Daily life with a stoma

Daily life with a stoma

Get tips on what to wear, going to school or work and returning to your old hobbies.

Returning to your daily routine

Returning to your daily routine

How to approach going back to work or school after you've had your ostomy. Returning to your daily routine
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Returning to your daily routine

It may seem overwhelming to get back to performing daily routines, hobbies and activities that you used to do before your surgery. You probably feel very tired in the beginning, so it is best to start out slowly.

Going back to work

Whether your condition allows you to return to work or not, very much depends on the operation you have had and your doctor's advice. If you do plan on returning to work, it is important to discuss your options with your employer as soon as possible. Some employers may be able to offer you reduced hours for an initial period, as your body is still adjusting.

Going back to your studies

The same advice goes if your condition allows you to return to your studies. Talk to your student counselor about starting out slowly, perhaps by following just a few courses at first, until you get to know what you are capable of.

Do a ‘trial run’

A few weeks before you return to work or your studies, it may be helpful to dress and plan your day as if you were going to work or school, as a sort of 'trial run' to establish a routine. Consider your meals and how many times you need to change or empty your pouch – and plan your day accordingly.

Who should you tell?

When you go back to work or school, it is entirely up to you if you wish to tell any of the people you interact with that you have a stoma or that you have had surgery.

However, it's a good idea to let at least one person know - if you have a medical emergency at some point, it will be much easier if someone already knows about your ostomy surgery.

How to explain your procedure

It is only natural to have concerns about having to explain your condition to new people. Just do what makes you feel most comfortable. Sometimes, preparing a short and confident explanation will help put your mind at ease.

For instance, you could simply explain briefly that you went through a serious illness and, because of that, you had major surgery and now wear an ostomy pouch. Avoid being too technical, and be open to questions - without over-sharing. Never feel as though you have to explain details of your surgery to everyone who asks.

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Being active and going out

Being active and going out

You can do any activity with a stoma, including sport, exercise or going out, as long as you are aware of your limits and don't push yourself too hard, too quickly. Being active and going out
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Being active and going out

Even though most things are easier in the comfort of home, it is really important to get back to living and enjoying all the things that you were doing before your surgery. That includes going out. Whether it's a quiet drink in a local bar, a meal out in a restaurant, or visiting friends, nothing should stop you.

Don't rush yourself

To build up your confidence for going out and about, give yourself small targets in the beginning. Perhaps things like using a public toilet for the first time, or visiting a relative, or planning a day away. Gradually you may feel ready to take on further activities, just remember to try and be patient and not to rush yourself.

Exercise is good

Almost without exception, you will benefit from doing some level of exercising. The type and amount of exercise will depend greatly on what you did before your surgery, but both swimming and brisk walking are truly fantastic (and low-injury risk) ways to keep fit and keep your energy levels up.

Are there limits to what you can do?

Until your stoma and abdominal area are fully healed, strenuous activities can put you at risk of a hernia. To minimise the risk of a hernia, you should avoid any kind of heavy lifting (anything more than 7-8 pounds, really) for the first six to eight weeks after your surgery.

Later on there are nearly no limits to what you can do, as long as you take the right precautions. But you should always ask your doctor or stoma care nurse to give the green light, before you start exercising.

This website includes general guidelines. Always follow the instructions by your healthcare provider.

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Clothing with a stoma

Nicola: Tips for your wardrobe

Nicola gives her tips on how to create the perfect ostomy wardrobe without breaking the bank. Nicola's tips about clothing
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Nicola: Tips for your wardrobe

After my operation I found it very hard to dress. I struggled just to get my head around how I needed to dress, let alone actually find anything to wear.

I felt like nothing suited me. Anything big round the waist, I felt like I was wearing a tent. Anything more fitted, I felt made the bag obvious – on reflection, it probably didn't, that was just my fear. Plus I still wasn't feeling well enough to be traipsing round shops.

Clearing out my closet

Every time I opened my wardrobe my heart would sink looking at all these gorgeous clothes that I had accumulated over the years, some having special meanings, especially the items passed down to me from my mum and I was devastated that I wouldn't get to wear them again.

Getting dressed became a nightmare because I would spend the whole time looking at what I wanted to be wearing. Eventually I decided it was time to take control of the situation, starting with a major clear out.

I have heard many times before that you should clear out your wardrobe once a year and throw out anything that you haven't worn in two years. I have never done this! As a result this seemed like a huge and daunting task, so I needed to make it fun.

Make a fashion show out of it

Get your partner, a couple of friends, your sister, anyone whose opinion you would trust round and give them a fashion show.

It will make it more fun having a support team there but the main reason you want others there is because, having a change to your body can feel like it did when you were a teenager with a spot – you feel like there is a bright red beacon shouting, "look how awful I look" but no-one else even notices until you point out how horrid it is.

The same will go for your ostomy, so a second opinion is always a good idea. Try everything on and split into 'keep' or 'get rid', but don't throw your good 'get-rid' clothes out; I have a very good use for them.

Out With The Old & In With The New

Now there is one obvious thing you need when revamping your wardrobe – money! The saying is; 'one woman's rubbish is another woman's treasure,' and I definitely think this is true of clothes.

Since having a colostomy bag, I am suddenly looking at clothes that I wouldn't have seen before. My sister came round wearing a jumper that would be perfect for me post-surgery so I asked her where she bought it.

Save money by swapping clothes

I know that I have loads of lovely tops my sister would look great in that I'm never going to wear now so it gave me the idea for a clothes swap. You basically invite friends, everyone brings clothes they no longer wear and you all swap.

If you are not keen on the idea of hosting your own swishing party, you may be able to find organised parties you can go along to, again all with varying degrees of seriousness and organisation on your part.

Some tips for selling your clothes

Selling your clothes is another option. There are hundreds of website dedicated to selling second hand clothes.

It may also be worth checking Facebook for a local selling page so people can just come and pick them up, save posting items all over the place, we have a wonderful one for my area.

Looks that work well

Patterns make it harder to identify any bumps and movement.

Ruching, especially when it is on the same side as your ostomy, will hide all manner of sins. I have even more good news... ruched gives the illusion of a smaller waist. So it will hide the ostomy and make you look slimmer – what could be better than that?!

High-waisted jeans, trousers or leggings – they effectively act a bit like a protective layer, over the bag. I have found that I can even wear tight tops again over the top of my jeans which has been quite revolutionary for me.

Rockabilly – Think 1950's glamour! Pinching in at the waist and flaring back out again. This again is very slimming as your waist is your thinnest point and then it flares out so you can't see anything underneath.

One final piece of advice

The biggest piece of advice I think I can give when it comes to coping post surgery is – be kind to yourself. Your body (as well as your heart) has been through an astonishing ordeal and it will take time for your body to settle and for your concerns of how you look to dwindle.

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Clive's story about living with a stoma

Clive: The first year of living with a stoma

Clive shares his experience of dining out and resuming to old hobbies the first year after his surgery. Clive: The first year of living with a stoma
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Clive: The first year of living with an ostomy

A few days after my operation, I did wonder if I would ever get used to this thing they had put on my tummy. I couldn't even empty it myself at first, but soon I got used to doing it with help from the ostomy care nurse.

When I got home, I was quite sore, as I had had my bottom removed as well (the inside, not the outside – that would look ridiculous!)

Taking my first stroll

After about a week I took my first walk along the road, then after a couple more weeks I walked along the seafront with a few stops in-between. Things have got much easier as time progressed and now emptying, changing and dealing with my bag has become second nature.

I have had the odd leak at night and sometimes in the day but I just go and change it – no bother. Half the time I don't even know it's there!

No need for a prolonged morning routine

My usual routine in the morning is to have a shave (face not legs!), shower, then put on a new bag, and that will last me until the next morning. I get my new bag and stuff ready the night before, so it takes just five minutes.

A change in energy

Before my operation, I was very ill with Crohn's and was housebound. I just couldn't go out for fear of having an 'accident' and I had no energy. I was constantly rushing to the loo, which sometimes I didn't make, but now I can go out with confidence, eat out and do most of the things I used to be able to do.

Knowing what to consume

My first trip out was in December when my family took me to Winter Wonderland in London, UK. I had thought I would never go out again, but we had a lovely Christmas that year and I was able to eat all the things I used to with no problems. You get to know the things you can and can't eat.

Nowadays, I don't usually drink alcohol and for New Year I didn't have a lot, but I did mix a few and was duly ill... my own fault of course, and everyone thought it was hilarious.

Taking up old hobbies

I have given myself some projects this year. The first was to restore my mountain bike, which I stripped down and had re-sprayed with new transfers. It now looks like a new bike! Unfortunately I can't ride it yet, as I don't think my rear end is ready for that yet... but maybe one day.

In the 1980s, I used to be a DJ and I would quite like to get back into it, so I have been getting together some gear and building my own lights. Now I can hardly get into my garage as I also have a drum kit in there – 'poor neighbours', I hear you say!

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