Happy World Ostomy Day

Today, October 3rd, is World Ostomy Day. A day to raise awareness of ostomies, ostomates, ileostomies, and ileostomates.

Unfortunately, most of you have likely never heard of World Ostomy Day or even know what an ostomy or ileostomy is. Somehow days like Doughnut Day or Coffee Day attract more attention than days celebrating ostomies, colon cancer, bladder cancer, Crohn’s Disease, or ulcerative colitis….

I presume this is because no one really wants to talk about what happens in the bathroom. Well, it’s time to change this. Too many people neglect to tell their doctor what happens when they go to the bathroom – they ignore the cramps, pain, blood, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating.

But these are signs and symptoms of very serious diseases. Ignoring these symptoms only leads to bad bad things. And let me tell you an ileostomy or ostomy is not a bad thing.

For people like me – it’s a lifesaver. I have an ileostomy because I have ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is terrible. Having an ileostomy is not terrible.

This is how I explained my ileostomy to my friend this morning as we walked to the river for a swim,

Because of ulcerative colitis, I had my colon removed. So now my small intestine sticks out of my stomach. My small intestine empties into a pouch attached to my skin. I empty this into the toilet. I change my pouch every four days. I also had my rectum removed and my butt sewn shut. This is called a Barbie Butt.”

That’s it. Plain and simple. My ileostomy doesn’t stop me from living.

In fact, it allows me to live. I do struggle with food – I can’t eat everything I want and I do experience a lot of pain in my abdomen – but this is all solvable and a minor inconvenience when compared to being as sick as I was before having my colon removed.

I no longer have to wear adult diapers. I no longer crap myself in the grocery store. I no longer see the toilet water turn bright red because blood is literally dripping out of my butt.

Now, thanks to my ileostomy, I feel free. I really can do anything. These photos, taken by my friend Tom sum up the first part of how I spent World Ostomy Day:

I started swimming around a year ago. I was really nervous to swim with my pouch and ileostomy. What would happen? What if it doesn’t stick? What if my pouch fills up while I’m swimming?

Finally one day, I got fed up with myself and my dithering – I went out and bought a swimsuit, goggles, swim cap, and ear plugs – and then I went to the pool and went swimming.

It was awesome. I was hooked on swimming again. I was slow (still am). My technique was very rusty. But I really felt at ease in the water. Swimming 25 meters was intimidating – but I stuck with it.

And now I’m swimming with a swim club and meet up with a cool group of swimmers to swim in the Ottawa River. I lucked out with my Ottawa River Swim Gang – super welcoming, patient, and experienced swimmers – who tolerate my less-than-straight lines, endless questions, and constant chatter.

I could not have gone swimming before I had my colon and rectum removed. There was no way I could get in the pool or out in the river – the chances of my needing to rush out very quickly due to constant diarrhea, lack of bowel control, and the fear of a big disaster – meant I could not swim.

But now I can. My ileostomy means I can do it all. And I intend to.

After my swim in 15C water, I went for a bike ride.

Life is good. Happy World Ostomy Day! A big thank you to the smart doctors who gave me my life back.