Day 7: the bag

People often dread the idea of “the bag” when they are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. I think I accepted that I would have a colostomy bag so quickly because of how my gastroenterologist approached it. He doesn’t beat around the bush and never sugar coats anything. When he told me that I would have a colostomy bag for the rest of my life, I took that to mean that I had the rest of my life to have a colostomy bag. I could live with that.

I did read a few online forums and even attended a local support group once to meet other people with ostomy bags. Just those few interactions were a real eye opener. Not everyone feels the way I do. There is like an ostomy spectrum of people. On one side, there are people living with an ostomy that absolutely hate it and on the other side, there are people like me…having an ostomy is a non-issue. Don’t get me wrong – some people have a right to hate their ostomy. Having an ostomy can bring on a whole new set of problems and many of those issues are caused by skin breakdown, infections and constant leaks. I do get the occasional skin irritation and have had major blow-outs in public, but nothing so constant that it would make me dread life with an ostomy.

So here are some of the complaints that I have heard…

  1. It’s noisy: True, but so are my two boys. Having an ostomy means you cannot control the gas output. I don’t have a problem with gas, but when I do it’s normally in a quiet elevator filled with strangers. Yesterday, it happened when I was sitting next to a preschooler. Sitting on a preschool chair next to a very tiny child, my stomach was probably just about at her ear level. She heard the full effect of having eaten cooked veggies for dinner the night before. There were SO many questions ready to pop out, but I simply said – Wow! I’m really hungry. Satisfied with that answer, she just kept working.
  2. It shows through my clothes: I irrigate my colostomy and when I do have a bad day, I wear baggy comfortable clothing. Clothing that will easily hid the bulge, until I can get to the bathroom. I guess my only other answer to that is…so empty it.
  3. Sex: One question during a support group was rather surprising. Not so much because it was about sex, but because the person asking was in his 70s and sitting with his wife. I wasn’t sure who had the ostomy. I was just shocked that sex was their primary concern. My immediate thought…empty the bag before the games begin.
  4. Bathing Suit: I have heard this a few times – What kind of bathing suit do you wear? Initially, I bought myself a crazy expensive one piece that hid the bag very well. Somewhere between learning to irrigate my colostomy for more control and no longer caring that I have an ostomy, I went back to bikinis. #bagoutandproud
  5. Stomando: For almost two years, I couldn’t shower without my bag on and then I met a friend that asked me why. I couldn’t come up with a good answer. “I’m afraid I’ll poop in the shower” was the best I had and her response was – “so what?” It can be cleaned. She used the phrase “going stomando” and now, so do I.

The bag. It’s just a bag. It’s not a Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade or even a Vera. It’s a Holister – a label only known by those with an ostomy. A bag that I will have for the rest of my life. A bag that lets me have the rest of my life. It’s just a part of me. It’s just a bag.

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