Welcome to Bathroom Break, Refinery29’s series all about poo and the complicated relationship we have with our bowels. To see the rest of the articles, click here.
Over 100,000 people in the UK have a stoma. Common for people who've suffered with bowel cancer, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis or even, in some rare cases, endometriosis, a stoma is a little hole that's made in a person's stomach from which waste can drain into a specially designed bag. It allows the intestines to bypass the rectum altogether. Essentially it stops the owner from having to poo. Katie May Chesworth, 24, is a content creator from the Lake District who's been living with a stoma for five years. Here, she explains what her day looks like.
"I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, when I was 16 years old. After two years of failed medications, a lot of pain and trips to the toilet, I ended up in hospital severely underweight and very ill.
"I had no choice but to have my bowel removed, and at 18 years old and in my first year of university, I had a stoma bag fitted. I’m now five and a half years into having a stoma and while it’s not always the easiest, I have actually learned to love it."
8am: Wake Up
The first thing I do every single morning is wake up with a full stoma bag. So my first job is emptying it, which is actually really easy.
The majority of stoma bags are drainable so you don’t have to change the bag as soon as it’s full. I remember being in hospital, really struggling to figure out the best way to empty it at first and getting really frustrated and upset. This makes me laugh now because it’s become so second nature. But at first you overthink everything and this is especially true with stoma.
Breakfast, the most important meal of the day! I’d also argue that it’s one of the most important with a stoma. You have to eat small meals regularly and in the mornings, my bag is NOISY. When your bag's noisy, it’s usually because there’s a lot of air and for me, mornings are always the worst.
Today for breakfast I’ve opted for scrambled eggs on toast because I have lots to do and I’m very hungry! Post-breakfast, I find an outfit and as I work from home we’re going comfy this morning!
9am: Start Work
Living with a stoma doesn’t have to stop you working, however it has completely changed my career path. I studied law at university but it wasn’t for me. I started writing a blog about living with a chronic illness while at uni and fell in love with writing, so I’ve become a freelance content creator and am also training to become a health and wellness coach.
Freelancing is very common in my family and it seemed like the best option. Alongside my stoma, I struggle with chronic pain and fatigue. This means that sometimes I’m completely fine and other times I can’t get out of bed.
Creating a career for myself where I can work when I want and from wherever (including my bed) has been KEY.
I’m a morning person so I try and get as much work done before lunch as possible, mainly because by 1pm, I need food and then the afternoons are when I have to rest.
Today’s lunch is leftovers – perks of working from home – and is a mushroom tart thing (a very good Mary Berry recipe). Mushrooms are one of those foods which split people with stomas. A lot of people struggle eating them but I’m usually okay. *touches all the wood for luck*
I remember the first few weeks of having a stoma, I was so worried about food. In my head, I couldn’t work out how the food would digest and I was convinced everything would block it.
I’d not been able to eat a lot of foods pre-surgery because of how bad my colitis was. As a huge foodie, I was stuck between being scared to eat and also excited at being able to eat again. Fish and chips were at the top of my 'Can’t Wait to Eat this Again' list – that first meal was ah-mazing and (almost) worth the wait.
2pm: Dog Walk
My afternoons are always pretty chilled – whether it's a long lunch or binge-watching Netflix, I don’t like to over-plan them as I can't always predict how I'll be feeling.
One thing I never miss is my dog walk with my Border Collie, Arthur. This dog walk has been a constant in my life for a long time and is the one thing I try and do, no matter how I’m feeling.
My dog walks helped build up my strength after surgery and are essential for my mental health, whether it’s walks by the sea, up the fells where I live or just a little potter down the lane.
One of my hobbies, which I love incorporating into my afternoons, is photography. I find such calmness in my afternoons taking photos so any opportunity I can get, I have my camera out.
Running is a completely new part of my weekly routine and not something I ever thought I would be doing. For the past five years, my main exercise has come from walking, yoga and dance. However, this summer I wanted to try running so I joined a local running group which teaches you how to run.
It’s safe to say I needed a beginners' class but it felt so good to run. Considering five years ago I could hardly walk without being breathless due to anaemia, being able to run 5k feels amazing.
Exercising with a stoma can definitely feel daunting and it takes time to become comfortable. The first foray into exercise post-surgery, I actually used a personal trainer who specialised in rehabilitation after surgery and injury. This was the best thing I did because it gave me the confidence in a safe space.
Since then I’ve built up my strength again and feel less scared to try new types of exercise. It’s not always easy, and I’m definitely slow, but just getting moving feels so good!
8pm: Stoma Bag Change
After a run and my dinner, I need a shower. Showering with a stoma was something I was so scared about. Do you shower with the bag on? Or bag off? Before you eat or after? So many questions.
The first shower post-surgery took forever and I needed a nap afterwards. Now, I can do a full shower and bag change in 15 minutes. Progress! I always shower with my bag on, it’s just easier and cleaner. I have an ileostomy, which means I have no control of when poo comes out of it. And considering I’ve just eaten, it’s definitely easier to shower with it on.
Once I’ve showered, I always change my bag, again it’s just easier. You don’t want to go to bed with a damp bag. Bag changes can seem really daunting. I remember being shown all the steps and thinking, How am I ever going to be able to do this? However, you do actually get used to it and can even get speedy at it if your stoma isn’t being too active.
A bag change goes like this: you cut a hole in the new stoma bag so it fits your stoma, use spray to remove the old bag, clean the stoma with water, barrier wipe to protect the skin and stick on the new bag. Voilà!
After my shower and bag change, I relax and watch some telly before heading off to bed.