In August, 2016 I had permanent ileostomy as a result of eight years of debilitating ulcerative colitis. Prior to having surgery I did a lot of research in order to learn all I could about living with an ileostomy. All of that online exploration was great, but the actual learning came from firsthand experiences.
In just the past four months I’ve experienced more “firsts” than I ever expected, and realized that an active life is still possible with an ostomy.
The big question looming over my head and heart was playing sports again.
Would I be able to ride my cyclocross bike? The answer is a resounding YES! I started racing again just two months after my surgery. This first racing experience was huge for me. Sure, I was at the back of the pack, but I was doing it. I’m not sure who was more thrilled to be back on the bike, me or my competitors who were so happy to see me at a race. An added bonus about being public about my ileostomy is the support I received from my friends and the cycling community.
Once I had completed that first race done, I truly felt unstoppable. What other goals could I set? Could I get back to regular serious training? How many more races can I get in before the end of the season? Yes, I was pumped! For the first time I realized how having an ileostomy was truly life-changing. In fact, I’ve nicknamed my stoma “Reset” because it has given me a second chance at life.
I used to travel a lot prior to the ulcerative colitis diagnosis in 2009.
Every year my husband and I would travel to Belgium from October-February to live, work and race. In 2011, ulcerative colitis put an end to that for me, but I did manage to take one trip to France in 2015 for a 2-week cycling trip. Unfortunately, it resulted in another flare-up and the medication (Remicade) stopped working which set me on the path to ostomy surgery.
Having ileostomy surgery in August, 2016 everything changed. After some recovery time I was feeling so good that I decided to spontaneously buy a plane ticket and surprise my husband Marc in Belgium for his birthday. This would be my first time with an ostomy on a plane and being in a different country. I was a bit nervous, but again, I did some research and learned all I could from others who haven’t let life stop with their surgery.
I had a 7-hour overnight flight from Montreal to Brussels. I carried my ileostomy supplies with me on the plane. I planned a meal several hours prior to arriving at the airport, that way I knew I would empty and have nothing in the pouch before I boarded the plane. I brought my own food and an extra liter of water for the flight. I told the stewardess as soon as I boarded about my ileostomy and the response was overwhelming positive. I successfully emptied my pouch three times during the flight and managed to get about four hours of sleep.
Success! I landed in Brussels feeling great. The flight really wasn’t an issue and using the bathroom on the plane was surprisingly no different than using a small bathroom elsewhere. By planning my meals and drinking lots of extra fluids, I didn’t run into any problems with my stoma.
Being back in Belgium was like a dream come true.
I really missed the country, the people, our friends and Marc. It was such a treat to be back in familiar surroundings. I rode my bike the day I landed and rode every day the week I was there. I didn’t struggle at all with food because I learned what I can and can’t eat. I eat practically everything except peas, corn, mushrooms and bean sprouts, so I wasn’t too worried about eating out with our friends.
I hadn’t raced my bike in Belgium since 2011! Boy oh boy was I excited and nervous. I started with a small race with 20 other women. My pre-race meal was the same as at home: I ate a meal of oats, banana, peanut butter, and some bread about 2 hours before the race. This worked perfectly and my pouch wasn’t a problem during the ride and I had plenty of energy to race hard. This was a tough course, but I was smiling inside as I pushed myself to the limit.
The past four months have been eye-opening for me.
Prior to my surgery I wanted to believe that I could do everything I wanted, but it wasn’t until I started doing these things that I really believed it can be done. So many firsts:
- The first race in Ottawa.
- The first plane trip.
- The first visit to a foreign country.
- The first bike ride in Belgium.
- The first time at an unfamiliar restaurant.
I visited my surgeon last week and I thanked him for doing my surgery and told him that this ileostomy and stoma truly improved my life. I’m happy to be back living my life. Thank you Reset the stoma for giving me these opportunities, I’m looking forward to more memories and experiences.