This Saturday, Sacramento will host the Undy Run/Walk for the sixth year. Among the participants is Colleen Lopez, a 55 year-old jogger and six-year colon cancer survivor who wears an ostomy. She shared her journey of hitting the pavement after her surgery in 2010, the importance of staying active, and finding support.
“They actually sent me home from the hospital after my surgery with a walker because I couldn’t stand up straight. That with learning how to handle the ostomy bag - I really didn’t know how I was going to navigate through life and get any kind of normalcy,” she remembers. “I did find Colon Cancer Alliance, which helped. Got a lot of good information there, and they did have an Ostomy section. I went there a lot for questions.”
When and how did you decide to start jogging?
It was probably a year after my surgery before I actually started to exercise because I wanted to do it safely, and I found a program here in Sacramento that catered to adult cancer survivors - getting your strength and stamina back in a safe way. I joined a running club here in Sacramento through Fleet Feet, and I do that twice a week. I have been doing that for almost three years. It was a “Couch to 5k.” You pretty much start right at the bottom. If you can walk around the block, that’s where you start. They welcomed all levels which was great for me, because at that time around the block was pretty far for me, and it was pretty taxing. I just kept signing up for these training programs because it keeps me motivated, I know I’m doing it safely, and I’ve got a lot of support. I’ve met a lot of nice people that keep me coming. If you have people that know that you should be there, then you show up. That’s been a real big catalyst for me.
Have you had any incidents occur while running and wearing the bag?
I’ve probably only had one incident where I was maybe a mile or two out from where I was supposed to end and my bag filled up. But luckily, the adhesive stayed. I was okay until I got back. There’s always that in the back of your mind - but you can’t let that stop you. Other than that, I wear compression running tights so that the bag doesn’t move around - it’s pretty secure. Sometimes when you’re running in the heat, I notice the adhesive breaks down a lot sooner, from the sweat and everything. But other than that, it hasn’t stopped me.
Colleen’s tips for runners
- Make sure your bag is empty before you start, so you start with a clean slate just in case anything happens.
- Make sure it’s secure, either with your clothing or with the belt. Unless you’re really running at full speed ahead, walking is great. I do walk/jogging, it’s no big deal.
- Watch your diet. If you know that something upsets your stomach or makes you more apt to fill your bag, probably skip that before the walk.
Being active really helped my quality of life. I think keeping active keeps my intestines healthier and moving. And that’s really important for people with ostomies. You don’t want things to block up. You just kind of have to trust in it and go for it and live your life. I can truly say really it has not stopped me from doing anything or going anywhere. In fact, I’m probably more active now than I was before my diagnosis. You know, they say there’s always a silver lining, so I guess that must be it for me.