• Jessica Farthing

Friends Forever: The Power of Peer Support

Recently, a pretty in-depth article crossed my desk regarding research on the benefit of having an ostomy support program set up after surgery. It found that there was clear value in the program that was studied, which was created by a manufacturer of medical supplies. Up to 18 months after surgery, the patients enrolled had a much lower rate of being re-hospitalized than those who had no intervention. The support program had three components: a phone team that assisted the patient with lifestyle advice, emotional help and basic access to supplies and needed products from the manufacturer - monthly wellness education and a travel kit with samples and an instructional DVD. Patients enrolled in this program filled out a survey and out of the 489 respondents in the support program, only 85 had visits to the hospital within the first month. That left a total of 404 ostomy users that were able to continue with their life uninterrupted by the setback of a hospitalization.

(I would be glad to send you a copy of the study. There is much more information than I am sharing in this forum .)

Hospitals can be expensive and sometimes create situations that are dangerous to your health with increased exposure to infection, inactivity and a fractured sense of well-being. It is important for all people who have had life-changing medical conditions to resume normal life as much as possible. The key to this seems to be education and support.

Traditional models of peer support exist, providing patients with access to people who may have overcome the challenges of their condition. Recently, my mother had a stroke which drastically changed her independence. One afternoon, a fiery lady came in to speak with her, using a walker. This woman told her all about her stroke and the successful career she enjoyed after her physical life had changed. You could see the comfort my mother took from seeing someone triumph in a similar situation to her own. She was inspired and motivated and above all, hopeful about her future despite the changes in her life.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There is a well-known forum online that is cumbersome to use even though it has a huge amount of useful information. A group of women that were entering chemotherapy treatment with me in the same month banded together and moved our communication to a Facebook group. Years later we are all still together, virtual friends celebrating our lives and discussing the lingering mental effect of our medical trauma. We call ourselves 'support sisters' and my friendship with these women is one of the most powerful and nurturing experiences of my life. The common thread of our illness permeates but doesn't limit our interactions. We are friends forever, with a great understanding of each other. We also share health information, new research trends and positive lifestyle changes. Right now, a few of us are dieting together in an effort to be healthy. We are also following a 'sister's' young son's Bar Mitzvah as she shares pictures to the group. Every interaction helps us head confidently into our own changed futures.

As an ostomy medical supplier, we encourage you to find your own community to support you. A good source is the United Ostomy Associates of America website. Click the picture below for a link that allows you to enter your zip code and find support groups close to you.

There are virtual and physical groups all over the United States to help with information and support. If you are local to Anchor Medical, there is contact information for the Savannah Ostomy Support Group and the Lowcountry South Carolina Group that covers the Beaufort / Bluffton / Hilton Head area.

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