Category Archives: Surgery

3 tips to prepare you for ostomy surgery

Regardless of whether you have been talking about surgery for a long time, putting it off for just as long, or it may have just recently come up, but there comes a time where you know it’s inevitable. At least that’s how it was for me. I went through weeks and months of hoping for another option, but ultimately, I knew what I had to do. (You can look back at some of my very early posts to hear a little more about it.) But once I officially knew it was happening and had about 2 weeks until the surgery, I didn’t really know what to do during that time. Having been through it now and looking back, these are the things that helped me prepare before surgery or that I did after surgery and wish I had done sooner.

Find someone to talk to.

So so important! I can’t tell you what a difference it made just talking to someone else who had been through the surgery. I was blessed to be connected with a friend-of-a-friend…of-a-friend… who had an ostomy and had gone through surgery at about the same age that I was. (You can read about my initial meeting with her.) She had lived with it for a while, had kids, and done many other things that I had hoped to be able to do. It was so comforting to hear from her and to see that she did not look any different from any other person.

There are UOAA groups that help to connect individuals who live in the same area and you can also speak with the nurses who are helping you prepare for surgery about trying to find another person to speak with about living with an ostomy. However, not everyone is able to get connected in person with someone else in a similar position face-to-face, but there are many great options for talking to people online. I do, however, advise caution in looking online, because while there are great positive resources out there, there can also be a lot of negative ones, as well. And if you need someone, I always try to be that person to others whenever I can.
ostomy supplies brands coloplast convatec hollister prepare for surgery

Order supplies.

If you know surgery is coming, order some supplies now! All of the major ostomy suppliers have programs where you can sign up to receive free samples of their products. (Links to their request pages: Hollister, Coloplast, ConvaTec) This was great for a number of reasons. First of all, I have said before that everyone is different and the supplies that work for me may not work for you, and vice versa. I think it’s best to try out the many different options and figure out what fits best into your life and what feels the most comfortable. Plus, each of the samples came with a kit and a lot of good information. The companies followed up with me to answer questions and send additional supplies, when needed. When I came home from the hospital, I had a very large, transparent bag on and I felt so uncomfortable. Once I switched it out for an opaque bag I felt much more confident. It was a little change, but it made a big difference and I was so glad that I had the option once I got home. Finally, getting the supplies will last you for several weeks after surgery, so it’s nice to not have to place a large order right away.

Break the tension.

I was terrified before my surgery. I was hopeful, because I had to be since I had run out of other options, but I was still terrified. I booked my surgery for as quickly as possible because I was afraid I wouldn’t go through with it if I thought about it for longer. (I even asked my surgeon how much of a heads up would be appropriate if I changed my mind! I assured him I wouldn’t, but it made me feel better to know that I could.) But the night before my surgery, I was laying in bed with my husband and looking for ideas for what to wear under my clothes with the ostomy. Thankfully today there are some really great and sexy underwear options out there, but a few years back, that was not really the case. I found some really hideous options and I showed them to my husband and we started laughing hysterically. It was one of those moments where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, and I really needed to not cry. I realized that I had to break the tension and not focus on everything I was afraid of happening. I encourage you to try to find something like that to help you get through those difficult times.

Going through surgery is not easy, no matter what situation you are in or what your health is like prior. But hopefully, these tips can help you to prepare the best that you can. I know there are things that others have done that can help, too. What is something that helped you prepare for surgery? Or that you wish you had done beforehand?

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My ostomy testimony

6 years.

stephanie hughes stolen colon ostomy anniversary inflammatory bowel disease crohn's ulcerative colitis ileostomy ibdThat’s how long it has been since I have been living with an ostomy. That’s close to 20% of my life. Now after spending more than half a decade without a colon, where does that leave me? How do I feel about the new life I have? My outlook last year was fairly grim, after I had just spent a week in the hospital due to an intestinal blockage during my pregnancy. But things are different this year.

Even though I have dealt with a few issues since my surgery in 2012—inflammation in my eyes, having the rectal stump removed due to lingering inflammation, intestinal blockages during both of my pregnancies—I have not had any true recurrence of IBD since my surgery and have not taken any IBD medications since that time. Do I love my ostomy? Nope. My goal here is not to shout out, “Having an ostomy is the best thing ever!” Because it’s not. But last week I had an ileoscopy (think colonoscopy without the colon), and afterwards I received the best news that anyone with IBD can get—no signs of disease activity! And that, my friends, is what makes me want to shout from the rooftops.stolen colon inflammatory bowel disease crohn's

It has not always been an easy road with my ostomy and I still have a love-hate relationship as I continue to grapple with feeling self-conscious or concerned about leaks or worried how others will react to it, but ultimately those pale in comparison to the memory of needing to use a walker to get myself to the bathroom many, many times during the day and spending more nights than I want to count in a hospital bed. I still don’t recommend surgery as a first choice in treatment, since I think most people need time and the opportunity to explore other options before committing to this one. I know I did.

stolen colon sedimentation rate graph ostomy inflammatory bowel disease crohnsBut when my lab results look like this (Sedimentation rate is a marker of active disease. That crazy outlier is from one month before my surgery.) and can keep me off meds and out of the hospital (at least for the most part), I’m going to say that it was the right decision for me. That’s how I have been able to embrace this new life, even with all of difficult parts that come with it. And looking back now, 6 years later, I do not regret it for a second.

A QUICK NOTE ABOUT HAVING AN ILEOSCOPY: This is my second scope since my surgery in 2012. I had one in 2014 and now in 2018. I also had an upper endoscopy performed this time. I have had these done as a preventative measure. We know that if symptoms start to arise, the faster we can start treatment the better your odds of getting back to remission. And often, signs will be seen in blood work or through a scope before they manifest into physical symptoms. So I decided to try my best to stay on top of things and not give any inflammation or disease recurrence the chance to sneak up on me. My GI and I have a plan for annual appointments and blood work and doing a scope every 3-5 years. Thankfully an ileoscopy is a simpler process than a colonoscopy since the prep is not required!

 

 

 

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5 years: The resentment anniversary?

It has been 5 years since I had my surgery to get an ostomy. It’s funny, I’ve been looking forward to this day because 5 years seems like such a good marker of time. And my ostomy has made such a profound impact on my life, that I felt like it would be a time to celebrate. Five years of not living with active Crohn’s disease; five years of being able to take part in the activities I want to; five years of not living in fear of finding the closest bathroom. But this has ended up being an interesting anniversary for me.

If you look back at my previous anniversary posts (One, Two, Three, Four), they are mostly filled with gratitude and hope. This year, I feel a bit more resentful and not wanting to celebrate my ostomy or what it has given me the past few years. I have not gotten into it yet on my blog, but I will soon tell you the full story of my second pregnancy and the complications that I have been having due to my ostomy. In a nutshell, I just returned home from spending a week in the hospital due to a pretty severe intestinal blockage. It’s actually pretty amazing that I did not end up requiring surgery in order to relieve it. Currently, I have a catheter inserted into my stoma to help ensure it does not collapse or get squashed between my uterus and my abdomen. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. I feel exhausted.

And now I am on a nearly entirely liquid diet, which is not only boring, but I’m hungry pretty much all of the time. Plus, I’m worried about getting enough calories during the day, not only to support myself, but to support my baby, too, who is not due for another 11 weeks. Top it off with a 2-year-old who I am home with much of the time and just don’t feel I have the energy to keep up with him, and it’s also difficult to move too much without hurting myself.

Suffice it to say I’ve been feeling pretty sorry for myself recently. I think I’ve been going through a mourning period of having to let go of the plans I had for this pregnancy and the hopes I held onto for a spontaneous birth close to my due date. I had wanted to spend these final weeks relishing the time I have with my son before he’s joined by a sibling and enjoying our life as a family of three. But none of that is going to happen the way that I had planned.

But you know, I’ve also realized that life usually does not go the way you planned. I am not the first woman to deal with complications during pregnancy or concerns about taking care of her other child. I also see how blessed I am that we’ve been able to handle the issue with this catheter, despite how uncomfortable it is. I am blessed to be home with my family, able to move around, and I’m not confined to bed rest at the hospital for weeks, as many women deal with during pregnancy. I am blessed to have amazing family and friends close by who have dropped everything to help us out and make sure that we have everything we need.

So instead of being resentful today, I am trying to focus on the many positives that I have going on in my life: I have a beautiful new baby on the way that I am so excited about and my ostomy played a huge part in me being able to do that, other than dealing with the blockage issues I am healthy, I am not confined to a hospital bed, I have amazing support to help me get through the coming weeks. And I know whenever this baby arrives and in whatever fashion that we will cherish the time we have together. When I think back to when my son was born, and the four weeks I had expected to continue being pregnant, I am thankful for that extra time we had together. And I’m glad to live in an area with some of the best doctors and hospitals who I know will take the best care possible of my little one, no matter what happens.

This anniversary is a little different from the ones previous, but it may end up being one of the most significant ones I experience. Life is not always going to go the way that you want, and it has a way of trashing many of the best laid plans, but that doesn’t mean that all is lost or that we should just give up. My ostomy has given me a great 5 years, and I look forward to what it will allow me to accomplish and experience in the future, despite the discomfort it may be causing me for the time being.

What’s “normal” 4 years after an ostomy?

ostomy selfie stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease inflammatory bowel diseaseHow can 4 years seem so short and so long at the same time? It seems like just yesterday I was scared and feeling horribly sick preparing for this surgery, but at the same time, I almost can’t remember what it was like beforehand. It’s been 4 years… 1461days, to be exact, that I have been living with my ileostomy.

The good news is, throughout that entire time, I have never regretted my decision. Yes, I have had times that I resented having to make the decision in the first place, or wished none of this had ever happened to me, but that’s not anything I can change. Based on where my life has brought me and the decisions I was faced with, I am so glad I made the choice that I did.

Living with an ostomy is a funny thing. Like anything else, after time you get used to it and you stop thinking about it all of the time. It’s like my phoenix tattoo I have on my forearm. phoenix tatI see this tattoo every single day. It is always right in front of me. Yet, there are many times that it will suddenly catch my attention and I will realize that I haven’t noticed it in a while. It has simply become part of the scenery of my life.

I feel the same way about my ostomy. Obviously, I have to deal with it every day, multiple times a day. It’s impossible for me to go a day without me thinking about it at all, yet I still find at times that I have “forgotten” about it for a little while. Or at least I haven’t paid any more attention to it beyond the usual daily maintenance. It, too, has slipped into the background.

Obviously it’s not like this every day. I still have times where it very loudly announces its presence in the form of a leak, or itchy skin, or a literal loud noise. But after 4 years, it’s so ingrained into me as part of my normal routine that it often takes something like that to make me pay a little extra attention.

And that is what my normal has become. I truly don’t remember what “normal” is—at least normal for the majority of the population. I don’t remember the last time I had a normal poop and I definitely will never have one again. And it’s thoughts like this that still freak me out a little bit. Never. It’s such a big word. It’s so… final.

Despite how much of a blessing my ostomy has been and how much it has changed my life for the better, I still struggle with the nevers and forevers. I wonder if I will ever get used to them. I don’t honestly know. Ask me in another 4 or 40 years and maybe I can tell you then, or perhaps I’ll still be wondering.

This is a major reason I try to simply take it a day at a time. When I think about my future, I don’t think about my ostomy. I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing. I think it’s good because I’ve never wanted it to consume my life to the point that it’s all I think about and it’s a constant, painful reminder of how my normal compares to other people’s interpretation of normal. The fact that I don’t automatically think about it when I picture the future makes me feel I am holding to that. But I also realize that when I do consciously think about having an ostomy for the rest of my life, it still hits me kind of hard. It’s almost like there’s still this small part of me hoping that one day I would no longer have it. (Trust me, though, there’s nothing left in there. It’s not going anywhere!)

Even so… while it may be difficult imagining the rest of life with an ostomy bag, I will always be thankful for it and how much it has changed my life. The past 4 years have absolutely been some of the best of my life and I am so thankful that my ostomy has allowed me to live it much more fully than I had been previously. So I guess here’s to the next 4 or 40 or 400 years with an ostomy!