Telling Others About Your Ostomy

You might be worried about how others will accept you and how your social life may change. It’s natural to think about how you’ll explain your surgery. A clear, brief answer would be that you had abdominal surgery, or that you had part of your intestine removed.

Your friends and relatives may ask questions about your operation. Tell them only as much as you want them to know. Don’t feel as if you have to explain your surgery to everyone who asks.

If you have children, answer their questions simply and truthfully. A simple explanation is often enough for them. Once you have explained what an ostomy is they may ask questions about it and want to see your stoma or the pouch. Talking about your surgery in a natural way will help get rid of any wrong ideas that they may have. They will accept your ostomy much the same way you do.

If you’re single and dating, you can pick your time to tell a new partner, but it might be better to do so early in a relationship. Stress the fact that this surgery was necessary and managing your ostomy does not affect your activities and enjoyment of life. This not only lessens your anxiety, but if there is an issue that cannot be overcome, the letdown is not as harsh as it might be later. Do not wait until intimate sexual contact leads to discovery.

If you’re in a relationship, married, or considering marriage, talk with your partner about life with an ostomy and its effect on sex, children, and your lifestyle. Going to an ostomy support group meeting together may also be helpful. Talking to other couples in which one partner has an ostomy will give you both an experienced point of view. See Intimacy and sexuality when you have an ostomy for more on this.

Learning to live with an ostomy may seem like a big challenge, but it will get easier over time. Just as with any life change having a positive outlook, patience, and a sense of humor are key.

There may be times after surgery when you feel discouraged. You may feel alone and isolated. Because the whole experience is so new to you, you may feel awkward, frustrated, and uncertain. Feeling discouraged is real and normal. You might cry, be angry, and react in ways that are unusual for you. Talking to a trusted friend, nurse, clergy, and certainly another person with an ostomy may help you work through those feelings.

Your social life can be as active as it was before surgery. You can enjoy the things you did before, such as travel, sporting events, and eating at restaurants. Remember, you may feel the pouch on your body, but no one can see it. 

In its original form this document was written by the United Ostomy Association, Inc. (1962-2005) and reviewed by Jan Clark, RNET, CWOCN and Peg Grover, RNET. It has since been modified and updated by:

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: June 2, 2017 Last Revised: June 12, 2017

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.