Three Years! – Obviously a 3 year update…

Today marks three years without my stomach.  On May 23rd, 2014, I said farewell to my stomach…never to be seen again.

What can I say about three years without my stomach.  I’ve become happier, wiser, and more balanced.  I put my priorities in things that matter in life – health, family and friends, and fun.  Although this video looks pretty staged, I really like the message within and it sums up how my life changed after I dodged the stomach cancer bullet.

 

In terms of my weight, I have been sitting at 119-120lbs for the past month.  I’m now 5lbs off my pre-surgery weight. My summer shorts from last year, don’t fit anymore.  It’s weird to say that I’m actually happy about that.  Who says that?!?!

My energy level continues to improve.  The body is an amazing machine, if you push it a little bit at a time, it will adapt.  Look at Marne and Steve who are completing feats that even those with a stomach don’t achieve.  Amazing.

As for eating, I continue to push the envelope on what I can and cannot eat. Sometimes, you just want to eat something so you do it. You regret it later but the brain is a funny thing…give it enough time and it forgets the pain and you do it again.

The other day I watched the recorded, “Spotlight on Gastric Cancer” that was held in Seattle this year.  My mom and I went to the first annual one in Philidelphia and hope to attend another one in the future as it is a great opportunity to network with those in the CDH1+ community.

During this presentation a question was asked, “What sorts of things do you wish you would have known about at the time, or what kinds of things have you learned since that you wish you had the knowledge about from the beginning?”  It brought back a lot of early recovery memories and I thought it would be helpful to give my two cents.

>  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.  Food is scary after you’ve had your stomach out.  You know, even 3 years out…some foods are still scary.  During my first year of recovery, I couldn’t tolerate sugar well.  Now, I can eat it in moderation (i.e. a full cookie, a small piece of cake, small portions of freshly baked breads).  I’ve had great success stories and some not so great ones.

>  Make sure you are mentally strong and have a good support network.  One thing about this CDH1+ mutation is that it really plays with your mind.  It’s great to have people to bounce ideas off of.  Having your stomach removed is like 10% of the recovery game, the other 90% is the mental component.

 >  if you don’t have anyone to speak with, you can reach out to the no stomach for cancer community, genetic counsellor, and social media

>  Facebook: CDH1 Mutation GeneSupport group for partial and total gastrectomiesStomachless Living Support Group – Support For Full & Partial Gastrectomies

>  Test your body. Push it a little and see how it responds.  A little bit of pushing will go a long way.

>  Go to a centre where they are well versed about CDH1+ as well as the prophylactic (curative) total gastrectomy.   My genetic counsellor as well as my surgeon are all within the same hospital network.  I continue to be followed annually.

>  Probiotics.  They have been a game changer for me over the past 6 months.  I think I was lacking something and now I’m afraid to stop taking them. I’ve noticed a great gain in energy since I started. On the same note – take your vitamins.   B12 deficiency is real and can have long term health consequences if your levels aren’t maintained. Also monitor your iron, calcium and vitamin D.

 

I’m sure there are a lot more other tips but I don’t want to drag this post on and on.  The past year has been even better than the previous two years. I am excited to see what this next year will bring to the table!

 

 

 

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Exercise is medicine – 2 year, 10 month update

I openly admit I’m a yo-yo gym attender. Looking back on old blog posts, I’ve mentioned always starting certain exercise activities and then not mentioning ending them. Well the secret is out, I only usually attend the gym in the fall to winter months. After that I end up falling off the bandwagon because the weather is too nice to work out indoors. I switch to playing women’s fastball in the spring-summer. Currently, I only indoor rock climb and participate in my yoga with Adriene intermittently.

I’ve done this for the past 5+ years and over the past three I’ve noticed a trend. When I exercise, I gain weight.

What?! Wait? When you exercise you gain weight? The pre-gastrectomy old me would have said…”shut up and get out of here”. For the past two gym seasons I’ve managed to put on about 4 to 5 extra pounds. As soon as I stop, I lose it and drop back down to my usual 111 to 112lbs. I’ve also noticed that I have more energy and require less sleep.

Many of the benefits I’m reporting are well researched in the literature but it’s a whole new world when you actually experience it.

I only attend the gym 1-2x a week (step class, zumba class, or aerobics) and go for about a 45 minute walk 1x a week. That combined with my active job is enough for me to maintain all those positive benefits.

Another quick thing I wanted to mention is that I started taking a probiotics (by fluke and a bit of another story) and have noticed my energy level increase significantly. For two weeks, I operated like I did before surgery and it was unbelievable. I didn’t realize it was possible. After that I had a pretty hard crash for a day or two but those two weeks were fantastic. I’m now afraid to stop taking them. I really believe they help with digesting food post gastrectomy which improves nutrient absorption. I tried to perform a literature review to see if anyone had done studies on probiotics post total gastrectomy but didn’t come up with much. If anyone has any scientific evidence about this, I’d love to read about it in the comments below.

So there it is: Exercise IS medicine

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All ready for the gym

Cereal is back on the menu

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I miss cereal.  Let me re-phrase that, I missed cereal.  I have attempted to eat cereal a few times each year in hopes that one day it won’t go right through me.   I am excited to report that that two weeks ago was that day.

For me, cereal was a breakfast staple for many years. Not only was it quick and easy, there were so many varieties to choose from.  I could wake up, eat a bowl of cereal and be out the door in no time.  I missed cereal.

Often I would walk through the grocery store, pick up my old favourite cereals, read the ingredient lists and then return the box back to the shelf for I had vivid flashbacks to my dumping syndrome day.  Many varieties of cereal have a high sugar content with glucose or fructose being in the first few ingredients. In addition, I try to avoid too much unbleached wheat flour as it makes me feel ill.

Two weeks ago a box of Multigrain Cheerios ended up in the shopping cart.  Not only were they one of my favourites but they were also on sale.  The sugar content was 6g per 1 cup.  Cheerios are also high in iron.  It was time to try eating cereal again.

I started with half a bowl of dry cereal in the evening.  It’s better to eat sweetened foods later in the night because my mom and I both believe that a “buffer” is created with food eaten earlier in the day.  Less chance of dumping.  After finishing the bowl, I waited for the inevitable to occur….but lo and behold. I was fine.   No gut pain. No gurgling. No fatigue or nausea. No dumping!

Feeling excited, I ate a small bowl of cereal the next evening with milk.  Again, I was fine.  High fives occurred all around in our house.  Also a little dancing. Okay, a lot of dancing.

The next test was to eat it first thing in the morning. No buffer. Fear, yes.  This morning, I poured myself half a bowl of cereal with milk.  I told myself to eat it slow but I definitely ate it in 10 minutes.   About 10 minutes after I finished, I started to feel my heart rate rise.   But about 10 minutes after that, I was fine!  No fatigue, no diarrhea, no nausea.  I’ll take it as a small victory.

A big turning point came about 2-3 months ago.  I decided I was tired of avoiding foods I wasn’t sure about and that I would just go for it (within reason).  Up until then, I was apprehensive to try new foods or foods that had caused problems in the past.  It’s frightening because you don’t know it’s bad until it’s too late.  Much like drinking too much alcohol.  Everyone is having a great time until it really hits you. By that time, it’s too late to turn back and you must deal with the consequences.  It was time to face my fears.

Since then I have discovered that I can tolerate more than what I had previously thought.  It’s exciting that as the months pass, I find myself adding more and more foods to the can have list and not the can’t have list.  A great start to 2017!

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Sugar!

December 6, 2013.  Three years ago I was hit with the news that I was CDH1+.  I’ll never forget sitting around that round table being told I tested positive for the CDH1 gene mutation. 

Many things have changed over the past three years.  But, I can say that they have changed for the better. 

Physically, I’m not as strong as I used to be and I don’t have as much endurance to go go go.  Mentally, I’ve learned more about myself over the past three years.  Being faced with a challenge only pushes you to grow.  The answer to the challenge may not be clear at the time but as the days progress a method to the madness becomes apparent.  The message for me was balance.   But that’s a whole other separate post in itself.  Let’s get on to why I called this post Sugar!

Sugary foods and drink scare me but you can only be scared for so long.  Being the holiday season, I decided to take a risk and start eating some of the delicous goodies that are coming into the clinic.  I’m excited to report that so far so good.  I’ve eaten my fair share of shortbread, gingerbread, and chocolates.   I’ve also ordered half sweet lattes of the Starbucks menu and been fine.    My tolerance keeps improving as time moves forward.  This has been both an exciting and expensive discovery. 

If I eat too much sugar it puts me to sleep.  If I eat sugar too late at night, I wake up 4-5 hours later wide awake.     So on nights where I need to get up early the next morning and be productive…eat a cookie or two before bed.  Also, don’t eat too much sugar around co-workers or patients.  Sugar = gas.  The worst gas.

So this holiday season, I’m going to take that extra cookie.  Eat that extra truffle.  And order that gingerbread latte.  Why? Because living without a stomach isn’t all hearts and rainbows and sometimes you just need a little reward. 

Happy Holidays to you all and thank you all for your continued support.  May all my stomachless friends enjoy 1st, 2nd, and maybe 3rd small helpings of Christmas dinner. 

Pancakes are back on the menu!

About a month ago I reached out to my fellow stomachless friends about some breakfast ideas that wasn’t oatmeal or eggs. I learned that they all could eat pancakes. I was both shocked and excited with this information.  I had been avoiding pancakes for the past year because every time I ate them, I would end up feeling ill and falling asleep. Steve suggested I try birch benders paleo pancake mix. Sadly, we quickly learned that they cannot ship to Canada so I resorted to pintrest to find a paleo pancake recipe. Low and behold, I found one and have been eating them every weekend.  
The biggest difference was that it used almond flour instead of regular flour.  I also found a great waffle recipe using the same principle.

I haven’t been bold enough to put my usual peanut butter or syrup on them yet but I have put chia seed blueberry jam on them and have been fine.   Needless to say, I have been eating pancakes every weekend since this new discovery.  The almond flour can be more expensive but it’s totally worth every penny. 

Pancakes and Waffles are back on the menu!

The Starbucks Experience – a 2 year, 4 month update

One of my new favourite things to do is purchase an expensive delicious beverage from Starbucks and spend the next 1-2 hours blogging away or writing in my own personal journal.   Why do I purchase a six dollar coffee when I could just make one and write in the comfort of my own home?   It’s all about the experience.  Plus, it takes me a good hour to finish my grande flat white latte.  There’s something about observing the hustle and bustle of the world around us.   People coming, people going, long time friends meeting up after a year of not seeing each other, parents saying goodbye to their kids who are going off to university, widowers and widows, business people doing business things, students studying, and me – the stomachless blogger. 

The interesting thing about having a health scare is that it changes your perspective on life.  It forces your to slow down and evaluate where your priorities lie.  It shakes you out of your normal routine and forces you to develop as an individual.  You truly understand how many people love you and are supporting you.   I realized that everyone is writing their own story that I may know nothing about.   Maybe that’s why I have taken a new love to hanging out in coffee shops.

Cheers!
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The things I miss – 2 year, 2.5 month update

Hello everyone!  It’s been a few months since my last blog post but it’s time for another update from your stomachless friend.

The surgeon told me that it takes about a year to recover from a total gastrectomy.  Since I had a few complications post surgery,  I was a little behind.  I’m now two and a third of a year post total gastrectomy and although I think I am still improving, there are things that I just shouldn’t do or eat anymore (although, I do cheat sometimes but accept the concequences).    I’ve decided to compile a list of things that I have particularly been missing over the past few months.

– Ice cream – 

I miss eating a full single or double scoop of ice cream.  Even a “kiddie” scoop can give me issues but sometimes I take one for the team.   I also miss choosing whatever flavour I want sugar loaded or not.   Now I read all the labels and choose the one with the least amount of sugar and the most amount of protein (i.e. Nut filled). 

– All you can eat Sushi restaurants –

I tend to order off the a la carte menu these days. I also have to make careful decisions on which ones to eat as the rice takes up a lot of real estate in my intestine.  I also miss eating sashimi. It’s just not the same when you have to chew it a whole bunch of times before you swallow. 

– Choosing a meal at a restaurant without considering the concequences – 

Is it on a bun? Is it heavily breaded?  Is it deep fried? All of the above will result in brain fog. Does it have a lot of leafy greens or heavily cream based? Prepare for bloating!  I often choose meals heavy on the protein side.

– Purchasing new foods without reading the label at the grocery store –

If I want to choose a new food to eat, I always read the label.  If glucose is the 1st of 2nd ingredient…pass.  Too many additives…also pass. The result is abdominal discomfort. 

– Hamburgers and hotdogs with the bun –

This is especially hard because it’s BBQ season.  If I eat the bun, I often can only eat 1/4 of the burger.  It’s just too filling and it also gives me abdominal discomfort and brain fog. 

– Sandwiches – 

I have yet to eat an entire sandwich to date.   Again, the bread causes issues.

– Starbucks –

I still go to Starbucks and usually just order the regular coffees or tea.  But recently I had a good chat with a Starbucks employee who gave me ample suggestions for beverages that would be less sweet.  The passion fruit iced tea lemonade without any sweetener has been a win for me. I have started to combine cold tea with lemonade at home and it’s been great.  Also, ask them to make your drinks without the syrup (or less syrup). It’s basically liquid sugar.   This will open up a whole new world of opportunities.   

– Being able to function on an empty stomach – 

If I don’t eat every 2-3 hours, I start to fade quickly.  When I had my stomach, I could miss meals and be okay. I would be hungry but I could still function.  Now when I miss a meal, I start to get tired and if it goes long enough I start to feel unwell.   Sometimes I just don’t feel like eating all the time.  Food is medicine. 

Whenever I find myself missing these things, I remind myself that I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to stop stomach cancer before the cancer stopped me.  In the grand scheme of things, all of these things are so minor compared to all those fighting a battle who did not have this opportunity.  Ice cream vs. Stomach cancer…I’ll forgo that 2nd scoop. 

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Hold that bun! (I also didn't eat all of this food but got 1/2 way!)

Two years! – a 24 Month update

Today marks two years since I said farewell to my stomach. Do I miss my stomach? Yeah, I still miss it. But as time passes I learn more and more about living without the organ that would have killed me.

I’m currently sitting at 120lbs. I’m starting to look like I did prior to surgery. Afterall, I’m only 5lbs off. However, I am more lean than I was before surgery. No complaints. For those of you who are afraid of nor gaining the weight back, it will come back but it takes time and effort.

I eat a lot. A lot. I’ve never counted calories but I eat frequently. I believe this has contributed to gradual weight gain. The other day I was offering my brother some snacks from my backpack as it was near dinner time and he hadn’t eaten yet.

Me: “Banana?”
Brother: “no thanks”
Me: “Trail mix?”
Brother: “no thanks”
Me: “Starburst candy?”
Brother: “no thanks”…pause….”how much food do you have in there?”
Me: Laughing, “granola bar? Lifesavers? Peppermint?”

I always have food on me. The fear of needing food and it not being there still sits with me. When you need food and you don’t eat, things go downhill pretty fast. Nuts are my usual go to food. I also still like “kind bars” and “quest bars”.

I can tolerate most foods now. I can eat sweets but in moderation and spaced out overtime. Two weeks ago I learned I can eat ice cream cake. Huge score!!!
On Friday, I ate half 1/4 of an assorted subway sub and 1 cookie and felt not too bad. If given the choice, I still avoid bread due to the carb crash but I’m able to eat it in small quantities without dumping. I miss eating sandwiches so sometimes I eat them and deal with the aftermath. I call it foggy brain.

My energy levels have not returned to where they were before surgery. I am not sure if they will. Brandon said I lost my energy storage tank so fatigue hits me faster. Sometimes I can go all day and other days it’s like I haven’t slept in days. Pacing is key. However, sometimes I get frustrated that my energy isn’t where it should be and just push through the fatigue. I’m still unsure if this will help me overtime or just lead to burn out.

I am able to work about 30-32 hours a week comfortably. This allows for a good work-life balance. It took me a while to understand that this was my ideal balance as I used to work 42 hours a week and man the house. I am working on accepting that 30-32 hours as a physio is what I’m able to do now. It’s been a tough fact to swallow (pun intended).

As I look back over the past two years losing my stomach has been more of a mental struggle vs. physical. The surgery was the easy part. When you are super healthy and decide to have a life altering elective surgery based on statistics you have to be mentally strong.

I have good and bad days. The bad days aren’t even that bad anymore. But on those not so good days, I’m thankful that I have a strong support system in place. Not only do I have my family and friends, I’ve made great connections with people around the world going through a similar situation.

I often read the posts of people early out of surgery and remember those tough times just after surgery. I also read back through my own posts to see how far I’ve come. Time really does heal. For those just fresh out from under the knife – hang in there!

As my life returns to a consistent normal, I find myself searching for interesting topics to blog about. Someone once told me that I will stop blogging when I feel like I don’t need the blog anymore. Although I’m not fully ready to stop documenting my adventures, I may be scaling back the frequency of the posts.

Thank you all for following me over the past two plus years. Life is all about celebrating the small things. Keep smiling!
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Feeling thirsty? – a 23 month update

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One of the biggest things I struggle with is staying hydrated.  Prior to surgery, I would easily consume 2 litres of water a day.  Now, I will rarely drink greater than 1 litre of liquid a day and on average I consume around 500ml.  I’m lucky, I never lost the ability to feel hungry post gastrectomy.  After my stomach was removed and I was allowed to eat again, I would eat anytime my mind told me I was hungry.  I didn’t want to lose this mind/body connection so like Pavlov’s dogs, anytime I would get a hunger pang, I would eat.   Eating was key early on.    I understand how it can be tough for people to lose weight due to the association between the brain and hunger.  If there wasn’t an association than I shouldn’t feel hungry since I don’t have a stomach and therefore don’t have the neurotransmitter that is released to the brain to make you feel hungry.

I have heard that if you feel hungry, you may just be thirsty instead.  It is hard for me to distinguish between the two but more recently, I have tried to choose liquid instead of food when I get this feeling.  About 50% of the time, I no longer feel hungry after having a few sips of something.  The other 50% of the time, I don’t feel hungry anymore but instead I feel a little faint (process of elimination, body needed food).

Water is usually available most places but when you have an issue with drinking water, what do you do? I didn’t realize how many sugar loaded beverages are out there until you are looking for something specific.  Movie theatres are the worst. Most of the time I bring my juice/water combo or purchase a tea.  Recently, I have tried to bring a canteen with me in an effort to stay more hydrated.

It’s funny that the best beverages to go down the pipe is coffee, wine or juice+water.   I try not to drink too much coffee because I don’t want all the caffeine so often I resort to decaf. Carbonated beverages are the worst. Darker beer is better than light.  Wine and Caesars are smooth sailing.  Someone must be trying to tell me something.

For some reason, drinking water post gastrectomy seems to be an issue for many people.  When I asked a dietitian about it, she had no idea.  I think it has something to do with the surface tension in water. Ice cold water is easier to drink vs. warm water.  Filtered water is easier than tap.  If you think back to basic science class, when you placed water in a test tube a meniscus formed. I think that may happen in your esophagus as you swallow combined with some air make it feels like you could be swallowing molasses.

Maybe this is TMI (too much information), but I often monitor my hydration status by the colour of my urine. Also, after consuming a glass of liquid, it will often go right through me over the next 30 minutes to an hour.  I am guessing that it is a combination of having less storage space as well as regulating sphincters from my stomach and that my kidney’s are super efficient now due to my lack of liquid consumption.

It always amazes me how the human body can adapt.  Bottom’s up!

 

The infamous dumping syndrome – a 20 month update

I thought I was dying.

Today I experienced dumping syndrome in full force. What I thought was dumping syndrome prior to this episode was more like watching 5 minutes of a Lord of the Rings marathon- extended edition.

It is something I would not even wish upon my worst enemy.

It all started with the pina colada smoothie. Brandon and I were preparing delicious beverages prior to resuming our game of Power Grid. The smoothie consisted of 1 cup of coconut milk (unsweetened), 1 cup of fresh pineapple, 1 banana and 1tbsp of honey.

All of the ingredients seemed pretty safe as there wasn’t a lot of added sugars. Maybe the fruit would have been of concern but I had eaten pineapple in large amounts and had been fine.

After blending this delicious beverage I ended up with about 500ml of smoothie. I drank about half of it in 10-15min.

You can already see where this is going.

Everything seemed fine and then it happened. Minute 16. Initially I experienced cramping. I figured I had just drank too fast as I often experience cramping after eating. Then came the pain and burning. It felt like acid was melting my insides. In hopes to neutralize the acid, I ate 4 crackers and 5 handfuls of left over movie popcorn.

The good thing was that the acid feeling stopped but the waves of pain continued and worsened. I decided to lie down and then the nausea came. Up I went to the washroom and it was at this point I knew the inevitable was happening.

I had read about this a lot and it was happening now. There was nothing I could do to stop it – the infamous dumping syndrome.

So I’m in the washroom unable to stand up straight, in pain, and feeling very ill. My breathing became rapid and shallow. I started to get really hot. I felt weak and lethargic. The literature wasn’t lying.

Then the big question I had been wondering about for a while was answered. Can you vomit without a stomach?

According to Websters dictionary to vomit is to bring up the contents of the stomach through the mouth.

So the simple answer would be no. No stomach, no vomit.

But now I know what does happen. Heaving. Then if your lucky regurgitation between heaving. But the good part is that no stomach = no stomach acid. Bonus! But it hurts because you heave and there is nothing that releases the pressure. I am grateful that this didn’t happen to me until now because my insides are all healed from surgery but this does happen to many early after surgery.

So after I emptied the top part of my intestines, it would only be fair to empty the bottom. I’ll spare the details but I can say that my colon hasn’t felt this clean since my colonoscopy last year.

After the dump, literally, I could almost immediately feel everything returning to normal. Although it felt like a lifetime, Brandon said I was ill for about 40 minutes.

My insides are still recouping from all the action this afternoon. I mentioned this episode to my stomachless friends and Marne replied, “It’s funny to me how you’ll be smooth sailing for a while and all of a sudden something reminds you that you don’t have a stomach!”

She couldn’t have been more correct.