Working with a stoma, whether it’s a colostomy, ileostomy, or urostomy, can present unique challenges. However, with the right strategies and a positive mindset, individuals with a stoma can thrive professionally.
Returning to work with a stoma requires a combination of self-awareness, effective communication, and a proactive approach. It is possible for you to navigate your professional life successfully while managing your stoma with both confidence and grace.
Remember that you have the right to a supportive work environment that allows you to thrive. Here are some valuable tips for success whilst working with a stoma, no matter what type of work environment you’re in.
Communication with your workplace
Start by discussing your situation with your employer or HR department. You may have already discussed the time off required for your surgery so they should be prepared for the conversation together when you are ready to return.
This discussion doesn’t mean you have to disclose intimate details, but sharing the fact that you have a medical condition that requires some adaptations, can then create a supportive environment.
Keeping lines of communication clear can help your employer understand your needs and make necessary adjustments.
Think about what you need
Before approaching your employer, take time to understand your own needs when working with a stoma. Consider factors such as the frequency of stoma bag changes, toilet accessibility and any dietary requirements. This will help you explain your needs more effectively and request adjustments which truly benefit you.
Make special requests
Based on your needs, consider your requests such as flexible break times for pouch changes, access to a private toilet, or the ability to work from home on occasion if needed.
Plan your workday with your stoma care routine in mind. Make sure you have enough supplies on hand, including stoma bags, wipes, disposable bags and any necessary medications.
Packing a small kit that you can discreetly carry with you can provide peace of mind and help you manage unexpected situations.
If you need to change your stoma bag frequently, discuss toilet accessibility with your employer, as access to a private toilet with a sink and a bin can greatly simplify your routine. If a private toilet isn’t available, request permission to use another toilet that’s less used by colleagues, ensuring your privacy.
Talk to trusted colleagues
You don’t have to share your medical details with everyone but informing a few trusted colleagues can be helpful. They may have realised you have been off during any surgery and may offer support if you need to step away for a moment or if you experience any issues. Having someone who understands your situation can ease loneliness and any anxiety you may be feeling.
Working with a stoma & time management
Effective time management is crucial. Plan your day to accommodate your stoma care routine without compromising your work responsibilities. This might involve prioritising tasks, breaking your day into focused work periods, and taking breaks strategically.
Select clothing that make stoma care easier. Loose-fitting clothing with an elastic waistband can be more comfortable and provide easier access for bag changes. Dark-coloured clothing can also help conceal any accidental leaks or stains.
Be prepared for questions
Colleagues may notice you have been off sick, or the changes in your work environment or may even notice when you take extra breaks. Be prepared to handle questions if they arise. You can decide how much information to share, but educating others about stomas and your needs, can promote understanding and reduce any potential stigma.
Embrace confidence when working with a stoma
Self-confidence is key to success. Remember that having a stoma doesn’t define you or your abilities. Embrace your uniqueness and the challenges you’ve overcome. The more confident you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel navigating workplace situations.
Prioritise emotional wellbeing
Managing a stoma involves not only physical adjustments but also emotional ones. Don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or your stoma care nurse. Practicing mindfulness, meditation, or other stress-reduction techniques can help you stay focused and maintain a positive outlook.
Attend regular meet ups
Stay in touch with your employer or HR department about how the adaptations are working for you. If adjustments are needed, speak up. Keeping the lines of communication open ensures that your needs are being met effectively.