Living with a stoma
Having a stoma, whether it’s temporary or permanent, is a big change to your body. It can take time to adjust to.
You may find it helpful to talk to someone who is used to living with a stoma. Your stoma nurse may be able to arrange this for you. You can also contact the Colostomy Association or the Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association.
Learning to look after a stoma takes time and patience, and no one expects you to be able to cope perfectly straight away. Like anything new, it will get easier with time and practice. Your stoma nurse can help you cope with any problems.
If you have an ileostomy, you’ll wear a stoma bag that opens at the bottom so you can empty it. An ileostomy produces semi-liquid waste continuously, so you’ll need to empty the bag several times a day.
A colostomy may be active two or three times a day, but this will vary from person to person. It will also be affected by what you eat. It will usually settle into a pattern after a few weeks, so you can predict when it is likely to be active. You will usually need to change your stoma bag about 1–3 times a day.
Before you change or empty your bag, make sure that you have plenty of bags and cleaning materials with you. It’s a good idea to keep everything you need in one place, so that you don’t have to search for things at the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time, so that you can work at your own pace without any interruptions.
Clinical nurse specialist for stoma care talks about having a stoma after surgery for cancer.
If you have a temporary stoma, when your treatment is over you can usually have an operation to reverse the stoma. This means you will pass stools from your bottom again.
The timing of a stoma reversal operation varies from person to person. It can range from a few months after the stoma was made, to one or two years later.
How stoma reversal is done depends on whether you have a loop ileostomy/colostomy or an end ileostomy/colostomy.
To reverse a loop ileostomy/colostomy, the surgeon closes the opening in the loop of bowel that was used. They then remove the stitches holding the loop of bowel in place on the skin. The bowel goes back inside the tummy (abdomen).
To reverse an end ileostomy/colostomy, the surgeon removes the stitches that are holding the piece of bowel up to the skin. The piece of bowel is rejoined to the rest of the bowel inside the tummy.
After a stoma reversal, it may take some time for your bowel habit to get back to normal.
You can contact our cancer support specialists if you want to chat about any concerns you have. Details of other helpful organisations can be found in the further resources section.
Pat talks about living with a stoma after surgery for rectal cancer.