Swimming with an ostomy…

So I got thinking, after seeing a few forum posts about swimming with an ostomy, that maybe I should write about it. I kind of take it for granted now, it doesn’t really occur to me that people might be nervous about it but I guess they are. 

I’ve never really been one for swimming, even without my stoma, I’ve never really liked the whole process, get in swimwear, get wet,  do a length or two whilst wondering if you are in the ‘serious swimmer’ lane cos you crossed the boundary by mistake, dry off in a changing room with questionable hair on the floor (eww), put on clothes, go home, shower, eat a chocolate dipper (cos swimming makes you hungry?) – eurgh just far too much hassle. I’m more of a, I’m on holiday, it’s hot, I need to cool off, keep my head above water whilst I dip kind of girl. I’m a crap swimmer anyway, totally inelegant, I don’t have ‘beach hair’ and I splutter like my life depended on it if the water so much as touches my nose. 

But one day life comes along and says “hey you, you’re a bit fabulous so I need to give you this bag to wear on your tummy, but don’t worry it’s only poo” and cue tears of ‘but I want to still wear a bikini and can i still swim’. 

Well you can do both, we’ve seen the fab pics of people with stomas rocking their swimwear, proudly displaying their bags, so much so, I assume everyone does it, but I guess for every one person showing their ostomy are 20 people too scared or self conscious to show theirs. 


A year after my op (I had two bags one for my ileostomy, one for my mucous fistula, because of that, both bags were a bit unpredictable) I decided a holiday courtesy of someone other than the nhs was needed. First holiday was a bit nerve racking but I made it! Of course the biggest thing was the swimming pool. River Island Are amazing for high waisted bikinis and I bought loads and still do to this day, from them. I’ve never Been ashamed of my stoma but a high waist helped me feel more confident in the pool. I remember joining in a daytime pool game activity and it was bursting balloons in the pool between each other (omg what if my bag bursts…..!) I just went for it, I just shouted not my tummy! No-one questioned it or even cared and I had a great time. 

I do remember going to Turkey a couple of years ago and the main pool was closed because apparently someone had poo’d in it, I had a mini heart attack, what if that was me and my bag…but I realised it was totally illogical and I was just being paranoid! (Btw it wasn’t me, apparently it was some kid!!). Last year, 4 years after my op, I decided it was time to get some sun on my belly and wore (what I call) a normal bikini every day! I even swam like it, yes I was nervous, yes my insides were flip flopping more than if I’d taken my trusty super drys across a tsunami but I did it! I never don’t feel nervous, it’s a huge thing to show to the world but it’s really just a giant plaster. 

We should never be ashamed of the things that save our lives, take a deep breath, plunge or toe dip into that water, I promise it’s gets easier! (With just wish I had fabulous wavy beach hair to go with it!). 

Hiking through nature with a Lidl carrier bag……

Yes that truly happened but before I get to that… 

Last week, Mike and I had a lovely week in Crete, same place we went last year so we knew what to expect. We booked another swim up room as I have decided I can’t possibly do public poolside again as it’s much better for my ostomy 😉 

There is a trip called the Samaria Gorge which we wanted to do last year but for one reason or another never made it. So, to ensure we did it this year we pre-booked before we went. It’s basically a 16km trek down a steep gorge but with the best views nature has to offer. It’s a long old day, but well worth it. You don’t need special walking gear, trainers will suffice and a bag to carry a few essentials. 


We decided one rucksack between us would be enough, we didn’t need much, a couple of towels for the swim in the sea at the end, suncream, plasters (a change of bag kit for me) plus a few other essentials I can’t go without (lipgloss, kindle, etc.!). We decided to order a packed lunch each from reception and expected a sandwich, piece of fruit and bottle of water each, what we actually got was a lot more and two large paper bags! So we decided to keep this in a lidl carrier bag!


Now you may be wondering why we happened to have a Lidl carrier bag in Crete? Well, the all inclusive package doesn’t serve sparkling wine (I know, it’s a shocking state of affairs) but there is a fridge in the room and a Lidl down the road. So a little daily walk ensued to Lidl to purchase some bubbly for me to sip poolside. Of course we had to purchase a carrier bag for my bottles. 

So back to the hike, we’re all prepared with our rucksack, dressed in shorts, vests and trainers and up at 5.30am to catch the coach at 6am. We board the coach and there are the obligatory stops to pick up other keen explorers. At one stop, a man and his wife got on and Mike said to me – ooh we’ve got a professional. So there’s this man with his hiking boots, fancy rucksack and walking poles and there’s us with our Lidl carrier bag! All I kept saying was “we can’t go hiking in the Samaria Gorge with a Lidl carrier bag!” 


After a bit of kerfuffle at the stop prior to the gorge due to some confusion over the money paid we were a bit delayed getting off, meanwhile, Mr Pro keeps shaking his head, obviously so keen is he to get off and be first to finish (so eager he didn’t even wait for his wife when we did eventually get going). We were dropped off at the top of the gorge ready for a very steep descent down a narrow and rocky pathway and in true Brit fashion, a few of us are moaning about the delay rather than admiring the scenery. I, however, as Mike had the rucksack, had the Lidl carrier bag and kept denouncing that ‘I can’t possibly hike with a Lidl carrier bag! (A few fellow hikers did find this rather amusing). “It’s slowing me down”,I proclaimed,”I’ll be quicker if we can get rid of it”. Mike thinks it was about 1km in, I am convinced it was more like 2km, when we stopped to eat a few supplies and tie the bag to the rucksack. As it happens, I didn’t speed up but it was a relief to not be hiking with that Lidl carrier bag anymore – now it was Mike’s responsibility. 


So we trekked through beautiful scenery, it really was breath taking and I would highly recommend it. It’s definitely tough, navigating streams, rocks, boulders and narrow pathways (and very questionable toilets) but well worth it. The whole of this trek done with a Lidl carrier bag tied to our rucksack. 


Finally, after about 5.5 hours we reached the end, full of euphoria, not because we’d finished but because we were finally able to store the Lidl carrier bag INSIDE the rucksack! 


Looking forward to a swim, we stopped for a bite to eat first (and a glass of wine of course) and went down to the beach. But the wind got up so it was a bit too chilly for a swim, so the towels we packed that took up room (hence the Lidl carrier bag) weren’t used, except they did come in handy when rather windswept we got onto the boat that was to take us to our coach and we deployed them as blankets. 


I would definitely recommend the Gorge if you’re ever in Crete and if you do it, maybe stow away a Lidl carrier bag just in case…….. 

Bollocks to the salad…

Is what I thought a couple of weeks ago when I decided to try and lose a couple of pounds for my impending holiday.

A bit of background, the last couple of months at work have been hectic to say the least, I have probably been away more than I have been at home and have basically been living out of a hotel (does a Travelodge count as a hotel?!) and a suitcase. It’s really, really hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle  when you are away so much, I really do try but sometimes the urge to give into the wine or the chocolate after a long arsed day is too much.

With only a few weeks until my holiday I decided to take action and up the health and fitness regime to shift those additional pounds that crept on. I was still working away lots and before I knew it I had 17 days to go. I can do this I thought, I will just give up everything that is nice and fun and tasty until I go away, it’s easy, I can eat mainly salad and veg and not drink wine for 17 days. I lasted 5 days, (go me!) until my sister text to say they were having Pimms in the garden and I was invited! And then I just thought, bollocks to the salad, I cannot be arsed to keep depriving myself because I am 2-3 pounds heavier than I want to be.

In the few days before the lure of the Pimms, I was miserable, I was hungry and felt tired and cranky. I just couldn’t do it to myself anymore. I’m bored of feeling bad about myself because I had potatoes for dinner or a sandwich instead of a salad for lunch. I am bored of feeling like a rabbit because all I seem to do is crunch bloody crunch all day long. I am tired of exercising iron clad willpower when it comes to not eating a biscuit or a piece of chocolate (I am still waiting for that will power to come to the surface in the face of wine!). I am fed up of trying to haul myself out of bed every morning to spend an hour in the gym and feeling guilty when I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy doing so, I want to give my body nourishment and strengthen it so it can deal with life’s curve-balls. But I don’t want to live a life of restriction that never includes a chocolate hobnob again.

I do not want to saute my broccoli, I don’t even know what sauteing is – isn’t it just a fancy word for frying?? I don’t want to eat kale and cous cous for lunch or to have to marinade my chicken for 4 hours for it to be tasty. That is why Marks and Spencer exists – so people like me can throw our veg in the microwave. I don’t like avocado and even if I did I wouldn’t want it for breakfast, I don’t want to snack on 5 almonds or take my Tupperware dish everywhere I go. So I said bollocks to it and decided that I would try to feel OK with the little extra padding and be happy instead. And weirdly enough, when  you stop stressing about food and let go a little bit your body rewards you with feeling better. I think my mum describes it perfectly –  I asked her what she had for her dinner one night and she replied with “a shit boring salad, I might just have fish and chips”!! Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to dive head first into a vat of donuts (no matter how much I want to) but I am just going to try and relax a little, maybe try thinking about my body in a positive manner instead of hating it. After all, it kept me alive during the most grueling of times and it now keeps me healthy, so I really ought to be grateful to it.

Tomorrow is the day I go away to sunny Crete and you know what, rather than stressing over my body not being the same as it was when I went away last year, I am going to enjoy the fact that I am able to go on holiday, that I can travel, that I can feel the sun on my face and make more memories with Mike, you know the important stuff. It’s a long process, trying to come to terms with your body, especially when you have an Ostomy, but I am going to really try. I have naturally ordered  champagne for my outward flight tomorrow and I may just raise a glass to my shit boring salad!!

 

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Fitness – a journey

I was at the London Marathon last week (cheering not running) and normally this is something I like to enjoy in bed, with a cup of tea and some toast. But, this year I went to cheer on our charity runners and it was a great day. I am always in awe of those people who can run 26 miles, it isn’t just the effort on the day it is the months of dedicated training too.

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It got me thinking about my own health and fitness regime and what I do/don’t do. My goals have changed over the years, during illness it was all about just getting out of bed each day, post surgery it was about putting one foot in front of the other and getting a bit further each day. Then it became a matter of enjoying life whilst I was healthy so I didn’t worry too much about exercise or what to eat. Pre-operation number two, it was about preparing myself to be in as good as shape as possible, so a 10 week bootcamp ensued, post-op again, was about recovery and getting the right nutrients to aid healing and not gaining to much weight whilst sitting on my (now sewn up) arse! Roll on to April/May 2013 and the months of being at home/not exercising/eating too many puddings/the beginnings of domestic bliss with Mike took their toll and we had both gained weight. So then began a health and fitness regime of sorts to try and get in shape. I dappled in the gym, back at bootcamp, exercise classes and a bit of running and tried to stay away from puddings. 2014 I ran my first 10k, followed by two more and continued with some additional exercises. The first 10k was about a personal achievement, something I was able to do even  after all the trauma. Then it became about beating my time and getting better (which I did).

Christmas 2014 my sister bought me a personal training session at the gym she goes to, she recommended her trainer and suggested I try it. So in Jan 2015 I started at a new gym and got some coaching. From that moment on my fitness improved beyond doubt and is still improving today. I completed a couple more 10k’s in the summer but I now just concentrate on lifting weights and the odd interval session. I decided I really didn’t like running so why put myself through it. I actually don’t like the gym either but I like the results it brings! Through the training, I dropped some weight and have kept it off and I feel better than ever. Having a stoma can definitely knock your confidence and for me it was about discovering what I was capable of and what my body could be like. It’s hard to understand your natural weight when it has fluctuated for years due to illness/medication/operations. I am now in a place where I am happier with my body and still like to push it. I have never kept up this consistency before and I am really proud of myself.
Post gym
I want to be one of those people who bound out of bed at 6am to go the gym, or who gets excited because I am off to work out. The truth is, most of the time I have to drag myself there, I have to convince myself to go, sometimes I do get up early and go, but many a Saturday I have spent in bed weighing up the pro’s and cons before realizing whilst I was procrastinating I could have been to the gym and back again! But I go, I don’t let the fact I have a stoma stop me from doing so, there are loads of ‘ostomates’ out there who do all sorts, bodybuilding (This girl is amazing) these people compete in triathlons, 100 mile bike rides, marathons, in fact so much so I feel my gym effort is a bit paltry in comparison. But I will keep on doing it, because I love seeing my body get fitter and stronger, I love the satisfaction of lifting a heavier weight today than yesterday and most of all I love the fact that it has given me the ability to walk up hill, whilst wearing heels, to the train station with a heavy suitcase plus walk up and down a set of stairs with said suitcase plus a handbag in one had and a cup of tea in the other (it was too early for wine ;)!), whilst heaving the suitcase of the ground to get up the stairs! A small girl who was with her mum at the time was most in awe of my ability to do this and told me so – how fab is that!

early gym

Oops! 

Oops, it’s been totally ages since I last blogged and yet I never meant to go this long. I wish I was one of those people that blogged regularly, but I also wish I was one of those people that got up at 6am to work out, or one of those people that didn’t like wine (do they exist?) or one of those people that ate broccoli for breakfast (wtf?)  but somethings are just never going to happen! 

  

I always get inspiration when I’m driving in my car or some other such inconvenient place and by the time I can write it down I forget! But I’m sitting here on the sofa, whilst Mike watches footie (not for the first time) so decided to ‘be productive’. There are lots of things I could write about and I will ( in a few months or so ;-)!) but I thought I would start with being able to help people. 

I want to and will, talk about clothes with an ostomy (short version, wear whatever the hell you like), travel ( it’s fine, do it), exercise (if you’re so inclined, that too is ok) food ( trial and error but give it all a go within reason). I’ll go into more detail in other posts. 

Those that know me/read my blog/follow my Facebook page know that I work for Beating Bowel Cancer Charity. It keeps me incredibly busy but I love it. April is Bowel cancer awareness month and during this time we hold a ‘patient day’ where we invite people affected to a free event. They can meet other people in similar situations, talk to nurses, attend seminars, visit the stands and just generally meet staff and supporters. It’s a great day and people seem to really love it. What’s great is being able to talk to people who also have an ostomy, some have colostomies, some have ileostomys, some don’t have a stoma anymore but did. It’s really lovely to have people come up to me and ask me about mine and ask me questions. Some people I have spoken to over Twitter and was able to meet in person and share stories.

I love that I can work for a charity and have empathy and can share my positive experiences with people going through a really tough time. But I also benefit, I also get to meet people with ostomies and hear their experiences and so many of them are incredibly upbeat, despite having to face some of the toughest times of their lives. 

I am always happy for people to approach me and ask me questions and advice and I will always be honest. I have no issue with anyone, stoma or not, asking me questions about mine. I find it far easier to be open and hope my experiences can help others. 

So, this is just to say the blog is back in action, and between 6am gym sessions and breakfasts of broccoli 😂 I shall be posting a bit more regularly!  

 

Happy World Ostomy Day

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Today is World Ostomy Day so it seems only fitting that I write a little blog post. Many people live with an Ostomy, young and old and for all sorts of reasons, bowel diseases, bowel cancer, bladder conditions are just a few. But I thought it would be appropriate to write about living with an Ostomy and 10 things you should know!

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1) You won’t be dragging a bag around on a set of wheels ( which is what I thought, you know a bit like the drips you get set up on in hospital!), it will be discreet and some are quite small.
2)You won’t smell, despite your fears of aroma de poo hanging around with you, you honestly won’t smell any different to normal ( which hopefully is shower fresh!) and people won’t back away from you as though you’re Pepe le pew (ha ha remember him!)
3) Only you have to know about your ostomy unless you choose otherwise, nobody has to know ( apart from the surgeon who performed it of course and the stoma nurse that helped you!).
4) Yes it’s bloody agony, especially if you had open not keyhole surgery ( although keyhole still hurts!) and whilst after a few weeks you will feel better it can take a good 6 months to feel completely better, don’t rush it, don’t compare yourself to others, it’s your recovery, but don’t be afraid to push yourself a teeny bit each day.
5) Athough it’s agony, it will pass and if your surgery was due to something like UC or Crohns then I promise you, you will feel so much better instantly.
6) You will be able to exercise, travel, dance, sing, work, go clothes shopping, swim and have sex and anything else you did pre-surgery, in fact you may find you are able to do more (more shopping – yes please!)
7) You will still be found attractive, and if you are single you will meet someone exactly the same as before surgery, if it’s taking a long time it’s not because you are the proud owner of an ostomy it’s because dating is hard and can suck sometimes, but it can also be fun. (Believe me, I’ve tried to put men off by confessing about my bag, it didn’t work!). The bag is really insignificant to most people.
8) You won’t always have to cut out nuts, seeds, mushrooms, corn, drinking through straws and fizzy drinks. Sensible advice you are given at first but you learn what you can and can’t have. And I’m sorry, but there was no way I would give up bubbly! Be careful though, I ended up in A&E due to a parsnip but can now eat them no problem!  🙂
9) You will not be able to blow off in the conventional sense, that satisfying fart (I hate that word!) when you have a tummy ache – thing of the past, but you also always know, it definitely wasn’t you!
10) Your life will not be over, it will not end or be worse, it may even be better. You will be amazed at what you have coped with and if you can deal with a bag attached to your tummy that you have to poo in then surely everything else is a doddle!

So happy World Ostomy Day!

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Holiday confidence, my stoma bag and the reactions…..

Tomorrow is Monday and it’s back to reality, back to work and the gym all the other day to day stuff we do. I’ve had just over two weeks off, 11 days of that spent on holiday in Crete and I almost feel like a new woman. Yes, I’m relaxed but it is more than that, I have gained more confidence this holiday then ever before.

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To those who know me, and those who follow my blog and Ostomy page on Facebook will probably already see me as confident and for the most part I am. But having an unexpected major op, all your large intestine removed, scarring, a bag and everything that come with it, does knock your confidence a tad! It’s a long process, hard work, determination and a strong mind to stop yourself from falling into a pit of despair and why me.

2 major operations, years of weight loss/weight gain, steroids & other strong medications, take their toll on your body. And whilst I’m grateful to now be alive and healthy, I have been left with some body issues (I will write about this in a future post). So in January, I made the decision to try and help myself and get in the best shape I could, cue 8 months of hard work, gym sessions, walking, healthy eating and the cutting down of my beloved bubbly.

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So, I turned up on holiday feeling fabulous and slim ( not feeling like that now after 2 weeks indulging 😂) . I had booked a swim up room for this holiday (as I’m always after that elusive, luxury, ticked every box vacation!) and boy, was it worth the extra money! I think one of the advantages of a stoma is not feeling guilty for spending a little extra money than normal becaus ‘I deserve it and it makes me feel better’! Expensive underwear – tick, expensive bikini – tick, ooh lets upgrade to a swim up room! But it was worth it as I didn’t need to think about how often I would need to empty my bag as I was outside my room, the pool was quiet so I could show off my bag with no worries, and obviously i could pop yo the fridge for as much bubbly as I wanted!

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But what was great, was the amazing reaction of other people. Everyone was so supportive and positive and only had kind words. Most people were reluctant to ask but would try and bring it up someway in conversation, others would wait until I had mentioned it, but everyone was amazingly complimentary. Plus, pretty much everyone I spoke to could relate I some way, to the man who has crohns, the woman who had small bowel cancer, the nurse who works in endoscopy and her ex husband was a gastronnsurgeon, everyone has their own story and in fact will open up because I do. If showing off my bag means people start talking about their bowels, then that’s just a a good thing. Or even, to the people who admired me but had their own confidence issues that then felt more confident because of me, it’s totally worth it. And the best thing was swimming in our lovely pool with my bag on display and just living it!

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So, whatever your issues may be, I say go forth and be proud, strip off the layer that’s holding you back, take a deep breath and go for it, you may be pleasantly surprised!

As for me, I am off to research swim up rooms with waiter service, inclusive bubbly and central location on my iPad!! 😜

P.s. To everyone that gave my facebook pics a like or a positive comment, thank you, because it’s people like you that help me feel ok and better and people like you make the world a kinder place 💕😘

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