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Coping with a stoma after bowel cancer

Men and women discussing bowel cancer

This page has information about coping with a colostomy or ileostomy after bowel cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Coping with a stoma after bowel cancer

Some people have a colostomy or ileostomy as part of their treatment for bowel cancer. In these operations the end of the bowel is brought out into an opening on the abdomen. The opening is called a stoma. It can take a while to get used to dealing with a stoma but there is a lot of support available. Your stoma nurse can help by giving advice and support.

As you learn to manage your stoma, it should have less and less impact on your day to day life. With time, things like going to work, going out socially and taking part in sports and hobbies will feel easier.

It is normal to feel worried about how you look, and how other people may react. There can be practical worries about the bag being noticeable, or smelling. Or you may have emotional worries about your friends or partner rejecting you. Stoma bags are very well designed. They cannot be seen through your clothes and should not smell or leak. If you do notice any smell or leakage, talk to your stoma nurse. You may need a different type or make of bag.

Many people find that if they talk openly to close family and friends their fears of rejection disappear. Most people want to understand what is happening so that they can help.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with bowel cancer section.

 

 

Having a stoma

Being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment takes time to come to terms with. It can also be difficult to cope with the physical effects of treatment. If you have had a colostomy or ileostomy operation as part of your treatment, the end of the bowel is brought out into an opening on the abdomen. The opening is called a stoma

Some people have a temporary colostomy made during their treatment for bowel cancer. The colostomy is closed a few months later when the bowel has fully healed. But some people have a permanent colostomy or ileostomy. It can take a while to get used to dealing with a stoma. You will have help both practically and emotionally. There is a lot of support available. Your stoma nurse can give a lot of advice and support.

 

Your mood and body image

If you need to have a colostomy or ileostomy it is normal to feel worried about how you will look. You may also worry about how other people  react. While you are in hospital the stoma nurse will teach you how to manage the stoma. It might be helpful for a close family member to be there too. Then you can both get used to your colostomy or ileostomy and can ask the nurse questions.

Once you get home, help is still available if you need it. You might have problems or questions about looking after and dealing with your stoma. Or you may feel low or depressed. Do talk to your GP or stoma nurse. They will either be able to help you, or put you in touch with someone who can.

As you learn to look after your stoma, it should affect your daily life less and less. With time, things like going to work, going out socially and taking part in sports and hobbies will feel easier.

 

Your job

Having a colostomy or ileostomy should not make any difference to your job unless your work involves heavy digging, or other kinds of manual work. If you are not sure about this, ask your stoma nurse for advice.

 

Sports and hobbies

The stoma won't stop you enjoying your favourite pastimes. All sorts of physical activities are possible – even strenuous exercise and swimming. Your stoma nurse can give you advice on how to protect your stoma. They can also tell you about waterproof bags and seals for swimming and water sports.

 

Your relationships and sex life

You may worry about how the stoma will affect your relationships with a partner or with friends. You may have practical worries about the stoma bag being noticeable, leaking or smelling. Or you may have emotional worries about your friends or partner rejecting you.

Stoma bags are very well designed. They cannot be seen through your clothes and should not smell or leak. If you do notice any smell or leakage, talk to your stoma nurse. Your stoma bag may not fit perfectly and your nurse may recommend changes you can make. Or they can give you a different type of bag.

Many people find that if they talk openly to close family and friends their fears of rejection disappear. Most people want to understand what is happening so they can help you. It may help to read our section about sex, sexuality and cancer in our coping with cancer section.

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Updated: 12 September 2013