Some people have asked me how I got on going on holiday with a stoma. Can you swim? Can you eat? Was insurance expensive? Did you get leaks, did you struggle with the heat, were you able to wear summery clothes? Where did you get that awesome skull bag cover from (it is awesome, isn’t it?!)
I thought I’d just answer a few of these. I really hope this can encourage others because, believe me, I never though I’d manage to do any of this, from going on holiday, to living day to day, to wearing a bikini etc. It is possible, have a little hope, you are stronger than you all think, whatever you are dealing with.
Firstly, I was incredibly nervous and stressy planning the holiday. It was the first time I’d ever been away on a proper holiday, let alone with a stoma. This was a daunting experience for me being such a newbie, but there are answers to almost everything online so it’s easy enough to figure out what’s what, get some advice, contact insurers or travel agents to ask your questions.
This is a tricky point for most people, and it’s an important one for anyone with pre-existing health issues because you need to feel fairly confident you’re covered. I used price comparison sites like Moneysupermarket and tried to go through the small print of some of the cheapest options. I opted for ‘Your Travel Cover’ but I’ve seen a few people also speak highly of ‘Insure With’.
Make sure you declare everything. That’s crucial. You don’t want to have a claim denied because you missed something the insurer can say wasn’t covered. I noted everything, from pernicious anaemia and osteopenia to the ileostomy. Print a copy to take with you in your hand luggage and if you do it online, save a copy in your emails. I also took a spare copy of mine and all other paperwork as a back-up should one get damaged or lost with luggage.
I opted for a package holiday to include the hotel on an A/I basis, flights, transfers and fees through Thomson. Going to Spain, they include 5KG hand luggage and 15KG hold luggage, which is pretty ample even if you’re not a light traveller. Be careful to check the weight, and especially the dimensions, of the luggage you’re allowed. The hand luggage with Thomson, for instance, seemed a little narrower than with some other airlines, and it was a squeeze to get all of my supplies in there without going over by about 2-3cm. I gave their Welfare department a call to let them know I had a stoma and would need to be taking medical supplies; they told me not to worry if the hand luggage goes over by those odd centimetres, and they also added an extra 5KG to hand and hold luggage both ways.
Due to the potential for hold luggage to be lost or delayed, as much as you don’t want to contemplate the possibility, it’s important to take everything you need in terms of stoma supplies (or the vast majority) in your hand luggage. Scissors need to go in the hold so pre-cut a few bags. I went for 2-3 times the normal amount of bags I’d normally use in a week (one per day) and packed around 18 of them ‘just in case’. I ended up changing mine maybe 2 times a day (3 times one day) given the heat and swimming/showering.
Can you swim?
Yes, there’s nothing to stop you swimming with a stoma per se. With a bag like the Sensura Mio, you get little stickers to put over the filters; I put about 3 of these on to fully cover it before swimming, swimsuit on top and got in, staying for around 40 minutes without any problems.
Can you wear bikinis and summer clothes?
I challenged myself when I was away by braving a bikini. I’d not worn one before, let alone with a stoma, and when you don’t like your body and/or have issues with how you look, it’s a tough thing to do. Not once did I see anyone else with a bag, not at the hotel or any of the beaches or while walking around. But don’t let that stop you. Being the ‘odd one out’ is empowering when you realise you can do it, and you may kick yourself and regret not feeling free enough to do it if you don’t.
As for summer clothes, a support band or big Bridget Jones style pants, or the ones from Vanilla Blush, are great for helping keep the bag more flush to your body and the contours less noticeable. If it fills, as it does, don’t panic and try to avoid unintentionally drawing attention to it; keep your cool, it happens, and you can deal with it. The important thing is to wear what you like, what you feel comfortable in, and care a little less about what others may or may not think (because they’re probably too busy worrying about what they look like themselves anyway!)
Super Stoma Covers
I bought a cute stoma bag cover from eBay which arrived the day before I left. The seller was incredibly helpful and friendly and I gave her the measurements for the Mio maxi. You can find her here. It was a little on the wide side (my fault with the measurements most likely) but it still looked funky and I just folded the edge and secured with a hair grip. The cover also helps when going in direct sunlight because it makes an otherwise hot plastic bag more comfortable next to your skin.
So there we have it. A little on holidaying with a stoma. Dealing with an invisible illness, including the pains I get and exhaustion, adds another challenging dimension to the mix, but I’ll post a little about that when I put up some holiday pics. Have you ever seen anyone with a stoma when you’ve been on holiday or lounging outside in the sun? What was your reaction?