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Cumb. Co. support group makes life with ostomy less of a mystery

When new participants in the Ostomy Peer Supports Group arrive at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, Erin Rushton has signs in place to help them find the conference room.
When new participants in the Ostomy Peer Supports Group arrive at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, Erin Rushton has signs in place to help them find the conference room.

The first thing Erin Rushton wanted after colostomy surgery was a Big Mac.

“I had never had one because of the seeds on the bun, and the sauce and the grease, because of my colitis,” she says. “As soon as I got home I called my cousin and said, ‘Can you take me to Amherst to get a Big Mac.‘”

Rushton received the life-changing, life-altering surgery when she was 19 years-old, setting her on a path that would see her embrace life with a colostomy and even use it to guide her professional career, but for all the life changes that followed the sense of liberation she feels, she says, is thanks to the support staff she had to help her navigate the do’s and do-not’s afterwards. It was something she felt Cumberland County lacked, but is personally addressing.

Rushton’s colostomy became the catalyst for her professional career; first as a nutritionist, then as a nurse. Now as an enterostomal therapist, Rushton is trained in the care of persons with stomas, such as colostomies. While she sees patients on a one-on-one, as-needed basis, she could tell the area needed something less formal but regularly available.

“I met a man who hadn’t showered in three years. He just bathed at a sink because he didn’t know he could get [his colostomy bag] wet… he didn’t know that. No one told him. I wondered how are people getting by without knowing these basic steps.”  

As fate would have it, help was looking for Rushton.

Rushton recently reached out to Ostomy Canada Society on behalf of another patient when she learned the society was looking to create an informal peer support groups for Cumberland County. Creating a platform for patients to exchange stories, tips and tricks about different equipment, have guest speakers, an open floor to discuss their needs and even which tax credits they qualify for, Rushton realized the far-reaching benefits of establishing the group and volunteered to be its lead . The group began meeting this summer.

“I feel connected with the people who have [a colostomy] because you know they have similar problems as you,” Rushton said. “I kind of feel a kinship with these people because [I want them to know] ‘You can do that. Don’t hide out in your house. You can travel, you can go biking, you can go swimming.’”

Meeting the first Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m., the Ostomy Peer Support Group meets on the second floor of the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in conference room three. After entering the hospital, Rushton has signs up the day of the get-togethers to guide new visitors to the meeting room.

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