Something new: Heidi’s words on paper

The September 2012 issue of The Phoenix, the official publication of the United Ostomy Associations of America, features a new column called Ostomy Outdoors. It is authored by none other than Heidi, who shares a bit about her post-surgery trail running experience.

Great job, Heidi!

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My ostomy is one part of a much bigger life

My pencil skirted across the paper as I quickly tried to capture the pose of the mountain chickadee hopping across my campsite picnic table. The resulting shape barely resembled the lively little bird in front of me, but I didn’t care. I was happy for the quiet moment and the chance to draw.

A mountain chickadee kept me company during dinner and was the perfect subject for practicing quick drawings.

This uninterrupted block of drawing time was part of a two-day nature journaling course that I took a couple of weeks ago with the Rocky Mountain Nature Association. My days were spent sketching and doing journaling exercises at various locations in the park with artist Sherrie York, whom I greatly admire. I soaked up the inspiration each day and couldn’t wait to get to camp in the evening to spend more time practicing what I had learned. There, I took out my journal and watercolors and filled more pages with writings and drawings of my chickadee visitor, the boulders near my tent, and even my marshmallow-roasting campsite neighbors. As the sun dipped behind the mountains and my hands got chilly, I reluctantly put away my sketchbook. It had been far too long since I  had a chance to spend this much time drawing, and I didn’t want to stop. Art had once been such a big part of my life. Now things were so busy that I hardly had a chance to pick up my pens and paints. Even my instructor had commented that it had been a long time since she had seen something posted on my art blog.

Journaling at the Hidden Valley area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

So how does this all relate to my ostomy? I have read discussions on forums regarding the extent to which an ostomy defines one’s self. Some say that their ostomy has made them who they are. Others say that they refuse to let their ostomy define them. For me, my ostomy has absolutely been a defining force in my life. Going through the experience has made me a stronger, more appreciative person and has given me purpose.  I love showing what is possible after surgery and helping to give hope to those who are facing or recovering from ostomy surgery. It is hard to imagine my life without this new-found focus. Helping others through my Ostomy Outdoors blog is one of the most rewarding things I do.

On the other hand, I really need those moments when I am not thinking about my ostomy at all. Those times when life is about my family and friends, career, travels and other adventures. Those times when I am sketching in my journal or inking up a linoleum or wood block and rolling it through my printing press.

My printing press is starved for an inky block.

So yesterday I spent the daylight hours cleaning up my art studio. A block printing project I started before surgery sat coated in a layer of dust, and my art table had become a place to stack my boxes of wafers and pouches. Now that my space is straightened up, I am going to commit to working on art at least once a week–hopefully more.

Yikes- this mess might be okay if I was drawing a still life of ostomy supplies, but since I am not, it only interferes with my creativity.
Much better!

This may mean that there will be time periods when a week or two might go by without a post or when it may take me a few days to answer an email. Know that every message or comment means a great deal to me and that I will get back to you. My typing fingers just might be covered in ink at that given moment. To see what my artsy side is up to, you can always check out my other blog. My last post at that site is from over a year ago–but that will change soon!

Heidi:  wife, daughter, sister, niece, aunt, cousin, friend, naturalist, artist, writer, goofball, rock climber, backpacker, hiker, snowboarder, skier, fly-fisherperson, runner, nature and animal lover (especially elephants, dogs and baby donkeys), seamstress, blogger, ostomate (yes I like that word), lover of pumpkin pie, ice cream, and gummy bears, bad-but-enthusiastic whistler, fledgling guitar player and drummer, and pink-scooter rider. Each of these things is a piece of the picture puzzle that make me me. I am thankful everyday that my ostomy gave me the chance to experience all these things again. Still, I have been aware for some time since surgery that the art piece of my puzzle had gone missing, and that I was just too busy to look for it. Fortunately, thanks to an amazing art instructor, a feisty chickadee and hours of sketching time, I found it again last weekend. There it was–with me all along–just waiting to be rediscovered among my journal pages.

My first post-surgery multi-pitch climb: my imaginings turn into reality (feat. new video)

In the weeks after making my decision to have a permanent ileostomy, my imaginings of what life was going to be like after surgery played in my head like little movies. There was the one that featured me happily leading hikes with my ostomy at work, and another in which I pictured myself successfully emptying my appliance on backpacking trips. However, the one that I liked to imagine the most involved being on a long multi-pitch climb.

There I was in my mind–hundreds of feet up a steep route and anchored into a small ledge with the climbing rope. I would picture myself removing a full pouch, snapping on a new one and then bagging up the old and tossing it in my pack like it was no big deal at all–as if I had been doing it that way my whole life. I would gaze up at the many pitches yet to go and get ready to climb, barely thinking about my ostomy at all.

As I prepared for and recovered from surgery, these visualizations became an important source of hope for me. I really had no idea if the reality would end up exactly that way I pictured it, but having these images in my head gave me a goal to strive for. I really saw no reason I couldn’t do all the things I was envisioning once I healed up.

One by one, in the year and a half since surgery, I turned those images in my mind into  actualities. I jumped right back into work and led hikes and nature programs. I worked my way into backpacking, even going on an eight-day trip 10 months post-op. Snowboarding, swimming, yoga, biking, short climbs–my return to all these sports has been just as amazing as I had pictured they would be. But there was one thing that was still just a series of images in my head:  the multi-pitch climb. Would dealing with my ostomy on a long, hot climb with small belay ledges be as doable as I had imagined? After all, one of the main reasons I chose to have a permanent ileostomy over j-pouch surgery is that I personally felt it would be easier for me to manage on all-day climbs. I was a little nervous about  putting that notion to the test. As I built up strength in the 20 months since surgery, and worked through some hip and shoulder injuries, I continued to wonder what climbing a long route was going to be like with my ostomy.

Last weekend I finally found out as I went with Doug and his brother and dad to climb Devils Tower in Wyoming. We had all climbed this famous rock formation in 1992 and were excited to give it another go. This reunion-style climb with my family was more than I could have ever asked for as my first post-surgery multi-pitch climb. Being back on the rock with all of them was a blessing.

Our gang on the summit of Devils Tower, WY, 20 years ago.
Our same team on the summit in 2012.
We are tired and thirsty, but safely back at the base.

The 15-minute video below highlights our adventure on the Tower. As I watch it myself, I am in awe at how similar the real images are to the little movie that played in my head in the hospital. For climbing and so many other aspects of my life, the things I imagined and hoped for with my ostomy did turn into reality–a truly amazing reality.