Living with a Stoma - ‘You have to keep going, you have to talk about it’

editorial image

For most 31-year-olds, the removal of their large bowel could be seen as devastating. But local hairdresser Connor Grant has been given a new lease of life.

Connor spent almost three months in hospital at the start of the year, recovering from major surgery to remove his full large bowel and appendix which has seen him have his second stoma in 10 years.

His surgery on January 8 was, in fact, 10 years to the day of his first emergency surgery to remove one third of his bowel, due to Diverticulitis.

Until that point Connor had no knowledge of a Stoma, let alone living with one.

“In 2009 I went to the doctors three days in a row with bad stomach cramps and constipation.

“The doctor said we’ll get an enema done and the nurse will be out with you tomorrow. I went home and realised the nurse was a client of mine and I wasn’t comfortable with it. So I took myself over to A&E and said to the nurses I just need an enema, I’ll go home then.

“They insisted on me getting a scan, so after X-rays and different tests they kept me in, so they must have seen some sort of obstruction.

“During the early hours of January 8, I took really sick and was rushed into theatre.

“I woke up in recovery, and I called the nurse and said I needed to go to the toilet. She told me to just go there and I said I can’t go here.

“I was completely bandaged up so I couldn’t see anything and the surgeon came in and explained everything to me. I never knew what a Colostomy Bag was, or a Stoma.

“For the week after I had the curtains closed, no visitors. I didn’t move. It’s a lot to deal with,” he said.

For the past 10 years Connor has worked alongside the Stoma nurses at Altnagelvin Hospital to speak with patients who are preparing for surgery.

“A lot of people have time to prepare for it, for me it was really good that I didn’t know. It came upon me that way.

“I’ve done loads of work with the Stoma nurses since, I’ve spoke to people pre-surgery about what to expect, and I love doing that and being able to help that way.

“I’ve been involved in it for about 10 years. I have clients come in and ask if I could talk to a family member about it if they were going through something similar. The stigma is that you think it’s something for older people, but there’s a broad spectrum of age groups that are affected by it,” he said.

In November, 2018, Connor was at work when he started to feel extremely unwell, he tried to work through it but ended up in Altnagelvin Hospital. “I went to A&E straight away and they kept me in. I was in on Christmas Day and I couldn’t even eat, it was just crazy.

“I was in hospital for about two and a half months altogether and on January 8 they took me in to theatre to remove the remainder of my large bowel and my appendix. In a way, when you’re that sick, you’re protected, it’s like a cocoon.

“I was in intensive care for two weeks as well during that time.

“The staff at Altnagelvin were amazing. I really admire what the NHS staff do, from community to the doctors surgery and the hospital.

“It’s taken a good couple of months to recover, it can take up to a full year. I’m definitely starting to feel back to myself again. This is where I’ve been,” he added.

Connor stressed that one of the main takeaways from his experience is trying to break the taboo of having a stoma.

“You have to keep going, when it’s landed to your door. Even for your own mental health, to be able talk about it, and it’s a way I feel that I can give back. It’s so important to be able to talk about it.

“There’s so much awareness now. I lived with a Stoma for over 10 years and from back then until now, there’s so much more awareness about it.

“There’s documentaries on BBC Three, there’s inspirational people on Instagram and there’s loads of really good channels out there. It’s always good to talk,” he added.

Connor has worked in the hairdressing industry since the age of 14, with a Saturday job.

He has worked in the industry ever since, and will open his own salon next month.

“It’s a brand new salon, with a couple of firsts. New products, new ranges, and Northern Ireland’s first hair spa.

“We’re great at looking after our faces, so this is for the health of your hair and looking after your scalp. It’s a new upgraded experience.

“We’ll have some old faces and some new faces.

“I’ve recruited from across the country with staff coming from hairdressing, beauty and managerial backgrounds,” he added.