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Craving normalcy (feat. new video)

In the initial months after ileostomy surgery, all I craved was normalcy. Life as I knew it had completely disappeared. Gone were the days of getting up and going to the office to work on a variety of enjoyable challenges like writing nature-education curriculum and leading hikes. In my free time, there were no more hiking, snowboarding or running adventures anywhere on the horizon. Instead, life revolved around the wiggly red stoma on my belly. My days played out around endless worries and looked something like this:

7 a.m.  How am I going to get my appliance on while my stoma is spewing liquid output everywhere?

9:30 a.m. Okay… got the appliance on. Wait, is that skin showing between my barrier ring and stoma? Geez, maybe I should do it over. My output will certainly eat away my skin if it touches that exposed 1/8 inch. But will it destroy my skin more if I pull the wafer off so soon? I better just do it to be on the safe side.

10:30 a.m. I can’t believe it took me over two hours to get an appliance on and this second one still doesn’t look that great. I need to call Doug and vent about it or I will cry for hours.

10:45 a.m. I need to drink some water. I am already way behind on my liquids today and I haven’t eaten breakfast yet either.  I am really not hungry, but Dr. Brown said I need more protein. Is a protein shake and eggs enough?

11:30 a.m. I have only been up for a few hours and I am already tired. Better go take a nap. Am I always going to have to sleep this much?

1:30 p.m. Is that just a regular itch or is it from output touching my skin? Man, this incision hurts. I am not hungry, but I need to eat with my pain pills. I better have some lunch. When are these pain pills going to kick in? Drat, maybe I should have just sucked it up and not taken the pills. What if I become addicted to them?

2 p.m. Why am I watching this stupid TV show? Shouldn’t I be doing something productive? I am just too tired. Dang, I forgot to order those Hollister samples again. I am too tired to do that too. I can’t believe I am about to take another nap. I am supposed to be going for a walk right now, not sleeping.

3:30 p.m. The neighbors must be wondering what happened to me. I am walking so slow and hunched over, but it hurts too much to stand up straight. Is this two-block walk through the park really all I can muster? I can’t believe how much this hurts. This used to be my warm-up walk before I ran five miles, and now I can’t even cover this short distance. And I’m walking as slowly as a turtle.

4 p.m. I miss Doug. I am so lonely stuck here by myself. When is he coming home from work?

5 p.m. Doug is home! Doug is home! Doug is home!

6 p.m. Is this too late to be eating dinner? I am supposed to eat before now, but that isn’t very handy. Is four weeks post-op too soon to eat steamed broccoli if I chew it really, really well? I am so hungry for veggies. What if I get a blockage? Or horrible gas?

7 p.m. Wasn’t that just the 12th time I emptied my pouch for the day? When is this output going to slow down! It is like water. Have I had enough liquids to drink to offset that?

9 p.m. Okay, time to take a shower. Can I get this appliance wet? I better tape plastic wrap all over my belly just to make sure it stays dry and doesn’t peel off.

10 p.m. Time for bed. I should lie on my right side all night just in case I leak. Don’t want to get stool into my open wound.

11 p.m. My back hurts. I sure wish I could lie on my left side but I am too afraid.

12 a.m. Better get up to empty my appliance just in case.

2 a.m. Better get up to empty my appliance just in case.

4 a.m. Better get up to empty my appliance just in case.

7 a.m Thank goodness it is morning but I don’t want to get up. I am going to lie here and cry for a while. Will my life ever be normal again?

And so it went for the initial couple months after surgery. I was overwhelmed and depressed that my entire life now seemed to revolve around my stoma. I tried and tried to picture what things would be like when everything settled down, and I actually learned how to manage my ostomy, but it seemed impossible. I couldn’t see beyond the hard times I was facing in those moments. It was particularly difficult to imagine how I could possibly ever do outdoor sports like snowboarding again.

I wish I would have had a crystal ball back then. Had I, I would have seen that I shouldn’t have worried so much. My ostomy output would settle down as my body adapted. I would figure out my systems and become more efficient with them. My incision would heal. Someday in the not so distant future, my ostomy would feel like a regular part of my life as I returned to work and went on outdoor adventures again. In the crystal ball, I would have seen the point I am at now when everything is so much easier. The normalcy I craved after surgery has been restored to my life.

Last Sunday was a beautiful powder day in the mountains, and Doug and I headed up to go snowboarding. I decided to film the day’s events and create a video showing a typical day on the slopes with my ostomy. I realize everyone’s experiences are going to be a little different regarding their emptying schedule, when they eat, etc. What I hope to show is that once a person adapts to life with an ostomy and gets their own particular systems down, life can feel wonderfully natural again.

Heading to the gym

It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote I would be going out to run: rain or shine. The one weather element that I had forgotten about is the fierce wind that we often get here on the Front Range of Colorado in the winter. We have had some insanely windy days lately with gusts in the 60+ mph range. I can run in the cold and with all sorts of precipitation, but the wind is unbearable for me. It takes my breath away and blows sand in my eyes. After getting beat down by the wind on several runs, Doug and I decided it might be worthwhile to join a gym again so that we could work out on the bad weather days in more comfort.

Doug and I had joined gyms before and we always made good use of our memberships. They helped us stay motivated to work out. However, our memberships were always the first thing to get axed from the budget during financially hard times. Though money is tighter than ever with medical bills from last year’s health woes, I know that any dollars going into improving my post-op health and fitness are well spent and totally worth sacrifices in other areas.

Two weeks ago we toured a few gyms in our area and joined one that has a plethora of workout options. Running outdoors will always be my favorite after-work exercise activity. Beyond that though, I really like to mix it up. This gym has so much to offer that I have trouble deciding what I want to do on a given day. Yoga, aerobics classes, climbing on the wall, swimming and even ice skating on a huge rink are all options.

Swimming, climbing, yoga or ice skating... which should I do tonight?

The first thing I decided to do was the yoga class. I love yoga, but hadn’t practiced since my final UC flare and surgery. Even a year out, I still have a lot of post-op muscle tightness. I am hoping that doing yoga once a week will help restore some of my flexibility as well as get my posture back in line. I have taken two classes so far and it is going well. There are some poses that I find really difficult… especially anything with even a slight back bend.  And crazily I get twinges of belly pain when I lie flat in corpse pose which used to be my most comfortable pose ever. A friend suggested that perhaps it was due to scar tissue in my abdomen. I notice this mild pain when I lie flat on my back and do body scans for meditation too. I am hoping as I continue to stretch out through yoga, it resolves. Regardless of how my body is feeling on a given day, I practice yoga to the best of my ability and make modifications as needed.

I have also been swimming at the gym once a week. I usually start with a 10 minute soak in the hot tub and then swim laps for 30-40 minutes, ending with another 10 minute soak in the hot tub. I also always take a few trips down the indoor water slides to end my workout session. I have no issues with my wafers coming loose with swimming and still get my normal 3-4 day wear time.

I even tried a new aerobic class for me called Zumba. I have absolutely no dancing talent and it was really hard following the moves of the instructor, but I didn’t care. It was just fun to be dancing around to the upbeat music and pretending that I knew what I was doing. I think I am hooked.

In the next week or so I want to get on the weight machines, do some ice skating and try out the climbing wall. Doug and I usually head to a separate, much larger climbing gym every week or so, but it will be nice to use this smaller wall in between those visits.

One interesting thing about going to the gym is the subject of changing in the locker room. Usually I change at home or before I leave work and wear my workout clothes to the gym.  However, there are times when this isn’t convenient, or I need to change out of a wet swimsuit. Over the past two weeks, I have made great strides in being more comfortable with the possibility of others seeing my pouch. At first, I would change in the shower stall, but I hated it because it is damp in there and it was hard not to get my clothing wet. Recently, I have just been changing out in the open, but being discreet by facing the locker doors. Another technique that works is to change my top first and then pull it down to cover my ostomy pouch as I change my bottoms. Still, I have decided I don’t care if anyone catches a glimpse of my appliance. Maybe sometime down the road the person who saw it will end up knowing someone who is facing ostomy surgery. Perhaps they will think back and say hey, I saw a woman who had one of those at the gym and it seemed like she was confident with it.

A second item of note is that I signed up for a free personal training session. I had to fill out a medical form, and I was very open about my ostomy on it. I am still waiting for a call from the trainer and am curious to see how it will work out and if they will have ostomy-related questions or if they will have good suggestions for workout modifications at this point, especially with my abdominal muscles.

So overall, I am super excited about all the potential this gym has for my health and for taking things to the next level in my fitness goals.

A run to Horsetooth Rock: a day of ups and downs (feat. new video)

When I got out of the car and looked at the trail slicing across the hillside, I was intimidated. It started out steep right from the start, and I knew it wouldn’t ease up until it reached the summit of Horsetooth Rock. I didn’t have much faith in my ability to do a run of this magnitude since my longest run to date after my ileostomy operation had only been around 3 miles on flat terrain. This trip would be 5 miles with over 1,400 feet of elevation gain. Normally, I would have built up to a run like this, but we had decided to do this on the spur of the moment. In fact, the trip was so spontaneous that I didn’t even have any of my usual trail running gear such as my CamelBak water pack. Fortunately, Doug’s parents had a water-carrying waist pack to loan us which Doug carried.

Running, even on flat terrain, had been one of the harder fitness activities for me to get back into. Since starting up again last summer, I always became fatigued and seemed to be progressing at a turtle’s pace. As I started to run up the hill, I fully expected to get extremely tired. I don’t know if it was the gorgeous scenery or the fact that I was elated to be doing my first real trail run since surgery, but I  felt amazing as I ascended the trail and didn’t want to stop. I bounded over roots, up rock stairs and just kept going. I did get some rests because the trail was very icy in spots, which necessitated some walking to negotiate the terrain. However, had it been dry, I think I would have been able to run almost non-stop. I felt that good.



The last 200 feet required scrambling up rock, and then we were on the gorgeous summit. I had made it! The descent was tricky due to all the ice, and I ended up scooting down on my butt in a few sections that were really dicey—or on my belly like an otter just for fun. I was so happy when I got back to the car. I could not believe what I had just accomplished.

My feeling of elation was short-lived however. When I got home, I logged into my Facebook account to see if anyone had commented on a post I had made about the run right before I left. I also checked my friend Charis’s page to see what she was up to. She had had permanent ileostomy surgery in September, and had just made a list of New Year’s goals that she was excited about accomplishing with her renewed health (read more about these experiences at her Facebook page and website.) I was anticipating an update about a workout she had accomplished or something else cool that she had done, but instead found a post sharing bad news.

At the exact time I had written on Facebook before my trail run departure, Charis had written a post about waking up with intense abdominal pain. In the time I was jubilantly running up the trail, she had realized she likely had an obstruction. As I got back to the car and then headed back home satisfied with the morning, my friend was in her vehicle traveling to the ER and facing fears and uncertainties.

The news sent my emotions reeling and the tears welled up. One of Charis’s resolutions for 2012 was to not have to go to the hospital, and here she was spending the second day of the new year in that exact place. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I wished so hard that she could get out of that hospital fast and get back to doing the things she loved. However, as the days progressed, my friend discovered that the obstruction, which had since passed, had happened because her bowel was narrowing and possibly had a twist. She had to head back to surgery to get it resolved. I was so angry that she had to go through this all. It wasn’t fair. She had already traveled such a long and difficult road with this illness.

I guess not one of us knows what lies ahead with our health. All we can ever do is live life to the fullest and celebrate during those moments when we are feeling well, and stay positive and brave through the times of pain and uncertainty. Charis is a shining example of this. She is one of the strongest people I know, and her positive attitude and fortitude during trying times is inspirational. I know she will get through this latest surgery, heal up and work towards her goals at a feverish pace. As she does, I will be right there cheering her on through all the ups and downs.

The New Year: looking back and looking ahead

Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2012 brings health and many blessings.

As I set out to write my first post for 2012, I couldn’t decide if it would be best to look forward and write about my goals for the coming year, or if it would be better to reflect on highlights from 2011. As you are about to find out, I like to juggle a lot of things. I might as well keep up with that tendency and write about both in the same post!

I have never been a fan of creating a formal list of New Year’s goals. I have a lot of interests and love them all… everything from activities at work, working on projects involving ostomy awareness, artistic endeavors, fitness goals, to trips Doug and I want to go on. I get a little frustrated when I try to make a formal goal list because there is so much I want to do! I soon discover that it is probably unrealistic to accomplish it all. That said, there are a few things that are a high priority this year.

  • I want to do a better job of keeping in touch with my friends and family. To all my family and good friends who are reading this: did most of  you get a Christmas card from me??? (Rhetorical question!) I didn’t think so. The same busyness I mentioned above sometimes keeps me from answering emails, writing or calling people, and spending time with my loved ones. I want to be better about making sure these people know how much they mean to me.
  • I want to continue sharing my thoughts on this site. No need to elaborate much more on this one. I have a huge passion for showing people what is possible after ostomy surgery and hope to keep writing and creating videos.
  • I want to get back into working on art. My creative endeavors like drawing, painting, blockprinting and keeping illustrated journals are also big passions for me, and I keep another website covering some of those pursuits. If you visit the site you will see that my last post was completed in August. Not so good. And there is a printmaking project that has been gathering dust on my art studio table for over a year. Art needs to be part of my life again. I realize that may mean a few less posts here, as there are only so many hours in a day, but I am going to try to balance both…. all while working and doing outdoor adventures and exercising. Whew! It is going to be a busy year.
  • I want to go on a climbing road trip.  Two weeks, camping near the crags, waking up and firing up the camp stove, climbing routes all day and then coming back to camp to relax with a beer only to do it all again the next day — that is what I am longing for this year. When Doug and I were in college we spent a summer living out of the back of our truck and traveling the west, climbing pretty much non-stop. I am psyched to get back to that, even if it is only for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t strong enough for this type of trip in 2011, but I will be in 2012 and look forward to doing it with an ostomy!
  • I want to run in the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge Half Marathon next December. I am only up to running about three miles right now. However, I have almost a year to train and it seems like I am finally getting off the plateau I have been stuck on. I am feeling so much stronger on runs lately and plan to inch up the intensity a bit in the ensuing weeks.

Now to rewind and reflect on 2011– the first full year of living with my ostomy. There have been so many highlights this year and most of them have already been covered in posts. Great times with friends and family, fun outdoor trips, stellar surgery results– I could write a book on all the amazing things about this year. To keep this post from becoming as long as a large novel, I will cover just a few major categorical highlights. Here are the best of the best for 2011:

  • Discovering my body’s ability to heal. There are many, many examples of this, but there is one that sticks in my mind the most.  Ten weeks after my initial surgery, I had to have an operation on my  incision, and my surgeon ended up removing some sutures that my body had reacted poorly to and then fixing things up. The resulting wound had to heal from “the inside out” with the help of a wound vac. Seeing that wound for the first time was a surreal experience. It was 13 cm long by about 3 cm wide and another 1 cm or so deep. I had to detach mentally to view it, and when I did, it reminded me of an interesting dissection project from biology class. Actually, my scientist-side was pretty fascinated– it was certainly not a part of me that I had ever gotten to see before (and hopefully never would again). Right before my eyes I could see my abdominal wall and the layers of skin tissue on the sides of the wound opening. What happened in the following six weeks was even more captivating (okay… except for the pain of the wound vac which was really bad for me at times). The wound filled up with healthy red granulated tissue and then sort of zipped itself up from top to bottom. How did my body know how to do that?  It was absolutely amazing! I thought I would end up with a heinous scar, but it actually looks pretty great considering the wound that was there before. Now whenever my body is healing, even from something as small as a pulled muscle, I think about that experience. The body’s ability to heal is truly amazing and something that 2011 will always remind me to celebrate.
  • So many firsts! After I was sick for a while and then started to feel better, life just got so exciting! In the beginning, the firsts are so small. There was the first walk after surgery, the first time output came out of my stoma, the first appliance change. Things progressed from there… there was the first time I got brave enough to eat a peanut, the first try at putting my favorite jeans back on, drinking my first beer. Then there were all the athletic firsts… snowboarding, hiking a 14er, running, climbing. I am still hitting firsts all the time. Yesterday was the first time I climbed a 5.9-rated route at the gym. It was a delicate climb that required more balance than brute muscle power. Still, it was the first time that I felt like I was back in my old climbing body, doing some of the more athletic climbing movements that I used to. What a way to end 2011!
  • A new outlook. I write often about how being sick and going through major surgery has changed the way I view things. This has been one of the biggest blessings of 2011. I find examples of this new outlook in even the smallest moments of my life. For instance, a few months ago I was getting ready to lead a campfire program at work. It had been a long week and I was feeling tired and “grumbly” and not into it. Suddenly I remembered how much I missed my job last year and how much I longed to be out in the parks leading programs again. I immediately changed my attitude, got excited about the program and fully seized the moment. I got up on stage and shared information about all the amazing changes animals were going through to prepare for winter. I told stories, sang goofy songs with the kids and had one of the best programs ever. On the drive home I was overcome with emotion because it had felt so good to be out there again doing what I love. Life had given me back all I had ever hoped for and here I had been sulking just a few hours earlier. It was a big reminder to live with a spirit of thankfulness for what I had. Gratefulness, the ability to live more in the moment, the capacity to deal with uncertainty and change– these are just some of the ways I have changed for the better I have made in 2011.

As soon as I am done with this post, I am going to go for a run. I love the thinking-time running gives me, and inevitably, I always start composing blog entries in my head. I am sure as my feet hit the pavement and my thoughts drift off, I will think of hundreds of other things I could have included in this post. Suffice it to say that it has been an incredible year of recovery, growth and change. I am so excited to see what the next year will bring!