Fitness gave me confidence after stoma surgery

After years of suffering uncontrolled Ulcerative Colitis, Dan Callaghan underwent stoma surgery in the hope of getting his health back on track. Exercise and fitness had always been a big part of Dan’s life and this wasn’t something he wanted to miss out on now that he had a stoma.

Stoma and fitness

After a few years of attempting the gym, Dan decided around 5 years ago that he wanted to take his health and fitness regime more seriously, and he now raises awareness of the benefits of exercise and how you can still lift weights, even with a stoma. Here, Dan tells his story…

“In late 2004 I became unwell.  After a lot of tests and failed diagnoses, I finally got diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. I was given various medications to try, after my stay in hospital and these did improve my health slightly, however during the Christmas period I got caught in some bad weather and my immune system dropped.

“The coming weeks were a struggle and my health and weight dropped dramatically. In early 2005 I was admitted to hospital following a colonoscopy, during which I was actually sedated but have a vague memory of the shock on the surgeon’s face at how far I had deteriorated.

“I ended up having emergency surgery later that month and I spent a further 5 weeks in hospital and my weight plummeted to around 6 stone. 

“My recovery from this was expected to take me through to September but in May I decided to go back to work and try and get my life back on track. Due to still having my colon I never fully recovered, nor was able to get back to any kind of normality. Pain meds made me unwell, I still had severe symptoms almost daily so in May 2007 I elected to have my stoma made permanent.  It was the best decision I have ever made. My recovery time this time was 6 weeks and I was back to Jiu Jitsu and other light training sessions.

“For a few years after my surgery, I messed around with gym training but in reality, I now know that I really wasn’t making much of a difference.

“About 5 years ago I started to listen and learn what worked for me rather than look at what others were doing. I realised that my posture wasn’t like most others, my stance was different and I had spent too many years in fear of the damage I may do to my stoma. Since then I have developed my own regimes based upon what works for me, all while listening to my body and understanding how to stand/twist/lift in a safe yet effective way.

“Once I started to focus more on this my confidence was higher than ever. I stopped caring about who or what was around me and concentrated on what I was doing and the goals that I would set myself. Make training your “you” time – headphones in, switch off from the world and just enjoy what you do. 

“I  have tried different forms of training from cardio to core and now I enjoy lifting heavier weights and sometimes powerlifting.

“The key thing to remember is to 

  • Always listen to your body, to learn what is giving results. 
  • Seek advice from some of the amazing guys online 
  • Never to compare yourself to anyone but you
  • Take your time, these are your goals and you are an individual with a completely different body to everyone else. If you have a set back then recover and then start again. Time is completely free and is set by you and you only.

“In terms of  stoma protection and hernia prevention, I don’t wear any kind of belt that is specifically aimed at people with a stoma. I don’t feel they are required anymore than a standard weight lifting belt as long as you are safe and do not try too much at once. I would say that the NHS prescription support underwear/vests can provide comfort and support without restricting movement. Your  stoma nurse will be able to help you order these if they are available on prescription in your area. These support vests/underwear can help with posture also.

Some good tips for keeping safe in the gym are…

  • Research posture and adjust to suit your physical capabilities 
  • Always start with an empty bar (smallest dumbbells) on every set
  • Do NOT ever compare your results to anyone else
  • Train for you. Not anyone else
  • Ask! Never be afraid to ask advice

And one of the most important things… 

  • Stay hydrated. Having a stoma means you will dehydrate a lot more than those who do not.

“Training has helped me mentally as much as physically. Taking that time to myself and actually enjoying what I do has had a major impact on my mental state, this is what has led me to creating more of an awareness social media page than a personal one. Helping others who struggle has really made me feel a great sense of pride. This has then affected my training in a more positive way. I love to try the unthinkable while training to show others that having a stoma or serious illness isn’t the end of your life, it’s just the beginning of a different way of living”.

You can find out more about stoma surgery and living with a stoma by visiting the stoma hub on our website.

You can follow Dan and his fitness posts on Instagram @dc_vs_uc


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