What does it mean to have a stoma?
You might get a hundred different answers to that question. What it means to me is being part of something bigger and more important. Why you might ask? Because being diagnosed with rectal cancer at age 38 is a bit of a mind-bender.
The first equation I had to figure out was: Mental health + cancer = ?
As if that wasn't hard enough to reconcile in my mind, the news that I would need a colostomy bag was unthinkable! At first, it was a coin flip as to whether it would be temporary or permanent. But after intense radiation had failed to shrink the tumor, I was told there was no chance of having reversal surgery if I wanted the best chances of survival.
There are so many emotions in the run-up to ostomy surgery. The main one being Terror, with a capital T. My mum actually said she'd get a colostomy with me. Suffice it to say that has yet to happen! My fiancé Jay told me he'd be right there with me every step of the way and that we were gonna make it through this, together. However, the most memorable moment was when my sister-in-law Lesley told me that I'd "own it" and I would face it head-on as I did with every other challenge in my life. She said I was going to be more than OK. How did she know that? Through the tears, I nodded in agreement and murmured she was probably right (I was a really good liar it seemed). Inside I laughed and thought no way was that going to happen. It was me facing life-changing surgery, not her.
I seriously considered not having the surgery. Sure, I'd take my chances with cancer — anything was better than getting a colostomy! Yet that was the stark reality. The fact was, part of my intestine was going to poke out of me (what?!) and I was going to poo into a bag from a hole in my belly (WHAT?!). This was not going to go well, no way, nuh-uh...
So here I am nine months later. A pro at my own stoma care and loving the sense of community and camaraderie I get from being an ostomate. Yes, I bloomin' LOVE it! I also love little ButtFace (what I unaffectionately nicknamed my stoma). That name was meant as an insult, but now it's a term of endearment and a seemingly infinite source of giggling-pleasure for me and my family. Lesley was spot-on once again (ain't those kind of people annoying?) I do own it!
Lately, I've found myself feeling more and more grateful for my new little extra appendage. For without it I wouldn't be writing this. I wouldn't have created a vlog on YouTube. I wouldn't be able to offer advice and support to others who are in the same situation. If you fancy a laugh at mine and ButtFace's expense, pop over to Vlogostomy.
I think I may have reconciled that original equation. Yes, there's an incurable cancer diagnosis, but with a new sense of purpose having a stoma (and a loud voice), I think I'm going to cope okay. If I have helped even one person on their ostomy journey, I'm satisfied. I've made something of my life and at last, there's meaning.