Hi, Jonathan here, a 41-year-old rectal cancer survivor. I was invited to guest blog for Men’s Health Month by my fine friends at Spoonie Threads. My surgery left me with a colostomy bag and a lot of learning. I only had a few weeks between my last scan results and surgery. Acceptance wasn’t a wave I was fully prepared to ride just yet but here we are. I’m now 6 months post-op, facing summer with my stoma, affectionally called “John Stomas” (insert Uncle Jesse saying, ‘have mercy.’)
Acceptance was my first hurdle to summering with a stoma. Do I let it all hang out? Do I swim with the bag? Will there be bag tan lines? These are questions I could only answer myself. I don’t believe there is right or wrong answer to any of them. My biggest fear was the chlorinated pool water causing the bag to separate from my skin; Band-Aids always seem to come off in the pool, how would this be any different? The idea of my bag contents spiling and closing the neighborhood pool seemed a fate worse than any.
Sun’s out guns out. What I learned when I took off my tank top and displayed my Spoonie Threads “Sh!t Happens” bag cover, was that I was the only person still struggling to accept my summer dad bod. My neighbors had long ago accepted that I would have accessories, my kids thought it was hilarious I had a naughty word on my stomach, and my fiancé is the definition of love and acceptance. Little kids will stare with curiosity and adults will giggle at it for a minute. No one is carrying the fear of contamination, no one is disgusted that I am there with a colostomy bag, no one cared about any of that but me. So let it all hang out if you feel up to it.
A little pro-tip: get the gas/air out of the bag before getting in the water, this prevents it from floating up. Once I was comfortable in the pool, I started to stretch out and swim a little bit. I am no Michael Phelps but the drag created by the bag is the only reason I didn’t set an Olympic Record. I swam with the bag. I flipped my kids and threw them in the water. I was too sick from radiation and chemo to play at the end of last summer, turns out that’s all my kids wanted. They weren’t embarrassed by my bag. They were just happy I could play with them in the pool again.
The next morning, I changed my bag and there were some funny looking tan lines. When the bag is in place, no one sees them anyway. I see those lines as a barometer to measure the fun of this season. My goal is to be tanned and tired. Turns out, the only answer I can actually give you for certain is yeah, there will be tan lines. Don’t forget the suntan lotion, the lotion never lies.
If acceptance is your first hurdle, the second is a constant…. Hydration! My fiancé will tell you “Hydration is the key to success.” Hot days in the sun really take it out of you. An incomplete digestive tract leads to incomplete absorption of water and electrolytes. I have already experienced what its like to cook all the moisture out of a dad bod and the results aren’t favorable. Avoid the headaches, vomit, lizard skin, and wooziness by taking in hydrating liquids. Your body doesn’t process alcohol the way it used to either, so be careful as you find your limits.
Accepting my new dad bod hotness look and hydrating are the things I have learned so far this summer. I hope all of you embrace the marks of survival and perseverance you carry and have fun this summer! Now take a sip of water and take your favorite body to your favorite body of water.