By Gord Bowes, News staff
It’s a life-saving medical procedure, but many people are embarrassed to talk about it.
And it’s not something that affects only the elderly — many children are born with a birth defect and require ostomy surgery before going home for the first time.
About 500 people undergo an ostomy operation each year in Hamilton, says Roger Ivol, president of the Hamilton and District Ostomy Association. They might require the surgery after bowel cancer or as they deal with Chron’s disease.
“It’s not fully understood,” says Ivol. “People judge from the past — old stinky Uncle Harry, because in those days they had rubber bags. Now everything is more discrete and people don’t notice it.”
An ostomy is a surgically created opening on the abdomen where bodily wastes are eliminated. The rosebud-shaped device sticking out of the abdomen is a “stoma” – part of the intestine that has been re-assigned and re-routed because the parts that were diseased have been removed.
People with an ostomy, called ostomates, must wear a pouch securely fastened to the abdomen to serve as a temporary, but discreet, holding tank. It can’t be seen under clothing, notes Ivol.
Ivol says while he has had his ostomy for 27 years, he still experiences bouts of depression. He says that’s why spreading the word about the local association and its support network is important.
Many ostomates don’t want to talk about it outside of their family and close friends because they fear they will become the subject of gossip or because they see themselves as disfigured and their new body repulsive.
One of the local ostomy association’s biggest task is to help eliminate the emotional scars and doubts.
“You think you’re no longer loveable,” he says. “You wonder if your wife really means it when she says she loves you … In some cases, marriages break up.”
“Over time, and with the eventual acceptance that the thing on your belly is a permanent part of your anatomy, you learn to live with it,” he says. “You even joke about it — ‘I’m a bag man,’ or ‘I’m a bag lady’ ”
Ostomates come from all walks of life: children, housewives, priests and plumbers, politicians and sport celebrities, doctors, teachers and artists who have an ostomy or have a family member with one and won’t talk about it in public.
“That’s because it’s still a taboo subject, such as the ‘cancer’ word once was,” says Ivol. “Some day the word ostomy will be as familiar as the word colonoscopy.”
Last Saturday was Ostomy Awareness Day in Canada. This weekend is the world awareness day.
The Hamilton and District Ostomy Association meets at 7:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month from September to June at Sacred Heart Parish Community Centre, 24 Poplar Ave. The association’s website is at ostomyhamilton.com.