Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ostomy care for sensitive skin

My skin is sensitive to many adhesives, solvents, and fragrances. So it's been a challenge to keep my skin happy now that I have an ostomy again. I had lots of problems with itchy rashes and irritation with my previous ostomies and during the first couple months with this one, but now I've come up with a routine that keeps my skin happy.

I change my wafer every 6 to 8 days. It hurts to pull it off, so I soften the adhesive my smearing petroleum jelly on the fabric mesh area an hour before I shower. I let it soften up more with warm water while I do my usual showering. Then I slowly peel it from the edges and help it separate from my skin and body hairs by wiping the interface with a soft facial towelette. I typically use sensitive-skin Dove or Oil of Olay towelettes, the kind that are packaged dry and get sudsy with water.

After the wafer is off I let any residues soften up with a couple minutes of warm water over the area. I don't let the water get too hot, though, because I figure that the exposed colon is more delicate than skin. So I try to stay close to body temperature. After the previously covered area has had a good rinse, I get a fresh washcloth soapy with unscented Dove and gently rub the skin to get off all the adhesive and petroleum jelly. I also run the edge of the washcloth along the base of the stoma to remove any residue that built up there.

After a couple of good washes and rinses, I stay in the shower a few minutes longer to let the skin relax and breathe. Then I dry off and dab the skin in the area with another clean, dry washcloth. My new stoma is a couple inches long and hangs down when I'm standing, so I move to my bed where it's in a better position to apply the new wafer.

I like to let the skin air dry for at least fifteen minutes so it's not too pink and raw when I put on the new wafer. I have the wafer opening already cut and then I apply the Adapt paste around the inner edge while I wait. I apply enough paste to cover the few millimeters of exposed skin between the stoma and the semi-rigid wafer. The paste protects the skin from the colostomy output, but the solvents in the paste can also irritate my skin. So I let the paste air out for ten minutes before putting the wafer on.

When the skin is dry and the wafer is ready, I carefully position it to center the stoma in the opening. If the stoma hits against the edges then it'll be uncomfortable as it changes size when stool moves through. And if the gap is too big then skin will be left exposed. I try to keep my belly at a natural position as I stick on the fabric part of the wafer. If I suck in my gut too much then it'll pull when my belly gets full. And if I stick it out too far then the fabric will wrinkle and come loose when the skin contracts.

This routine has been keeping my skin happy and the wafer secure for at least a week at a time. I can usually feel the edges of the fabric and the inner semi-rigid parts loosen up when it gets close to the next changing time. It would probably stay on for longer, but I don't think it's a good idea to leave the area covered and uninspected for much more than a week.

There are various protective skin gels and powders that the ostomy suppliers sell, but every one I've tried has given me a bad and worsening rash. So I find that the best method is to be slow, gentle, and clean. The one exception is when I have a surgical wound or ulcer under the wafer. Then I cover it with Aquacel Ag, a soft fabric that acts like an artificial scab and lets the skin heal without getting further damaged by the wafer. At those times I changed the wafer more often, every 4 to 5 days, to prevent the Aquacel from stewing too long and to check on the healing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Uncertain health

Last summer I wrote about my rising CEA levels as I searched for the best treatment option:

Those fiendish cells

Now that I've finished another round of radiation and had some time to heal, I have another update on my CEA timeline.

My CEA fell after radiation, but not fast enough to suggest that it was heading back down to normal levels. Now it looks like it's rising again, indicating growth of tumors somewhere in my body. As usual, variability in measurements and benign conditions could also cause a rise in CEA. But it's enough to put us on closer watch for any bad guys.

My scans in December were too messy to declare anything definite. The masses in my pelvis showed elevated metabolic activity, but that could be from the radiation itself. The best news was that nothing new was showing up there. My lungs, however, showed some nodules that could become problems in the future.

Overall I'm feeling pretty good. I have a variety of nuisance symptoms including lingering bone pain, fatigue, urological misbehavior, and a fussy tummy. But I'm trying to press ahead with normal life and hoping that I can avoid or overcome any further problems.

Planning for the future is tricky with such uncertain health. As long as my body keeps running my mind must find ways to keep it fed, sheltered, and repaired. Financially, I'm faced with two choices: find a way to earn enough money to live where I have professional, social, and medical opportunities; or give up work completely and find a quiet place to retire and expire.

I am heading down the first path, committing myself to be productive and engaging in the activities that are sensible if I have a long future. But I am becoming familiar with a stress that's characteristic of chronic cancer – the knowledge that disaster could strike again any day and spoil my best laid plans.