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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.

By Ellyn Mantell

While walking this morning it occurred to me that for many Ostomates, the heat is very challenging. Ileostomates, in particular, are prone to dehydration because our stoma is always productive. In Mother Nature’s inimitable creation, the colon, or large bowel, is responsible for absorbing fluids and allowing them to be reabsorbed into the body. Since ileostomates either no longer have a colon or it is no longer being used, the precious fluids are flushed from the body through the stoma. Hence the rapid filling and refilling of the pouch, which can be worse in the heat.

Naturally, drinking water is advised. UOAA’s new ostomy nutrition guide recommends you “Make a habit of drinking water throughout the day. At the same time, limit or avoid beverages with added sugars and artificial colors and sweeteners.”  Many of us may have difficulty drinking enough to support our anatomy, so we need to be mindful of symptoms that we are lacking the hydration/dehydration balance.

Some symptoms of dehydration include headache, fatigue, dark or decreased urine, lack of concentration, dry mouth, feeling disoriented, shortness of breath, dry skin, stomach cramps. Additionally, leg cramps, loss of appetite, drowsiness, tingling in fingertips and muscle weakness are all concomitant to dehydration.

Learning to live with the chronic dehydration possibility presented to ostomates is certainly attainable. For me, since I do not have a high blood pressure issue which might preclude adding salt, it means adding it frequently at meals. It is strange to servers at restaurants when I ask for the salt shaker, and many have asked if I mean the pepper shaker? We have become a salt-resistant society. But there are those of us who need it for our fluid balance. Additionally, I have a handful of a salty snack before bed, such as pretzels, since nighttime muscle cramps can be very painful and cause sleep deprivation. I keep a bottle of tonic water in the refrigerator, as well as a jar of pickles for those times when nothing else works. For muscle cramps I recommend an over the counter foam moisture. The manufacturers recommend using it prophylactically at night, but I have found it usually very fast-acting when I have foot or leg cramps, so I apply as needed.

Many Ostomates swear by sports drinks like Gatorade, but truthfully, although I have a bottle in the refrigerator at all times in case of fever, I find it difficult to drink. However, if presented with the option of drinking it or winding up in the Emergency Room for fluids, I will imbibe gladly! It’s recommended you dilute sports drinks to reduce the sugar content as well. At some of our Support Group meetings I have heard of many different electrolyte balancing drinks and powders, so you may find one that works for you.

UOAA recommends you drink 8–10, eight-ounce glasses of water/fluid daily. If you have a urostomy this also helps prevent UTIs and keeps urine diluted. Concentrated urine also can cause odor.

View UOAA’s Eating with an Ostomy Guide for more hydration tips such as avoiding excess caffeine, eating foods with a higher water content and sipping your liquids slowly.

It has been recommended that Ostomates drink more than simply water, since it flushes through the system and little gets absorbed before it exits through our pouch. Drink with meals, since food slows down the transport of fluids. Bring fluids with you when you are out and about, since being busy may cause us to forget the responsibility we have to stay hydrated. Lastly, in addition to feeling awful when we are dehydrated, being in that state puts a great deal of pressure on our kidneys, and can lead to kidney failure and lightheadedness, which can lead to falling.

Although this sounds ominous for summer fun, being mindful and smart will help us to relax and enjoy ourselves…after all, with the Covid experience, we have learned to grab the good and be grateful we are as healthy as we are!

 

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

Chances are you will be able to return to your normal diet not too long after your operation. It is good to keep in mind that foods that were good and healthy for your body before your operation are still good for you. A well-balanced diet is recommended for most individuals.

Although your ostomy nurse more than likely will give you tips and advise you on your health and diet, here are some alternative helpful suggestions for maintaining a proper diet after your ileostomy or colostomy surgery.

Start Small

Ease your way back to proper nutrition with small quantities of food. It is recommended to eat 3 or more times per day in smaller quantities and portions. Try to eat these meals at the same time each day to help regulate bowel movements. Eating more frequently and in smaller quantities will help aid your body’s ability to process food and help with unnecessary gas.

For the first several weeks after your surgery, eating simple and bland soft foods will be easier to digest. Keep in mind that chewing your food well also adds to the ease of digestion – the more broken up it is, the easier it will be to process. Take your time with introducing high-fiber foods back into your diet as these will be harder to digest and can cause blockages.

If you are trying new foods it is advised to try them slowly and one at a time. This will help you to have a better understanding of how your body works with the new foods and if any will cause excess gas, constipation, strange odors, or diarrhea. Slowly incorporate them into your diet and make note of how your body responds to them. Remember that every body is different and what affects someone else may not affect you in the same way, this is why it can be helpful to keep a journal or diary of how your body responds to different foods.

Drink Lots of Liquids

It is important to drink lots of liquids with an ostomy. If you have an ileostomy, even more specific ileostomy dietary guidelines will be helpful. Dehydration can happen as you lose more fluids daily after an ileostomy, due to the fluid not being reabsorbed into the large intestine. Make sure to hydrate even more on hot and humid days or if you are participating in active sports. (Sports drinks and other high electrolyte drinks can help with this.)

Coffee and tea are fine to drink, but water and juices are still better sources of liquid, so be careful not to use coffee or tea as a substitute for water.

Can I Drink Alcohol With my Ostomy?

Alcohol is fine in moderation, you may want to try one drink (or even a half) and wait and see how it affects your body. Like other carbonated beverages, beer may cause extra gas and uncomfortable bloating but every body is different and what affects one person, may not affect you in the same way.

Ostomy Problem Foods

Even though you can still enjoy most of the foods you loved before surgery, there are some foods to be aware of after your ostomy, specifically foods that are hard on digestion and can cause blockages. The following is a list of common foods that can cause problems, as they don’t break down easily:

Nuts
Seeds
Popcorn
Dried fruit
Mushrooms
Raw-crunchy vegetables

Eat these foods in small quantities and be sure to chew them well. If you think you have a food blockage, you should call your doctor or ostomy nurse. Having an ostomy certainly doesn’t mean you have to completely change your diet. By steering clear of a short list of problem foods and making sure to stay hydrated, you can get back to enjoying the foods you love.

Editor’s note: This 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.