This post appeared on the Colon Cancer Coalition. Reprinted with permission.
When I was told that a stage III rectal cancer diagnosis would result in wearing an ostomy bag, I was revolted. Having a hole cut into my abdomen where my colon was exposed and waste pouring out simply disgusted me. I did everything I could leading up to surgery to have a complete response on chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Alas, it was the day of my surgery. I was able to make out a nurse saying, “looks like he has an ostomy.” I was crushed. Over the next few months, I got used to it but still hated it. I hated how it looked, the noises it made, and dealing with it throughout the day. In the beginning, being an ostomate was filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and depression. I made a physical recovery within a few months and reached my “comeback” goal with a 100-mile century bike ride. That really picked up my spirits. I’ve always been an athletic guy and I told myself that I'd be fine, as long as I was able to be physically active and do all the things I enjoyed before surgery.
Adjusting to other aspects of my life would take a few more years. For example, I had to navigate dating with an ostomy and figure out when to tell my date about it. I also learned how to do colostomy irrigation so that I could spend an entire day without having any output.
It was regaining my self-confidence that took the longest, but being featured as a model for The Colon Club in their 2013 Colondar helped me believe in myself tremendously. The icing on the cake of confidence came after I competed in bodybuilding. I stood on the stage in front of people judging my physical appearance while wearing nothing but a spray tan, board shorts, and a colostomy bag — I knew this is where I wanted to be.
Life with an ostomy has its challenges, no doubt, but when problems crop up you just need to be prepared. I’ve learned the hard way to always carry along ostomy supplies. Now I keep extras at work, in my car, in my book bag, and in my back pocket. But if you’re not prepared, just roll with it. When there's no proper bathroom nearby, I make do with what’s available. I’ve irrigated my colostomy in a bathroom on a moving train, in a portable restroom, and even in the outdoors while backpacking. If accidents happen, it’s going to be embarrassing if not downright humiliating, but don’t beat yourself up. Those around will usually be very understanding and help you out.
If you have an ostomy, go out and live the life you were going to live anyways. Do all of the things that you wanted to do before surgery. I've always wanted to compete in bodybuilding, planned to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and wanted to travel internationally. I’ve done all these things since my surgery because other ostomates inspired me that it can be done. There’s no reason why you can’t do something amazing yourself — even if you happen to have an ostomy.