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 that is bigger and more important, rather than I am alone.
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 have to have a colostomy bag was unthinkable! At first it was a coin flip as to whether I'd need a temporary or permanent stoma. But after intense radiation failed to shrink the tumor as much as was hoped, I was told there was no chance of a reversal if I wanted the best chance 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 said she'd get a colostomy bag with me. Suffice 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 we were gonna make it through, together.
The most memorable moment was when my sister-in-law Lesley told me I'd own it, that I would face it head on like I have every other challenge in my life, and that I was going to be more than OK. 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. How did she know that? It was me facing this life changing surgery, not her.
I seriously considered not having the surgery. Sure, I'd take my chances with the cancer, anything was better than pooing out of my belly!
And that was the stark reality. As much as I hated innards and liked everything inside where it was supposed to be, the fact was that my intestine (what?!) was going to poke out of me (What?!) and I was going to poo from my belly (WHAT?!?!). This was not going to go well, no way, nuh uh...
So here I am, 9 months later, a pro at my own stoma care, loving the amazing sense of community and camaraderie I get from being an ostomate. I bloomin' love it! I also love little ButtFace, as I unaffectionately called my stoma. That name was meant as an insult, now it's a term of endearment and a seemingly infinite source of giggling-pleasure for me and my young niece and nephew. 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.
Without it I wouldn't be writing this now, I wouldn't have created a vlog on YouTube to offer advice and support to other ostomates who are in the situation I was nine months ago.
I think I may have reconciled that original equation. Yes, there's an incurable cancer diagnosis, but with the new sense of purpose having a stoma (and a loud voice) has afforded me, so I think I'm going to cope okay. If I have helped even just one person on their ostomy journey, I'm satisfied. I've made something of my life and at last, there's meaning.
If you fancy having a laugh at mine and ButtFace's expense, pop on over to my vlogostomy.