I know it’s cliche, but it might be true: You can do anything you want with an ostomy. You might not be able to do it immediately after surgery, or even a couple months after surgery, but with some determination and perseverance, you can make it happen. It doesn’t always feel like that’s true though – when your body hurts and you’re scared to move or lift something for fear of a hernia or your incisions aren’t healing like you expected, or every move you make feels like it’s pulling your insides in the wrong direction. Especially coming out of surgery when everything hurts and you can’t even imagine getting up and walking without pain, let alone running a marathon, chopping sweet potatoes, making your own bed, getting dressed, or cartwheeling. It’s not hard to build strength post surgery, but it definitely takes some time and perseverance.
For a few years before my colectomy I was very involved in an Afro-Brazilian martial art called capoeira. It provided me a place to express myself and gave me an occasional ego boost when I could do a challenging movement. It kept me in shape and taught me to speak and sing basic portuguese, as well as to play some cool instruments I’ve never heard of. Capoeira was also the basis of my social life, providing me with a close-knit group of friends and a feeling of family when I lived far from home. I spent a lot of time in classes and at events, and even more time thinking about it and humming songs. When I found myself in the hospital facing surgery, being able to play capoeira again was one of my biggest concerns. All I could focus on was feeling better than I did at that moment and getting back to capoeira. I reasoned that if I could do a cartwheel again, I could probably handle all the other aspects of having an ostomy as well. Having not been through any type of surgery past wisdom teeth removal, I did not know what was in store for me, or have a clue how long the recovery would be.
In the year between my colectomy surgery and my completion proctectomy/barbie butt surgery, I spent most of my time trying to build up the basic life strength and endurance that I had lost. For the most part, I walked a lot and hiked a little. I dabbled in some basic yoga a couple months before the second surgery but didn’t do anything particularly intense. These activities were NOT capoeira and I had a hard time processing my emotions. I practiced kicks here and there and even attempted a few awkward cartwheels and bridges. My flexibility was gone and everything felt wrong. There were days/weeks/months where I told myself that I didn’t like capoeira anymore.
I had set the goal of a cartwheel to indicate when I’d be ready to go back to capoeira, but chickened out and blamed it on not being able to wear my uniform comfortably. I tried to convince myself it was a hobby of my past and that I should find new hobbies more in line with my new life restrictions. Sometimes, other emotions came through – sadness, frustration, yearning, hope. No matter how much I tried to push it down, it kept popping back up.
A couple months after my completion proctectomy (after I’d gotten exercise clearance from my surgeon), a friend of mine from capoeira encouraged me to join her in the mornings to do some yoga before she went to work. She figured we could hold each other accountable and it would benefit both of us.
After a month of yoga she decided she’d like to do the P90x3 workout series. I was hesitant – all I knew about P90x was that it was intense and really hardcore exercise and here I was 4 months out of surgery with no confidence in what my body could be capable of. External motivation and encouragement work well on me though, and she convinced me to try. On January 2, we hit the ground running and met almost every morning for 4 months to do the program.
P90x3 wasn’t so bad – it’s as intense as you make so I didn’t make it intense:
I didn’t use weights (at first)
I did knee push-ups (at first)
I bent my knees and bounced instead of jumping (at first)
I used resistance bands instead of the exercise bar (the whole time, pull ups are hard!).
Most importantly, I listened to my body and stopped when it felt like I was pushing to far. I’ll also admit that I freaked out a couple times thinking I’d pushed too hard, I tried to be hyperaware of how my body was feeling. Having some friendly accountability and an exercise program to stick to proved to be a great way for me to build strength post surgery.
A couple weeks into doing the P90x3 program, the local capoeira school was having a sign-up promotion with really discounted class rates and with encouragement from my friend and a new-found confidence that I could modify and listen to my body, I signed up. I began attending the beginner classes to re-learn the movements and get my body used to doing them again and guess what? Muscle memory is amazing, but my body remembered how to do a lot of the movements. Remembering how to the movements meant I was able to focus on building the strength back to improve my form. After a month, I moved back into the intermediate/advanced class and between going to class and doing the P90x3, my body got stronger and stronger.
Nine months after I started training again, I participated in an event and played a couple really advanced capoeiristas. I was REALLY nervous and did not feel like I played very well, but I was incredibly proud of myself for how far I’d come.
It’s been two and a half years since I started back at my capoeira class and there are still some of movements that spark a sad, “I used to be able to do that” thought, but you know what? I was able to do a cartwheel within a couple months – even one that looks pretty with straight legs.
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