Dennis’s Story

Briefly share your illness journey, what was the diagnosis, how long were you ill, and was the decision to have ostomy surgery yours or was there an emergency operation?

In 2000 I had colon surgery after a colonoscopy, my very first one, revealed a cancerous lesion in my colon. A resection was done and after a chemo series I returned to my normal life for 14 years. I became worn down in May 2014 and totally exhausted by caring for my wife who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Irregular bowel movements began, and I contacted my gastro doctor and explained the changes that occurred mainly when riding my road bike on long rides to maintain fitness. A colonoscopy revealed cancer again, surprising both my oncologist and surgeon after 14 years of clear exams.

What was your biggest fear?

When the colonoscopy showed the area affected was near the rectum and that I might be looking at a colostomy this time, of course this concerned me. I spoke to the surgeon and read things on the internet about the procedure and its effects on life in general.

Was there something you were worried you would not be able to do after your ostomy surgery?

I knew it was going to present new challenges but being a fighter pilot during the war in Vietnam, and the cold war before that, I knew it was surmountable with support and education, so I was confident, perhaps naively. I have always been very active and rode my road bike 25 miles on each outing, sometimes more, and completed an annual 50-mile ride since the mid-eighties. I read about others backpacking, riding and skiing with ostomies so assumed I could continue.

Did those fears become a reality or were you surprised you could actually do what you were worried you couldn’t?

I found confidence in being able to continue riding, starting with low mileages and building my stamina again. I logged every mile and my goal was to log 2,000 miles per year in order to maintain my robust health so I could continue caring for my wife every day, even though I had moved her to a care facility so that I could get adequate rest at night. I am proud to say that despite my age of 80, I have logged 2,000 miles each year for these past four years and going on five.

How has your ostomy changed you?

My wife passed away this past August after 58 years of a wonderful marriage. It has been difficult for me losing my sweetheart and living alone but going to the gym twice a week and continuing my riding gives me peace during these stressful times in life.

What helped you most during your recovery?

Physical activity showed me nothing had really changed except my method of going to the bathroom. That has become so routine changing the appliances that I find some definite advantages over the normal way and it eliminated those urges that made me look for a restroom along the routes I ride.

Did something help prepare you for your operation? If so, what was it?

My initial WOCN nurse taught me that this new procedure was quick and “a piece of cake” and that my skill in changing the pouches would be so painless and quick. My first colon surgery taught me that attitude was everything and my wife’s support was invaluable.

What do you wish someone had told you before your ostomy operation?

I wish someone would have told me all the fantastic advantages like, no more dirty toilet seats or, uncontrollable urges while exercising

Was there a specific WOC Nurse or a doctor who helped you that you’d like to thank?

The WOC nurse that showed me that this was going to be easy, just different was Marilyn Donan, RN. She was my home visiting nurse right after surgery here in Orange County, CA. Dr. Coutsaftides (retired) from St. Joeseph’s Hospital in the city of Orange, CA was my surgeon both times and I had complete confidence in his remarkable skill and assurance.

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