Guest blogger James Sharman shares his experience of getting back into an active lifestyle after ostomy surgery following a perforated colon.
My name is James and I live in West Yorkshire. You might have seen my article in the Winter 2015 edition of the Colostomy Association’s Tidings magazine (page 12-13), which documented my story of how a sudden bout of diverticulitis turned into a perforated colon in March 2014. This lead to a temporary colostomy. Before this unexpected turn, I was very active; going running, coaching a junior football team and generally in good health, so I wanted to write about how having a stoma need not be a barrier to an active lifestyle.
Following my illness, I decided that I needed to try and get active as soon as possible. I remember asking my surgeon at a follow-up appointment, about four weeks after my operation, if I could start running again. He said I could as long as I didn’t do any marathons (he’s obviously not seen me run, I look ready for the knackers yard after three miles usually, let alone twenty-six!). The first thing to do was to consider if any additional equipment was needed. It wasn’t just a case of throwing on a t-shirt and shorts and getting on with it; I had stoma practicalities to consider now. My excellent stoma nurses at Calderdale hospital pointed me in the direction of a hernia belt and, whilst my first thought was that the belt looked like it might cause more damage than it prevented, I went with it!
I decided not to go road running immediately and build up slowly at the gym instead. Here came conundrum number one and a completely new experience for me as a new ostomate – getting changed beforehand in the changing room! Do I take a cubicle so nobody sees my bag when I strip off, or do I get changed in the open plan area and risk people seeing this funny looking bag strapped to me? “Stuff it”, I thought and went for the latter option (I felt I needed to push my bravery on occasions to face up to things). I maybe got changed slightly awkwardly and tried to hide it to a point but I was confronting the situation and, for me certainly, that is what was needed. Plus, I’ve found since that if people see the bag, unless they’re “in the know”, they don’t really know what they are looking at; it just looks odd I guess. I suppose we should embrace being unique as ostomates!
“After a few weeks I went back road-running and it felt great.”
So into the gym I went and, if at this point you’re expecting anything remarkable such as I lifted four times my own body weight or ran so much that I wore the belt out on the running machine, then you’re in for a disappointment as nothing like that happened. I ran, I rowed, I even tried the jaywalker and slowly but surely over the next few weeks I felt like I progressed. I didn’t lift anything, as lifting has never been my forté so I’m damned sure that having an increased risk of a hernia, my abdomen is not going to suddenly propel me to the status of Olympic weightlifter (hats off to Blake Beckford for his sterling efforts in this area!).
After a few weeks I went back road-running and it felt great. To this day, I’m still building up and, even after 13 months, don’t yet feel to be back at my former level which, whilst never marathon or even half marathon status, consisted of a few 10k’ers. The stoma presents no challenges; indeed when I’m running, it’s not active (my 16-year-old A Level PE-studying son tells me that there is a biological reason why bowels go into “sleep mode” whilst doing any strenuous exercise, so that’s good news for all ostomates!). Touch wood, I never get any pain but always make sure I warm up thoroughly and the only thing I’ve needed to buy recently are new Sorbothane insoles for my trainers to help give spring in my running shoes, and that’s not linked to my stoma in any way (can’t blame it for everything!).
I mentioned junior football at the top of this article and, after only three weeks out of hospital, I was back on the touchline managing my Under 16’s team. Now here is where I had to be very careful because I took the team warm-up previously and that’s not advisable for anyone fresh out of hospital after abdominal surgery. Setting up nets, taking them down, twisting, turning, even returning a ball to the field can all be a strain on your abdomen, so I took it easy. I looked like Brian Clough just wandering on to deliver the team talk and then going back to the sidelines to sit in my fold-up picnic chair! However, I’m glad I took it easy as it assisted my recovery and, by the last game of the season six weeks after surgery, I was able to take the warm-up again and have pretty much full involvement (by strange coincidence, the last game of the season was just around the corner from Huddersfield Royal Infirmary where I had my operation; a kind of strange symmetry I thought, to show how far I’d come!).
“…even in the most sudden of circumstances it’s possible to get back to the level you were at before…”
By the start of this season I was back up and running fully, and determined to carry on coping and challenging myself to do everything I did before. No stoma or bag was going to stop me!
I even played volleyball on holiday (not intended to be serious, just the usual entertainment offering, although it got serious once we started!). As ‘Preparation’ was now my middle name, I took my stoma guard with me. I chuckled to myself as I put it on thinking about how everyone else was just turning up and playing but I had to go back to the apartment to get the guard just to play a holiday game of volleyball. But again, half of the battle is psychological and the guard gave me a feeling of protection so job done!
Hopefully, the above helps to demonstrate how even in the most sudden of circumstances it’s possible to get back to the level you were at before, if not a little better in terms of determination and a desire to better yourself. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and feel free to follow me on Twitter at @jamess90.