For ostomy club member, surgery leads to service

October 06, 1994|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Sun Staff Writer

For 31 years, Claire LeCompte was ashamed to talk about the pouch beneath her clothes, the remnant of cancer surgery that saved her life.

But 20 years ago today, she became a charter member of the Anne Arundel County Maryland Ostomy Association and has been convincing others that there is life after the surgery that leaves patients with an abdominal opening that allows them to urinate or defecate.

"I lived 31 years with no one to talk to and I was feeling like I was the only one who had this. I thought I was an oddball," said Mrs. LeCompte, 66.

"But when I saw all these other people with it, I realized I wasn't an oddball," she said.

She had her surgery in 1943 to remove cancer from her colon and rectum, she said.

She helped charter the county ostomy association because, "I wanted to let people know, hey, people make it after the surgery."

The stoma, or opening, has no feeling. Usually the operation leaves patients without the muscles necessary to hold their bladder or bowel movements, therefore patients wear small, odor-free plastic pouches that fit around the stoma to collect waste.

Mrs. LeCompte says the 180-member county Ostomy Association, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary today, also helps patients learn to live after surgery.

The group meets the first Thursday of every month at North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie, and helps provide emotional support and reassurance for those who have had or will have an ostomy surgery. Usually a speaker from the medical community explains certain aspects of ostomies and members share tips about how to handle common problems.

According to Elaine Tracy, one of the coordinators of the anniversary celebration, this evening's meeting will be an informal gathering, with a charter member going over the history of the group, and other members sharing pictures and memories on how the group has changed and grown.

Mrs. LeCompte has created dolls with the stoma and pouches under their brightly colored clothes coordinated with the different types of ostomy surgery they represent; colostomy, ileostomy and a urostomy.

She made her first doll, Mary Rose, in 1984.

Mrs. LeCompte carries the dolls to health fairs and sometimes visits patients who are about to have surgery. She explains what will happen in the surgery and with the dolls, shows the stoma and the pouch, to take some of the mystery out of life after the operation.

For Mrs. LeCompte, the best thing about being a member of the group for 20 years is helping others. "I feel like my colostomy has been a blessing," she said. "If I can be an inspiration to someone that's going through or who's had the surgery, then all I've been through has been worth it."

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