26 January, 2021
At the age of 74, I noticed some drops of blood in the toilet pan. Knowing that my mother had died of bowel cancer at the age of 51, I was dreading, but not surprised to learn, that I had a tumour in the colon. I was warned that I might have to have a colostomy and even had the position of it marked on my stomach the day before my operation. I awoke after the operation relieved to find out that this had not been necessary.
I was, however, left with a very ‘loose’ bowel which caused me many problems and I soon got to know all the local toilets. Over time (and with the aid of Loperamide tablets) my innards settled down and I had many carefree years, swimming in different seas, returning to the over 50s tap dancing class I had joined on retiring at the age of 62. As well as enjoying the dancing, another benefit of being a member of the class has been the support of my dancing friends.
This was never more so than in late 2014, when I started to notice blood in my stools. I didn’t delay going to the doctors and after various tests and examinations it was discovered that a polyp was the cause. On 24 November 2014 I was booked in for surgery at Barnet Hospital to remove it. I was expecting to be in hospital for about four days, but ended up having a two– week stay and going home with a loop colostomy! This was because when the surgeon opened me up, he found that the polyp had fused with my rectal wall, which meant that he couldn’t remove it without doing a colostomy. I found the initial post– op period in hospital challenging. I had a few accidents and problems with things like bags bursting.
Leaving the hospital was scary. I was also scared to go out to begin with. These fears weren’t helped after having a few accidents at home. But eventually I plucked up the courage (always taking spare clothes and bags with me and knowing where the toilets were situated!). A couple of months after my surgery I developed a large parastomal hernia which was very painful, even when wearing a hernia support belt. I had had no warning that a hernia could develop. Although I couldn’t do much lifting due to arthritis in my wrists, up until this point I had continued to enjoy walking, gardening, shopping and of course dancing.
Unfortunately, the hernia restricted what I could do. In May 2016 I had a hernia repair, but this only lasted a couple of weeks before it started to protrude again. Fortunately, the pain was so much better and with the help of a support belt I was able to start tap dancing again. I knew that further surgery was impossible having been told that at my great age my skin was very thin and wouldn’t take it. This was a nuisance, as it meant that I had to get rid of some of my favourite clothes as they wouldn’t fit or look good over my one–sided bump. I might be getting on in years, but I am still fashion conscious and like to look my best. As well as re–starting my tap dancing, I was determined to have one last swim, so I sent away for a bikini with a skirt. I was able to realise this ambition after joining the Ostofriends Support Group in Potters Bar.
Peter, who runs the group, organised a special afternoon where we had a section of the local swimming pool just for members. I entered the water clad in my bag, the hernia support belt (which I need to wear all the time), pants to prevent the belt Velcro pulling on my bag and lastly the swimming skirt. I was in heaven swimming again at 90 years old with no fear of the hernia being kicked when passing another swimmer.
My post–stoma surgery exploits haven’t been limited to tap dancing, swimming and paddling in the sea either… at first, I vowed I could never board an aeroplane again, fearing problems with my bag. But after reading articles about travel in Tidings I changed my mind. My first flight as an ostomate was to Edinburgh, where my daughter and granddaughter (carrying my case!) took me to a music festival; we ended up dancing in the street in warm sunshine.
I do appreciate that I am one lucky old lady with such a loving supportive family of two children, two grandchildren and their partners and now four great–grandsons, plus all the friends I have acquired over the years I have been around. Nobody wants to have stoma surgery, but my message is: don’t let it get the better of you. Once you have recovered from the surgery, get out there and enjoy life while you can!
Read the full article here in our award-winning support magazine ‘Tidings’, issue 59, page 18.
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