I was asked to write about my experience skiing with an ileostomy but first let me tell you I’m writing this on a beach in Fuerteventura. I’m on a spontaneous trip for a few days and it’s worth a mention because it’s my first time on a beach, in a bikini, bag on view.
I tried on my bikini before coming away and sent a picture to my sister to check it was ok. It was a passing moment, I felt angry I even felt compelled to do that. Looking at the picture now I feel very differently. I’m proud that my body has been able to get through what it has and that I’ve been given a gift of a new lease of life. This is the first time I’ve had my bag visible and it’s not been an issue at all. The beach is pretty remote with zero facilities so when I needed to, I changed my bag whilst sat on the beach. No one could see what I was doing and it was a whole lot easier and less stressful than urgently trying to find a non-existent bathroom.
Before surgery I resisted travel because of IBD and a mountain of associated anxiety. Since surgery (October 2016) I’ve been making up for lost time and have skied twice in the last two months. I’m not an accomplished skier after having only skied once 12 years ago and whilst I loved it, I also found it a stressful experience managing IBD. Frustratingly skiing was one of many things I felt unable to do, even when well life was dominated by needing to manage ready access to a toilet.
A year after surgery I grabbed the chance to go skiing without hesitation. That’s been my attitude to so many things since and it’s incredibly liberating. I have so much to look forward to these days. The trip was to Cervina, Italy. We flew into Geneva and did a 4-hour transfer on the Alpy Bus to the resort. That alone would have been unthinkable before!
There were plenty of places to stop for a rest and use the bathroom up the mountain and I took a camelbak® so I could hydrate, which also gave me space to store ostomy supplies. The camelbak® was essential to having ready access to water and I didn’t need to worry about where to store a bottle of water and getting it out to drink whilst fiddling around with gloves etc.
The skiing was good, well actually it was amazing. Being there, finding myself on the glacier at the base of the Matterhorn was so exciting and I felt hugely empowered. I really was on top of the world!
The trip wasn’t without a couple of anxieties but they were easily overcome. The first ‘problem’ I hit was how to empty my bag when encumbered by layers of ski gear and making the squat down to the toilet seat wearing ski boots in a small mountain cubicle. With a bit of maneuvering I made it without any disasters and was soon back on the mountain.
Hydration was key, especially at altitude and it took me a while to get it right. I used hydration sachets (double what I expected to use) and drank so much water! The temptation was to indulge in the après ski but I moderated it and found I felt so much better for not drinking (much!).
The following month I went to Austria for a few days and managed to squeeze in a day skiing. Not being at altitude made a lot of difference with hydration (and a bit of après!) and I generally felt a lot more confident being up the mountain in terms of managing my ostomy. I guess it’s like a lot of things in life. When you do something for the first time there are always more unknowns and as you familiarize you become more confident.
So here I am, sat on the beach, planning my next ski trip and a trip to Canada for a heli trip to do a glacier kayak later this year. For once the thought that’s dominating my thoughts isn’t where will the toilets be, it’s how can I finance all these new adventures! It’s so good to be excited by life and all it has to offer. After 16 years of IBD I’ve got some catching up to do.