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A Decade of Shining a Positive Light on Lifesaving Ostomy Surgery

By Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager

“Ostomates Unite and Help Place The Ostomy In A Positive Light! Celebrate UOAA’s Ostomy Awareness Day!”  These were the words that were spread when UOAA announced the first National Ostomy Awareness Day on July 25, 2010. A decade later, UOAA continues to sponsor and celebrate this day annually in the United States by raising awareness about this life-saving surgery and increasing national visibility of those living with ostomies. Starting in 2014, and all subsequent years, UOAA has been celebrating Ostomy Awareness Day on the first Saturday of October, which coincides with World Ostomy Day every three years. This year National Ostomy Awareness Day will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2020. 

The idea for an awareness day was originally suggested by Ally Bain, who worked with UOAA as a summer intern in 2010. (Flash forward, this is the same Ally instrumental for the Restroom Access Act (aka Ally’s Law).  The awareness day began as an experiment in social media to see what kind of grassroots support they could get for ostomy recognition. UOAA sent out a request on social media asking all followers to show their allegiance to the cause by changing their online status to the slogan above and make their profile picture UOAAs logo.  The immediate response was so strong that they were also contacted by friends at Talkin’ Bout Guts, to host a 24-hour live podcast in honor of ostomy awareness. Thousands participated that year.

In recent years, UOAA has also named an Ostomy Awareness Day Champion. This year’s champion is Robin Brown, pageant winner Mrs. Washington, who uses her stage platform to raise awareness for ostomy surgery “all in the hopes that it can be a light for someone stumbling in the darkness”.  Her ostomy story and journey from farm girl to the title of Mrs. Washington World America is inspiring. Watch her special video message for Ostomy Awareness Day!

Over the years, celebrations have been centered around several different themes including Bouncing Back into Life, Navigate the Journey Together, Speaking Out Changes Lives and, most recently, Ostomies Are Life-Savers.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary, here are 10 ways you can join the movement to raise ostomy awareness this year:

  1. Help shine a positive light on ostomy surgery and go “live” on your own at 7:00PM EDT on October 3rd with people all across the United States. Hit the “live” button on your personal social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram or TikTok) to shine a light on yourself and tell everyone how your ostomy saved your life or that of a loved one. If you are a medical professional, share how your work helps save lives. 
  2. Participate in our 7th annual Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k. This year our local Ostomy 5k events will be held virtually along with our annual worldwide virtual Run/Walk, so you can walk or run in your favorite place or at home. Visit www.ostomy5k.org to register or donate for one of these events. You can also join UOAA’s “United Advocates Smashing Stigma” team too!
  3. Create a fundraising team through one of our Ostomy 5k events and challenge your family, friends, Affiliated Support Group members, colleagues and coworkers to raise ostomy awareness and funds for a good cause! Have your teammates share the team campaign and see who can get the most donations. Better yet, ask your employer to match any donations raised! 
  4. Make a donation to the “Ostomy Awareness Fund” as a tribute to the 10th anniversary. Donate a minimum of $30 and receive a special bandana with the “Ostomies Are Life-Savers” graphic image.   These bandanas are also a great pet accessory.  Share a photo with UOAA of your pet raising ostomy awareness!
  5. Participate in some of the events we have planned with partners such as the Facebook Live Event that will be co-hosted with Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation on October 3rd. 
  6. Raise awareness and spread the message that ostomies are life-savers using our infographic. We encourage you to share, post or print it wherever possible. 
  7. Our Operation Ostomy – A Life Saver campaign continues to spread the message that we are saving lives one ostomy at a time. Please use our 10th Anniversary Ostomy Awareness Day logo for your profile picture on your social media accounts. Use the hashtags:  #OstomiesAreLifesavers #OstomyDay2020 and tag UOAA on Facebook @uoaainc  Instagram @uoaa_ or Twitter @uoaa. 
  8. Get your Federal, State or Local elected officials to pass a proclamation declaring October 3, 2020 as the 10th anniversary of this special day. Use our sample proclamation or take action here.
  9. Use our sample letter to the editor to share with your local media why ostomies are life-savers.
  10. Aside from Ostomy Awareness Day, October is full of fun fall activities. Carve a pumpkin (or paint) in an ostomy theme. “Shine a light” in your carved pumpkin and raise ostomy awareness in your neighborhood.

For more information and the latest ways to get involved including activities from some of our sponsors visit https://www.ostomy.org/ostomy-awareness-day/.

With your help we will carry on breaking the silence and shining a positive light on what has saved so many lives.

My View: By Connie Confer

Most of the nation is gearing up for Halloween, with all of its tricks and treats. But as a lesbian who wears an ostomy bag, this month also includes some more personal holidays worth celebrating, especially if we want people to feel more accepted and safe.

Did you know that Oct. 5 was Ostomy Awareness Day? Just like the more established National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), it brings an opportunity for people to celebrate their differences and their courage as they announce, perhaps with some trepidation, that they live with certain realities. They hope their family and friends will not shy away. They hope their bosses will not fire them.

That fear is completely rational. Just this week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases that could indeed decide whether someone can be fired for being gay or transgender. We will have to wait for months to hear their decision and how it will impact our laws. But in the meantime, I want to advocate for acceptance, not alienation. I want to argue that open communication creates community and reduces stigma for people in my own life circumstances.

Yes, it is tricky to navigate the reactions of the world, and it takes some courage. But the treat continues to be that we are not alone. The LGBTQ community is indeed a family, with gay pride parades in every major city, and support groups for people who want to come out to their friends or family, or for parents and other family members who want to support a gay or transgender young person navigate in an unfamiliar world.

Connie Confer, left, at the California General Assembly where she has been key to getting proclamations to recognize Ostomy Awareness Day.

Similarly, my local Southern California, Inland Empire Ostomy Association, offers support and practical advice for people who find themselves facing surgery for an ostomy pouch. As do over 300 other United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) affiliated support and Information groups nationwide.

No wonder people worry when they hear they will be among the 100,000 people in the United States who will get an ostomy this year. The treatment for diseases such as cancer or Crohn’s almost sounds worse than the disease. People wear a pouch attached to the abdomen that holds urine or feces that must be emptied and changed regularly. It can be embarrassing to talk about it, but just the same, we must.

That surgery is life-saving. I am living proof. And the routine of wearing the pouch seems quite easy and normal to me now. I find that I can talk about it with people close to me, and that I do not feel any stigma. For others who want to get to a place where an ostomy pouch feels routine, you should consider attending a UOAA affiliated support group near you.

There is no reason to suffer in silence and there is every reason to be fully and proudly yourself, no matter what your reality. And if you are not impacted by these specific things, make sure you are supportive to friends and family who are.

Life lived honestly can be a real treat.

Carolyn “Connie” Confer served as the assistant city attorney for Riverside, California and has advocated for the LGBTQ community for decades. She was there in September when Assemblyman Jose Medina declared Oct. 5 as Ostomy Awareness Day in California in honor of the work of the Inland Empire Ostomy Association.