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By Elaine O’Rourke

During the winter of 2005, I went from being an active, strong, 35-year-old yoga teacher to being completely debilitated, feeling like I was 100 years old and barely able to move or walk.

An extreme flare-up of Crohn’s disease resulted in a temporary ileostomy which was then made permanent after a year. I was down to skin and bones and had lost most of my muscle mass. My hips and whole body hurt when I slept as I was so skinny. There was very little that I could do. My body just needed to rest as it took too much energy for anything else.

When I began to regain my strength after my temporary ileostomy, I had a renewed appreciation for walking and what a good simple exercise it is. Just getting out for fresh air, step by step, seeing people and walking the beach. I had missed simply going to shops. Ahhh, to be able to move again, what a gift.

I had never considered going for my daily walk as a “gift” until I couldn’t do it. For many people, including myself, it’s not until things start going wrong that you realize how much you take your health for granted.

As I recovered I was able to slowly get back into my yoga practice and doing everything that I wanted to do. In fact, last year I started surfing which is now my greatest passion. It was previously the one thing I thought I could never do with an ostomy.

My point being, having an ostomy does not mean you can’t exercise or do sports. Just do them mindfully and within your limits. Taking good care of yourself is now of utmost importance. Real self-care not only addresses how we take care of our physical bodies but also how we deal with our emotions and how we think. After all, everything is connected.

Life with an ostomy has a lot of pent-up emotions, thoughts, and challenges. The physical body also holds on to memories and traumas within its cells. This is why you may experience or even hear of people who recall things when getting a massage, or you might start crying when you get bodywork done or when you are moving mindfully in a yoga class. The “feeling experience” is providing a release for these memories.

In my program “Surviving to Thriving: Overcoming Ostomy Challenges so you can Live a FulFilling Life” I focus a lot on the mental and emotional issues that occur but also on the importance of keeping active and making healthy lifestyle choices. As you journey into the New Year and decade what are the more tangible things you can do for your physical well-being? We all know that New Year’s resolutions go out the window by the second week in January, or that they never happen at all.

Instead, consider doing things that will contribute to your health and happiness and set a plan in place. If you find it hard to keep yourself motivated or don’t know where to start then reach out and contact me.

Strategy tips for self-care

1) Move your body
Buying a gym membership is useless– unless you use it! Our ancestors did not live sedentary lives, yet, these days in general, we are very attached to sitting around. Many people work at desks, sit in cars commuting and then sit on the couch to chill out! But our bodies are designed to MOVE.

Tip: Get up and walk around more, even set a chime to go off on your phone to remind yourself. As mentioned, walking is a great way to keep things moving and it’s free. Even a quick five-minute walk is beneficial. Meet a friend for a walk instead of coffee, or both! Move your arms over your head more. Add in some simple stretches. Basically, MOVE as much as you can as that is what our bodies are designed to do.

2) Food choice
If we think we are going to be “depriving” ourselves of something, then we will do anything we can to sabotage our best intentions. For example, If we say we are “giving up chocolate” then chances are we become obsessed with thinking about chocolate and our resolution only lasts a day! Your body is like a temple and keeping it healthy requires the right choices. This will affect your ostomy output, energy levels, muscles, organs, bones and joints.

Tip: Focus on adding in certain foods that you know will be healthier for you. Hint – these foods are mostly in the fresh produce sections of the supermarket. Before you eat and drink ask or even visualize how your body will respond, how your organs will feel, how well your GI tract will digest. Eat slowly, chew and enjoy your food. Notice how it affects your system, energy levels, and your ostomy output.

3) Make it fun
If you dread doing something, then it won’t get done. So find something that is enjoyable. Not everyone likes exercise or sports but there are many different ways that you can treat your body with more kindness.

Tip: Dancing is a great way to move. Maybe go out to hear live music where you can move on a dance floor, or take a dance class. Put music on at home that energizes you. Walk up and down the stairs a few more times. Use a fitbit watch as a way to incentivize yourself.

4) Schedule time for yourself
There are a lot of distractions that pop up during the day and before you know it, you haven’t done anything you intended to do and the checklist is still staring at you.

Tip: Schedule in your planner when you are going to do your (walk, fun movement, cardio class, yoga, meditation, etc.) Be consistent and try and have it at the same time and on the same days each week.

5) Know that you deserve it
There is nothing like a promise of a “treat” or “something special” or to plan out “bribery” if you do something! Self-discipline comes more naturally to some but it takes practice.

Tip: As you decide the new ways you are going to do things in 2020, also give yourself a promise of a self-care present when you complete your goals. As you try more nutritious food, exercising, moving your body (because that is what it is supposed to do) then treat yourself to a massage, tickets to a show, a work-out outfit (that you now must have because you actually enjoy exercise) a good book, and so on!

 

Elaine O’Rourke is the creator of the online holistic 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, presenter at the UOAA National Conference and speaker at Girls with Guts retreat.
A free guide is available: ‘3 simple ways to eliminate fears about your ostomy” by visiting Elaine’s website
www.ElaineOrourke.com
Elaine@ElaineOrourke.com

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 Associations 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 was told if I didn’t have the surgery when I did, my Crohn’s disease would have killed me. Surgery made a drastic change in my life for the better. Now I will be around for my wife and kids.

I had a promising career in the United States Army, but that all quickly changed. In 2014 I was deployed to Afghanistan. During my deployment, I noticed something wasn’t right and started having a lot of stomach pains and other symptoms. At the time I didn’t think much about it. I was focused on the mission during my deployment. I always put my soldier’s needs before mine. So nine months went by and I came home in 2015. Still having these symptoms I was asked to do another deployment to Iraq. I took the deployment for another nine months. Towards the end of my deployment, I was in a lot of pain. Once I returned back home I finally saw a medical doctor. After several tests, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Later I started treatments, but nothing was working. As a result, I was medically discharged from the military in August 2016; whereupon, I continued my treatments back home in Dayton, Ohio. In December 2016, I was still in so much pain that I went to the emergency room for testing. When the doctor came back, he told me I needed to have emergency surgery. That December I had my first surgery and I went home with a permanent ostomy. It was a difficult transition back to civilian life and even more challenging now adapting to life with an ostomy.

I really struggled in the beginning. I felt alone trying to figure things out. I went from being in the best shape of my life from being in the military to gaining weight and being depressed. I even shut my family out. I didn’t think support would benefit me because in my mind they were civilians and not prior military service members. One day I woke up and realized this doesn’t have to be this way and turned it around. I did reach out to a few support groups on Facebook looking for advice and how people deal with having an ostomy pouch. I realized it wasn’t about the military anymore, but all of the support people out there are willing to give. My wife is my biggest supporter!

I’ve read so many articles about Crohn’s and ostomy pouches, but I haven’t really felt like anyone was affected in the military as much. Now I want to share my story. I reached out to UOAA because I hope to advocate for all military and their families that struggle through this. I want to be the one who is there for a fellow service member that when they find out they have this disease that they are not alone and even though you loved and enjoyed the military, there’s still a bright future outside of the military.

Even after two years I still struggle with the thought of having a “bag” and some pain, but I am able to stay active now and recently went back to doing what I love – getting fit, and being outdoors and hunting and fishing. I feel having an ostomy was a slight setback, but it was not the end. There are far worse things in life. So if me having to do this to save my life and be able to enjoy it, then I find that as my motivation to keep going. Most importantly, I’m no longer out with the constant bathroom trips and horrible pain that left me not being able to love life and spend time with my wife and kids.

Expect More – Take Control of Your Health Care 

Part 6 in Series

 

By Joanna Burgess-Stocks and Keagan Lynggard-Hysell

 

There are many different emotions you may experience as a new ostomate, and it is important to understand that physical and emotional healing after surgery may follow different timelines. We understand that everyone copes with emotions differently. Some people struggle for a long time. Whether you would like to seek individual support from a social worker, therapist, or other medical professional or prefer support from a peer mentor or by attending a local support group; understanding the emotional impact of ostomy surgery and receiving the appropriate support is an important part of taking control of your health care.

 

Witnessing the Emotional Impact- a WOC Nurse’s Perspective

“Hello, my name is Joanna.  I am here today because I am your ostomy nurse”.  

I have repeated that sentence hundreds of times over the last 12 years. I am in the unique situation in that I am meeting you at a pivotal moment in your life, heading in a direction you might never have imagined–facing ostomy surgery. During that initial encounter I am sometimes met with a blank stare, a stunned look of fear and dread, or with complete relief.  Whatever the reaction, I am the person that is there to help you navigate the world of living with an ostomy. I take great care during that initial visit to meet you where you are emotionally, knowing that this is a sensitive topic for you, someone who most likely is not used to talking about the way you go to the bathroom. Soon, however, I will share with you that I too am an ostomate (person living with an ostomy) and have been one for 53 years since the age of three!  As I leave you that first day, I finally see a glimmer in your eyes–hope! A sign that maybe this journey is possible and that you are not alone.

As an ostomy nurse, I have had the opportunity to meet patients in a variety of settings and have worked with hundreds of patients facing ostomy surgery whether it be from cancer, bowel or bladder diseases or from emergent situations.  No matter the reason, the anticipation of ostomy surgery is a step into the unknown and can compound the anger, sadness, and fear about the medical condition that caused you to need an ostomy. As you face these multitudes of feelings and adjust to life with an ostomy, know that you can take control of what may feel like an uncontrollable situation.

 

Facing the Emotional Impact- a Patient’s Perspective

“Good morning Keagan, today a special nurse is going to come and teach you how to care for your ostomy and help with your first bag change.”

A special nurse?–I thought to myself. Why do I need a special nurse to show me how to take care of my pouch? I had so many questions, a multitude of emotions, and I was feeling overwhelmed. So many things were out of my control, my recent diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, my hospitalization, my surgery, and now the responsibility of caring for my ostomy. I felt helpless and was eager for some independence in managing my body.

My WOC nurse entered the room and introduced herself with a smile. As she sat beside my bed listening to my fears and frustrations she explained how we were going to change my pouch. In an attempt to gain some independence, I told her that I wanted to take the pouch off myself and as I lifted the edge of the barrier just enough to see the edge of my stoma and the few black stitches poking through my skin– I lost it. I didn’t want to do it anymore, any of it. I didn’t want my insides on the outside, I was scared of my own body. My WOC nurse stepped right in with encouragement and support and a perspective I will never forget. She said she understood that what I was going through felt unmanageable but that caring for my stoma was something that would allow me to be self-sufficient, and that changing my pouch would give me independence in caring for my health. Since my very first pouch change, I have been encouraged to shift my perspective and to be proactive in the areas of my care where I can take control.

 

Seeking Individual Support

It is important for you to seek the resources needed to understand and work through the emotional impact related to ostomy surgery. It can be very helpful to have someone affirm your emotional concerns as you adapt to life with an ostomy. Most will find their path to acceptance as they physically begin to feel better and become comfortable with the care of their ostomy. If you are struggling with depression, how to tell others about your ostomy, or any part of the adaptation process (including the lack of will to learn self-care), seeking support through counseling can help you address these struggles. A licensed professional has the skills to help you create the life “tools” you need for navigating the unknown, including fears of introducing your ostomy into a new or existing relationship, addressing body image challenges, or understanding the grieving process. You can speak with your physician for a referral if needed.

 

Finding Support in Others

The fear of the unknown can often be soothed by learning from those who have gone through a similar experience. UOAA has approximately 300 Affiliated Support Groups throughout the United States, providing the opportunity for you to connect with others within your community who have also undergone ostomy surgery. To find a local support group near you, visit UOAA Support Group Finder. If you would like to connect with others but prefer to do so through an online format or from the comfort of your own home you can join a Virtual Support Group. Another way to gain support is through an ostomy mentor. Ostomate Lois Fink describes in her book Courage Takes Guts; Lessons Learned From A Lost Colon, meeting her mentor for the first time at a restaurant. The mentor was wearing a very slim dress and Lois felt perplexed, trying to figure out where she was hiding her ostomy pouch!  Lois learned that she could be the same fashionista that she always was while wearing an ostomy pouch and it helped her face her ostomy surgery with more strength and confidence.

To learn how to connect with an ostomy mentor, many UOAA Affiliated Support Groups have certified visitor programs or you can contact UOAA for a list of current ASG visitor programs at 1-800-826-0826.  

 

Our Hope for New and Struggling Ostomates

It is the hope of all of us at UOAA that one day you will be able to look at your stoma and see it as something that was life-altering and maybe even life-changing, but it was also life-giving. Be patient with yourself as you journey through both the physical and emotional healing process and be sure to utilize the available resources to support you every step of the way.

 

Additional Information & Support

UOAA has developed several tools to help you navigate through various informational topics at your own pace. To help better understand what ideally should happen before and after ostomy surgery we have developed the Ostomy and Continent Diversion Patient Bill of Rights. To learn some of the common “ostomy lingo” you can refer to our blog Know Your Ostomy and Know Your Ostomy Pouching System and Supplies. Complete the accompanying checklists and keep them handy for your ongoing ostomy care.

As a new ostomy patient, you may have concerns or face many unknowns. UOAA provides resources to answer these frequent concerns and questions to best equip you in living with an ostomy. Here are a few of the ostomy educational resources available at ostomy.org: