Trying new things with an ostomy can be scary.
My doctors freaked me out about trying a lot of foods and movements because of the risk for blockages and hernias. I conquered my food fears by doing my best to understand why certain foods might cause blockages and then using that knowledge to make educated decisions about what to eat and how to eat it. Physical activity is different though, because there’s so little research about how hernias happen.
Countless doctors have told me “you can do anything did before you had surgery” and then coupled it with “just listen to your body”. What does “listen to your body” mean? To me it means my body will tell me when I’ve gone too far, but I’m trying to prevent injuries so I need to know where the line is before I cross it. I’ve heard stories from a bunch of other ostomates about how they quickly got back to riding their bike, running, martial arts, soccer, rock climbing and more physical activities and have been just fine, but I’ve also heard stories from a number of people who got a hernia from coughing, or giving birth, or doing laundry too early. I chose to take it slow. For the first year of having my ostomy I really didn’t push myself. I did my best to build up my core muscles by meeting with a physical therapist to get some insight into what exercises would be best for building up my stabilizer muscles and coupled those exercises primarily with walking.
At my year anniversary, I went into my second surgery strong. I’d even been doing jumping jacks and some basic yoga for the month or two before. I walked a mile in the hospital on my discharge day (not recommended), and then focused on staying strong and walking a lot while I healed. After I got the okay to exercise from my surgeon, I started doing yoga and then I started the P90X3 program. I was only 3 months out of surgery so I modified the program like crazy to meet my abilities. I started out not using weights (my arms were heavy enough!), I used exercise bands for the pull ups and did my best to be patient and consistent. By the end of the three months it was like night and day. I was no bodybuilder, but my strength had increased exponentially and with that, my confidence.
Despite this new found confidence, there were still a number of activities I felt really nervous about trying. For example, rock climbing and zip lining. It was mostly the harnesses which made me nervous, but also not being sure how much I would have control over my muscles in that kind of situation and how much strength I would need. In December I went to Boston to visit a couple friends I’d met at the UOAA Conference in September and guess what I did…
I pushed my limits. I went zip lining and rock climbing – And so did they!
What made me change my mind and gave me the guts to try? Doing it with other ostomates. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? There was something different about being with them in person to embark on these new experiences as opposed to reading about someone’s experiences online, so I understand that this might not convince you to give it a try – but think about it okay?!
Not only did I zipline; it was an aerial obstacle course. The harness wasn’t a problem at all. It was tight on my legs so I could leave it just a little bit loose on my waist, but I didn’t make a hugely conscious effort to alter how the harness should have fit. I had a blast. It was challenging and fun and felt so incredible to be growing my comfort zone.
The next day we went rock climbing. Three of us, all with ostomies, and no one would have been the wiser to it. Going with them gave me the confidence to try and then as though there were no other option, I succeeded. There was only one climb that I couldn’t figure out how to get to the top of and it had nothing to do with my ostomy and everything to do with it being a more challenging run and me being short and not having a clue how to navigate the foot and hand holds. I left my friends feeling invigorated. I had just pushed my comfort zone twice in two days and have them to thank for encouraging me to try and push myself.
I should mention that I wore a hernia prevention belt for both activities as a precaution. I have no idea how necessary it was, but better safe than sorry.
Pictures or it didn’t happen, right?