WHAT IS AN OSTOMY?
An ostomy is a new opening created surgically in the abdominal wall to reroute the path for waste to exit the body. This can be either permanent, if an organ needs to be removed, or temporary, if an organ needs time to heal.
By combining part of the name of the organ that is relocated to the outside of the body – colon (large intestine), ileum (final section of small intestine) or the urinary system – with the word “ostomy,” we get the three main types of ostomies: colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy.
Any of the three main types of ostomies may be necessary due to cancer, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis (UC), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), birth defects and many other medical conditions.
In addition, a tracheostomy, which is a new opening to allow air to pass through the trachea, is also a type of ostomy.
The reason for an ostomy varies and each surgery is specific to the individual. The location of the stoma, the level of invasiveness, whether disease, cancer or other damaged internal organs and/or systems are removed, as well as many other issues play a role in an individual’s experience. As a result, one’s physical and emotional healing will vary.
Doubts about self-esteem, physical appearance and the ability to participate in activities may weigh heavily on an ostomate’s mind before and/or after as they navigate their new self. It is important to understand the ins and outs of stoma care, appliance maintenance and adaptive measures that can be taken at any time. It is equally beneficial to have access to resources that are available to help gain the support, confidence and education needed to move forward to be one’s best self.
Although a wide range of emotions come with becoming an ostomate, it is possible to lead a full life and find peace with the transformative experience.
The Ostomy Foundation is committed to educating ostomates, families, businesses and communities, as well as serving and meeting the needs of ostomates along every step of their journey. We welcome individuals of all ages who have a temporary or permanent ostomy, as well as their families, friends and caregivers. Our mission is to advocate for, and educate and empower ostomates to realize their full potential.
MINDSETS OF OSTOMATES
The two most common ways an ostomate comes to be are through choice or emergency life-saving measures. The outcome is the same – an ostomy had to be performed – but the time an individual has to mentally prepare for the surgery and learn how it will affect their life can be very different. More significantly, choice plays a key role in the overall emotional healing process.
Often, an individual may suffer symptoms for a lengthy period of time, so long, in fact, that they no longer know what “normal” is. Over time, the individual learns to manage a life in crisis, often bouncing in and out of the hospital and suffering insurmountable physical pain, emotional distress and financial impact.
A prognosis – and suggested course of action, an ostomy – can lead to one of the biggest and most impactful decisions in an individual’s life. For many, the prospect of ostomy surgery may be the golden ticket for which they have longed – a way out of the physically and emotionally exhausting life that has drained their very sense of self. Owning the control of this decision to have an ostomy gives the individual more acceptance over their life changes and health, as well as potentially more time to learn, understand and accept the process. Once the surgery is complete, the individual can feel liberated – as if they have a new lease on life – and thrilled they may enjoy a normal diet in time and no longer associate eating with pain and bathroom availability. Many individuals who undergo this type of surgery find preference with this “upgraded” self because it is such an improvement from what they have known for so long. In fact, many ostomates find the surgery to be the best thing that has happened to them, questioning why they waited so long. And many even choose to forgo a reversal, if one were offered.
Timing and choice may not always be possible for someone suffering with major health issues. The diagnosis of certain types of conditions may be so drastic that the only immediate resolution is an ostomy, a decision often made by a doctor to save an individual’s life. Some cases can be as dramatic as an individual believing they are completely healthy one evening and, hours or days later being so ill that they wake up to find themselves with a new, reconfigured body, having undergone an emergency ostomy, conducted as a measure to save their life. When this occurs, an individual has not had a choice in having the surgery or had time to process what it means or how it will affect their life. This can bring additional emotional stress to the new ostomate, stirring up questions such as “Why me?” Some ostomates show up in an Emergency Department in extreme pain and wake up from an emergency surgery having had no discussion of choices or options, but may now have a permanent, albeit life-saving, new body.
Regardless of the reason and timing, most likely life with an ostomy can be lived to its fullest – without limitations.
TYPES OF OSTOMIES
There are three main types of ostomy:
Each surgery diverts waste, such as feces or urine, from the body through a conduit called a “stoma,” delivering the waste via an opening created in the abdomen. This stoma now will deliver the output into an ostomy bag, also known as a pouch.