Singer-songwriter Melissa Marshall was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in September 2013. After a lengthy treatment plan and the addition of a permanent ostomy bag, Melissa was cured and began a crusade of inspiration and education. She created the No You Cant’cer Foundation to advance the conversation about colorectal cancer and dispel the negative rumors surrounding ostomy. She runs her nonprofit full time while furthering her musical career in southern New Jersey.
Whenever I mention to someone that I have an ostomy bag, their mouth drops. Then their eyes zoom in toward my stomach as if they can see it, and then they are always surprised and exclaim, "Where is it? I don't see anything!” In that moment I feel the overwhelming need to dispel the perception of the ever-elusive ostomy bag.
This is how I tell it: Just as in centuries-old cities, plumbing wears out and a new way to reroute the flow must be invented out of necessity. And my body is just a walking, moving city and with my ostomy bag, my plumbing has been updated to give my newly renovated city a fresh way of life.
The truth is that I need my ostomy bag to live and thrive, just as any other prosthesis would help anyone else. It is an aid, and an alternative, to adjust to a new way of living. It is not the end of the world by any means. My ostomy bag has improved my quality of life and given me the tools I need to retake control of my body. Here are 3 things that have helped me adjust to life with an ostomy bag that may be useful to other ostomates:
1. Learn how your new body works
You must learn about your new body as far as eating is concerned, and what works for your lifestyle, to understand the output that comes with it. This will allow you to prepare for an event, or sit in a long meeting for work, or dance and sing in front of a crowd like I do every weekend. Learn to plot and plan your meals in advance to cut down on the output, so you can avoid worrying about an accident or mishap.
2. Prepare for accidents
The accidents you probably dread may happen, most likely when you least expect them. But, you will learn how your body operates over time. For example, my accidents usually occur while I'm sleeping. And, to be honest, this creates a high level of anxiety for me. I have a very difficult time falling into a deep sleep because I worry that I will wake up in a messy mishap. I do get up at least once to empty my bag and try to go back to sleep. But some ostomates never have this problem and learn ways to adapt to their own personal situations.
The most important thing I have learned from dealing with my own leaks and issues is to have your ostomy supplies with you at all times. Put them in a separate little pouch that can be discreetly carried with you in case you need them. For me, this means I always keep mine handy in a makeup bag inside my purse.
3. Respect your body
Wear your ostomy proudly, as I continue to do, and work toward educating others about our lifesaving prosthetics. At first, the idea of having a permanent ostomy bag intimidated me. However, facing my fears and the myths surrounding the ostomy bag have led me to found a nonprofit that aims to dispel the rumors surrounding ostomy. The No You Cant’cer Foundation helps dismiss the falsehoods that we must deal with every day.
My advice to other ostomates is to carefully maintain your body’s “city” and respect its inner workings. Feed your body properly, always stay hydrated, and keep your toolbox close so that you can plug up the leaks when they happen. An ostomy may be a different life, but it is also a new lease on life.