What is a stoma? Woman fitted with colostomy bag after bowel cancer surgery explains

The surgical procedure to create the stoma is called a colostomy.

People often need a colostomy if they have been treated for bowel cancer, or sometimes Crohn’s disease or diverticulitis.

Bowel Cancer UK said there are currently 120,000 people in the UK living with a stoma.

It is also estimates that around 13,000 undergo stoma surgery every year - with one in 500 people in the UK living with a stoma.

A colostomy is formed of the large bowel, and an ileostomy is formed from the small bowel.

The procedure can be reversed, but some are permanent.

Andrea Robson, who lives in Tooting, London, was diagnosed with bowel cancer last year.

Her condition was also more complicated because she also has a condition called ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.

She said: “At the end of 2016 I was diagnosed with colon cancer was already suffering from Ulcerative Colitis.

“Cancer, well that was a bomb shell, a shock and you could say the day I was told was the day my life changed.

“Just over a week before my surgery I was measured for my stoma.

“I was told to wear my favourite jeans, was moved in various ways, I had to cough, lie, sit, slump, stand, twist and my tummy was marked.

“This was all to position my stoma so it didn’t sit in a crease or where my clothes would sit.”

Andrea said she was ‘petrified’ of the procedure - and having her ‘insides on her outside’.

She said: “I was having major surgery, I’d see it, have to clean it, see poop and change the bag.

“My body would change forever with a bag, poop and scars.

“Would people know I had it, would they judge or laugh at me? Would my boyfriend go off me? These thoughts constantly swirled in my brain. I had no choice, I was having a stoma whether I liked it or not, it would essentially save my life.”

Andrea was taught by her stoma nurse to change the bag, clean the stoma and cut the bag to fit.

“In just over a week I changed my bag myself, alone.”

Andrea said she wasn’t discharged from hospital until she felt confident to deal with her stoma alone.

“I would psyche myself up to change my bag, it took a while to do. I’d hug my mum afterwards, but I could do it.”

“This is now a quick routine, I change my bag every other day and it takes about 10 minutes.

“Living with a stoma is all about trial and error, you learn foods that will cause a balloon bag, a leak.”

Andrea said she has had to learn which foods to avoid - including skins, nuts and popcorn and has to drink a lot more to avoid dehydration.

“You need to be careful it doesn’t squish your stoma or bag. You don’t want a leak while walking down a street.”

Andrea said she has had to buy more clothes - including elasticated waits and said maternity jeans are useful.

“After months having a stoma I now know it doesn’t stop you from living your life, you can still go out, still exercise, still work, still be you, but now with your very own designer bag.

“Yes it can be tough at times - you hear the crinkle of the bag and sigh. But you know the mind and the body is a wonderful thing, you learn to adapt, to cope, be happy and to carry on. 

“It’s much better to have a stoma than to be poorly or worse not here.”

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