Guest Blog: Colostomy Association

BullensBlog, Bullen Healthcare

The first in our new series of guest blogs. This one is by Richard Biddle who has recently joined the team at the Colostomy Association. The Colostomy Association are the UK patient support charity that support people with a colostomy and their families and carers. To find out more about the Colostomy Association visit their website at or find them on Facebook @colostomyassociation and Twitter @ColostomyAssoc

Find me someone that doesn’t like to kill two birds with one stone? That’s why, having just started at the Colostomy Association, I jumped at the chance to write a guest blog for Bullens. On the one hand it was an opportunity to tell everybody about the great work that the Association does. On the other, it forced me to reflect on my first month and articulate what I’d learnt so far.

My first thought was to write about an average day in the office. With the NHS carrying out 6,400 permanent colostomies each year and an estimated 1 in 500 people having stomas, you would expect a charity that supports these people to be busy doing lots of regular things. To an extent this is true; our current campaigns (see our website for more information) do lead to what might be called ‘everyday’ tasks. Our efforts to create a stoma-friendly society for example, means liaising with businesses, public bodies and policymakers on an almost daily basis. Likewise, raising awareness of what it means to live with a stoma is an ongoing task. If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll see how we are using social media to change perceptions and fight what we term ‘The Poo Taboo’.

Within a few days however, it became obvious that my initial idea wouldn’t work. Our vibrant Facebook Group and 24-hour free helpline generate a wide range of queries and requests for help. For us this is excellent news; what better evidence that we are succeeding in reaching out and supporting colostomates, their families, and their carers? But this makes flexibility the order of the day. A call requesting some of the many information leaflets and brochures that we produce, might be followed by one from a patient concerned about reversal surgery or seeking advice on travel insurance ahead of taking their first post-op foreign trip.

Luckily, we are supported by a large team of volunteers, all of whom have a colostomy. They are also carefully vetted, DBS checked and receive ongoing training. In the office, volunteers assist us with everything from general admin to putting together information packs for stoma care departments. Some visit patients in hospital and run support groups. Others give talks to healthcare professions, getting across the everyday ‘lived’ experience of life with a stoma. Outside of office hours, they cover the helpline. Thankfully, we can also route calls to volunteers during the day; at times their experience is invaluable. I witnessed this first-hand within days of starting, when a lady telephoned anxious about the prospect of stoma surgery and concerned about what life would be like afterwards. In a call lasting nearly 40 minutes[1], Colin was able to speak of his experiences of surgery, and gently reassure her by talking about the eight years that had passed since. Although there was no denying that the caller still had a life-changing event ahead of her, when she put the phone down she did so in the knowledge that there would always be someone here to support her.

So, as I head to work each morning, I do so in the knowledge that the over-used cliché ‘no day is ever the same here’ really does apply at the Colostomy Association!

[1] The Colostomy Association does not give medical advice