Q. I was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and will have surgery and then a colostomy. I'm grateful that surgery is an option, but I'm struggling with the idea of having a colostomy. Any advice?
Adjusting to a cancer diagnosis can be challenging enough; adjusting to physical challenges that might come with it can seem overwhelming. It’s completely normal to wonder how you will manage. Seeking out information and support will help you to understand what to expect and how to best cope with change.
If cancer is detected in your colon or rectum, a colostomy is performed. A colostomy surgically creates a “stoma” or small opening in the lower abdomen through which stool can exit the body. Usually, the waste is captured in a small bag that is worn on the body and can be easily disposed of. While this procedure will have an obvious impact on your daily routines, keep in mind that you will still be able to do all the things you enjoy, including physical activities such as sports or gardening, and continue to live a full life with a colostomy.
To understand the impact a colostomy will have on you, talk with your doctors prior to your surgery about what you should expect before and after the procedure. It is also helpful to know the types of assistance and support available to you after your surgery. Ask to see an enterostomal therapy (ET) nurse, who specializes in ostomy care and rehabilitation.
Speaking with an oncology social worker or joining a support group where you can discuss your concerns and learn how others have coped and adjusted can be very useful. Connecting with others who have “been there” can be incredibly supportive and informative.
You can find additional information and support through The United Ostomy Association of America, which provides guidebooks, reference cards and brochures, as well as a message board where patients and caregivers can exchange information and answer questions. You can also find a local or virtual support group.
Remember that with any change comes loss. Give yourself time to adjust as you move into this next stage of your life.