A life-long New Englander, I grew up near the ocean and lakes. If you wanted to find me in the summer, you only need to go as far as the nearest body of water. A collegiate swimmer, lifeguard, swim instructor, I did it all. When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, requiring ostomy surgery, it never occurred to me that my time in the water was at risk. I started reading online chats where people asked if they could still swim. Wait, what? Why wouldn’t I be able to swim? The doubts started seeping in.
My first concern was being able to wear a bathing suit. I already have body image issues. Now I had to worry about my pouch showing. What would fit? Amazingly, I decided to throw caution to the wind and wear bathing suits that I liked. I would not worry about what other people thought. Honestly, this is what millions of women have to do every year, ostomy or not. I already preferred wearing two-piece tankinis. They offer coverage in areas I want covered. Some have skirts or shorts and others have typical bathing suit bottoms. I initially shied away from the latter. I was able to wear bathing suits I already owned. I was totally comfortable wearing tankinis with my bag. None is the wiser. Again, for me, it is more about being comfortable with my body in a bathing suit, not being conscious of my bag.
My attitude changed when I saw a social media post of a woman wearing a white bathing suit with a “shark bite” cut-out. First, I laughed. Then I thought, wow, she looks hot. I wanted, no I needed, that suit. A quick Amazon search and I was easily able to find the suit, and it wasn’t expensive! I bought it, anticipating the reaction I would receive when people saw it. Yes, I actually looked forward to people seeing me in a bathing suit. I really looked forward to my brothers’ reactions. They appreciated the humor of the suit but, even better, they were appropriately uncomfortable…just the reaction I was looking for. Another new bathing suit I purchased, which I hadn’t done in decades, was a two-piece bathing suit. Again, it was more about body image than worrying about my ostomy. For some reason, having an ostomy was freeing. I wear it as a badge of honor, a symbol of survival. I refused to be ashamed of it and, instead, decided I would wear it with pride.
Ok, I have the cute suit. Now, how about water sports? I LOVE swimming. Actually, I love floating in the water for hours on end. Would I be able to do what I enjoy? The answer to that question is a resounding yes! I live on beautiful Cape Cod. This vacation mecca is surrounded by the ocean and is a popular tourist destination. We are renowned for our beautiful beaches. My family also has cabins on a lake in Maine. I am able to enjoy both salt and freshwater. I have a floatie that I enjoy that allows me to relax in the water for hours. I can sit on the beach then cool off in the water, hanging out for long periods of time. I change my bag every three days and this time in the water has not affected this schedule.
I still have to empty my bag on schedule. The lake is easy as we have the house right there
. Public beaches generally have bathrooms or porta potties. However, I always pack empty water bottles in case I do not have access to a bathroom. I am able to discreetly empty my bag into a bottle with a judicious use of a towel for some privacy. People don’t even know what I am doing. I am able to dispose of my urine when I get home. On another note, I keep a men’s urinal in my car for on the road emergencies. A nurse gave me one once stating that it is easy to use. She was right. If you can get one, I highly recommend it.
Another way I enjoy summer is on top of the water. I enjoy kayaking and paddle-boarding. Having a urostomy has in no way impeded my ability to participate in these activities. I am cautious about heavy lifting but find neither my kayak nor my paddle-board are particularly heavy. I have not had any issues.
The list is long on what I am able to do. Sometimes, you do have to do some planning and maybe be creative but don’t let having an ostomy stop you from the activities you love.