Green Smoothie Explosion

June 22, 2010

I guess all ostomates go through certain rites of passage, including the major malfunction of one’s bag. You only hope that if and when such an occurrence should come to pass that you are in the safety of your own home. Failing that, I guess all you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best.

It isn’t hyperbole for me to say that my life has completely changed since getting the cancer diagnosis. A wise friend phrased it this way: “Your life has turned inside out.” Yes, quite literally. One of the fringe benefits of having one’s rectum removed is getting a diverting ileostomy to allow the new connection time to heal. Fortunately, in my case the ileostomy is temporary and reversible. But until my next surgery, I have to learn how to cope and make peace with the fact of pooping into a plastic bag attached to my stomach. Indeed, my insides are outside—my small intestine sticks out of an incision in my belly. It is this cute pink stoma that has a mind of its own and poops and farts at will into the waiting vessel of a plastic bag.

My three-year-old calls it my “poopy bag” and sometimes requests seeing it, as he did this morning before we left for his play date. “Is that your poopy?” he asked while I was emptying the bag into the toilet. “Can I touch it?” “No,” I explained, “you can’t touch my poopy.” “Why not?” he asks with his big brown eyes. I patiently explained again, we had this conversation before when we caught him with his hand down his pants in fresh, warm poop, that it’s the body’s waste material. Toby nodded and seemed to recite from memory: “I eat food and it goes into my belly and then I have poopy.” After a year of diaper change struggles, he seems to have finally caught on to the inner workings of the G.I. system. Then, in the next breath: “Do you have a penis?” he asked. I love how normal body functions are to the curious three-year-old. Toby isn’t grossed out at all by my bag. David isn’t either, bless my husband’s big generous heart.

Since getting diagnosed, David and I have been the recipients of a constant stream of blessings and generosity. The prayers, love, messages, cards, gifts, childcare donations, meals, help with the kids and house are more than we can comprehend. Just last week another such gift arrived at our door: a Vitamix, gifted to us by our dear friends Sara and Mitch Levine and Sara’s parents Hedda and Gary Kopf. Because of the ileostomy, I have to eat my vegetables very well cooked, which is a total bummer, especially in the summer when I usually live on raw salads. How am I expected to heal from the surgery or fortify my immune system to fight off cancer cells if I can’t eat fresh vegetables? Vitamix to the rescue! I discovered that with the Vitamix I am able to digest and eliminate well-pureed fresh vegetables, even my favorite leafy green, kale.

The green smoothie revolution began the day the UPS driver dropped off the much-anticipated box. I’m still a Vitamix neophyte, but already I understand why people are absolutely cultish about these machines. This is no ordinary blender. This is a blender on steroids, with a lawnmower-sized engine powering it. How did I ever live without one? At the moment, my favorite smoothie is kale-arugula-cucumber-avocado-lemon, a combination I whipped up with just a flick of the switch for breakfast before heading with Toby to his play date.

For the past few weeks, Toby has talked quite incessantly about a friend at school, Maya. When we read Angelina and Alice books, Toby insists on changing the names to Maya and Lilly, our 5-year-old neighbor. Some days Toby will initiate Maya conversations like this one: “When we go to the playground Maya isn’t there and I’m sad. But then I see her coming outside and I feel happy. Sometimes she rides in my car and sometimes she drives her own.” Maya is in the younger toddler class, but this verbal little girl shares Toby’s passion for cars and fire engines. A match made in heaven. So after a few weeks of Maya talk it finally dawned on me to call her parents and see if the feeling was mutual.

And so it was with great anticipation—mine mostly, I wanted to meet “this Maya” who had captured my son’s attention—that we went to Maya’s house. The kids were adorable together and Maya’s parents were perfectly lovely hosts. Somehow, in following the kids around the house and talking to Maya’s parents I lost track of the time. I also lost track of my pouch. Usually I’m a bit of a neurotic pouch emptier—my stoma nurse thinks I’m a little OCD about wanting to keep it empty and clean, a sisyphean endeavor if you think about it, but she isn’t the one who has to wear the poop bag.

At any rate, toward the end of the morning we were sitting in Maya’s sweet bedroom reading books for a good while. Toby was snuggled in my lap and I thought: How wonderful to have such a normal morning, just like every other mom on a play date. I had managed to forget about cancer for a few hours and that feeling of separateness had faded. Then I felt a wet spot on my shirt. Although I was wearing nursing pads, I just assumed I was leaking milk. And then the wet spot bled rapidly to my stomach. I looked down and saw a dark stain on my, thankfully, brown colored heavy linen blouse. My cheeks reddened with the realization of what was going on. I excused myself, jumped up, and fled to a nearby bathroom where my fear was confirmed: the bag had come away from the base and copious amounts of green poop had leaked onto my blouse, bra, jean shorts, underwear; in other words, everything I was wearing was covered with poop. It was a royal mess.

In the midst of the green smoothie explosion, I managed to keep my wits about me. The pain and humiliation were right there and I wanted to give in to the tears, but first I had a logistical problem to troubleshoot. Fortunately, I had packed a spare pouch with me so at least I could take care of that situation. Of course I knew I could borrow a shirt if necessary, but I was too embarrassed to let my very kind and very new acquaintances in on such a private ordeal. Remembering I had a cardigan in my bag in the kitchen, I ran quickly into the kitchen to fetch it. I think Maya’s father saw me sprinting back to the bathroom in my bra and jeans, so I asked him to call his wife for me. Now that he had seen me streak by, I felt like I needed to explain the odd situation.

Jackie came to the bathroom door and instantly saw something was wrong in my face. “Oh, Jackie,” I sobbed, “I’m so embarrassed.” She was worried I was in pain, that it was my wound as she called it in her British accent. I had told them that I was in cancer treatment and had recently undergone surgery, but I hadn’t explained more than that. In a rush between sobs, I told her about my rectum being removed and the diverting ileostomy and the green smoothie and the ensuing explosion. She asked if I needed anything, but by that time I had managed to clean up fairly well and pull myself together.

Poop stains on my jeans, soiled shirt safely rolled up in a plastic bag, Toby’s shoes on his feet, a promise for another play date again soon, and we left the house. You know, some part of me wanted to just collapse and wail at the injustice of it all. Why is this happening to me? Why don’t I get to enjoy my children without the fucking hassle of this cancer? On one level, I am so angry. It’s true, and not very graceful or pretty. But at the same time, I’m driven to hold it together for my family. And yet again, the entire time I was clandestinely mopping green poop off myself I couldn’t help but laugh at the scene. Sometimes the only reasonable response to the absurdity of one’s life is laughter. I guess this is why comedy and tragedy are two faces of the same mask.

Of course, mothers aren’t exactly strangers to cleaning up major poopy mishaps. In my diaper bag I now carry small diapers for Leo, big diapers for Toby, an extra pouch for myself, and enough wipes for us all. I also carry three sets of spare clothes, just in case. Yes, the bag is heavier, but experience has taught me that a mama can never be too prepared.

Viva la revolución!



  1. Dear Shira,
    I can feel your strength and sweetness and spirit in every word you have written. Your blog is a stunning portrait of what it means to be fully human-
    Sending you and your beautiful family countless blessings on your journey forward toward shining good health!
    With love,

  2. Shira! how my heart both aches and celebrates with you. you have cultivated a deep compassion for yourself. may all be blessed by this wisdom and love that you share on your journey.
    All my love and continued prayers for good health, long life, prosperity, success in each moment.

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