How to adjust to life with an ostomy or stoma

You are not alone. Many colorectal cancer patients have an ostomy or stoma. With a few steps, you can live life just as you did before having one.

young woman standing in ocean

Learning to thrive

More than 130,000 Americans have ostomy surgery each year. Some know-how and a supportive community can give you the confidence to thrive, but it helps to learn to accept your ostomy for what it is — a life-saving device.

people sitting together

Common concerns among new ostomates

Learning to cope with an ostomy may require dealing with issues like:

  • Negative body image
  • Struggling to maintain intimacy
  • Avoiding social situations and travel


Adjusting to a new life

In spite of the high numbers of people with ostomies, learning to cope with one can still be a life-changing event. You may face social, emotional, and practical issues as you learn to adjust to a new way of life.

You may have endless questions running through your head as you return to life after your ostomy surgery. What about my job? Can I ride a bike with an ostomy bag? Will everyone know I have an ostomy? What about swimming or going to the beach?

Yes, you can live a normal life!

The answer to all of these questions is that you can do most, if not all, of the same activities you enjoyed before your ostomy surgery. You can be active, wear the same clothing as before, go to the beach, and most importantly, live a normal, full, and happy life with an ostomy bag.

woman in field of flowers

Ostomies not only save lives, they also really help improve your quality of life.

Stephanie R.
Permanent ostomate

Taking steps

Adapting to a new emotional and physical lifestyle takes time. Let’s break it down into some steps to follow.

Remember your emotional reactions are normal

It's normal to have mixed emotions after a life-changing ostomy surgery. Adjustment varies, but take time to learn self-care and accept your feelings.

Watch for signs that you may need help

Be on the lookout for symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, excessive anxiety, or losing interest in enjoyable things. There’s no shame in asking for help.

Remind yourself that it’s all still new

You won’t change your pouching system perfectly after one day, and it may take time to get used to your stoma. But things will improve.

Build a community of support

Your community doesn’t need to be a big one. Having just a few people who are there for you can make a huge difference in your life.

An ostomy saved my life

Jen's story

It’s common not to want an ostomy at first — just ask Jen. But she will also be the first to tell you how happy she is now living cancer-free with one.

Connect with a patient navigator

Our Helpline is free. Connect with a patient and family support navigator for support with your ostomy or other issues related to colorectal cancer.

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