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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Living with ostomy: Retired geologist had colon removed over 30 years ago

Phil Moyle, a retired geologist, has had an ileostomy for about 32 years. He’s also a member of a local support group and the editor of a regional newsletter that serves ostomates and their loved ones living in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The National Ostomy Awareness Day was Oct. 7, but Phil Moyle doesn’t need that reminder.

In 1985, Moyle, a geologist conducting fieldwork in southern Idaho for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, got sick. Bouts of painful, bloody diarrhea made him miserable, and made it difficult for him to do his job.

“We were dry camping out in the middle of nowhere. We had no bathroom and when you have to go 15 to 20 times a day … well, it got old quickly,” he recalled.

His doctor initially thought he’d contracted giardia, but eventually Moyle was diagnosed with a severe case of ulcerative colitis and placed on a steroid regimen.

“The prednisone energized me, so I went back out to the field,” he said.

But he didn’t get better. He got worse. Much worse.

Moyle was hospitalized, and after three weeks of intense treatment failed, he underwent a total colectomy. His surgeon removed his colon (also known as large intestine) and then formed an ileostomy, creating a stoma or an opening in the ileum (last part of the small intestine), which was then stitched to his skin.

At 38, with two young children at home, Moyle became one of approximately 725,000 to 1 million people living with ostomies in the U.S.

“I had to have surgery or die,” he said. “But I fought the idea for a long time.”

His job required him to be fit and out in the field for long periods of time. So, following the surgery, Moyle made a promise.

“I made a vow to myself that I’d return as close as I could to normal activity,” he said.

He went through all the stages of grief as he adjusted to his new normal.

“There is a grieving process,” he admitted. “It’s like losing someone in your life. You lose the perception of yourself and the person you thought you were.”

Moyle didn’t want to identify himself as simply an ostomate – he didn’t want that to define who he is. Yes, he had an ostomy, but he also was a geologist, a husband and a father.

With support of his wife, Gisela, and family, friends and colleagues, three weeks after surgery, he returned to work. Seven months later, he was back conducting geologic fieldwork.

When he returned to the field in eastern Oregon, he and his colleague set up a radio repeater so they could communicate up and down the line. One of the first messages he got was, “Hey! They let old bags on the line, now?”

Moyle laughs when telling the story.

“As with many adverse situations, the use of light-hearted humor is extremely important among those with ostomies,” he said.

He continued his career poking around in remote areas of the western U.S. through 2012.

After reading a Spokesman-Review article “Shedding a Light on Ostomy” ( by this writer, Moyle began attending the local support group.

“I learn so much from the other members of the group,” he said. “More than just the support, we share tricks and tips for managing life.”

The Spokane Ostomy Support Group is one of hundreds of such groups around the U.S. that are associated with the United Ostomy Associations of America. The group is facilitated by Susie Weller and Carol Nelson, and meets the first Tuesday of each month (February-November) at Providence Sacred Heart Hospital.

Molye said at various meetings they feature a nutritionist, a pharmacist, a specialty ostomy nurse and representatives from each of the three main appliance manufacturers.

“We also have special topic meetings to discuss issues associated with travel, camping, sports, etc.,” he said. “We plan to have a TSA representative speak at an upcoming meeting.”

Attendance at the meetings is usually about 20 to 30. Ostomates, those considering surgery, and family members are always welcome.

Last year, the group launched a quarterly newsletter which Moyle edits. It reaches six ostomy support groups in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

On Saturday, Moyle traveled to Boise to participate in the Run for Resilience, a 5K run/walk to raise awareness about people living with ostomies.

“You have to be resilient and focused,” said Moyle. “Life goes on (after an ostomy). It’s not the end of the world.”