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Beyond the Fear: Thriving in Exercise with a Stoma

Victoria Danson had a brilliant vision: to establish a support group in Lancashire specifically catering to individuals living with IBD or a stoma. Eager to turn her idea into reality, she reached out to a local charity for potential funding. Unfortunately, the charity couldn’t provide the financial support she sought. Undeterred, Victoria decided to offer her services as a volunteer, lending an empathetic ear to those who had undergone similar surgeries. After an interview, Victoria anxiously awaited a callback, only to receive unexpected feedback – her enthusiasm might have been deemed a bit too much for the volunteer position. However, a remarkable opportunity presented itself: she was invited to embark on a different path as an inspirational speaker.

In February 2023, Victoria stood before her largest audience to date, captivating colleagues at Fittleworth’s Company Conference. It became crystal clear that Victoria had discovered her true calling. In this heartfelt account, she opens up about her personal journey of recovery and reveals how exercise and strength training gradually became pivotal aspects of her life, even though she initially grappled with apprehension about exercising with a stoma.

“I think one of the hardest hurdles to overcome after bowel surgery is accepting how your body has changed.

I would wear big baggy tops that I knew would cover my bag and thought my days of wearing cute little dresses were over.

After feeling really low about my body and myself, I decided to join a gym to build my strength and I remember walking in feeling like I had a huge sign on my head stating that I had a bag. I felt so body conscious but pushed myself to go, even on the days where I had worked long hours and didn’t feel like it, I still went. I got used to the uplifting post-work out feeling and it pushed me to keep going.

I felt really nervous when I first started going to the gym, I was anxious about my bag being visible and worried it would leak in such tight-fitting clothing.

I started with cardio and support from a Personal Trainer. I told him about my stoma and he showed real empathy and understanding.

We started to up the weights and mainly used machines that took the weight so it wasn’t too much pressure on my abdomen. I also had a support belt that I used when lifting heavy weights. It took around two years to fully build my strength.

The stronger I felt, the more confident I grew and I wanted to push myself. At this time I was also very concentrated on my nutrition.

It took me a long time to openly discuss living with a stoma but I wish I had done it sooner because I faced many struggles alone for fear of being judged. Now I truly own my bag. It saved my life and I’ll be forever grateful for that.

Swimming with a stoma

I was afraid to go swimming at first, with visions of the bag falling off. It was my son who encouraged me to get into the water, and I wanted him to be able to swim, so each week I would brave going with him to his swimming lesson. The anxiety it gave me –  being in the pool with other parents, where I felt so on show was huge. I searched high and low for a swimsuit I felt comfortable in and I found one with a floral pattern and a brilliantly placed piece of material at the front to cover my stoma bag. Finding the right outfit and ostomy bag is key to feeling confident, I feel.

Running, weight lifting and swimming are a way of life for me now. I also have a cold shower every day and this helps me keep mentally focused. I do get frustrated on the days where I don’t have the energy to go to the gym, but I’ve learnt to be kind to myself because our bodies are amazing machines and I’m thankful for mine after everything it’s been through. Living with Crohn’s Disease for the past 15 years has taught me that you have to take the reins of your life and do the things that make you happy.

Since living with a stoma for the past nine years I have overcome many barriers; mainly ones I had in my own head, but by putting myself out of my comfort zone and trying new experiences, my confidence has grown immensely. I’ve come to accept my bag. I’m proud of how my body looks now, and I’m confident enough to wear any outfit I like.

I’m now on a mission to inspire and empower body confidence after bowel surgery because it’s not talked about enough and it’s a very real feeling.

Never give up.”

Follow me on Instagram: @ibd-beauty-and-the-bag

Visit my website: ibdsupport.co.uk

We hope you enjoyed this article from our guest blogger. They are expressing their views or knowledge on a topic because of their experience and background. Some of the opinions expressed may not reflect the views of Fittleworth or your NHS professional.

It goes without saying, but this is not clinical advice. Each person will have an individual set of medical factors to consider. So please do not to make significant changes to your diet, exercise or treatments before consulting with an NHS professional.

Victoria Danson has valiantly faced the challenges of living with Crohn’s disease for over a decade, and for the past seven years, she has navigated life as an ostomate. Driven by her heartfelt mission to foster a sense of support and camaraderie among individuals grappling with IBD or a stoma, Victoria aspired to bring this community together. Residing in Lancashire, she swiftly recognised the need for local support.

This realisation spurred her on to establish the Lancashire Crohn’s & Colitis Support Group—a sanctuary born from her profound understanding that healing often emerges through heartfelt conversations and connections with others. Victoria’s unwavering dedication and impactful efforts have garnered well-deserved recognition, including the prestigious Health and Wellbeing Award in Chorley and a commendation in Lancashire for her unwavering support of the IBD and ostomy community.