How I cope at university with my ostomy
I’m now close to starting the final semester of my 3rd year at Strathclyde University, so I thought I would share how I manage to attend while being chronically ill. There are a number of things that both myself and the university do in order to work together to make my attendance possible. As I was new to ostomy life when I first started university, there was plenty of trial and error, but now we’ve figured out a way for me to get my degree - even if I can’t manage to attend lectures some of the time.
1. Make your university completely aware of your illness and ostomy when you apply
This meant that they were completely prepared for me to have meetings with the Disability Service before I even decided to commit to the university. I had meetings with multiple universities by phone or in person, which was great because I could get a feel for what institution seemed right for me. They were able to let me know what would happen if I had to leave lectures or tutorials due to leaks or feeling unwell, plus how they would deal with me being unable to attend for longer periods like for surgery or due to a flare up of my Crohn’s disease. All of the universities that I applied for had great disability services.
2. Download the university app on your phone and save links to all of the toilets on campus
This is probably the most crucial thing I’ve done. I have quite severe dermatitis that affects how well my bag fits and often leads to me leaking at inopportune moments, like during a lecture. So being able to quickly find the closest toilet can mean the difference between having to change my clothes or just having to change the bag.
3. Ask the disability services to arrange the reasonable adjustments you are entitled to before you start your first semester
I have a great plan in place with my university to have all of my lectures and tutorials recorded for me as I’m likely to miss parts due to my illness. This is invaluable, especially when it comes to studying, because you don’t want to miss anything at all. My university also posts all of our lecture slides and coursework materials online, so I’m always able to keep up. If your uni doesn’t do this then you should ask for copies of lecture slides to be e-mailed to you, as you are entitled to these materials.
4. Always have a backup plan for exams and coursework
As I study in the business school there is always a lot of group work as part of the course, however, I often struggle to deal with getting to group meetings due to having prior commitments like hospital appointments or not being well enough to attend. This often causes tension in the groups. So instead, I will usually explain my situation to the lecturer and more often than not we arrange for me to do different forms of assessments so I can work on my projects myself.
I also usually arrange to do my exams in a separate room next to a toilet, and if I happen to be extremely unwell I can also avoid the stress of exams and do a completely different assessment from home. This is an option any university/college can provide if you are in a similar situation, so definitely discuss this with your disability services and lecturer.
5. Organise everything in advance
When your health isn’t the most stable, try and get as much work done as possible whenever you’re feeling up to it. Being prepared has helped immensely in terms of my work, especially when I had my proctectomy. Being able to organise meetings with everyone to sort coursework and get a lot of it completed before the semester even started meant that I was able to take the month off when I needed to recover, without falling behind. Doing the work early meant that I was able to completely relax and focus on getting better, plus I was able to slowly get back into my uni work without having too many deadlines to worry about.
6. Try your best to keep up with university, but never put too much pressure on yourself
Education in general is stressful, with all the deadlines and teamwork alongside being chronically ill. You don’t need to put any additional pressure on yourself by refusing to listen to your body, I believe that, in your heart, you know if it’s right to take some time out to get better. I haven’t had to do this so far in university, but I did have to take a year out of college whilst I was in the middle of a really tough flare up. The way I think of it is that the opportunity for education will always be there, but your health isn’t something to take for granted and therefore must be your priority.
I hope this helps some of you contemplating going into further education or has even given you some tips to help make your time studying a little bit easier. Just because you’ve got an illness, you don’t have to miss out on achieving your dreams. They just sometimes take a little longer or they have to be reached in a slightly different way to most people!
See you next month,