3 Tips for Getting Comfortable With an Ostomy After GI Cancer Surgery

An expert offers three steps that patients can take to become more comfortable and confident with their ostomy after undergoing surgery for gastric cancer.

After a patient with gastrointestinal cancer undergoes surgery and receives an ostomy (an opening along the skin of the abdomen that collects waste), they may feel self-conscious about going out in public, according to Stephanie S. Yates, a nurse practitioner at Duke Cancer Center’s Wound Ostomy Clinic in Durham, North Carolina.

In a recent interview with CURE®, Yates shared three tips on how patients can become more confident with their ostomy — from where their first outing should be, to naming their pouch and more.

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Transcript

Usually as my patients are getting over the (GI cancer) surgery, I encourage them, when they start going out, to go to noisy places and places where people don't look at you in particular, like single you out — a shopping mall, a large department store, or box store of some sort, anywhere that you get a little confidence that, “hey, nobody's pointing at me and saying, oh, this person just had some surgery or this is what's going on under these clothes.”

And then, I also encourage patients to name the pouch or the stoma itself; I have a few patients who do that. And they can talk about it in the third person as if it weren't a part of them. And that's OK, if that's how you cope the best.

Then again, I have a lot of people who will talk to other people who've had ostomy surgery — there's that national organization called the United Ostomy Associations of American (UOAA) and they have a website, (www.ostomy.org). And they have a lot of good information. They have a lot of support groups, either online, if you're in a rural area, or they have local groups in certain cities that people are meeting live or on Zoom. Now with the pandemic, it's definitely on Zoom.

So those kind of support systems and going out with somebody or getting to know somebody and getting tips from that person who actually has lived with an ostomy (can be helpful). I know a lot about ostomies, as I've learned a lot from people who've had them over my long career, but I don't have one … don't have that lived experience, and that really does make a difference for a lot of people and getting more confident about things.

(So) start out in broad areas where people don't really know you and you're just kind of noticing whether they're looking at you or not and then gradually hone that in onto one-on-one interactions and all those kinds of things.

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