivities to deal with a blockage! If at all possible, it’s also helpful to stay on your normal eating schedule. With all of the uncertainties that come with the holidays, having one steady touchstone can really help.

Alcohol is a staple for some families’ celebrations, but it can be very dehydrating. That’s an issue for everyone, but it’s crucial for those of us with ostomies. Try to alternate your cocktails with a glass of water or your electrolyte beverage of choice. Don’t forget that with the weather cooling down, warm drinks like tea also count as hydration!

Trust Your Emotions

The holidays can be emotionally challenging for everyone, but for those dealing with chronic conditions, things may feel a little tougher.  If you are feeling blue, that is ok! All emotions are valid, so give yourself the time and space to feel sad or angry and to grieve what was.  But it’s also a great time of year to reflect on the things that you are grateful for, whether that’s your support system, your health, or even just for making it through this crazy year.

Some people don’t mind talking about their medical conditions, but if you’d rather not focus on your ostomy this holiday season, think of some ways to steer the conversation in a different direction. The questions people ask typically come from a good place, but you are fully entitled to a few hours without thinking about your health.  Brainstorming quick responses or coming up with other topics to bring up instead can help you feel more prepared if you do find yourself in a situation where you want a quick “out.”

Listen to Your Body

Dealing with chronic health conditions is exhausting, and putting on a smile when you aren’t feeling great makes it that much harder. Finding others who can accept and acknowledge that things are hard instead of offering common and well-meaning phrases like “it will get better” and “stay strong” can be extremely helpful and validating. Nobody wants to be a Scrooge during this time of year, but having a safe space where you can feel seen and heard can bring you back into the celebration faster than wallowing alone.

Find an outfit that makes you feel AMAZING with your ostomy! Since a lot of us have spent more time in sweatpants than ever before thanks to quarantine, take the opportunity to wear something that makes you feel confident. It doesn’t have to be fancy – maybe just your favorite pair of pajamas or an extra-festive mask!

Get Creative

If you can’t participate in some of your favorite holiday traditions, now is the time to get creative! There might be ways to augment some existing traditions, like making different cookies without hard-to-digest ingredients, or you can create brand-new ones.  Maybe it’s time to introduce a holiday movie marathon or invite your friends to join you on a wintery walk through the woods! Whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to find an activity that brings you joy.

The holidays might feel tricky to navigate, but with a little extra preparation, you can remove ostomy stress from your list of worries.  Whether you’re a new ostomate or a seasoned pro, I encourage you to find your own tricks for making this time of year as merry as possible. From all of us here at UOAA, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!

 

Molly Atwater is UOAA’s Director of Young Adult Outreach. After struggling with chronic constipation for decades caused by a collagen deficiency disorder, she underwent ileostomy surgery in June 2016. In addition to serving with the UOAA, Molly runs a social media account (“MollyOllyOstomy”) that aims to teach her more than 20,000 followers about life with an ostomy and other chronic illnesses. She lives in Northern Virginia with her fiancé, Thomas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many things to think about when preparing for a trip. Whether traveling a few hours from home, or to another country, for a dream vacation, or for business, the more prepared you are, the more at ease you will feel. Luckily, there are resources available to assist you in planning for all sorts of travel destinations. Coloplast® Care offers comprehensive support for all areas of life, including tips on packing and planning for your trip. Making sure you have extra supplies, and the right contacts for any additional supplies you might need in case of an emergency at your destination will keep your mind calm and clear and allow for you to spend time enjoying your trip instead of worrying about the ‘what-ifs’ often associated with having an ostomy.

Traveling with your service animal can require a little extra preparation. If you are flying to your destination, be sure to save yourself time and hassle by calling the airline to understand their unique regulations and specifications, and to give them any additional information they may need about your unique situation. Here is a helpful checklist to ensure you have all the documentation you might need:

  • Certificate of your service animal
  • Current health records (including up to date vaccinations)
  • A note from your healthcare professional
  • A note from your veterinary clinic
  • A personal travel certificate which explains your condition, the medical supplies you are carrying and why you might need support and privacy as you go through security

Note that it can be extra helpful to have these documents already translated into the language of the country you will be visiting.

Depending on your destination, you might also want to look into other requirements, for example, if you are flying to an island such as Hawaii, there may be a quarantine period for your animal. If your travel plans are taking you to a country in Europe, making sure you have an ISO microchip is important as not all microchips can be read in different countries.

Leading up to the hours before your trip, you may want to limit food and water if your animal will be on a train or plane for several hours. Be sure to carry water for them to have as soon as you land. If your travels are by car, plan a route with easy places to stop to allow your animal to relieve themselves and get some exercise.

In the Airport

Arrive earlier than normal to the airport to ensure you have plenty of time to go through security and find your gate. Make sure the security personnel are aware that your animal is a service animal, this should help to speed up your security check and move you through faster. You should not have to be separated from your service animal at any time, it is your right and privilege to have them accompany you at all times.

Most airlines require a 48-hour advance notice of service animals on flights, be sure to contact your airline to make them aware that you will be traveling with your service animal, and ask any questions you might have about the day of travel.

Hotel Stays

Similar to your airline travel, you may want to contact your hotel before your stay. Let them know you will be traveling with your service animal and ask them to inform their staff. As a service animal is not a pet, they cannot be refused in any public space. As well, a hotel cannot charge a fee for having a service animal stay in a room unless they cause damage. Be sure to clean up after your dog as you would at home, and never leave your service animal in the hotel room alone. Even the best-trained ones can become anxious or stressed if left unattended in a new atmosphere.

Lastly, once you reach your destination, should you have any questions or need any medical supplies or advice, Coloplast has put together a downloadable list of all of their local offices around the world.  The more prepared you are before you travel, the more you will enjoy the trip and be at ease. Happy Travels!

For more information, visit www.coloplast.us.

 

Editor’s note: This educational article is from one of our digital sponsors, Coloplast. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Enjoy a trouble-free transit with these travel tips.

If you’re traveling by airplane, car, bus, train, or cruise ship, you might be stressed about your ostomy needs during the trip. Don’t worry. With a little preparation, everything can go smoothly.

It’s also a good idea to start with short trips away from home to build up your confidence. Once you’re reassured that your pouching system stays secure during normal day-to-day activities, you can start to venture farther.

Here are a few tips to help you be fully prepared and comfortable, no matter how you travel.

Luggage weight limits: Are you traveling by air with a lot of supplies? Check with your airline and your country’s federal travel agency (e.g., the Transportation Security Administration in the United States) for the luggage weight limit. Weigh the luggage before you go. It may be helpful to use a portable luggage scale. If you’re over the limit, check to see if your airline has a special allowance for medical supplies.

Forbidden items: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forbids dangerous items on board airplanes. For example, ether, methylated spirits, or flammable aerosol adhesives and removers are considered fire hazards. Scissors also may not be allowed in carry-on luggage – check with your airline or pre-cut all of your skin barriers before traveling.

Pre-boarding security checks: At airports, your carry-on luggage will be inspected at the security baggage check before boarding. If you have medications, get a card from your healthcare professional that explains why you need them. Some countries do not allow certain medications, such as codeine, to cross their borders. A travel communications card from an ostomy association in your country may also be available. United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) offers a travel card to help you be ready for searches or checkpoint questions.

Using airplane toilets: During a long flight, there can be long lines for toilets, especially after meals. Be alert for a chance to use the toilet when most people are in their seats. It’s also a good idea to request a seat near a toilet.

Car travel: Your car seat belt should sit across your hip bone and pelvis, not your abdomen and stoma. If you want to give your stoma extra protection from the strap, you can buy a seat belt pad. You can also use an extension bracket to lower the angle of the belt across your body.

Cruising with a stoma: Are you worried about taking a river, lake, or ocean cruise? Don’t be. If you’ll be away from land for a few days or more, just pack double the supplies you need. Plus, follow these simple precautions and you’ll have a trouble-free voyage.

View or print the full PDF booklet Living with an Ostomy: Travel from Hollister.com.

For similar articles on traveling with an ostomy and other topics, visit the Hollister Ostomy Care Learning Center.

Editor’s note: This educational article is from one of our digital sponsors, Hollister Incorporated. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Traveling through airports can make anybody nervous as security lines get longer and wait times increase. For some people living with an ostomy, air travel can cause further anxiety.

Universal pat-downs performed by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and uncertainty surrounding procedures at the screening checkpoint can add to an already stressful experience.

Luckily, United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) is working on your behalf to help make your next airport security screening run as smoothly as possible. But you need to be prepared beyond just packing the right supplies and emptying your pouch before a flight. With our tips and latest guidance from the TSA, you’ll be empowered with the knowledge to help make your next travel experience a positive one.

“We have been working with the TSA for over three years now and have established an excellent working relationship,” says George Salamy UOAA’s TSA Liaison and representative on the Coalition. In fact, at a past TSA Disability and Multicultural Conference, OAA was the recipient of a Community Participation Award.  “Recognition by the TSA with this award illustrates how we are helping our constituents, the ostomates, who want to travel with little inconvenience,” George says.

One way we do this is by participating in conference calls where we provide input from the UOAA traveler perspective. The system is a work-in-progress and complaints about invasive searches outside of protocol, though rare, still occur.

Communication is critical in navigating the security process. Inform the TSA officer that you have an ostomy pouch before the screening process begins. For discretion, you may provide the officer with the TSA notification card or a medical document describing an ostomy. Expect to be screened without having to empty or expose the ostomy through the advanced imaging technology, metal detector, or a pat-down. If your ostomy pouch is subject to the additional screening you’ll be asked to conduct a self pat-down of the ostomy pouch outside of your clothing, followed by a test of your hands for any trace of explosives.

You may also undergo a standard pat-down of areas that will not include the ostomy pouch. Remember it is normal protocol for agents to request a pat-down of any travelers. Be aware however that at any point during the process you can ask for a Supervisory TSA Officer, and a private area for the screening as well as be accompanied by your travel companion.

As an ostomy traveler, if an incident occurs that differentiates from the protocol (such as being asked to undress the area around your ostomy) know that this is not allowed. It is important to report this to the TSA and follow-up with UOAA to ensure appropriate and immediate action is taken. Upon review of security footage corrective action may be taken in the form of additional training and/or discussions with appropriate personnel at the airport to help prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Before your next trip view our tips for ostomy travelers. We will continue to educate and communicate with the TSA with the goal of making travel easier for all those traveling with an ostomy. No people living with an ostomy should ever be discouraged from travel whether for work, to see family and friends, a vacation or a journey around the world.