Thursday, 21 March 2019

What are Stomas, colostomy bags and how could they affect my life?

As I said in my last post, I've had a "Stoma operation" as there was concern that my large intestine would get blocked by my Colo rectal Cancer (CRC)...

...also known as Bowel Cancer and Colon Cancer; it is the development of cancer from the colon or rectum (parts of the large intestine). 

How common is Colo Rectal Cancer (CRC)?

Bowel cancer, also known as Colo Rectal Cancer (CRC), is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. 
"In 2015, 43,178 cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed" 
Colo rectal (large bowel) cancer is the second most common cancer
after lung cancer, in terms of both incidence and mortality, in England. 

"Although prostate cancer is more common in men andbreast cancer more common in women, Colo rectal cancer affects bothsexes."
It's an abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

"I realised, after the operation, that the colostomy bags didn't control me or define who I am"

There's also a real life link to my past! 

My Granddad 'Hub' Pettit (a Farmer in Chevington, West Suffolk) also had a Colostomy Operation

His Colostomy bag, nothing like mine!

"Yes, I know most don't want to talk about the operation or the effects it has on them, mainly because it can all be embarrassing."

However “This is me” and, as always, I think it important to raise awareness by answering these questions...

  1. What is a Colostomy bag
  2. What is it used for, and 
  3. How does it affect a patient’s (or for this post My...) life?

1: What is a Colostomy?

A Colostomy is a surgical procedure. 

During my Colostomy, surgeons divert one end of the large intestine into a visible opening – known as a Stoma – situated on my abdomen.

A small pouch, or Colostomy bag... then placed over the Stoma to collect waste products that would normally pass through my rectum and anus in the toilet.

Take a look at the video at

2: When is a colostomy bag needed?

Colostomies - and resulting Colostomy bags - are used to help me, and/or other patients who have problems with their Colons.

Diseases which can lead to a person having a colostomy include...

  • Bowel cancer (this applies to me), 
  • IBDs such as Crohn’s and Colitis, and 
  • Diverticulitis.

By diverting waste away, the Colostomy bag can allow irritated or inflamed areas of the Colon to heal.

"In my case it was to ensure that if my Bowel Cancer Tumour got to large and blocked my Colon the waste could still be removed."

3: Are they permanent?

It depended on me and/or on other patients. 

A Colostomy can be permanent or temporary. The NHS estimates that around 6,400 permanent colostomies are carried out each year in the UK.

4: What is it like to live with a colostomy bag?

Cancer, surgery & treatment are hard enough to deal with; an Colostomy/Ostomy (changes the way stools exits the body as a result of a surgical procedure). 

Having an Colostomy/Ostomy sometimes increase the anxiety, fear & shame that some, with Colo Rectal Cancer, feel.

In general we don't think much about "natural" body functions (bowel movements) until they are to be changed or disrupted.

Having the equipment can be different from person to person - both in how long it is needed and how it affects an individual’s quality of life.

“Some patients say that having a Colostomy/Ostomy is a very very tough decision, but they also feel they’ve got their life back because they’ve been so ill for so long. Others say “goodness me it has transformed my life because I don’t want to go out and talk to people, I worry about malfunctioning.”

In my particular case, I felt I had little choice, as a bowel obstruction is a serious complication, which is much more common with advanced Cancer;  I had to to proceed as the alternative wasn't a realistic option.

The surgery wouldn't cure my Cancer, however it did relieve the symptoms that I had, within my lower Colon

Unfortunately, no one can tell beforehand how much individuals would benefit from an operation to unblock their bowel.

If you have to go through this, you should take steps to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed right from the beginning. 

Consider talking through having this operation with...

"If you're having problems adjusting, ask yourself why and discuss these issues with the Colostomy/Ostomy specialist and/or surgeon."
Such meetings bring you closer to independently caring for your Colostomy/Ostomy.

NOTE: From my experience, the psychological & physical adjustment to the new Colostomy/Ostomy, doesn't occur overnight.

As I discovered, My Bowel Cancer seems to have effected my family and friends more than me and they need support agencies as well.

5: What are the basic things you need to know, if you are going to have a Stoma operation?

a) those of us who have Colostomies usually need to empty the bag 2 to 3 times a day.

b) Ostomy appliances come in all different shapes and sizes for a personalised fit.

c) Initially, you, like I had to, may have to cut the opening on the adhesive face-plate to fit exactly around the Stoma and reduce the risk of leakage & skin irritation.

d) Various skin protections & cleaning materials are provided to prep an individual's skin.

e) My Stoma bags are coloured and opaque, hiding their contents. You may find you get clear plastic ones, hardly hiding any content.

f) I'm retired, but for those in work, the choice to continue working with a Stoma is a personal decision.

With the possible exception of jobs requiring very heavy lifting, a Colostomy should not interfere with work.

People with Colostomies are successful business people, teachers, carpenters, welders, etc.

g) Clothing - Depending on Stoma location usually one is able to wear similar clothing as before surgery including swimwear.

In my case, I lost 5 Stone in weight, over a very short period of time; resulting in a new wardrobe of clothes.

h) Sports and activities: With a securely attached pouch one can swim and participate in practically all types of sports.

Caution is advised in heavy body contact sports and a guard or belt can be worn for protection. 

Travel is not restricted in any way and bathing and showering may be done with or without the pouch in place.

6: In my particular case, due to the treatment delay while the Stoma operation took place, the "Bowel Cancer" had spread to my Liver (Still "Bowel Cancer" not "Liver Cancer"),

My "Lymph Glands" were also affected by the Bowel Cancer and, as a result I've had a Catheter inserted (to ensure the urine is removed) because the swollen "Lymph Glands" were preventing urination.

Once in place, the Stoma and the Catheter I mean, My Chemotherapy could start.

Hopefully, with this second post, I've raised your awareness of what individuals may experience if, like me, they have a "Colostomy"

"Please feel free to provide feedback on my post."

If you have any questions, feel free to ask, I'll do my best to provide honest answers.

Thank you! 

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