A blond woman stands on a dock wearing a gray bathing suit with a shark-bite on the right side. There are green tress in the background.

Annemarie rocking her amazing shark bite bathing suit.

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

The blogger relaxes on a blue float. There is a black dog in her lap.

Annemarie relaxes in the water with her pup.

. 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.

• About The Author
Annemarie Finn is a married mother of three and the proud grandmother of one grandson. She is a teacher at Mashpee Middle High School in Mashpee, MA on beautiful Cape Cod. She was diagnosed with bladder cancer in July 2018. Immunotherapy was unsuccessful and she received a radical cystectomy with an ileal conduit (Urostomy) in January 2019. Until her diagnosis, she had never heard of an ostomy and was overcome with a fear of the unknown. As is often the case, she discovered that things were not as bad as she imagined. She is able to do everything she did before and, most importantly, remains cancer-free. Because of her experience and her passion for teaching, she has committed herself to empowering others through education and telling her story. She is the co-chair of the United Ostomy Association of America Education Committee, a mentor with the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network’s Survivor to Survivor program and a patient advocate for ASCO, the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Everyday Ableism in 2022 Reclaiming My Body, Part 2

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