After living a fit and healthy life, eating well and attending the gym regularly, it came as a huge shock to be diagnosed with advanced rectal cancer just 2 months before I was 40. During those first discussions about my tumour and the treatment recommended before surgery, wearing a bag was mentioned and I must admit I had absolutely no idea what they meant. I had heard of colostomy but I had simply never been aware of stomas prior to this.
It was not something I focused on during those first few months to be honest, I dealt with everything just one step at a time – 4 cycles of chemo, a brief break before the 5 week radiotherapy course started. Some of the side effects were awful, including the sense of urgency and having accidents whilst travelling. At the planning stage for radiotherapy it was made clear my colostomy would highly likely be a permanent one with no room for reversal. I felt emotional and worried, but again I didn’t dwell on this or what it might mean until I had my visit with the stoma nurses prior to surgery. This was when it really hit home.
I’ve come to realise a lot of people end up with a stoma due to emergency or because of a chronic condition, whereas I had plenty of time to process what was to come; personally I’m glad I had this time to go through the emotions; sadness, anxiety and worry. The surgery was performed in Aug 2016, thankfully successful and I was very surprised how small and tidy my stoma was when I saw it for the first time (2 days later). I had been so worried about dealing with it, but it was actually very straight forward and the nurses were so helpful.
The recovery period, particularly fatigue was tough going but the bag changes were the easiest part. Now approaching 9 months from the operation, I’ve been trained to irrigate and really enjoy the confidence this gives me when I’m out. I’m back in the gym doing cardio and weight training, wearing support underwear and definitely feeling more like myself again. No one would know I have a bag unless I choose to tell them, and in comparison to the symptoms and difficulties I faced pre-op I am much happier now. I’ll be wearing my bikini with pride this year that’s for sure!
Colostomy UK, Enterprise House, 95 London Street, Reading, Berkshire RG1 4QA
Telephone +44 (0)118 939 1537. Helpline 0800 328 4257.