Every day at Comfort Medical we hear inspirational stories that amaze us. So much so, that we want to share Mike’s MyComfortTM story as a source of encouragement, celebration and connection.
A little background about you.
I live in Minnesota with my wife of 30 years, Patty. We have two sons Nick, 25 and Ben, 23. Nick lives in Golden, Colorado and Ben lives in Duluth, Minnesota.
I am 59 years old and retired 3 years ago after a 30-year career at Andersen Window Corp. I am extremely active playing golf, traveling, tennis, biking, hiking and skiing.
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer 14 years ago when I was 45 years old, my prognosis was very poor (9-12 months life expectancy) as the colorectal cancer had metastasized to both my lungs, with tumors/nodes in each of my 5 lobes.
Mike, tell us a little bit about life with an ostomy.
I had double ostomy surgery in January of 2009. My colostomy is the result of stage 4 colon cancer and the urostomy is the result of significant radiation treatments that damaged my bladder, requiring removal of my bladder, so I have had two ostomies for well over a decade.
I adjusted to the two ostomies fairly quickly, within a couple months. What is my life like with two ostomies? It’s WONDERFUL. I travel, play golf, tennis, bike, ski and hike. I do everything I did prior to my surgery, I just appreciate it more now.
A large degree of success is making sure you have the right products. There are many options, open pouch, closed pouch, one piece, two piece, convex etc. None of these styles are inherently good or bad, it’s just finding what is right for you. Unfortunately, when I left the hospital, I didn’t receive much education or awareness around product styles and options.
I went to an ostomy support group and asked fellow ostomates a number of questions, I am not shy and very extroverted, so I eagerly reached out to other attendees. Through this I found the right products for my situation and circumstance.
What are some challenges you’ve overcome while living with an ostomy?
Upon returning home from the hospital after my surgery in January of 2009, I was really having problems with my urostomy leakage, no matter what I did and tried I continued to have leaks. It turned out I needed a “convex” barrier due to a slightly recessed stoma. Once I moved to the convex barrier my leakage problems were resolved. I have been fortunate during my 14 years of ostomies I have not had any skin issues or breakdowns, nor have I had odor issues.
I change my barriers on a regular basis and If I am in the water, lake or pool swimming, I change the barrier a day or two earlier. Not necessarily a challenge, but if you travel by airline frequently, I would strongly recommend enrolling in the TSA Pre Check program / authorization, going through the metal detector is a non-issue, whereas going through the body scanner is a little more cumbersome.
How did Comfort Medical help you?
Comfort Medical has been a great supplier and partner. The ordering, shipping and billing process and experience are seamless. I have always been extremely satisfied with the customer service representatives I have spoken to on the phone. They review my previous order, they ask if the products are working for me, they repeat my order back to me to confirm I am getting the products I requested. Comfort also has a convenient online ordering system.
This is extremely easy if you want to reorder the same products as your previous order, truly one click ordering! I have always received my products on time, 100% accurate, complete and in good condition. I also appreciate the proactive phone calls if I forget to reorder. People get busy and these products are essential, so having someone else watching out to make sure you don’t run out of supplies is comforting.
What is important to you when choosing a supplier for your products?
When looking for a supplier I want “easy and effortless” on all processes from ordering, timing and accurate shipping and billing. I don’t want to have to call to see where my order is. I absolutely do not want to deal with the insurance company to dispute or resolve billing issues. I also want to deal with professional, empathetic, and committed phone representatives.
What is something you’ve recently learned to do with an ostomy?
After 14 years I have a pretty good handle on my ostomies, and the product styles and options available. I frequently volunteer at the University of Minnesota Hospital.
A number of the surgeons, doctors and oncologists refer patients to me to assist with questions around ostomies. One of the frequent questions pre and post-surgery ostomy patients ask me is, “can I go in my neighbors swimming pool, the pool at a vacation resort, or the lake? I am in the water frequently as we have a pontoon boat on the lake and we travel to resorts in the winter. I have never had any issues with either of my ostomies during or after being in the water. As mentioned previously, I simply change my barriers a day or two earlier if I am spending considerable time in the water.
What’s an interesting or quirky fact about yourself?
Quirky fact, I have had the opportunity to make a few National TV commercials for living with ostomies, products and living an active lifestyle.
Also, I have had the opportunity to speak at many seminars and conferences regarding my cancer and ostomy journey. At these conferences and seminars, I demonstrate how to change my pouches and barriers, I have done this in front of 100-250 people many times. If someone told me I would do that when I was diagnosed 14 years ago, I would have told you, you are crazy.
What words of wisdom would you give to others who have an ostomy?
As mentioned earlier, I am fortunate to be provided the opportunity to talk to many pre and post-surgery ostomates. I really enjoy working with these people to do everything possible to help reduce and alleviate their fear and anxiety.
My advice is do not be reluctant to resume your life. There’s nothing that has to change because you now have an ostomy. You can still travel, be active in sports and hobbies. Don’t think everyone is going to know you have an ostomy, no one knows unless you tell them. Ostomies do not limit you, only YOU CAN LIMIT YOU!
What’s something you would like to accomplish?
I have been very, very fortunate to get 14 additional years so far that I was not expected to get, and I like to think there was a reason for that. I have been able to complete a successful 30 year career, raise two wonderful sons, share over 30 years with my beautiful and lovely wife. While I do not consider my cancer diagnosis, 72 weeks of chemo and 12 weeks of radiation, two major surgeries and double ostomies as a blessing, it has provided so many opportunities to help others through this journey.
I have traveled around the country speaking, I have made TV commercials, worked with over 100 cancer and ostomate patients and my wife and I have facilitated over $1 million dollars in charitable donations through our charity for colon cancer research at the University of Minnesota. I have accomplished these things through the generous help of others. Life is full of challenges, but overcoming these challenges is what makes life meaningful.