Living with an ostomy

Posted 3 years ago

Living with an Ostomy

living with an ostomyIf you or someone you know has an ostomy bag, it can take time to become comfortable with this new change in life.  There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about life with an ostomy out there and we are going to provide you with some facts and reassurances that life goes on. Life can still be fulfilling and active.

According to the United Ostomy Associations of America, there are between 725,000 and 1 million individuals living in American who have an ostomy. These individuals are able to live active and healthy lives once they learn to accept and adapt to their ostomy.

What is an ostomy?

An ostomy is a surgically created opening in your abdomen that allows waste to leave your body and deposit into a bag.  The ostomy can be temporary or permanent depending on your individual situation and needs.

Will others be able to see my ostomy under my clothing?

You will feel and know your ostomy is on your body. This may cause you to assume others will as well. This is one of the myths of having an ostomy. New sleek designs allow individuals to wear them more discreetly.  Many of the new pouch designs can be hidden under the right clothing.  Looser tops and waistbands that are not super tight can aid in the camouflage of your pouch. Check out Etsy for some ostomy bag covers with awesome designs.

Does it smell or make noise?

There are so many improvements to ostomy pouches over the past several years. If they are kept clean and emptied regularly, most of the pouching systems are made with odor-proof materials. You can also purchase in-pouch deodorants that can be used to eliminate excess odors that may be unpleasant. It is important to adjust your diet to avoid foods that can make the situation with an ostomy

Will having an ostomy change my diet forever?

With a colostomy or ileostomy, you will not be able to control when stool and gas move into the pouch. The amount of stool and gas that go into the pouch will vary based on the type of ostomy and your diet.

You may want to avoid foods that commonly cause gas or foods that caused you to have gas prior to having the ostomy. These may include asparagus, beans, cabbage, onions, and spicy foods.

Some foods can cause cramping or may be difficult to pass through an ostomy if they are not chewed well. Some examples are nuts, popcorn, and corn. Pay attention to how you respond to certain goods that may cause diarrhea or constipation. Consider keeping a journal of the food you eat each day and how you respond to it. This is helpful in the beginning when you first have your ostomy placed.

It is important that you stay hydrated for many reasons. Cactus and coconut water are great alternatives to sports drinks that may contain high levels of sugar.

livign with an ostomyCan I swim or play sports with an ostomy?

Yes, you can! There have been so many innovations in ostomy products including swimsuits and wraps to keep your ostomy safe and maintain a low profile.

Go in the ocean, a hot tub, or take a nice bath at home.  Once they are healed and cleared by their doctor, many individuals participate in sports and physical activities.

Can I still have intimacy with my partner?

Once you have healed from your surgery to have the ostomy placed, you can resume normal activities, including physical intimacy. Always check with your physician first to get the okay before engaging.  You are in control of your body.  Setting boundaries and acknowledging your comfort level is important.

Talk to your partner in advance, if possible, and let them know what you are okay with and activities you may not be ready for. Do not be afraid to start off slow or to try new positions that keep you comfortable and confident.

Support is out there!

It is important to reach out to your doctors and others in the community who have ostomy bags. There are support groups, information, advocacy, and volunteers throughout the United States dedicated to educate you and guide you in the direction of living a quality life.  You call the UOAA at 1-800-826-0826 or check out their website at

If you want to hear a great perspective on life with an ostomy, meet Steven, an 18-year-old with an ostomy.

He is a senior in high school who talks about playing football, hanging out with friends, and the first few weeks after his surgery. “My journey with my ostomy was not one I would describe as love at first sight. But it has grown on me over time.

Ironwood also has a Colorectal Cancer Support Group that meets the first Tuesday of every month, virtually on Zoom, at 3 pm. Andy from the Arizona Chapter of the Colorectal Alliance is in attendance to give you peer support and resources. If you have questions or are interested in attending, please contact Supportive Care Services by calling 480-314-6660 or email

You can also speak with one of our Registered Dietitians for tips and advice on foods to avoid or those you should incorporate into your diet to reduce the risk of gas and diarrhea.

About Nicole McCallister, LMSW

Nicole McCallister

Nicole McCallister

Nicole McCallister is a Licensed Master Social Worker.  Nicole received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State University in August 2017.  She received her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Studies in April 2003 from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI.

About Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers

Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers (ICRC) is the largest multi-specialty oncology network in the Greater Metro Phoenix area. They have over 100 medical providers, a robust Integrative Services program, and a dedicated clinical research department. Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers has 15 valley locations and five comprehensive cancer care centers that offer a multi-disciplinary approach for expedited personalized patient care. For more information, please visit