After 19 months of discomfort, upset, disbelief and seven rounds of surgery Janey finally emerged a different person. Or did she? Talking with Janey about her Colostomy* which means she now wears a Stoma Bag* was very enlightening for me and yes, I do think she is a different person but only in that she is stronger, even more determined to live her life to the full and happy to help anyone else facing similar surgery to that she endured; to prove there IS life beyond a stoma bag! During those months, one big worry on top of all the rest, was whether she could continue to be a Naturist but her partner, Shaun, and her club friends were fully supportive and wouldn’t allow her to even think of leaving Blackthorns. Unfortunately on her first tentative trip out alone after having the stoma bag connected, she found herself being observed in a shop by a young couple and the girl pointed and spoke out loud: “Look, she has a s**t bag under her top!” and they both laughed at her. Janey made a fast exit, close to tears. It’s a shame people can be so rude and uncaring and her first thought was to blame herself for not concealing it better and she vowed to wear baggy clothes to hide it. Most people in her situation would no doubt do the same or not go out at all. But not Janey because, as she reached the safety of her car she realised this would never have happened within a Naturist environment because, as she told herself, “We talk to the person, not their body and we accept them as they are.” The upsetting remark gave her the impetus to stand proud and when she reached the stage in her treatment that she was to receive psychological counselling about her body changes, she ended up giving them a talk about the benefits of Naturism and body acceptance! With her Naturist mind set and support of her club friends, she is a perfect example for all those facing such surgery to look to when they think it’s the end of their life as they know it. That is not to say the journey to that moment was easy. Her 19 months of hospital visits and procedures were an ordeal and she won’t deny that and when the stoma was first suggested, after her fourth operation, it was a mixture of relief and worry; it would mean an end to the many operations, the constant procedures and pain but of course once done it would mean a change in her daily routine, forever. She had to think over the pitfalls of not being able to wear snug fitting clothes and had to ask herself; would her work uniform fit her, would the trouser waistline be above the bag or below it, would it be comfortable, could she go on holiday, could she go out, would it work? What could have been a help might have made her worry more because, as a nurse, she had dealt with stoma patients 25yrs previously and recalled the embarrassment it entailed and the smell but she realised technology had improved over the years and today the bags are easier to deal with and there is no leakage or smell. It wasn’t an easy decision to make and there were times she didn’t want to look at it herself and she told Shaun she wouldn’t blame him if he left her. They’d only been together a year and she felt it was perhaps too much for him to take on. Shaun became her rock and his support was a massive reason she remains so resilient today. That, and being a Naturist. Of course it does affect her daily life and she has to think of her diet and it does impose on her when out and about but she finds if she uses a disabled access toilet she has the facilities to deal with changing her bag. Mind you, back amongst the general public she still meets those who can hurt her by casting disapproving looks and words when she ignores the queue and uses the one with a picture of a wheelchair on the door. Just because it isn’t obvious, doesn’t mean a person is doing wrong. Blackthorns had installed a baby changing unit in its disabled access toilet and it is the perfect surroundings for a stoma bag to be dealt with and no one “tut tuts” at her! Though she knew in her head that naturists are more accepting than the general public, she admits she was still concerned the first time she undressed at the club and people could see the bag clearly. She still had to find out if people were accepting or disgusted, especially when she used the pool. She knew her close circle of friends had travelled the 19 months with her but of course there were other members who didn’t know the details. She admitted it took a while to actually mingle on the patio with everyone with her bag exposed. Some children asked her what it was and she told them in simple terms and they dismissed it as nothing important. Nobody took exception to her and she soon relaxed and was relieved she could still go Naturist, just like her friends had assured her! She tells us that the Stoma Group she attended concentrated on how to hide it and how to live with it but she is now able to tell them how to be open about it, educate others and help future patients deal with the procedure. One good friend knitted her a Father Christmas bag cover and followed it up with a Christmas Pudding, much to the amusement of everyone and we look forward to seeing Janey’s stoma bag wardrobe grow! The body acceptance she experienced at Blackthorns prompted her to attend the Alton Towers weekend with confidence and once she explained it to those who were curious, she forgot about it the rest of the time and just enjoyed herself. Asked about her first venture out and the couple in the shop, she says she could now stand her ground and speak up and is totally comfortable with attending a public pool with bikini and bag. Janey summed it up really well: “My ability is stronger than my disability!” and said, “I will not let my bag control my life.” Some brave, wise words from a brave, wise lady. May she be an example to us all.
Janey met other stoma bag wearers at Alton Towers: one was Billy and he’s told me his story of bag and body acceptance as he achieved the two together. Unlike Janey, he wasn’t a Naturist when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer and needed some of his lower bowel removed. When it was found to have fused to his bladder he had to have that and his prostate removed too. He had a *Urostomy which means he has a stoma bag to collect his urine. Having always been an active person he attended his gym as soon as he was able and after his routine of cross trainer, tread mill and bike he used the showers but felt very aware of his bag and when he saw a man staring at that and his scar, with a look of horror on his face, he decided it would be easier to simply not go again. He hated looking at himself in the mirror at home and thought he was destined to hide his body away rather than receive any further upsetting reactions. He gradually got used to the routine care and got back into his hobbies of rock climbing, mountain biking and dancing. Whilst it didn’t stop him doing all his previous hobbies he did feel he had to keep his condition to himself and when he looked ahead he felt there was no chance he’d be able to have a partner again as he feared her reaction would be of repulsion when she saw his body and the bag. He became determined to overcome this and decided he needed someone to practise being naked with, to prepare himself for the moment a new partner would see him in all his glory!
What might have seemed impossible only made Billy more determined and it came to him that he needed to mix with a group of people who were open minded, friendly and accepting of everyone and he had the foresight to realise a Naturist group just might be the thing for him to achieve this with. He didn’t know if it would work but there was only one way to find out! He used the internet to find Forth Naturist Swim Club at Haddington just 36 miles away. The first time he went he only got as far as the car park. He sat watching people turn up but didn’t have the courage to get out of the car and go inside. Not one to accept failure, he tried again and on his next visit he surprised himself by actually leaving the safety of his vehicle and heading indoors to meet a group of naturists for the first time What a test of strength and determination that night was! He shared his worry with the club Chairman and was made welcome and put at ease but even so, he could scarcely believe that he was about to undress and join others in the pool with not a swimsuit to be seen! He was happily relieved to find he loved the feeling and that no one was staring at his scar or bag and, for the first time, naked with others, he felt normal instead of the freak he had feared they would see. It was so good that he spent an hour in the pool, 20mins in the sauna and 20mins in the steam room – he thoroughly enjoyed the evening and was pleased when they invited him to return. That night did what he had hoped it might do; restore his body confidence. Like Janey, he talks of Naturism to his stoma group and explains how we are body accepting and they are always interested to hear what a help we are. Billy says the stoma bag has not prevented him from continuing with his active lifestyle and his night of Naturist swimming opened up another world to him. He has been a member of BN for over 3 years now and attends as many events as he can. He became a member of the Forth Naturist Swim Club and has made many new friends. The body confidence learnt at that Naturist event taught him to feel confident about himself and he can now attend any public gym or pool and not fear being stared at or made to feel an outcast. He also feels confident that when he starts a relationship he can speak openly about his bag and Naturism as they are both part of his life and who he is.
Janey & Billy each needed Naturism to get over the stigma of having a stoma bag but whereas Janey knew it was the right place to be for acceptance and understanding, Billy guessed it would be but had to find the courage to not only bare all in the presence of strangers but also to explain about his bag.
They have both benefited from being Naturist and are able to live their life to the full, doing whatever activities they choose, with head held high. The same will apply to virtually any circumstance you might find yourself facing, be it operation scars, amputation, disfigurement, skin conditions, obesity, anorexia; anything that general opinion would suspect to be a problem to live with. We should be proud to belong to such a caring, supportive community bound together by the love of nudity as nature intended. Long may the sun shine on us!
*Colostomy is the large colon/intestine diverted through an opening (Stoma) in the abdomen.Ileostomy is the diversion of the small intestine/ bowel.
*Urostomy is the diversion of urine from the kidneys.
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Naturism, my Bag and Me!