Life without a colon, with Cody Maher

| Episode 35

A few weeks ago, we learned that it’s possible to live a normal life without a stomach! This week we’re diving deeper and learning more about what life is like without a colon.

Cody Maher is an actress and wellness detective that coaches people on how they can optimize their health. She’s sharing her experience with ulcerative colitis and the colectomy procedure. Take a listen!

Click the play button above to listen to our conversation with Cody Maher.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

  • How have things have changed regarding eating/getting nutrients and going to the restroom 
  • What life is like after a colectomy
  • Advice and resources for someone who may need the same procedure

Industry Spotlight: Cody Agency Wellness

Cody Maher shares all details about her Journey of colectomy and walks you through a new life pattern.

Colon Health Podcast with Dr. Dac and Ariel Bridges

About the Colon Health Podcast

Co-hosted by Dr. Dac Teoli and Ariel Bridges, the Colon Health Podcast features guest interviews with expert physicians, leading researchers, nutritional scientists, integrative health specialists, and other foremost experts in colon health.

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Episode Transcript

Ariel: Hello everybody. And welcome back to another episode of “The Colon Health Podcast.” I’m your host, Ariel Bridges. And I have Cody with me today. Cody, how’s it going?

Cody: I’m great, Ariel. How are you?

Ariel: I am well. Thank you so much for asking. So to start, would you mind just introducing yourself and saying what it is that you do with our listeners?

Cody: Sure. Hi everybody. My name is Cody Maher, I am in New York and I am a health and wellness coach.

Ariel: And I always love to start off the podcast by having our guests share their journeys with our listeners. And for you, I’m sure it’s a long story, and you can go into as much detail or as little detail as you like, but would you mind sharing the lead-up to your procedure, which I just gave a little bit of a spoiler, audience, she’ll fill you in a second. And then how your life has changed since everything kinda went down, I guess.

Cody: I appreciate it. Thanks, Ariel. Yeah. So I’ll start. This is about 15 years ago. I was a professional circus artist actually at the time, I was an aerialist. So that meant that I was traveling and performing really intense, physical feats for a good majority of my young adult life. And I started to have pretty severe stomach pains and experienced rectal bleeding and all sorts of things like that, unpleasant things. And at first, you know, I just…I really didn’t know what to do. And eventually, I did end up having a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. And at the time it was just sort of like, “You know, this is something you’re gonna have to live with. It’s not that bad, here’s these medication and that’s it.” So that’s what I did for a long time. You know, I just took the medicine I was prescribed and dealt with the symptoms, and that worked okay for a little while.

And then in about 2010 things just started to get a lot more severe. I would have much longer and more difficult flare-ups. I started to be hospitalized for these flare-ups. Lost a lot of blood, had a lot of blood transfusions and surgery was presented to me around that time. But, you know, I was an aerialist and that was just not in my plan. So I resisted it for quite some time, and then in the end of 2013, things got really severe. I was pretty much close to dying and you know, it was really an emergency surgeon said, “Do this, or we’re not really sure what’s going to transpire.” So I ended up having my colon removed in the end of 2013 and in a complete and total quote, I said, “Oh my God, the word was colectomy. Thank you, body.” And then subsequently went through the three-step J-pouch procedure, which I’m happy to explain in more detail for people, if that would be helpful.

And yeah, I’ve actually…I ended up later about three years later having to go through several more surgeries, just based on some surgical errors that were made the first time around. So, it’s been a really interesting and challenging ride and gone through lots and lots of ups and downs, lots of darkness of the soul. And you know, at the same time I was in school to become a wellness and health coach, because even though I was really loving what I was doing as an aerialist, I knew that after 10 years and with what I was going through, it wasn’t necessarily going to have the longevity. So it was a really interesting time of life. And my life has changed a lot. I have a very different digestive system than your average human and anything else that I can illuminate or go into more detail, just let me know. I don’t know which direction you necessarily wanna go in, but I’m happy to go in any of them.

Ariel: Oh my goodness. There are so many great ones to pick from. I guess let’s start off with, we’ve had one other guest member with a J-pouch before, but for anybody that may be a new listener, I’d love for you to share a little bit more about what that is, how it works, and then maybe share some insight into how things have changed, regarding like eating and how you get your nutrients and maybe going to the restroom, all that sort of stuff.

Cody: You betcha. So what a J-pouch is, is when you don’t have a colon, they take the ileum of your small intestine, which is the last section of your small intestines. And I like to be kind of humorous about this because that’s how I get through the day. I kind of like, you know, balloon animal create into a different shape. The shape of a J. So they, I like that image for listeners of like, you know, surgeons standing there with a hat on, anyway.

Ariel: Oh, I love it. I love it.

Cody: We gotta have humor about this stuff, right. I mean, it’s very important.

Ariel: One billion percent.

Cody: Yeah. So they basically repurpose the ileum portion of the small intestine and they form it into a J shape and that becomes a reservoir for holding and releasing waste. So it’s basically taking over the function of a large intestine. So there’s two routes that people can go in when they have a colectomy. One route is to have an ostomy bag, which is when you have an external appliance and a small loop of intestine, that is loop or end of intestine actually that is outside of the physical body attached to the abdomen. And then there’s a bag over that. And that’s where waste goes into a bag, which you manage. But I ended up going for the internal route, which is the J-pouch. So like I said, again, they just repurpose the small intestine and connect it to a very small piece of the last part of your large intestine, your rectum.

They call that a rectal cast. So they just leave a tiny bit of rectum so they can attach it. Pretty amazing what science and medicine has come to with this. So that’s really, that’s what I have. That’s what my body has done. And in terms of how my life is different, I have to be pretty intentional about what I eat is a ever-evolving trial-and-error game. Everyone is different. And that’s the thing I like to say the most is I’ve talked to a lot of people that are either considering this surgery or that have gone through this surgery. I’m pretty active in the IBD community and everyone has a different response. So, you know, some person would say, “I can’t eat this.” And then someone else says, “Well, I can eat that fine.” And so for me, you know, I can pretty much eat pretty much anything I want.

I don’t choose to do that. I have a pretty regimented diet, but that’s just because of my own health goals, my desire to feel amazing and be healthy. And that’s really my choice. But I could technically eat anything that I wanted to eat. And using the restroom is the same as someone with a colon, it’s just a lot more frequent and not as… You know, the large intestine takes water out of your waste. So there’s a little more water in the waste, which means that it’s not necessarily as formed in terms of bowel movements as somebody with a colon. So I would say, you know, I use the restroom three to four times more than somebody with that organ or when I used to have that organ. And yeah, I’ve gone through, you know, different periods of pain and complications, but right now I’m really happy and lucky to say that I’m doing really well and totally living my life.

Ariel: I feel like that’s great for listeners to hear too, because I can imagine this is probably, it took you some time to get to this kind of outlook and place where you feel comfortable and confident. And something you mentioned just a bit earlier is you talked about one of the groups you are a part of where people are able to chat about what they can eat and all of those things. I would love for you to share some resources or any advice that you may have for someone who’s at the very beginning of their journey.

Cody: A hundred percent. I mean, my biggest advice is don’t go through this alone. There’s no need to go through this alone. I did for a really long time when I first had surgery, I didn’t talk to anybody about it. I just, you know, I didn’t. I was embarrassed and I was afraid, and I just wanted to like close my eyes and wish it over. And then slowly over the years I just started to reach out more and that’s been the biggest help. And that’s something that I’m really passionate about. So anyone can always reach out to me. But to be honest, the community that I’m mostly active in is on Instagram. You know, if you were to search the…there’s a wonderful hashtag called, no colon still rolling.

Ariel: That is amazing.

Cody: Yeah. It’s a fantastic one. And you know, that community is the community that I’m, you know, a part of and it’s a really supportive, loving place, full of a lot of amazing people that are all willing to share their stories, tips and tricks, reach out to each other, support each other. I have friends that I’ve met in person through that. Multiple friends in fact, and it’s a really beautiful side of social media. So there’s a bunch of hashtags, anything you can think of J-pouch, colectomy, IBD, Crohn’s & Colitis. All those sorts of hashtags is a really great place to get started.

Ariel: I love that. Community is so important. That’s something we try and really, really hammer home on the podcast. You mentioned that you’re okay if people reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Cody: Yeah. I would say reach out to me on social media is a great first way. You know, my social media handle, I’m sure it’ll be on this podcast. And, but it’s @codymaher18.

Ariel: Excellent. Yes. And you are right. As always, everyone, I’ll put that in the show notes down below,.

Cody: Thanks, Ariel.

Ariel: Of course. So you can just scroll down easily, click, make sure that you follow, and reach out. We are kind of wrapping things up a bit, but is there any final thoughts that you wanted to share with our listeners today?

Cody: Yeah. I mean, I just wanna hammer home really that you’re not alone and that I care deeply about trying to destigmatize some of these things. You know, it’s not everybody wants to talk about this and that’s okay. And it is a topic that in our society is a little more taboo, bathroom stuff and intestines and all this stuff. But if you’re struggling, it’s so much easier and can really lighten the burden to not feel like you’re alone. So you are absolutely not alone. I’m here. I know there’s a lot of other people in these communities that are willing to share as well. So don’t give up, you know, I went through a really tough time. I didn’t have an easy surgery. Some people go through the surgery and it’s like night and day. They’re amazing. They’re better. It was 10 years almost of just in the mud, like getting through it. So there is always hope. No matter how you’re feeling right now, no matter where you are with your health, there is always a way, there is always something else to try. There is always hope and just never feel like you are out of options.

Ariel: Oh, such a lovely, positive, and inspiring note to end on. Cody, thank you so much for being here today.

Cody: My pleasure. Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Ariel: Yeah. It was so great to chat with you. Everyone, make sure again that you scroll down, check out the show notes below for different ways that you can check out Cody, get in touch. And like I always say at the end of every podcast, we, well, most of us have colons. We all had colons at one point.

Cody: Yeah, we did maybe.

Ariel: But make sure that you ask your questions, do your research and have a conversation. All right. We’ll see you next time on “The Colon Health Podcast.” Bye, everyone. Thank you.

Hey, everyone, thanks for checking out today’s episode with Cody Maher. If colectomies, J-pouches, IBD, ulcerative colitis are things that you are particularly interested in, please be sure to go and listen to episode number 26 of the podcast, Breaking Down IBD with Amber Tresca where she shares even more resources and information about life with a J-pouch and things that can help you out. I highly recommend it. Talk to you soon.