Stoma is the umbrella term for different procedures such as colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy, with an artificial opening that allows faeces or urine either from the intestine or from the urinary tract to pass.
The group currently has over 100 members across Derbyshire aged 18 to 45 and, when one of them was diagnosed with terminal cancer, group organisers felt they needed counselling training to better help them and the wider growing membership.
Having secured funding from the Rotary Club of Amber Valley, they contacted Derby College about training options.
The College’s counselling course is usually held weekly over six weeks under Derby College’s Learning for Leisure programme but organisers agreed to develop a bespoke and intensive weekend course for FISHYS.
One of the group’s founders, Yvette Johnson (36) from Ripley explained: “The counselling training really helped knit us together as a group.
“It has also give us the confidence to talk and, more importantly, listen to our members about the physical, emotional and practical issues they are facing.
“This has been vital to further develop the group and achieve our long-term aim to become a registered charity and set up more groups around the UK.”
Trainer Sally Clark from Derby College added: “Volunteers’ time in a group such as FISHYS is obviously limited and we were delighted to help them by adapting the counselling course so that it could be fitted into a weekend.
“Although there was a lot for everyone to take in, the group really embraced the challenge and I hope that we will now be able to offer a similar to programme to other groups and individuals to support them in their work.”
Ms Johnson, who has four children aged six to 16 knows first-hand the trauma facing those requiring stoma surgery and the importance of counselling to cope with life afterwards.
She had suffered Ulcerative Colitis from a young age which is an inflammatory condition of the lower bowel. This causes severe, urgent, bloody diarrhoea leading to significant weight loss and exhaustion.
Despite her weight falling to below six stone, she was terrified at the thought of surgery and having an ileostomy which would mean wearing a bag to directly collect faeces.
However, her situation became so critical that, five years ago, surgeons at Royal Derby Hospital were forced to operate to save her life.
Yvette continued: “For me, having the emergency surgery was a complete shock and it took me ages to come to terms with it mentally – never mind the physical constraints of not being able to lift anything for six weeks and having a 13-month-old baby to look after.
“Although I had fantastic care from the Stoma Nurse Team at the hospital I was very aware that after surgery support was primarily aimed at older people and the issues that they face.
“For people of our age and younger, having a stoma is a taboo subject and it can be very hard to come to terms mentally about life moving forwards.
“You don’t want to admit to people that you have a bag, it can be difficult to find fashionable clothing that covers it and then what happens when you start dating?
“Our members have had all sorts of different procedures and are at different stages in their lives before and after surgery so can provide support to each other.
“We have shown that there is potential for FISHYS to be a national charity although it will obviously take time and resources.
“We are very grateful to Rotary Club of Amber Valley and to Derby College for their support and hopefully this training will pave the way for our group’s growth and development to offer friendship, support and information to even more people in the future.”