Cathy Moore credits her stoma surgery and colostomy bag with freeing her from pain she described as “worse than childbirth”.
s Moore, from East Wall, Dublin, suffered from ulcerative colitis and in 2002 her weight plummeted to six-and-a-half stone.
Ulcerative colitis is a long-term condition where the colon and rectum become inflamed.
The severity of the condition can vary, but for some people, like Ms Moore, who is in her early 60s, it can have a significant impact on their everyday lives.
“I had to be carried to hospital. The pain was worse than childbirth. I had no quality of life back then,” she said.
The condition had come on suddenly and it meant she always had to be near a toilet. She added: “The pain was excruciating and it would wake you up in the middle of the night.”
She was put on heavy medication for her immune system.
Ulcerative colitis is thought to be an autoimmune condition. It means the immune system, the body’s defence against infection, ends up attacking healthy tissue. When medicines are not working to control symptoms, surgery to remove the colon may be an option.
Ms Moore ended up having an operation to have her large colon removed as well as other surgery.
The stoma operation involves an opening in the abdominal wall.
She was fitted with a pouch to carry waste matter.
The aftermath of having this surgery needs adjustment and it takes time to be able to learn to live with a colostomy bag.
She worried about how she could handle situations such as even going through security at an airport.
However, for her the benefits were immediate after having felt at such a low level of health for so long.
“The pain was gone. I was able to live, go on holiday or go to the beach,” she said. “I was in a bikini three months after my surgery.”
Doctors and nurses point out that both physically and mentally, it is important to get used to a stoma.
Even though the patient may be in pain while the wound is healing, it is important to follow the advice of the healthcare professionals .
Ms Moore opted not to go for further surgery and instead decided to retain her bag, which she has jokingly named “Louis Pooton”.
“I do everything to keep healthy, including yoga and swimming,” she said.
Ms Moore was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, but was successfully treated.
She said some of the medication she is currently on can affect bone strength, so she works at ensuring she looks after her well-being.
She took up sea swimming during lockdown and is now training for a synchronised swimming fund-raising event.
“It takes time to make friends with the bag. You always think the bag is bigger than you,” she said.
She adjusted her life to accommodate the bag and was determined to make the most of her release from years of pain and the new lease of freedom it gave her.
“For me it has meant a pain-free life,” Ms Moore said. “It meant I was able to live. I could plan again.”
She is now part of a WhatsApp group with other people who have had stoma surgery who share their experiences and tips.
According to the HSE, if someone needs a temporary or permanent stoma with an external bag or pouch, they can feel worried about how they look and how others react.
“There are patient support groups that provide support for people who may have had or are due to have a stoma,” Ms Moore added.
In the weeks after surgery, some gentle exercise is usually recommended to help with recovery. Once a person has recovered from their stoma operation, they can gradually return to their previous exercise routine.
Most types of exercise are possible with a stoma, including swimming, as all colostomy bags are waterproof.
World Ostomy Day takes place every three years on the first Saturday in October.
The Ostomy Association of Ireland provides support to people in this country.