Hello from Laura, Shield HealthCare’s Ostomy Lifestyle Specialist. During the summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to interview, in person, Brian Greenberg of the Intense Intestines Foundation. We both really enjoyed the time to chat. This time, I was able to interview Eric from Vegan Ostomy. Eric is in Canada, which is unfortunately too far to visit, and we had to do the interview via email. He provided some great answers — so without further ado, I would like to welcome Eric from Vegan Ostomy!
Laura: Thanks for joining us! First, what is your diagnosis and can you tell me about your ostomy story?
Eric: Hi, Laura. Thanks for having me!
My story begins in my mid-20’s when I was an active adult with two young kids.
I started experiencing major fatigue when I was playing soccer, something that was unusual as I tended to be the last one on the field to get tired back then.
Along with fatigue I also experienced night sweats and rectal issues, which I passed off as maybe having hemorrhoids.
As symptoms worsened I decided to visit my GP who referred me to a local hospital to get a colonoscopy.
I was officially diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2008, which came as a bit of a shock since I wasn’t having intestinal problems – yet.
After several years of worsening symptoms, and having gone through nearly all available medication at the time without much luck, my GI recommended that I have my colon removed.
On August 21, 2013, I underwent my ileostomy surgery – it turned out to be the most important day of my life.
Laura: What were your feelings when you heard you needed an ostomy?
Eric: Upset. Angry. Defeated.
To me, surgery was a sign of failure because I hadn’t realized that it was such a valuable treatment option when all else fails.
I was fortunate to have had a supportive nurse with me when I was given the news, and she sparked a change in my perspective that would start me off on a very positive journey!
Laura: Did you have any fears?
Not knowing how an ostomy would change my life, I had assumed that it would limit me.
In fact, one of the questions my wife and I asked my surgeon was whether I’d be able to go for walks around the block! I have to laugh at that one, considering that I was walking 5km (3 miles) very soon after surgery!
But in addition to the ostomy fears, the question “will I actually feel better than I do now?” and “what if Crohn’s comes back?” were on my mind, too.
Laura: What was the hardest adjustment after surgery?
Eric: The most difficult adjustment for me was getting back into my role as a father and husband.
Having been sick for so many years, I had missed out on many life events and outings with my family.
After surgery and the recovery that followed, it took quite a bit of time to get back into things. There was also a hesitation to commit to too many things as I wasn’t sure whether the ostomy would slow me down.
Laura: What is your life like now with an ostomy?
Eric: Life is great now!
Not only has my ostomy allowed me to do the things I loved doing, like hiking and going out with my kids, it’s given me the motivation to go beyond my fears and explore new things.
This year alone I’ve started kayaking for the first time and have traveled internationally to talk about my ostomy!
I’m able to go shopping, go on roller coasters, drive a go-kart, go zip-lining – there’s nothing I can’t do!
Laura: How did your family react to your diagnosis and to your ostomy surgery?
Eric: My diagnosis didn’t really affect my family as none of us knew what would come of it. But seeing me in constant pain, always running to the bathroom, and never able to participate that hurt them the most.
When it came time for the ostomy, we were in celebration – literally counting down the days until surgery! We knew that whatever happened after surgery, life would be better than it was it was before it.
Laura: Can you tell us about Vegan Ostomy?
Eric: Between the time I learned that I would need an ostomy to the surgery date itself, I spent many hours online looking for information on ostomies.
I found so many great YouTube channels that not only made me feel better about having an ostomy, but they also inspired me to give back to the ostomy community.
Because one of my main concerns was whether I would be able to continue my plant-based (vegan) lifestyle, I needed to find other people who were vegan ostomates.
Unfortunately, at the time I couldn’t find many (any!) so I decided to start my website, VeganOstomy.ca. The goal at the time was to blog about my experience and show others how easy (or difficult) it would be to remain vegan.
Since then, my website and YouTube channel have exploded and tens of thousands of ostomates visit the site looking for information each month.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to speak in front of other patients and even stoma nurses because of where VeganOstomy has taken me.
My goal now is to inspire and support other ostomates or people with IBD through their own journey.
Laura: I’ve always been amazed by all the foods you can eat! Do you have any tips for reincorporating foods back into your diet?
Eric: I’m amazed, too!
It took a good year for me to feel totally comfortable eating all the fruits, vegetables, and legumes that I can now.
During that time, I learned several things that helped me:
– How I chewed my food mattered more than the type of food being chewed.
– Drinking while eating helps to keep things flowing.
– Cooking, de-seeding, and skinning helped me to eat fruits and vegetables.
– For salads, I started with iceberg until I felt comfortable with dark leafy greens.
Laura: If you could say one thing to someone who was new to having an ostomy, what would it be?
Eric: Be patient.
Illness and surgery can take a lot out of you, but you will feel stronger and more confident as your body heals and as you learn how to manage your appliance.
During that time, don’t be afraid to ask questions or learn from others – let their experience act as a shortcut to your success.