Blog: Getting back to an active lifestyle post-surgery

14 May 2020

Lauren was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis on 20th January 2020 and, ten weeks later, had surgery to remove her colon and now has an ileostomy. With a physical job and active lifestyle, Lauren tells us how she learnt to adapt and gradually get her strength back.

I work in the RAF as a Physical Training Instructor and had never had any medical problems until, at the start of the year, I started to feel really wiped out and lost my appetite. I was then signed off work as my job mainly includes teaching and taking part in physical activities and lessons. After losing weight due to the Colitis flare I couldn’t, in terms of fitness and strength, keep up my training at all. I didn’t have any energy and was confined to bed in between toilet visits which, at their worst, were approximately every twenty minutes.

On my fourth admission to hospital in eight weeks, I was advised that surgery was my only option and at 22-years-old I was very scared of how such a life changing operation would affect me not only in terms of everyday life, but also how my body would look afterwards. Getting used to having a stoma is very strange. If I could give some advice, it would be to just take each day as it comes. I struggled in hospital in the days before and after my surgery due to the hospital having gone into lockdown with conronavirus. Having no face to face contact with friends and family was really difficult and often lonely, but I had plenty of support via phone calls and FaceTime.

Each day I forget more and more about my stoma, surprising myself with what I can do without any pain. 

Now I’m nearly four weeks post-surgery and amazed that I’m on no medication, not in any pain and able to eat normal food again. I am still learning every single day and enjoy reading other people’s stories to pick up ideas and tips that I can add into my own routine of changing and emptying my bag. I can’t wait to get back into exercising. I am trying to increase my walk distance each day and introducing more body weight exercises into my routine. My mobility after the surgery was very minimal and I had to rely on my boyfriend a lot to help me move around the house while I  built my strength back up which has been hard, making me really tired a lot of the time. I am trying to focus on upper and lower body exercises which don’t target my abdomen too much, and the walks are helping me build my stamina back up.

Listening to your body is so important; taking care of yourself works both ways, rest is just as important as exercising.

I am not currently using any added weights as my body is still recovering and I don’t want to do anything too soon. With the current situation of lockdown due to coronavirus, opportunities to get out and exercise are obviously minimal. However, this is working as a bit of a blessing in disguise for me because it prevents me from pushing too soon after surgery which I’m sure I would be tempted to do if I could! I am still nervous about how much my stoma will allow me to do in the future - I need to achieve and maintain my previous fitness level for my job and outdoor activities such as rock climbing, caving and skiing are big parts of my career too. Colitis and the surgery have knocked my confidence and trust in my own body massively and I’ve had some really hard days mentally, getting my head around such a big change. It’s been such a challenge at times to keep a positive mindset.

However, I am learning different ways to adapt my daily life around having a stoma, and honestly, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. There are certain things that I can’t do as I normally would, but I see everything now as just a different type of normal. This is now my normal. There is such a stigma around the subject of Crohn’s, Colitis and stomas, but the more people I speak to, the more common I realise it is. I’ve been open about my condition from the beginning.

I’m sure there will be some stumbling blocks along the way, but I’m determined to re-build my confidence and still do everything I want to do in the future. I will never let my stoma prevent me from doing anything.

Struggling to keep active during the coronavirus pandemic? Check out our blog from Paralympian Ali Jawad on how he's doing it.