Category Archives: Surgery

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!

2015 at The Stolen Colon

I’m always amazed at the end of each year as I look back and realize all that happened in the past 365 days. Obviously 2015 held even bigger changes than previous years as I announced  my pregnancy at the beginning of the year and gave birth (amid some ostomy drama) to my son. And if that wasn’t enough, in my personal life, we settled into our new home that we moved into just before the beginning of the year, I decided to leave my full-time job in favor of working from home and getting to spend time with my kid, and celebrated 5 years of marriage to my husband.

I thought I’d take this chance to highlight some of my favorite posts from the past year. I actually had a hard time narrowing this down because there were a lot of posts that really meant a lot to me this year. It’s pretty pregnancy / baby dominated, but I’m OK with that!

2015 stolen colon year in review ostomy baby crohn's disease ileostomy ibd inflammatory bowel disease
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World Ostomy Day Twitter chat

I have loved seeing all of the ostomy love this week! It’s been great being a part of the sharing of information and spreading of awareness. And it’s not over yet!

This Friday, October 2, I have the awesome opportunity to co-host a Twitter chat with the CCFA as a precursor to World Ostomy Day. We are going to have a great panel of participants, including a colorectal surgeon, a dietician and representatives from the United Ostomy Association and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

World Ostomy Day Twitter Chat
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We all have an invisible illness

Tomorrow starts off Invisible Illness week. As many of you may know, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are considered invisible illnesses because you can’t always tell what an individual is dealing with based on what is visible or how they look. The images I included in this post were all taken at times that I distinctly remember how bad I was feeling. You can tell in some of them more than others, but after living with a chronic illness for so many years, I have gotten pretty good and disguising how bad I may be feeling at times.

As I was thinking about Invisible Illness week, I was reminded of an interesting discussion we had at my ostomy support group a few months back. We talked a little about the thoughts that we all dealt with when we first knew we’d have to have surgery to get an ostomy and about the grief that is felt over the loss of a part of yourself. We finished up by discussing what we actually went through and how we made the decision to keep going. It wasn’t a lecture on what’s the right way to handle all of this, but simply a discussion of what we each had experienced.

At the meeting, a couple of people started talking about everything that they had been through and one guy listed off a dozen or so surgeries he had previously had for various reasons and finished by saying that he knows people who are much worse off. A lot of people starting chiming in about how somebody else always has it worse and that provided encouragement to keep going. I know that it is true that others have it worse than me. I fully admit that. On a regular basis I am faced with someone new who has been through so much that my surgeries and medications and hospitals stays and pain all seem very small. But I really don’t think that’s how we’re supposed to feel.

stephanie invisible illnessI think we (and by “we” I mean the patient/health community and maybe even society in general) have gotten too caught up in the “who’s got it worse?” game. First of all, there is absolutely no way that judge that and secondly, I don’t understand why we all feel the need to try to judge it. We attempt to categorize the level of awfulness that each person has to deal with when, in all honesty, we are in no position to make that kind of assessment.  Who’s to say that the person with the severe illness but a strong support system is any better or worse off than the person who has a mild illness and is all alone? All of our stories are so complex and interwoven into so many aspects of our lives that, unless we are in that position, we can never know what it’s like.

There is definitely a certain level of understanding that is present amongst people with the same diagnosis and even in people who are living with very different issues, but can understand chronic illness in general. But there can never be a complete understanding of another person’s journey. Symptoms that are simple for one person to deal with may send another person into a deep depression. I know it’s hard, but I think we need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and start seeing what we all really have in common. Part of what I love about being involved in the IBD & ostomy community is that I feel like we all see each other for what we have in common and that creates an intimate bond between us all. But even for those who are not living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, chances are they also have something they are dealing with and learning to live with. Just because we don’t know what it is doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

We all have some sort of invisible “illness,” regardless of whether or not it is actually classified as an illness in the true sense of the word. We all have some sort of cross to bear that helps define who we are. It could be a diagnosable disease or an anxiety disorder or a troubled marriage or difficulty making friends. We all have something that we must try to overcome in this life. And whatever it is may be visible to others or may stay hidden, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. So regardless of whether you are living with an illness or dealing with some other difficulty in life, I encourage you to not think about who has it worse, but rather to remember what we all have in common.