A Colostomate in Honduras during COVID-19

Honduras is a beautiful, tropical country located in the center of Central America. Honduras boasts of beautiful beaches, forests, mountains and people.  I love living in Honduras, just going anywhere and being able to see the mountain ranges and the skies are worth it.

Nevertheless, statistics show that 991 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in Honduras. Cervical cancer is the first cause of death in women next to breast cancer. Fortunately, in 2016, the Honduran government approved the HPV vaccine for girls. Private medical facilities provide the vaccine for the rest of the population.

When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I did not know anything about it. I was the first person that I knew that had this type of cancer. After cervical treatment I developed a rectovaginal fistula. One more thing I did not know existed. To help me heal or have a better quality of life, my following treatment was getting a temporary colostomy. Another first in my life. I knew little about ostomies; I met a person who had an ostomy but he never spoke of it.

A colostomy is an opening in the large intestine bringing the end of the colon through an incision to the abdominal wall. That was the first thing I learned about a colostomy. My doctor was extremely helpful in giving me materials and support, but I felt so lost. I went online to look for information or anyone in Honduras with a colostomy. I did not find a person to talk to about it. Google and other websites were my go-to for information and tips. 

When surgery came and I had to order my ostomy bags, I had no idea what I was doing. I called hospitals in my country and they said we have this type and that is it.  So, I ordered from Amazon, and bought what I thought might be helpful and easier for me to accept (I was in denial of my ostomy up to the day after my surgery when I felt the relief).

Buying supplies in Honduras is not easy, in fact you call medical suppliers and they do not know what you are asking them for. I’ve only found one supplier that understands ostomies but does not provide the specific brand I use. The brand I use in not available in Honduras. I am very adamant about my ostomy supplies; I want to be comfortable and feel safe. It took me a year to find the perfect match with my stoma and my colostomy bag. I buy online in the U.S. and have it sent to me via a courier service. On a regular basis it takes three weeks for me to get supplies to my house. I always plan ahead and have enough supplies for two months at any given time. 

When COVID-19 made its way to us, Honduras was not ready for anything that came after March. Everything just seemed to be chaos as our country started closing up. With that being said, when quarantine came, I had just received a shipment of my supplies and in mid-April I ordered more, the usual amount, I wasn’t worried, I had stocked up. Then June came and I only had supplies for the first week and no news of my order. Countless emails and calls, and I still had not received anything. I ordered more, just in case, hoping this new order would get here sooner. I called and asked countless times for my orders. First, they got to my courier late, then customs took months in letting them through. I hated listening to this response repeatedly: “Your package is here in Honduras, it’s in Customs, and it has not been released yet.” I was lucky that a medical supplier here had supplies, but since they are not what worked best I went through them quickly. It took my ostomy bags four months to get here, and the order came incomplete. I am still waiting for the next shipment and completion of the first. 

Anxiety hit me hard in June and July. I was so mad that this was happening. I woke up one day crying, because the bags I was using were causing an allergic reaction to my skin. That same day, as I was moping all over the place and making everyone miserable, I remembered that I was still here. Even though this was awful and infuriating, I was still here. I allowed myself to grovel for one day, let it out, release. The next day I took a long bagless shower, and placed a new bag on, and even though the rash was still there, I was going to go through it and wait for my supplies to get here, I had to be positive. When they finally did get here, I cried again (blame it on the menopause). It was like opening a birthday present!

Being an ostomate in a country where it is considered a taboo and there is little information and supplies, is awfully hard. I am incredibly lucky that I have a good relationship with my doctors, and when I have issues, I can text them and they’ll get back to me quickly. Having this support is extremely helpful. But sometimes you need support from someone who understands physically and emotionally what you are going through. It took me a little over a year to meet Hondurans with ostomies. Just knowing that there are people out there with an ostomy and that you are not alone is helpful. I have not personally met them but being open to share your story helps others open to share theirs.  Using social media helps a whole bunch.

My ostomy came to me due to cervical cancer treatment. I’ve named my stoma Jeepers, because he creeped up on me. I am a proud ostomate, I’ve learned to accept my ostomy and to talk about it openly. It should not be a taboo or something someone cannot discuss.

Karla Chavez is from Honduras and she is a civil engineer and amigurumi enthusiast. Karla is a 3-year cervical and thyroid cancer survivor and a proud ostomate. She is a Cervivor Ambassador, a 2019 Cervivor School graduate and is a key support to our growing Cervivor Espanol community.

The New Normal

I don’t know if I can think of a saying I hate more than those three words. I have heard so many people say, with regards to COVID-19, that we need to get use to the new normal. There is nothing normal about any of this. It is not normal for my kids to not be able to have play dates, it is not normal that my kids school shut down and had to switch to distance learning, it is not normal to have to wipe down every single grocery item that gets delivered with Clorox wipes, it is not normal to not be able to hug your friends and family that do not live in your house and it is not normal to not be able to go anywhere. The list can go on. 

I have heard, “this is the new normal”, or “get use to your new normal” when it comes to my cancer journey too. But let me tell you, there is nothing normal about cancer. There is nothing normal about having a radical hysterectomy, there is nothing normal about having nine stent procedures, there is nothing normal about having to self catheterize, there is nothing normal about having a port inserted into your chest, there is nothing normal about losing your hair due to the poison being pumped through your body every three weeks, there is nothing normal about missing your kids’ activities, there is nothing normal about the strain cancer puts on your marriage, there is nothing normal about having a nephrostomy bag, there is nothing normal about the unexplained fatigue and there is absolutely nothing normal about having cancer

You know what does feel normal to me? The constant feeling that I am on a roller coaster except it’s not thrilling. You start off on the ride going extremely fast, your heart is beating out of your chest and you don’t know what is coming up next. Then your ride is steady as you weave around the turns. Up next, you climb the steep hill and then you speed down at full speed and you can’t catch your breath and you’re wondering when is this ride going to end. Right when you think it’s slowing down and you have a grasp on everything, it takes off again and you find yourself going up yet another hill and this time it has loopty loops. This is how I view my current journey with cancer; a roller coaster that I can’t get off and it doesn’t end. A ride that is full of up hill battles and twists and turns at every corner. Despite the gasping for air and the wind in my face feel, I know that this roller coaster is just a detour. The girls love roller coasters and will ride anything they are tall enough for so good thing my roller coaster doesn’t have a height requirement or limit of people because I have the best group of people in my corner. So until my current roller coaster comes to a happy ending, you will find me sitting front row with my arms in the air and the wind in my face. 


Becky was originally diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018, at age 35, and quickly became an active member of the Cervivor community, joining Facebook Group discussions, attending MeetUps, participating in the September 2019 Cervivor School and becoming a Cervivor Ambassador. She was diagnosed with a recurrence in late-2019, just weeks after returning from Cervivor School. Read her Cervivor story and learn how, amid this most recent diagnosis, her Cervivor Spark and passion to prevent other women from cervical cancer gets stronger each day.