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Why You Should Join UOAA as an Official Member

By Alyssa Zeldenrust

(National Conference attendee since 2011, DuPage County Support Group (suburban Chicago), Co-Chair of Events for Young Adults)

UOAA friends, educational tools, and vendor fairs have been lifesavers for me, so I’d like to share a bit about why I’m a member and what UOAA has to offer.

United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. (UOAA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports, empowers, and advocates for the 725,000 to 1 million of us Americans who are living with an ostomy or continent diversion (like a J-Pouch.) There is no need to feel alone, approximately 100,000 new life-saving ostomy surgeries are performed annually in the United States.

Without UOAA and medically diverse friends, I don’t know where I’d be today.

You can join one of the 300+ Affiliated Support Groups in the U.S. for local peer support and information. Whether you’re new or an ostomy veteran, you can get a lot out of UOAA resources.

I make sure every younger person I see at UOAA’s National Conference is welcomed into our group.

In my personal experience with my local support group, it’s a great way you can make friends who truly understand your situation. If you’re an ostomy veteran, you’re incredibly important to the new members of the group because you can guide them through difficult situations. Local ostomy friends are great because you can do social events in addition to support group meetings. I’ve gone to concerts, dinners, and parties with local buddies and it makes me feel so welcomed because nobody judges my body and we all tend to have a little bit of a dark sense of humor after a few years of illness or surgery.

Everyone should also become an official National Member, there is a membership for medical professionals as well. UOAA offers the National Membership for Individuals for an annual fee of $20.00. As an Individual Member you will receive UOAA’s:

  • National Membership pin and a stoma rose pin
  • Monthly e-Newsletter
  • New Ostomy Patient Guide
  • Plus, you’ll be notified when new or updated educational materials are available.
  • Have voting rights for our national elections
  • Can be nominated to be elected to serve on our Board of Directors
  • Will get a membership packet that includes a special promotion code to subscribe to The Phoenix magazine at a discounted rate.

Joining is also about standing up and being counted for advocacy purposes.

When I was too sick to attend the Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k my parents and fellow support group members made sure I was there in spirit with my face on masks.

Some local support groups host regional conferences that can be great. I had so much fun at the Midwest Regional Conference when I was lucky enough to go, and I left with a bunch of notes and new products to try.

National conferences are usually held every two years (Houston, Texas Aug 11-13, 2022 is next!) and are major events that turn me into a tornado of attempted hospitality. I make it my personal mission to find all the younger crowd and make sure nobody is left out and everyone has a chance to bond outside of the educational sessions. We have fun going all out with the parties and dancing up a storm. One of my favorite things has always been the vendor fair because you always find new things to try, and you can talk to people directly about their product. The educational sessions are so good that sometimes I truly have trouble choosing, so then we split up and take notes for each other.

A few people admitted to me later that they didn’t expect to leave with new, actual friends. That sort of thing just makes my heart happy. Without UOAA and medically diverse friends, I don’t know where I’d be today.

 

A version of this article first appeared on Allysa’s blog Partially Unstuffed

 

 

Written by: Brenda Elsagher, Director of Affiliated Support Group (ASG) Affairs, United Ostomy Association of America

Support. I’m not talking about my bra, although it could win an Oscar for a supporting role! I’m talking about the kind of encouragement you get from knowing another person with an ostomy.

I freaked out when I was 39 and had to have a colostomy. I wanted a point of reference and needed to talk to someone who had a stoma. I wanted to know what to expect; I wanted to prepare my body and mind for the changes coming my way. There was no internet and no social media. I didn’t even know there was any other kind of ostomy besides a colostomy.

My Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse (WOCN) was a great source of comfort. She calmly explained, without horror, that excrement (OK, I think she actually said “stool” – and I wouldn’t have used either of those words) would be coming out of my abdomen and into a bag that would somehow adhere to my body.

She made it sound like it would become so natural, as if I was adding a quart of milk to my shopping list. No big deal. You’ll get this in no time at all. And she said all of this with a confident smile – a genuine one, not a fake one like when people are trying to help you through something awful. I felt she meant it! So, I let myself believe her.

During one of my subsequent visits to her office, I saw a newsletter that listed a meeting time for people living with ostomies. I went to the meeting, and realized that this was my tribe. For many attendees, these gatherings were the only ostomy support they had, other than their loved ones who tried to understand but could never quite get it. Besides, here were people I could eat a meal with while talking about changing ostomy pouches. You can’t do that with every crowd! I met life-long friends at those meetings, and that was an unexpected perk.

Then I heard of a conference, the United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) national conference, where people came from all over the USA, and some from Canada and other countries too. It featured classes, social events, great speakers, and time to get to know more people with ostomies. A young man I talked to recently told me that he met someone at the 2009 conference who changed his life and made all the difference. If we only knew the power of a quiet conversation and how its impact can be phenomenal. We can be a resource for one another. That’s why I suggest regular telephone check-ins or video calls with UOAA Affiliated Support Groups (ASGs), because both can play a crucial role in helping someone feel connected.

I also found information galore and updates on the latest innovative technology for people with ostomies in The Phoenix magazine (the official publication of the UOAA), which still exists today. Not long after, I got America Online (AOL) and felt like I was on the forefront of technology. I had a computer, and now the internet. Imagine horns blasting – my world opened up and the exchange of information worldwide was awesome. Even more ways to communicate! A woman in Colorado who read my book, “If the Battle is Over, Why am I Still In Uniform,” emailed me, decided to get a colonoscopy, and was spared from cancer. That is a satisfying feeling, to know you gave up a year of your life to write a book and it saved another.

I began to speak across the USA. Who would have thought that 25 years later I am still talking about bowels and butts, or dare I say the lack of them in some cases? The people I have met, the conversations I have had, the opportunities that have come my way – all because I chose to meet with a small group of people. That experience led to an abundance of support, not only for me but for others I know with ostomies or continent diversions, because of all that we shared. Some shared their misery, some shared their success, and some listened, learned, and began to feel that they could deal with their situations. Finding the group was life enhancing, and even life-saving in many cases. I kept coming to help others, but have been helped in return many times over. A phrase that I often heard at the meetings was, “Someone reached out to me in the hospital, and I want to do the same.”

In my new role as the UOAA Director of ASG Affairs, I have come full circle as a volunteer. I meet so many people across the USA that are actively reaching out to others, and helping them on their paths to recovery of mind, body, and spirit. I am their cheerleader. Sometimes I can offer a suggestion or teach them how to use Zoom to stay connected. I have always known that the UOAA had our backs but I have now found so many more resources on their website that I never knew existed. There are over 300 ostomy support groups in the USA for people with ostomies and continent diversions. And for people who don’t like to go to group meetings, there is an individual membership too that gives them full access to an abundance of resources.

There is no right way or wrong way to have an ostomy. You don’t have to shout it out to the world, but there also is no reason to be ashamed about it. I honor your privacy, and thank you for honoring my desire to be public. Both are good. We are alive and grateful!

 

This article originated in the Hollister Secure Start services eNewsletter. For more ostomy resources at your fingertips, subscribe here.

Brenda Elsagher is an author, international speaker, and comedian, and also volunteers with the UOAA. She has been living well with an ostomy for 25 years. Find out more about Brenda at www.livingandlaughing.com, and follow her on Facebook @BrendaElsagher. 

Financial Disclosure: Brenda Elsagher received compensation from Hollister Incorporated for her contribution to this article.

 

Editor’s note: This 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.

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

UOAA’s National Conference the perfect place to bond

By Karin (Newbieostomy)

Ostomies don’t discriminate, it doesn’t matter your gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, age, attitude toward life, social status, diet, or activity level. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, if you have an ostomy, you have something in common with 725,000 to 1,000,000 other Americans and a huge number of other people across the world. If you have an ostomy, you’ve probably experienced the anxiety, fear, and stages of grief that come with such a life-changing surgery. You may have experienced feelings of isolation, loneliness and despair, concern that your life was never going to be the same and that no one could possibly understand what you’ve gone through.

Karin and friends at the last UOAA National Conference in Irvine, California in 2017. A fashion show and dancing will again close out this year’s conference in Philadelphia Aug. 6-10.

It’s true that your life might never be the same, but it can absolutely be better. And it’s true that while only you have experienced your experiences, there are a ton of other people who can empathize and identify with what you’ve gone through by relating it to the similar experiences they’ve endured (and vice versa). United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) National Conference offers opportunities to meet these people face to face and when that happens, magic happens.

I like figuring things out for myself. I just always figured this as my fight and nobody else is going to do it for me, so why go to a conference. However, I realized that I actually did have some unanswered questions and more than anything I was curious to see what I could learn at the conference. I’m glad I went, because all of my questions were answered, I made some new friends who share an immediate, strong connection and I found new courage and perspective that I didn’t realize was missing from my life.” – Nathan, first timer

Nathan has had his ostomy for seven years and still had questions. Good thing he came and got them answered! His “this is my fight” attitude is not unique to him (sorry, Nathan!). It may be your fight, but you don’t have to fight alone, and I think that’s a huge thing that people realize once they attend the conference. A perfect segue into one of my favorite parts of the conference: the unbreakable, timeless, instant bonds and friendships.

I would say the most powerful aspect of the conference, that I was not expecting going into it, was how close everyone there seemed to be. It was my first UOAA conference, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but as soon as I got there (you) came up to introduce yourself, and within a few minutes we had a group that was speaking openly about anything and everything that came to mind.”

As a fairly introverted person who can often be quite clumsy when first starting a new conversation/friendship, I found the welcoming environment of everyone I met to be the highlight for me. The instant level of understanding between everyone was pretty special.” – Collin, first timer

At the UOAA conference, it’s like a weight is lifted, allowing people to candidly talk about the emotions, struggles, and achievements they’ve experienced. These people who were strangers a moment ago have an uncanny ability to say things that make you think “Yes! That! That’s exactly how I feel!” — An instant bond is created.

[At UOAA’s Conference] I had no idea what to expect and went in knowing no one. When I got there I was quickly met by a girl who seemed around my age and had more energy and joy then I thought was even possible when first meeting someone. Her name is Alyssa and she instantly welcomed me to the “group”. My initial thought was I have no idea who these people are and she knows all of them and I am going to be the outsider. But I was totally wrong! I was welcomed and accepted by everyone instantly and next thing I know I am sitting in the pool with them, attending meals together, and exploring the conference together.

I learned that attending this conference was crucial to understanding myself, I learned that I can be myself still even though I have an ostomy and that my ostomy doesn’t hold me back or define me. We all talked openly about our struggles, which made me realize I am to the only going through the hard times, but most importantly we talked about the good things that have happened and come from our ostomy. We also talked about things having nothing to do with having an ostomy, and personally, I think when you can do both you have met a really good friend, they want to know who you are as a person not just who you are because you have an ostomy. Meeting this group of people was one of the most valuable things that happened at the conference.

Overall this conference was a life changing experience and I would really encourage anyone who has not attended one before to go to one. I think it is super important for younger ostomates because it gives you a chance to meet other people your age and just ask questions.” –Mallory, first timer

It was no surprise to me that Nathan, Collin and Mallory all had such positive things to say about their social experiences at the conference, because I had the same experiences at my first conference and again in 2017 (where I got to meet each of them)! We come to the conference for knowledge, but we keep coming back for the camaraderie.

UOAA’s National Conference is held every two years so while you may have missed the last one in Irvine, California, registration is now open for the 7th National Conference in Philadelphia from August 6-10, 2019.