Celebrating Ostomy Awareness Day on Longs Peak

Today Doug, his dad, and I summited the 14,259-foot-tall Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park via the classic Keyhole Route. This was an important ascent for me. I had climbed Longs Peak once before in 2007 and had loved the route. When I was hospitalized for 16 days with my final severe UC flare last fall, I would often walk down to a common area that had huge picture windows facing west and gaze at Longs Peak in the distance. I thought back to the day I stood on its summit, and wondered if I would ever be strong enough to be up there again. Today, I answered that question as I successfully hiked 15 miles with about 5000 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit. This peak was different than the others I have done this summer, as it is graded a class 3 climb. This means that the route has some sections that involve scrambling, or using one’s hands to ascend the rock, yet the terrain wasn’t technical enough to require the use of a rope. There are also areas of exposure where a person wouldn’t want to fall. It felt wonderful to move over rock, and the experience made me look forward to the days when I can climb technical routes again. I just want to heal up a bit more first.

Everything with my ostomy went well during the hike and there is not much to report. I once again used closed-end pouches to eliminate the need to take time to dig a cathole and empty my pouch. This helped ensure that we were on the summit before the afternoon lightning storms came. This ended up being an important detail on this trip, as we dealt with one of the largest lightning storms I have ever witnessed in the mountains later in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had just descended to tree-line when the storm reached its peak intensity and avoided being caught out in the open.

The day before our trip, I discovered that our summit attempt would fall on the United Ostomy Association of America’s (UOAA) second annual Ostomy Awareness Day. I was thrilled! UOAA’s call for this special day is to have “Ostomates Unite and Help Others See Ostomies in a Positive Light!” This is a message that is very dear to me and is one of the reasons I created Ostomy Outdoors.

However, I have to admit that I have not always been as open about having ulcerative colitis or an ostomy as I wish I would have been. Truth is, when I was first in the hospital with my severe ulcerative colitis flare last fall, I hardly wanted to tell anyone about it. Sure, I shared the details with my family and closest friends, but I was less open with others. My coworkers were all curious about why I had suddenly disappeared into the hospital. I sent out vague emails to them telling them I had an auto-immune stomach condition. I was too afraid they might look up ulcerative colitis and see what the symptoms were. Once my hospital stay became lengthier, I did fess up and share the name of the condition. Surprisingly, it felt really good to not have to keep everything to myself, and I found that the people in my life were very supportive.

Continue reading “Celebrating Ostomy Awareness Day on Longs Peak”

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My ostomy is going swimmingly

Today I ventured to the town waterpark for a few hours. I shot down the slides, leaped off the diving board and played like a fish for several hours. Okay– going to the town pool may not qualify as an outdoor “adventure.” And plunging into the pool is a far cry from the dunks I have been known to take in frigid alpine lakes. Still, I had so much fun being in the water again. Hanging around in my swimsuit and feeling the sun on my skin was absolute bliss. I thought my gums might get sunburned I smiled and laughed so much.

Over the course of the afternoon, I checked on my appliance a few times. I fully expected to see the edges of my wafer peel up, but it held in place as if affixed with super glue. I am certain no one could tell I had an ostomy. My appliance could not be seen at all under my swimsuit– especially with the help of my Ostomy Secrets swim wrap. I am actually a little more self-conscious about those ribs that are showing. I lost a lot of weight and muscle when I was sick and it is only slowly coming back on.

I hope you’ll take my experience to heart if you’ve been hesitating about taking a swim yourself. Just get out there and give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.

Starting to forget my ostomy is there

After doing many backcountry adventures this season, Doug and I decided a fun weekend of car camping was in order. It was time to have a more luxurious trip complete with a larger tent, a cooler stocked with cold beer and soda, a guitar to make music, and pancakes and eggs for gourmet breakfasts.

Gluten-free pancakes!
No camping trip is complete without a little music

Some good friends from our original home state of Wisconsin were vacationing near Gunnison, CO, so we chose to camp along the nearby Taylor River so we could do some activities together. One of these was a three-hour zip-line adventure that I will write about in a future post. We also enjoyed fly fishing and mountain biking.

Suited up to begin my zip line adventure in Crested Butte, CO
Mountain biking on the Lower Loop Trail in Crested Butte, CO

Despite sweating in my waders for hours, bouncing down the trail on my bike, or wearing a harness when zip-lining, my appliance stayed on just fine. Making s’mores also had its benefits due to the output-thickening-power of marshmallows. I found that it was a wonderful excuse to eat many of these gooey, delectable treats.

Honestly, I hardly thought about my ostomy the entire time. In fact, on one afternoon fly fishing excursion, I forgot to bring along my toilet paper and other supplies in case I needed to go into the woods to empty my pouch. Fortunately, I was able to wait until I got back to camp that evening with no problems. Not the smartest situation, but it did prove to me that I am sometimes starting to forget my ostomy is there!

On the last day of the trip I had to change my appliance. The campsites were fairly close together, and we had a campground host that loved to stop by at random times. Therefore, I decided to head into our small pyramid-style gear tent for the change. It was the perfect spot to spread out my supplies and work, and before long I emerged with a new pouch on my belly, ready for the day’s adventures.

Changing my appliance in the gear tent

So, if you are not ready for a backpacking excursion, at least head out on a car camping trip. It is loads of fun. And as an added bonus, you will have a weekend free of splashback while emptying your ostomy appliance in the wonderfully deep campground pit toilets:)

Pacing Yourself After Surgery

One of the hardest things in recovering from surgery and getting back into outdoor activities is knowing how to pace yourself. There are times in the months after surgery when there are clear lifting restrictions and guidelines, which provide easy-to-understand parameters for your activities. However, once those restrictions are lifted and you are feeling ready to get back to your normal sport routines, the path isn’t as clear.

Though it may seem like I am doing a lot of outdoor activities since surgery, I have paced myself very slowly. I started out with many short walks. When those felt good, I moved on to longer and steeper excursions. On the hike to Mt. Elbert covered in this video, my legs got extremely tired on the hike out, and I thought perhaps I had overdone it. Still, within three days, my sore muscles had completely recovered–a sign to me that the hike, though strenuous, was not at a level that pushed me too hard. By the next weekend, my muscles were feeling great and ready for a new adventure.

The following is a list of additional things that I am doing to prevent injury:

  • I always wear my Nu Hope hernia prevention belt when I do any outdoor activity beyond a short, flat-terrain day hike when I am carrying no significant weight (say 10-15 pounds).
  • I have my husband, Doug, help me lift my heavy backpack on to my shoulders. Once it is resting on my hips, I am better able to handle the weight without straining my abdominal muscles.
  • I use hiking poles to help with my stability as I get stronger.
  • I leave for hikes extra early to allow myself the ability to hike at a slower pace with more frequent breaks.
  • I pay very close attention to my body. So far I haven’t witnessed anything more than normal post-workout muscle aches. However, if I feel something more significant, I will back off and give my body more time to adjust to the next level of activity.
  • I am working with a physical therapist to strengthen my core muscles using very mild and low-impact exercises that are safe for the level of healing I am at.

My goal for the fall is carrying out a week-long backpacking trip with a few peak ascents. Hopefully with my training regime, I will be ready for this challenge.

Just get out there and do it!

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. In between working full time, I have been planning, packing up for and carrying out successful hikes of a few of Colorado’s famed 14ers. This hasn’t left much computer time for blogging. Stay tuned for an entry and video highlighting these ascents soon!

Until then, suffice it to say that so far my ostomy has caused me no issues in returning to the things I love again. I spent a lot of time in the hospital and at home during recovery wondering how in the world I was going to get back into outdoor activities with a stoma and appliance. I have finally discovered the simple answer to this question: just get out there and do it!  Of course, you must keep in mind what is sensible in your healing progression, but beyond that, the answers of how to how to deal with your ostomy while you are out there will present themselves as you go. The will to succeed and enjoy your favorite activities again will go a long way in helping you overcome any challenges you might have.

Scaling the upper flank of Mt. Harvard, a Colorado 14er, on July 3, 2011.