By Billy Ritchie
I’ve always enjoyed a stroll in the Scottish Highlands. For more than twenty years, I’ve ventured out in various weather conditions to tackle walks and scrambles.
In December 2010, I had stoma surgery after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. I expected getting fit again would be tough, so I rebuilt my fitness slowly. After over a year and a half, I decided I was fit enough to tackle another hill walk. My first challenging walk with a urostomy was with my 17-year-old son. We chose the Ben Ledi mountain which is 879 metres high and sits just north of Callander.
Throughout the day, my son was constantly asking if I was okay. I was worried that my bag would burst and I carried numerous changes of clothes in case I had a leak. I also wore a leg bag, which I continually had to adjust as every step pulled uncomfortably at the pipe and bag.
It was a hot and sunny day, and in the end, I made it up and down the mountain. I realised that my stoma wasn’t the problem – I just wasn’t as fit as I once was.
In hindsight, I was over cautious post-surgery. I worried too much about what might happen. Since that walk, I’ve managed to complete numerous other hill walks and I have recently completed my longest post-op challenge. It was a route called Ring of Steall, which is a horseshoe configuration near Ben Nevis and Fort William.
An amazing part of the Ring Of Steall is crossing the wet and slippy wire bridge!
It took a 3 hour drive, where I used my leg bag. Then, there was an 8 kilometre walk, tackling 4 munros (hills over 914 metres in height). I made sure that I stayed hydrated and I had a couple of lunch stops along the way. In all, the walk took 8 hours. The last section was a slow plod down the side of the final hill, but I did manage a small scree run down a descent of around 200m. Now that’s fun! The 3 hour drive home wasn’t so fun though, after such a long day.
I’ve been able to find what works well for me. When I go out onto the hills now, I put on a fresh pouch in the morning and don’t bother with a leg bag. I find that wearing a waist support is best, so I wear special stoma underwear with a high waistband. When I’m out on the hills, I focus on the environment, the view and the company of good friends. Whether there’s rain, sunshine or snow, being out on the hills gives me freedom from everyday life. When I’m out there, I don’t think about my stoma.
Image 2: In the snow on Ben Vorlich, Lochearnhead.
Looking back, I’m much more relaxed about my stoma now. I take each day as it comes and I’ve realised that having a stoma doesn’t have to stop me from doing the things I want to do.
Reaching the top of the final hill is always rewarding, even if I am exhausted!