Monday, October 7, 2013

Renaissance Great Comebacks Awards

I am honoured and humbled to receive these awards 
as both the Western Region Recipient and the National Ambassador for Canada
Sponsored by Convatec Canada in collaboration with United Ostomy Association Canada,
This award is designed to recognize a person with an ostomy who has:
  • Made significant achievements in his/her life following their ostomy surgery.
  • Made a meaningful contribution to the community or to others around them.
  • Contributed to eliminating prejudicial misconceptions relating to people with ostomies, in society
The $500 award will be used to provide Gastronaut Puppets free to child-ostomates in Canada. 

Following is my submission to the panel of judges. 

Living Bigger With Colostomy
by Paul Riome

I am so fortunate to be alive,
to experience my own personal renaissance,
and to live a great comeback as a cancer warrior
with a resection and a permanent colostomy. 

I have been blessed with an attitude that has no quit, and a body that can match that tenacity.  Certainly the cancer & colostomy hurt me, but it has also made me a stronger and better person.  While proving to myself that abilities after-colostomy were the same as before-colostomy, I set challenging goals that resulted in significant achievements.  Many people recognized these, and encouraged me to share stories to show that ostomates can live ordinary (even extraordinary) lives.

I humbly hope I have made a meaningful contribution to individual people, and to the ostomy community. 
In person, in OstomyCanada and Phoenix magazines, with Social Media, with Traditional Media, and with over 100 stories on, I have sparked positive attitudes by ostomates and about ostomates.  Reaching out through CBC Radio and TV, the Financial Post, National Post, and Hockey Canada has created awareness and a positive image of ostomates to the wider diversity of mainstream Canadians.

I am a very private person.  My core personality is uncomfortable with public exposure, accolades, and the power of social media.  But cancer and colostomy have given me a renewed appreciation for life, and stretched me to share real-life experiences and to show good living after-ostomy … to inspire each of us to live bigger.  The positive ‘active-ostomate’ profile quietly demands change to the misconceived stereotypes associated with ostomates.

The National Ambassador Award is not for me personally, but rather to be a platform for increased credibility and exposure for a positive image of ostomates.   Hopefully this positive image will inspire other ostomates, and become a tipping point for changing societal misconceptions about ostomates.  In a small but incremental way, the National Ambassador Award is a catalyst to help improve the lives of ostomates in Canada and beyond.

Relating with Ostomates
I have empathy for ostomates, because I am an ostomate.  I share the pains of a disease that was worse than the prospects of an ostomy.  I share the anguish of the decision to have an ostomy.  I share the agony of surgery and recovery.   I share the sting of misconceptions and stereotypes associated with ostomates.  I quietly share the remorse for a damaged and compromised body.  Yet I am driven to share the positive aspects of life with an ostomy, intending to motivate others to recognize ostomies with a positive outlook. 
We are alive because of our ostomies, and we can live peaceful and fulfilling lives with our ostomies.  We need to believe this ourselves and consistently show it to others, to drive change to the prejudicial misconceptions relating to people with ostomies.

My Ostomy Story
I was 59 years old. Married for 37 years. Proud of our 2 adult children. No financial worries. A business that I enjoyed. Healthy and fit and physically active. Life was good.  Or so I thought.
I had ignored daily rectal bleeding for 2 years, assuming only hemorrhoids, and refusing all medical examinations and procedures.  I did eventually succumb to a colonoscopy, and was diagnosed with Invasive Adenocarcinoma (Rectal Cancer), with prescribed treatment of Abdomino-Perineal Resection  (surgery including a permanent colostomy and resection).
I had cancer.   Quality of life was to decline.   Life-expectancy was uncertain. 

Leaving my doctor’s office and still reeling from the shock, I drove to a peaceful place where I would connect with the natural world. I laid on a small hill, mesmerized by the tall grass waving in the wind, to clear my head.  Staring directly at death made it remarkably easy to focus on what was really important.  Clearly, the top priority for my life was to stay connected with my family.  Within hours I had a peaceful clarity for what had to be done.  I would take the surgery, pay the pain and time to recover, and defer the life-expectancy topic until lab test results gave me real facts to deal with.

I phoned my children, siblings, and parents to tell them of the cancer, and gave them comfort with my peace. My son asked “Dad, how do you feel?”  I told him that my lifelong persona had been “playing bigger” than I actually was, but this Cancer&Colostomy would soon force me to play my own size, and I dreaded the retreat.  [reference to a common sports expression, “he’s just 150 pounds, but plays like he’s 190”]

The Cancer&Colostomy would cause permanent damage.   I would have a 1½” hole in my abdomen, with a protruding piece of intestine, and carry a bag of poop … for the rest of my life.   Would my active sports life end?   Would a hockey hit result in a poop-bag-explosion?  Could I skate with my buttocks sewn together?  Would I be able to enjoy outdoor activities?  In social and business environments, would my colostomy be treated as a handicap?  That was the bottom.  I had allowed the Cancer&Colostomy to overpower me – making me believe I would be permanently damaged and weakened, and my future would be restricted, bleak, and disappointing.  Once recognized, I moved quickly from shock and despair to a powerful new resolve.  So be it.  I will live.  Any pain and body-damage will be just a minor side effect.  After surgery, I will do everything that I could do before surgery.  Life is an adventure.  Never quit.

Surgery day looming for 2 months, and I was relieved when the waiting was over.  Six hours disappeared, then a cloudy consciousness returned, and I thought “I am back and I am alive!”  My Cancer was gone, and a colostomy was a permanent part of my life.  I had traded Cancer for a Colostomy.  It was a good trade.

My Cancer&Colostomy motivated me to adjust my attitudes, and insist on the freedom to actually live and experience adventures that had been dormant on my bucket-list. I hiked the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island and Lake O’Hara in the Canadian Rockies.  I surfed and snorkeled in Hawaii, Mexico, and Costa Rica.  I trekked and climbed 60 days in rugged Nepal.  Through my website, I have shared a hundred stories of the satisfaction of living life and overcoming stigmas.

Three years ago my doctor told me I could have a perfectly normal life with a colostomy. 
I didn’t believe him then.   I do believe him now.

Significant Achievements after Ostomy

Very early in my Cancer&Colostomy adventure, I resolved that
“I will live.   After-ostomy I will do everything that I could do before-ostomy”
Hockey Comeback

Exactly four months after surgery, I was back playing hockey.  Hockey team-mates were curious, so I volunteered to answer any questions they had, and show them anything they wanted to see.  They all related to the red-neck attitude that prevents us from having rectal examinations and colonoscopies, even while knowing that these procedures are effective lifesavers.  Face-to-face, I had gut-wrenching influence on them, with a hard-hitting message “Get a Colonoscopy.  It could save your butt … maybe your life.”  Several wives (mostly with tears) told me it was my experience that convinced their husband to get a colonoscopy.  The message was powerful, and it spread quickly from our team to our league, then across North America.  Phoenix Magazine published a coverpage story (March2012) with a dual-theme … “prevention for hockey players, and optimism for ostomates”.    Hockey Canada and CARHA (representing 200,000 Canadian recreational hockey players) flooded their readers with email, social media, and newsletters with the theme “Penalties for not listening to your body”, and a shock-value call-to-action for hockey players to get a colonoscopy.    I am humbly pleased that others have benefitted from my experiences. 

West Coast Trail

Just one year after surgery, I would hike the West Coast Trail with my son and his wife.  As one of the Top-10 Treks in the World, the West Coast Trail would be the perfect test to confirm my conviction that an ostomy would not hinder my lifestyle. But daunting challenges loomed.  This was a 7-day wilderness trek with no support and no practical exit.  I was 60 years old, hiking with 30-year-olds … could I keep up?  Could I repair and rebuild my body post-surgery?  Would a backpack hipbelt damage my stoma?  Would I herniate carrying a heavy backpack?  Would I have enough experience to handle all colostomy-related events?  It was a long hard road from Surgery to Trek-Ready-Condition, but I pushed my body to extremes to be ready for this challenge.  Much of this story of trepidations, conditioning, experiencing, and sharing ostomy-related events was published in Ostomy Canada (winter 2012).  Many ostomates commented with a consistent theme, ‘if a 60-year-old ostomate can trek the WCT, then I can rise up and do a short walk’.
Personally, I was changing my life perspectives … appreciating life more than before … simplifying life to do more of what I wanted to do and less of what others thought I was obligated to do.  I found that when embarking on new life-experiences, or again experiencing treasured places or activities, I am humbled and thankful for the opportunity given to me.  A colostomy is not as good as the original equipment, but I get to live.  Living is everything.  I try to convey this appreciation for life – in how I live, and how I present in the social medias.  And I believe this message is being heard by both ostomates and non-ostomates.

Mount Everest BaseCamp

Trekking to Everest Base Camp and climbing mountains in Nepal had been on my bucket-list for decades. Cancer & Colostomy made me focus on what was important in life, and I began experiencing, rather than just dreaming my bucket-list.  There seems to be no natural reason for a Saskatchewan boy to dream of mountains, but I did.  In 2011, I trekked for a month in Nepal, with Mount Everest BaseCamp as the highlight.  I was originally drawn to experience the amazing landscape, but promised to return for the amazing Nepalese people. 

'We are alive, and we are here on Everest’

An emotional moment for 5 cancer warriors
Thankful - Joyful - Peaceful - Proud - Hopeful

Personal Renaissance

My personal renaissance had conspicuously evolved by 2012 when I returned to Nepal to climb 3 mountains.  I had stretched my target to “I can do more with my ostomy, than I did before my ostomy”.  The challenge was formidable … live immersed in the 3rd world for a month … persevere though extreme and harsh physical conditions … trek 244kms through rugged mountains near the top of the world … climb a total VERTICAL of 26kms ... live with 50% oxygen levels. At age 62. With a colostomy.
And my sense of belonging and contributing to the ostomy community was also evolving.  I wanted to meet an ostomate in Nepal, but sadly learned from our guide that there are few ostomates in Nepal – people just die because they can’t afford treatment or surgery.  We are so fortunate to have ostomies, and to be alive.
I would also carry Hogus (an ostomy puppet) for this entire adventure to bring awareness to the misconceptions about ostomates, and to show both child and adult ostomates that we are not alone and that we can live ordinary (even extraordinary) lives.

Climbing Mountains in Nepal

We each have our own 'mountains to climb', and the analogy prevailed in our ostomy community. These 'mountains' are the challenging personal barriers that we must break through, to live a better life.  They are difficult because we must overcome our own fears and limitations, adapt to uncomfortable circumstances, and find an inner-strength yet unknown to us.  Certainly an ostomy (and all that lead to the decision to have an ostomy) is a formidable challenge shared by many of us.  After-ostomy, many strive to return to a new-normal with new goals.
My 'mountains to climb' were actual mountains.  Climbing 3 mountains in Nepal was the target I set for myself. 

I dreamed, planned, committed to physical conditioning, then embarked on a 36 day adventure. 

I trekked with people half my age, hurt like everyone else on our team, but stretched my persistence, adaptability, and grit beyond any prior experiences.

At each summit, Hogus and I proudly displayed our ostomy gear, then quickly zipped up to protect sensitive body parts from the biting cold wind.  While this exposure shocked some people, it also exposed and challenged the unfair and inaccurate TV-image portrayal of ostomates.
On, I shared over 60 stories about my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual adventures in Nepal, including many personal and graphic ‘ostomates-only’ experiences.  Within 6 months, these stories had over 60,000 reads from 125 countries.

Active, with Age and Ostomy

A dozen corporate sponsors (both ostomy suppliers and outdoor gear companies) contributed gear for my Nepal adventures, because they liked the image showing “Active, with Age and Ostomy”.  Our message was widely broadcast as these companies re-shared testimonials to reach their circle of followers – extending exposure well beyond our ostomy community.  This extended reach with a clear and positive image for ostomates, would force some people to reconsider and replace their prejudicial misconceptions of people with ostomies.

CBC Radio, CBC TV, and The National Post all carried positive stories to inform and influence their diverse audiences across Canada.
If a 63-year-old ostomate can be this active, then other ostomates can also live active lifestyles. Every active ostomate is a role-model to motivate other ostomates, and a change-agent to improve our stereotyped image perceived by the public.

Patron for Gastronauts Canada

Gastronaut Hogus (ostomy puppet) had made an impact in Nepal and around the world.  I was particularly moved by the many supportive and motivated comments by parents with child-ostomates who followed the adventures of Hogus&Paul in Nepal, combating their isolation and their uncertainties with their own challenges.  I was also aware that TheBowelMovement had supplied over 4000 similar Gastronauts to bring some comfort and hope to child-ostomates world-wide.  I believed I could make a worthwhile contribution to the ostomy community as Patron for Gastronauts Canada, committing a free ostomy-puppet to any child-ostomate in Canada.  I admire the leadership shown by the few Canadian Chapters that currently purchase and distribute puppets, and I will encourage other Chapters to do the same.  And for any child-ostomate not associated with a contributing Chapter, I will personally donate their free gastronaut.  I am finding tremendous personal mindshare and energy to commit to this worthy initiative.

Forging Forward

My colostomy is one of the best things to happen in my life. I am alive, and living is everything. But it also made me stronger and a better person. I have a higher appreciation for life, focusing on the important things, and setting worthy goals to achieve. I made a serious life-mistake by not listening to my body and refusing all medical examinations, and I paid the consequences. As a fortunate warrior and survivor, I am uniquely positioned to educate others, particularly as a credible proponent for lifesaving colonoscopies. 
I continue to evolve and grow as an active participant and contributor in the ostomy community. There are many good people that make significant impacts within the ostomy community, and I have great admiration and respect for their contributions.  I believe I can continue to present a positive image within the ostomy community, and beyond to the general public, and that image will incrementally change the social perception of ostomates.  Hopefully our collective efforts will inspire other ostomates to live bigger, and public misconceptions will be replaced by positive images of ostomates.

I will continue to live and share a positive active lifestyle as an ostomate at


  1. Paul this is SO neat! We love reading your story. Ryan is the West Regional Great Comebacks Winner for 2014! I can't wait to show him your story as he is in Haiti right now on work.

    You rock!

    Ryan & Carly @

  2. Ryan and Carly. Thanks for your kind words. And congratulations as the Western Regional Great Comebacks Winner for 2014. Maybe we can meet in person at the UOAC convention in Newfoundland.

  3. Hi Paul... what a moving and inspiring essay! My journey to being an ostomate mirrors yours in that I too ignored symptoms for almost two years because of pride and embarrassment. Learning that I had rectal cancer made clear that I had no other option than to have surgery, even if it meant a new life and reality of forever having a colostomy bag. At the time I couldn't wait for surgery. Now I am four weeks post-op and struggling with my new reality. Your optimism and story of recovery is giving me hope and comfort.

  4. Hi Paul... what a moving and inspiring essay! My journey to being an ostomate mirrors yours in that I too ignored symptoms for almost two years because of pride and embarrassment. Learning that I had rectal cancer made clear that I had no other option than to have surgery, even if it meant a new life and reality of forever having a colostomy bag. At the time I couldn't wait for surgery. Now I am four weeks post-op and struggling with my new reality. Your optimism and story of recovery is giving me hope and comfort.