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How Ostomy Volunteers Helped Me and How I'm Paying It Forward

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I’ve been an ostomy volunteer for 30 years. I became a visitor/counselor because when I was a high school senior, I had two female visitors stop by to see me the night before I had ileostomy surgery. They answered all of my questions and reassured me that I’d still be the same person as before, except that my “plumbing would be rearranged.”  They also answered the very important question that was bothering me until they came in to visit. Can I still do the same things I’ve done before, such as travel, date, go to school, get married, etc.? Their answer was, “Yes!” I can do anything with an ileostomy as I’ve done before.

Over the years I’ve met many people from all walks of life having surgery and receiving a stoma. If the visit was before their operation, I would explain what a stoma was, what the appliance looked like, and how it would be cared for once they were home. There were other times when I’d see patients post-op. They’d ask questions and then they’d ask me about my personal experience with living with an ostomy.

As soon as I’d mention that I truly understood what they were going through, the look on their face was of relief because they were able to talk to someone who’s gone through the exact same thing. At times I’ve laughed with them, cried with them, and above all, listened when they mentioned how scared they were because they were worried about how family and friends would react to their situation. The advice I usually gave was that they didn’t have to share any information unless they felt comfortable doing so. Nobody was going to know that they had “a bag” on their abdomen because it would be hidden under their clothes.

After a year passed, most “ostomates” adjusted to their new friend and they’d continue on with their lives such as working, raising a family, traveling, going to school, etc. When I didn’t hear from them anymore, I knew that my job was done because I was able to help someone on their journey in living with an appliance. Had I not been there for them, who knows how things would’ve turned out in the end.

This is why I’ll always take the time to be there for anybody facing life with a stoma because two volunteers took the time out of their busy schedule to be there for me.

 Getty Image by LightFieldStudios
Originally published: July 13, 2018
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