How to talk about your stoma

Are you afraid of talking to others about your stoma? Not sure what to say to children? Here are some ostomy conversation tips.

Talking to others about your stoma can be a daunting task. It is generally helpful to have a fairly strategic approach - especially in the beginning.

How to prepare for conversation

Start by thinking about what you want to get out of the conversation. Do you want to be able to talk openly with the other person or are you hoping to show that nothing has really changed?

This will help you address your feelings, needs or concerns in that particular situation instead of just talking about your stoma. You'll also have a much better chance of avoiding feeling disappointed or exposed.

Write the beginning of the conversation down

This may seem silly, but often it is only the beginning of a difficult conversation that is actually difficult. So by knowing exactly what you want to start with, you make it easier for yourself to approach it.

Have a positive attitude

How you act and how you say what you want to say will greatly influence the outcome of the conversation. So even though you're nervous, take a deep breath and remain positive. Your listener will most likely mirror you and feel more relaxed too.

A bit of well-placed light-heartedness can also help ease the tension for both you and your surroundings and help you control the tone of the conversation.

Put yourself in your listener's position and find common ground

They probably didn't have the benefit of being prepared for the conversation. Before you get upset or angry about a disappointing response, try to put yourself in their position. Perhaps a negative response is merely an emotional response to being afraid of losing you or the relationship the two of you have?

Acknowledge the other party's feelings and reasons for reacting as he or she did. This will make them more responsive when you talk about how you had hoped they would react and how it made you feel.

Try to identify common concerns you might have, and build on what you share to create common ground. This is the best way to get a constructive conversation going.

When the conversation gets too serious

It's easy to become obsessed with talking about your stoma and focusing on it. Shifting focus away from your stoma from time to time to resume conversations about your 'old' passions, hobbies and interests will help reassure friends and family that your relationship has not changed.

You don't need to include everybody

When discussing your condition with anyone, you can put yourself in a vulnerable position. And with the exception of any children or grandchildren, you should have these conversations for your sake, not for others.

If someone is not giving you the opportunity to express your thoughts and feelings but rather bombarding you with advice, however well-meaning, feel free to close down the conversation.

What to say to children

If there are young children or grandchildren in your life, your first thought might be that they are too young to understand.

But hiding the truth from them can make them think a situation is more serious than it really is, and children tend to cope well if they are given the information in a simple and honest way.

How to tell teenagers

It's not uncommon for teenagers or even older children to react with anger or withdrawal when confronted with a parent's health condition or surgery.

Some parents choose to tell their teenagers only key points about their surgery. But remember that in spite of the unwelcoming reactions, it is still important for them to hear your open and honest answers to their questions. Also keep in mind that any anger is just thinly veiled love for you and rooted in fear of losing you.

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