Another Side of the Story by Lynne Rich Ph.D.

If anyone walked a mile in the shoes of an ostomate, how would they feel? Maybe a little tired, but their ostomy would work just fine, thank you.

What does having an ostomy mean to you? Survey says: good health, no pain, belonging to a group of strong, caring and compassionate people — ostomates, savvy individuals who’ve learned how and where to get and share knowledge, help, humor and hope.

Okay, there hasn’t yet been a comprehensive survey. Are you living as actively as you’d like to? If not, why? An ostomy is merely tissue that’s been surgically relocated and designed to function smoothly. If ever temporarily an ostomy doesn’t work correctly and trouble-free, it may only need a little extra attention and care. You and your ostomy deserve the time necessary to be taken care of really well. After that, let your heart and brain take charge.

Living through health problems that led to ostomy surgery, you no doubt gained strength and fortitude. Your ostomy won’t break and neither will you. You might develop feistiness and greater determination. You may also discover more bad hair days are likely than bad ostomy days especially in a tropical, humid climate, during blistery winters, or in the windiest rainstorms.

If you’re not sure whether an activity is medically or physically all right for you to do, before you stop yourself from trying, ask your physician and ET (enterostomal therapist) if actual medical or physical restrictions prevent you from participating in or learning to: water ski, play the guitar, swim, play canasta or poker, scuba dive, speak Spanish, French or Italian, dance (ballet, tap, waltz, samba), eat Cajun, sushi, or Greek foods, hike, canoe, kayak, take a trip by car, bus, ship, plane or train, ride a horse, run a marathon, walk 30 minutes, do yoga, golf, garden, sing or laugh.

Ostomies don’t prevent working, traveling, living anywhere, swimming, scuba diving, hiking, or water skiing. Don’t allow inaccurate information or a negative attitude to prevent you from doing what you want. Adjust your attitude with realistic information. Just as you adapted to the ways your body changed as you were growing up and as an adult too, you can adapt again and resume living as millions of other ostomates have done.

Learning how to take care of an ostomy is not as difficult as originally learning — earlier than you may remember— to walk, or later perhaps learning to drive a car, to wear contact lenses or bifocals. Ask questions. Terrific at sharing information, ostomates are resilient, inventive, practical, and creative. At ostomy association meetings, notice how well people look. That’s due to deliberate effort and an optimistic attitude. Give yourself the same quality of care you expect from your doctors. Don’t ask less of yourself.

Having an ostomy might mean better health now, and living longer. Decide each day what you’d like to do. Socialize with other people, or spend time alone. Count on the people most important to you to remain loving and supportive. Call people you’d like to see. Let your family and others know when you want them to join you in various activities. Don’t think or expect the worst from anyone, including yourself.

An ostomy gives you health and options. Consider the Spanish proverb: Living well is the best revenge. Live well!

(Two recommended books provide valuable information. In The Ostomy Book Barbara Dorr Mullen and Kerry Anne McGinn, R.N. present basic information about all three types of ostomies [colostomy, urostomy or ileostomy], and tips about best ways to return to good health following surgery and continuing to feel well. After ileostomy surgery, Maureen Bender wrote A Secret No More about her experiences as she resumed working, dating, and started an exercise program for ostomates.)