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By Ellyn Mantell

Welcome to my fantasy.

We all have our fantasies, so come along with me as I describe one of mine…new ostomates (those with ileostomy, colostomy or urostomy, all having had stoma surgery) would begin their adjustment to their new life with all of their questions answered, they would have knowledge and be welcomed into an Ostomy Support Group, they would have a connection with a Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse (WOCN) and they would recognize what a gift, what a lifesaver an ostomy is.

My concern is that this is not the usual for ostomates, either new or even those who have them for many years. In New Jersey, particularly where I live, there are many resources available, and yet, even in our sophisticated arena, many ostomates leave the hospital uninformed and underserved. Prior to Covid-19, I visited patients in the hospital or in rehab facilities to answer their questions. I brought journals and pens so they could write their emotions, concerns, and observations, and refer back to their notes as they made progress. I am so anxious to return to that important undertaking as soon as it is safe to do so.

When I had my surgery in March of 2014, my surgeon told me I would be in the hospital for 5-7 days. However, I felt so well, so quickly, that I was able to leave 4 days later. That was pushing the envelope, but I was so used to recovering from abdominal surgeries, having had 22 before that, my ability to go into recovery mode was well-entrenched. The majority of patients need so much more time, and now, even 4 days is more than they are offered.

Back to my fantasy, and my pipe dream of a great transition for new ostomates:

How can questions be answered, and knowledge gained as needed? 

The majority of ostomies, even those performed in an emergent situation, require marking the abdomen for placement of the stoma (opening.) That is typically done by the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse (WOCN) and that is the person who comes to the patient’s room post-op to begin to prepare the ostomate for life at home. In an ideal world, the WOC nurse has written information to share, which once home, will make more sense, and provides contact information for any questions. Additionally, the ostomate is put in touch with the United Ostomy Associations of America to become part of a bigger group of kindred people.

How do we find Ostomy Support Groups in our area?

I am involved in three Support Groups, becoming president of one already formed when I had my ileostomy, and then worked with WOC nurses at two other hospitals in the area to form new ones. Until Covid hit, these were growing so nicely. But we are meeting virtually now, and staying as close as possible, knowing that the day will come when we are back together. It is wonderful to see “my people” who share my concerns, experiences and fears and accomplishments. We help each other in countless ways. People reach out to me through the WOC nurses in the area, United Ostomy Associations of America, The Phoenix Magazine, the American Cancer Society, three hospitals, and through word of mouth. Because I am so open and revealing about my ileostomy and Lily, my stoma, I believe my name pops into the minds of people when they know someone in need.

Ostomies are Lifesavers! “Read all about it!”

An ostomy provides the gift of health for many, many medical situations, including cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, motility issues and devastating organ injury. We live in good times for our supplies and the ability to try new and innovative appliances and accessories. The Phoenix Magazine is a great resource for all, and assists in wading through the confusion many feel. Motivational stories and practical guidance round out the offerings.

A final word about those we call our Angels…the Wound and Ostomy Nurses.

Establish a relationship with one, and if there is an Ostomy Clinic or Ostomy Center in your area, use it! These nurses are your connection to properly-fitting appliances, the correct supplies and accessories, questions and personal support, as well as the ability to refer to a Support Group. More and more are entering the private sector and providing services such as home visits, particularly to those who cannot travel to a clinic or office, and your surgeon may even have one in the office to help navigate the transition to life as an ostomate. We call our WOC nurses our Angels, and that is exactly what they are, ladies and gentlemen with big wings to support us!

 

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

By Ellyn Mantell

It continues…the pandemic is rearing its ugly head and seems to be gaining strength once again, despite never universally weakening. Whereas we assumed by this time in the fall, we would be back to some sense of normalcy, we are, instead, buying jackets, shawls, gloves, and hats so we can eat outdoors and continue to safely socialize. Travel requires an army intelligence level approach including Ultra Violet wands, visors over masks, dozens of wipes, and gallons of hand sanitizer. Seeing family feels like a tease, since hugging and kissing are off-limits, with no change in sight. I could go on, but you know all of this, and more.

The one good thing that keeps me upbeat is the wonderful feeling of connecting with our support groups via Zoom. Ostomates still have concerns and needs, surgeries continue to happen, and new members need a safe place to begin their journey to their new normal. Even those of us who are comfortable and knowledgeable still need the same safe place to discuss concerns that continue to develop. And the ability to see familiar faces goes miles in feeling comfort.

I know from others who are doing virtual support group meetings that they, too, are feeling so much more secure in the roads they are traveling. Whether it is AA, or NA for addiction, or Alzheimer’s support for spouses or caregivers, cancer survivors, etc., people need to be able to talk and gain strength. Perhaps the ability to remain anonymous may be even more positive than in-person meetings.

Zoom and virtual meetings have been a lifesaver, and had we not been in this demanding situation, we may never have discovered that. I can still remember being asked to participate in a Zoom meeting a few years ago, and running as quickly as possible away from the involvement. It seemed so overwhelming and daunting. But necessity is truly the mother of invention, and I am eternally grateful that Zoom has made itself available for the masses.

Please consider reaching out to an ostomy support group via a computer or smartphone, if you are in need of…support. There is, undoubtedly, a group to help with almost every issue you may have. I believe I speak for those who facilitate when I say we care about you, want to help you, are likely to share your concerns and feelings, and most of all, are committed to you. I know that each ostomate who walks into my life represents an opportunity to help them look at their new life in a positive way, and with that in mind, our value is rather invaluable!

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

Walk Through that Door and You Might Surprise Yourself

 

By Ellyn Mantell

There are support groups for many issues but until I, myself, was in need, I never gave much thought to what they can provide. We have seen representations on television and in the movies, and they seem to have merit, but I have learned that they can be a lifesaver, or at the very least, a way to begin to live a life.

During all of the over 20 years that I suffered from constant bowel obstructions and abdominal surgeries, I longed for others to tell me “it would be alright.” But there were no “others” to be found…nobody seemed to have what I had, and therefore, I could never ask what I could do, what did he/she do to live a fuller life? And then I had my ileostomy, and everything changed. After my 23rd abdominal surgery,  something happened that hadn’t happened before…I now had the name of something that could actually garner support, and I took to it like a duck to water!

My ostomy nurse, Angela Natale-Ryan invited me to the Union County Ostomy Support Group in New Jersey, and I was quick to take advantage. Little did I know that, fast-forward, I would find a home for myself, become president for the past five years, and go on to start other support groups. But that is only one piece of the wonderful puzzle I find myself putting together. As president, my name is given to those in need who call the American Cancer Society, or United Ostomy Association of America, or even the local hospitals. The connection I have to so many reaches into every interaction I have, since each new encounter teaches me something.

As much as we are all individuals, new members are frightened and worried, hesitant to walk through a new door, and filled with misconceptions. Letting someone know “it will be alright” because we have all been through it, is invaluable. And most importantly, we welcome each new member of the group with open arms.

At the beginning of our meetings, we go around the (ever-growing) group and say our names and type of ostomy we have, and if we are new ostomates. Additionally, I ask if anyone has any issues that they would like discussed, and we will circle back to those after everyone has a chance to introduce themselves. Our Wound Ostomy Continence nurses address the medical concerns, and we discuss lifestyle concerns with each other.

I have garnered a wealth of knowledge about the medical, the physical and daily life of living with ostomies. I also now know where to gain more information and knowledge when needed. Rarely does too much surprise me in those areas over these past five years. But I am so appreciative, and feel forever treated to the magnificence of the human spirit, as I see the emotional growth that takes place as we lean on each other for support, and I can count on that!

 

United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) has over 300 Affiliated Support Groups around the country. To find support and information near you click here. To start or affiliate an existing group with UOAA click here