Stomaversary, Bagaversary, No Colonaversary, whatever you like to call it, I recently celebrated 3 years living with an ostomy!
Technically, my first stoma was formed 3 years and 5 months ago. It started as a loop ileostomy, so I consider the first five months: “the dating phase”! The real deal happened on September 24, 2013. That's when I got my new stoma (and got rid of some other bits!) and we became committed - for life.
This got me to thinking about the parallels between our relationships with our stomas and human relationships. There are many similarities, but also some polar opposites. Like all relationships, our relationships with our stomas are individual and each very different. Some can be better (or at least ‘different’) than others.
This is about MY relationship with MY stoma and the path we’ve taken. As I reflect on my 3rd Stomaversary, here are the five relationship stages with my lifelong stoma mate:
1. The Courtship
My initial surgery was a loop ileostomy, aiming to give my colon and rectum time to heal. I don’t even remember the first date. So much has happened since then. At the time, everything was temporary. I was still getting to know you, and really wasn’t sure how long you’d be hanging around. It was all going pretty well at first, and I was even growing to like you, but after a few months, the honeymoon period was well and truly over and symptoms returned with a vengeance. Shortly after that, the decision to take the relationship to another level was made. It wasn’t that I had a problem with you specifically, but overall you weren’t giving me what I had hoped or needed.
2. The Engagement
Ours was a short engagement. Once I realized I needed you (albeit a slightly different kind of you), there was one short week between confirming the decision with my surgeon and being booked into the hospital. It was almost like a shot gun wedding! This didn’t stop me from getting the jitters or cold feet, and in that week I often questioned if I was doing the right thing.
3. The Big Day
The big day quickly arrived, as I was wheeled down the “aisle” in my flimsy hospital gown, nervous as hell. I’d written my vows in my diary that morning with some certainty (but mostly hopeful apprehension). There was nobody to object when the surgeon asked, but I’d filled out the hospital forms and signed a consent. My decision was made. For the remainder of the ceremony I was blissfully anesthetized and unaware. There were speeches and declarations of love as my family stood by, waiting expectantly in the hospital ward, even more stressed than I. Suffice to say, when the surgeon said “I do” and all was said and done, I was far too doped up on pain killers to give my own speech or to consummate anything! I was just relieved it was over and wanted to sleep!
4. The Honeymoon
The morning after the big day I awoke to a new life! A new me! A new us! The hospital certainly wasn’t your typical island paradise many honeymoons are made of, but I can honestly say that almost immediately I felt a sense of calm and relief. All that horrid inflammation and sickness I had experienced for so long had lifted. My body felt traumatized and fragile from the surgery itself (a million times worse than a post wedding night hangover!) but I actually felt better! Healthier!
We spent almost 2 weeks together in our hospital room with a view, and we spent an awful lot of time in bed (mostly sleeping!), but even in those early days I was grateful you were there and I knew I had made the right decision. We were going to make a fantastic team.
5. Everyday Married Life
Our relationship has grown a lot since we said goodbye to that wretched inflamed colon and rectum of ours. Like any new relationship, we had some ups and downs. It took a while to get to know each other, understand each other’s quirks (I’m sure I’m not always a piece of cake to live with either!). There's been some negotiation and trial and error, and you could be a little more considerate of the smell you leave in the bathroom (yes, I play a role in that too!).
Like most human relationships we have some bad days, but they are predominately good. We have settled into a routine. You get on my nerves from time to time and we don’t always agree, but I still care for you immensely. You’ve made me cry once or twice, but overwhelmingly you fill my life with joy. You've given me back my life! Our life!
I know it’s important not to get too complacent. I know how lucky I am and I know how quickly things can change. I am incredibly grateful for what I have and for what you do for me.
It’s imperative to note that the greatest difference between the connection with your stoma and a real life human relationship is CHOICE. There may not be a choice in whether you actually want to “tie the knot”, so to speak. Many people have unplanned, emergency surgery and there is no option.
I am incredibly lucky that I get along well with my little guy (most of the time). He doesn’t leak or give me skin issues, but this may not always be the case. There’s often no option when it comes to separation or divorce. If your ostomy is permanent like mine, there is no backing out (pun intended!). You have to learn to live with and hopefully accept your lifetime partner.
In some ways perhaps it’s the best possible kind of relationship. You have to admit, it’s a pretty unique bond!
Till Death Do Us Part
Most unions conclude in “till death do us part”, but wait… !!! Even in death, there’s no parting in this case! I literally couldn't live without you, nor you without me!!
Bottom line, we look after each other and make a great team and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Thank you, thank you, thank you little guy for the last three years and all you have done for me. As I eat our celebratory cake, the wish is the same for myself and for any other ostomates out there…. may we have many more adventures together with our stomas and live happily ever after.
Happy 3rd Stomaversary <3
A version of this post originally appeared on stomalicious.wordpress.com.
Photos credit: © Laura Zappulla