Northumberland stoma campaigner: 'A lot of people with hidden disabilities feel misunderstood'

A Northumberland woman who needed a stoma following the birth of her son says it does not need to be a barrier to keeping active.With the support of Northumberland Council and Active Northumberland, Gill Castle from Alnwick is encouraging people with hidden disabilities to head to their local pool.

Gill wears her stoma bag with pride and last winter could be spotted in the North Sea three times a week taking an icy dip in her bikini to raise awareness and money for the Birth Trauma Association.

Her efforts raised more than eleven thousand pounds. 

Gill hopes to encourage others to give it a go and experience the physical and mental health benefits that she does:

"It really upsets me to think other people are missing out on these things because they are too frightened to try or haven’t seen other people do it.

"A lot of people with hidden disabilities feel misunderstood and not confident to go into public places or venues. They are just a little bit worried about trying something new, particularly if they have a stoma.

"Getting access to the water can be quite tricky for some of these people and they do not have the confidence their bags won't leak. I just want to show you can."

Gill needed a permanent stoma following the traumatic birth of her son eleven years ago. She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and left her job as a police officer. 

Gill's blog Stoma Chameleon aims to show people what can be achieved after birth trauma and with a stoma. She has taken part in sky diving, scuba diving and sea kayaking. 

She said: "A chameleon can change itself to the situation it finds itself in, and so can we."

What is a stoma?

A stoma is an opening on the abdomen, created in surgery, to divert the flow of faeces or urine.

Stoma surgery is used to treat a range of illnesses including cancer, diverticulitis and Crohn’s disease or following a trauma to the abdomen.

There are three types of stoma:

  • Colostomy

  • Ileostomy

  • Urostomy

All are diversions from the bowel or bladder.