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Surviving Colorectal Cancer and Thriving With an Ostomy for 29 years

Surviving Colorectal Cancer and Thriving With an Ostomy for 29 years

Ann Favreau is a retired teacher, published author, and consummate volunteer.  She describes herself as a traveler who marvels at the awesome and finds wonder in the ordinary. Here is her story:

If you had told me in 1988 that enduring hours of surgery to have my rectum and part of my colon removed due to colorectal cancer would significantly contribute to a wonderful new journey in my life, I would have thought you were crazy.  However, that is exactly what happened. Not only have I been cancer-free since the operation, but I have been able to turn the experience into a positive one for me and thousands of others.

Colostomy is a dreaded word in most people’s vocabulary. The idea of having a plastic pouching system adhered to your abdomen to hold fecal waste is not a pleasant thought. Yet, I have managed to live a productive life in spite of altered plumbing.

After surgery I joined a local chapter of the United Ostomy Association (UOA).  They provided the information and support I needed. As a trained visitor, I sat by many a bedside to help others with practical tips and offer hope. Soon I became President of the local group and went on to work in the Field Service Program of the national organization helping other chapters work more effectively.

From 1996 – 2002 I served the UOA as Secretary, Vice President and President. Along the way I met hundreds of people whom I now call friends. I wrote The Healing Circle, a book of poems dedicated to all those who have diversionary surgery, and published messages of hope in the Ostomy Quarterly and Phoenix magazines. I just completed 11 years as the volunteer  Secretary for the International Ostomy Association and was aware of the plight of those in the global ostomy community. As President of the Friends of Ostomates Worldwide-USA, I have been able to address these needs in a practical way. This organization sends donated ostomy supplies to needy ostomates in developing countries.

I have been involved in efforts to address the prevention of colorectal cancer since my 1998 invitation to the White House Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative Ceremony by then first lady Hillary Clinton.  Katie Couric’s heart wrenching speech that day about her husband’s death due to this disease led to my personal and organizational involvement through the United Ostomy Association to begin prevention activities which included  spreading the message of the importance of knowing one’s family history.  I continue to serve as an individual member of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable.

I have served as a Buddy for the Colon Cancer Alliance for over 10 years.  Being able to talk to someone before or after surgery to provide information, inspiration and allay their fears is such a great use of my time. Locally I am facilitating the Venice, FL ostomy support group. I have touched people in small and large groups in a way that I never would have imagined in those early days dealing with pain and despair. My journey has taken me around the world, to the White House, and into the hearts of other survivors. This seemingly dreadful experience has enriched my life and helped me to make a difference in the lives of others.

What can you do to make a difference? Share your story. Revealing your personal journey with an ostomy helps others. Send your story to Colon Cancer Alliance Stories of Hope, Ostomy Connections and to the Phoenix magazine. You, too, can impact someone’s attitude by your revelations. Providing information, education, and support to other ostomates is a worthy endeavor. It has been very rewarding to me that my words have had a positive effect on others. I learned that a woman kept my poem Reclamation on her refrigerator and read it each morning to get through the day.

 

RECLAMATION 

Illness, pain, and surgery.

I’ve been cut apart.

Left to cope with healing,

And sorrow in my heart. 

But as my body starts to mend,

Self care becomes mundane,

A little voice within my soul

Murmurs this refrain…

You’re alive!

Ann’s book, It’s Okay to Have an Ostomy, is available on Amazon.com.

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