Creating a support system

Ostomy ladies Emma Dowling and Jackie Pryor are starting up a group in the Western Bay for younger Ostomates. Photo: John Borren.

There are few things in the world that make people cringe more than a serious discussion about regular bowel movements.

But with the help of the Western Bay of Plenty Ostomy Society, two Tauranga residents are encouraging people to speak out about their mishaps and embarrassments as ostomates.

Emma Dowling and Jackie Pryor are setting up a group for people aged between 20-50 who are either going through or have been through ostomy - a surgical procedure that allows people to release waste from their bodies into a small pouch.

The group will become a safe and relaxed space for people to chat with likeminded others who are going through similar experiences.

“Emma and I both had cancer, but there are all kinds of reasons why someone may need a bag, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis,” says Jackie.

“The idea of the group came from both of us chatting about how we didn’t really have a network of people our age who we could talk to about our issues.”

Jackie says she had a colostomy last year after previously finding out she had bowel cancer.

“I never saw it coming,” she says. “I had just ran a marathon so I was fit and healthy, but I got bowel cancer at the age of 42.

“I had radiation every day for five weeks and then surgery to remove the cancer.”

While recovering from the surgery, she was given an ileostomy in the hopes that she could have a reversal.

An ileostomy is attached to your small intestine and emptied up to 10 times a day, whereas a colostomy is attached to your large intestine, producing more solid waste around once a day.

“After my recovery I had a reversal,” she says, “but my body completely reacted and I got an infection.

“I was also in the toilet 15 times a day - I was in pain and I couldn’t go out and enjoy time with my family.”

Her doctor told her they couldn’t keep track of the cancer if she had an ileostomy again, so she was given a permanent colostomy.

“Jackie and I had similar experiences with cancer,” says Emma, “but I had the disease all through my colon.

“I thought about having an ileostomy, but I just wanted to do one surgery and then it would all be sorted.

“The hardest thing was coming to terms with all the changes.”

Emma says she met Jackie a few years after her surgery, but often wishes she had met her sooner.

“It been really nice to have made friends with Jackie. Although I went through my surgeries before her, it was nice to talk to someone who understands.

“Through this group we just want to create that support that we didn’t have, and get the word out that we have been through it and others can make it through the other side too.”

Jackie says they have plans to organise barbecues, picnics and walks, but their first gathering will be a sit down and chat at The Raft.

“We want to create a friendly space that’s not all doom and gloom,” she says. “Family members and support people are welcome to come along too, and hopefully it will just be a very relaxed and supportive environment.”

The first ostomy get together will be on Wednesday, March 27, at 10am at The Raft, 65 Chapel Street, Tauranga.

For more information, contact Jackie Pryor on: 027 280 2010. For advice on ostomy, contact the WBOP Ostomy Society via: