Living with a Colostomy

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • When you are dealing with a serious medical issue such as colon cancer, you are probably dealing with a lot of challenging situations. Sometimes, this means adjusting to life with a colostomy, a surgically created opening in your abdomen that takes over the job of your removed colon - expelling waste from your body.

    Some specific questions related to living with a colostomy are: What can I eat? Can I still be as physically active? Will everyone know?

    Once given approval from your doctor to resume a regular diet, you are free to do just that - enjoy your regular diet. But things may be different for you. Sometimes, foods you used to love -or at least not give you any problems- affect you differently now that you have a different digestive tract. Trial and error is the approach many GI specialists recommend. Try what you want, if it affects you in ways you don't like, remove it from the roster.

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    After you are fully recovered from surgery, your doctor will likely encourage you to resume regular physical activity (barring any full contact or rough sports). In regards to weight-lifting, ask your doctor how long you should wait after surgery before returning to this, and if there are any weight limitations.
    Special belts and binders are available to hold your colostomy bag in place with activities such as running and swimming. Check with your healthcare team, a local medical supply store, or online for availability.

    It's Up to You to Tell or Not Tell
    You may feel pressure to explain your situation to people. But you are under no obligation to do so. You may decide to tell only those closest to you. And this can be helpful to the people concerned about your health, but also helpful for you by opening up doors of communication so you don't feel so alone.
    You may feel self-conscious, as if everyone can see your colostomy just by looking at you. While there may be a visible bulge under your clothes, it is probably not as noticeable as you think it is. Some people are concerned about noises or odor coming from the colostomy area. Still, most people will probably not notice unless you give them the heads-up.

    Regularly emptying your colostomy bag and keeping the entire area clean are good management tips. Talk to your ostomy nurse about how best -and how frequently- to do this. Pouch deodorants or air sprays may also be an option for minimizing odor.

    Finally, try reaching out to others through real-time and virtual ostomy support groups. Sometimes the best people to get everyday advice from are those who have walked the very same road.

    For more on how to get better health within our current healthcare system, check out The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System (HCI Books, May 2011) available now for pre-order at Amazon.

Published On: March 14, 2011