Returning to work following stoma formation

20 March 2024
Returning to work following stoma formation

Amy Geering discusses how she navigated the workplace as an ostomate and offers some advice to StomaTip’s readers

Meet Amy

My journey with a stoma began nine years ago. Since then, now aged 27, I’ve experienced both a colostomy and an ileostomy.

I originally had a colostomy formed back in 2015 as a result of a very complicated fistula adjacent to my rectum which despite multiple surgeries just wouldn’t heal. Since then, I have had many more surgeries as a result of sepsis from the site, and most recently in May 2023, I underwent the total proctectomy surgery to remove my large intestine and rectum because of my Crohn’s disease, whereby my ileostomy, which I aptly named Pumba, was formed. If you have watched The Lion King, you may note how my stoma is named after one of my favourite characters.

Amy, with her stoma, Pumba, and a t-shirt to match!

Navigating work with a stoma

Over the past nine years, I’ve changed jobs several times. When I chat with fellow patients in the hospital who have recently undergone stoma formation surgery, their biggest worry is often how to manage their stoma in the workplace. This can be the case whether the ostomate of returning to their current job or starting an entirely new one. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help ease the worries you or someone you know may have after a stoma-forming surgery.

Planning your return to work

Your surgeon and stoma care nurses will advise you on how much time to take off work after surgery. Typically, it is around six weeks, but this might vary depending on your job. It can be helpful to communicate your expectations and discuss a potential phased return with your employer early on.

Don’t hesitate to talk to your line manager if your needs change during your employment. You can even request an occupational health assessment for further guidance. I used to think only managers could make that referral, but it’s something you can initiate yourself!

Applying for new jobs

I encourage anyone with health conditions to disclose them when applying for a new job. Reiterate this information during the interview process to ensure your potential employer is fully aware. This allows for discussions about reasonable adjustments before you start, making the transition smoother for both you and your employer.

My experience

My experience with Princess Cruises, part of the Carnival Group, demonstrates the outstanding support employers should provide. In almost a decade of living with a stoma, Princess is the only employer that proactively arranged an Occupational Health consultation before my start date. This allowed me to fully discuss my needs and ensure everything was in place to manage Pumba.

I was able to talk about the necessary office adaptations I needed, including a stoma-friendly disabled toilet. This change benefits not only me but also demonstrates the company’s commitment to inclusivity. Discussing potential scenarios in advance alleviated my anxieties about managing my stoma at work. Princess provided essential resources like a locker, shower access and awareness among my managers — all crucial for reducing workplace stress.

Their follow-up support from both Occupational Health and HR has been fantastic. This positive experience is mutually beneficial: I feel supported, and the company demonstrates its disability awareness and commitment to creating an inclusive environment. Princess’s dedicated employee-led network, focused on raising awareness and removing barriers for employees with disabilities, is truly commendable and empowers everyone to reach their full potential.

Handling difficult work situations

While my experience with my current employer has been exceptionally positive, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. It’s important to know how to address these situations. My previous employer didn’t understand my health needs, even with full disclosure during the application process. They made no adjustments, putting my health at risk. However, this experience taught me what to do should a similar situation arise again.

If you feel your health is compromised at work, start by talking to your line manager. If that doesn’t feel comfortable, contact your Occupational Health team or HR department for guidance. Clearly outline your concerns, expectations and a timeframe for your employer to address your needs. This sets a clear path for resolution.

Most employers have designated resources for confidential discussions, whether financial or health-related. Ask your manager about the company’s employee support program. Remember, you have the right to a workplace that supports your wellbeing.

A workplace should provide designated resources for confidential discussions to discuss your health

Putting your health first

You know your capabilities best. Don’t hesitate to prioritise your health and request necessary adjustments from your employer. Your stoma care nurse can offer valuable suggestions to make your return to work smoother. It’s essential to take the time to heal physically and mentallyafter surgery.

The stoma community is incredibly supportive. Seek out fellow ostomates who may have similar jobs and learn from their experiences managing their stoma at work. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

I wish everyone reading this a healthy life, full of happiness. If you’re interested, I’ve created an Instagram page dedicated to stoma awareness and sharing my life with a stoma. Social media is a fantastic resource for finding support groups and connecting with others who understand your experiences.

Amy Geering uses her social platform to post her stoma journey and inspire confidence in others
Instagram: pumbas_journeey