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Coping and well being with an ostomy - Leanne Hammond

Guest blogger Leanne shares an insight into how she has coped with body image and her relationship since having ostomy surgery.

Leanne Hammond

I am writing to you as a 19 year old girl from Dublin, from my point of view I should be looking forward to celebrating my 20th birthday next month but unfortunately something's got in the way. In the previous months I've attended a lot of hospital appointments as I have been diagnosed with a condition called F.A.P (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis) which is genetic in the majority of cases but in my case it wasn't, I was the first to develop this. This was discovered in a colonoscopy in February of 2015 and my bowel was discovered to be carpeted with 100 "polyps" which had come back abnormal in biopsy testing 8 weeks later. I later spoke with a surgeon as my options to stop these polyps from changing was to remove my large intestine and be given a temporary stoma. I had complications after my surgery which initially took 8 hours on the 10th of September 2015 and 4 days later I needed emergency surgery to remove a parastomal hernia. In the first couple of weeks after surgery I was very sick and saw no end to my pain! I had suffered with severe anxiety attacks which led me to A&E! But I am now 10 weeks since both surgeries and I'm feeling better than ever! I'm starting to regain the energy to do things I done before surgery and I'm very proud of myself!

Regaining confidence is a very hard thing to do after surgery especially when you have a stoma bag attached to your body that you loved as well as scars to follow. Lucky enough I have very little scaring as my surgeries were done through keyhole! So that is a bonus I guess, although I woke up from surgery with a stoma bag I never got uncomfortable about it, I accepted it almost straight away as I knew I would have to live with it for a couple of months and there's no point in thinking of it in a bad way cause the time will only go slower! It took me a few weeks to get the hang of changing my bag and emptying it but you soon find your own way of doing it that helps you the best. My body image was very important to be before surgery as I loved going to the gym regularly during the week and I trained to run many marathons and when I found out I was going to need surgery I worried what my body would look like after as I'm only a young girl, but my body is fine the way it is, the only difference is I have a little cream pouch attached to my stomach which is my stoma bag! I flaunt my stoma bag any chance I get because this saved my life and I think nothing that has the potential to save anyone's life should be hidden away or be ashamed of! Before surgery I initially thought I'd have to change my whole diet, clothing and lifestyle... but that's not the case at all because I wear the same tight clothing bag as I did before surgery and my bag is never noticeable. I also eat and drink the same way I didn't before surgery and I think that's important for anyone to understand that will undergo the same surgery that I did. People who have never seen a stoma bag automatically think it's going to be a bulky object which isn't the case at all so I think it's hard for people to regain their confidence after stoma surgery, they think they will be looked upon differently and that's why I would love the public to be more aware of these bags because it would make things easier for people who live everyday with one!

At the beginning when I was first told I was going to need a bag, I was so embarrassed that I didn't even want to tell my boyfriend or my friends because I didn't know what it looked like and I was picturing a bulky see through bag, I felt so awful! But in the weeks after I had more knowledge and realised that stoma bags are everywhere without you realising! So many people have them and you wouldn't know! I found it difficult to tell my friends but after I had told them I had no reason to be worried because they were so interested in finding out what it meant. My boyfriend was amazing also, he knew more about an ostomy than I did because he knew somebody who had one. So all along I was worried what other people were going to think, that shouldn't have been the case at all because I had no reason to be worried! It was an experience for my whole family and friends to see me accept my bag and body so well!

Through my journey of hospital appointments along the way I lost a couple of friends as they didn't show interest in my sickness, but for the most part my real friends couldn't have done enough for me they showed great respect throughout and helped me when I was down. My family were incredible and were at my bed side everyday to help me with the things I found difficult to do! Also my boyfriend was outstanding and showed amazing courage, he helped me change and empty my bag everyday and helped me through my struggles and tears. Such major life changing surgery has emotional effect on you even when you don't realise! I suffered with bad anxiety after surgery and I couldn't leave my house or face big crowds but as the weeks went on I got confident and eventually stopped my anxiety and dealt with it in the right way. At the beginning of this year I had only gotten into a new relationship when I was diagnosed with the condition I have,  when I realised the road I faced ahead I worried about my relationship as I thought it wouldn't be strong enough to last through all the mayhem, but it turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me, because without him I wouldn't be where I am now! He was there every step of the way and he seen tears that nobody else seen and he stuck by me through thick and thin! I'm so grateful to each and everyone who helped me through my difficult journey! It's true when they say "tough times reveal true friends"