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  • Kipp Harris

Thoughts about Ostomy Surgery: To Tell or to Remain Silent

By Ellen Poulson

According to some recent statistics from UOAA, there are 750,000 to one million people in the United States who have had ostomy surgery.

No one wanted it, and no one asked to become very ill. But this is life on Earth as human beings. Illness comes, bodies become sick and weakened with various problems from cancer to ulcerative colitis. Fortunately, there are some well-trained medical folks who can operate, remove the source of trouble and create a new way to live. Nurses and WOC nurses are there to help on as we find our way back to health. All of these patients now have a new plumbing system in place, requiring an ileostomy, a colostomy, urostomy or other types of ostomy surgery. How wonderful that they survived! 

The problem is that no one wants to talk about it­­– a miracle that kept them alive! No, it gets laughed at. Jokes are made about little old ladies who “wear a bag”. Good heavens, this wonderful surgery is done for little babies, too. They are still cute whether they are wearing a surgical appliance or not. It seems that people smirk and feel embarrassed about anything mentioned in the digestive tract that is located beyond the stomach. New ostomates share those feelings in private until they can meet with a group chapter of the UOAA in cities and towns all across America.

If there was more acceptance about this surgery and the words used– such as ostomy, colon, colostomy, surgical appliance or pouch rather than just the term “bag”, then acceptance could begin. Many can remember Betty Ford, the presidents’ wife, who came out in the media and said she had surgery for breast cancer. At that time many people were not openly saying either the word “breast” or “cancer”. Now it is openly discussed and all the better for more people whose lives are saved through having open discussions. 

Personally, I hope for the day when I no longer remain silent about my ileostomy which saved my life forty years ago. Since then I recovered good health, have lead organizations, watched my children become mothers, enjoyed playing tennis, swimming and other sports- and most people know nothing about my miracle. Early on I mentioned it to a few folks who seemed so uncomfortable or reviled by the thought that I decided not to bother to tell. One person argued that there is no way a person could live without a colon- and treated me as a misinformed ninny. It became easier to remain silent.

But now, it is time for the world to know how the medical profession is saving lives through great surgery and there are personnel to help with recovery and groups to meet with to learn how to live again, happy and free from illness and pain.

Editor’s note: After writing this as “anonymous” the author chose to use her name! Visit to get involved with UOAA advocacy and ostomy awareness activities. 

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