Cruising stomachless style – a 21 month update

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There’s something to be said about cruising without a stomach.

Late last year my husband and I booked a cruise to the Carribean with another couple.  None of us had ever cruised before but thought it would be a good trip as we heard that there is something for everyone.

Prior to leaving, I had some fears about the meals. Would they be readily available? Will they have my oatmeal for breakfast? How much sugar is in those mixed drinks? After experiencing dumping syndrome in full force last month, I can say that the fear of it happening again was loud and proud.

When travelling, the arrival and departure days are the most difficult. These are usually long days with limited access my comfort foods. Often you are unable to bring fruit or meat through the security gates. This knocks bananas or wraps. Also, depending on the airport, there are limitations on what you can purchase to eat.

In true trip spirit, I picked up a bunch of Kind bars as well ingredients to create my own trail mix.  Often I find the mixes in the stores are too sweet so instead I mix a variety of unsalted nuts with pepita seeds, sunflower seeds, and craisins.  It was my mom’s recent creation that I copied but I digress.

Our flight was at 7:30am which meant we had to be at the airport for 5:30am. Add in transport time and we are now at 4:30 am. But I can not forget to factor in last minute packing time so I’m now up at a healthy 3:45am. I wasn’t hungry when we got up so I didn’t eat anything. I figured that there would be a Tim Hortons there where I could order a breakfast wrap. Much to my surprise, the Tim Hortons at the airport did not sell breakfast wraps which left only muffins and bagels. Both would have resulted in my first vacation excursion – the porcelain throne. At this point, trail mix for breakfast didn’t look so bad.

Thankfully, we were given an in-flight meal which was a small sausage quiche with potatoes and sausage on the side. I wish I had taken a picture to display how unappetizing it looked but when you haven’t eaten breakfast and you are slowly running on empty, you’ll eat.  I scooped out the egg portion but left the pastry. I didn’t even attempt the potatoes and sausage as it was already a rich breakfast. So I may have eaten 1/2 a cup of egg substitute for breakfast.

After we arrived at the airport we boarded a bus to take us to the port. By the time we cleared customs, got our boarding pass and boarded the vessel it was rounding on 2:30 pm. Needless to say, we were all hungry, stomachless or not!

In true cruise spirit, the first place we located on the ship was the buffet.  It must have consisted of at least 10 different areas.  There was a bar just allocated to different types of bread.  There was even an area where someone would create you your own custom built ice cream sundae!  If I still had my stomach I would have loaded my plate until it was overflowing with food, eat it in 10 minutes and then return for seconds.  Maybe I’d even eat some dessert and then go back for more main course.

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The bread bar

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But there is a double edge sword to this buffet.  I was like a kid in a candy shop with only 25 cents to spend.

Each time I visited the buffet, I would survey the land to see what was available. Then I would narrow it down to my top few dishes.  Often they were the high protein, biggest- bang- for -your -buck kind of dishes.  Rice…no thanks.  Mashed potatoes? Maybe for the weak.  Steak – That’s what I’m talking about!  After finishing my small plate of food, I would often say farewell to the buffet and see you in a couple of hours.

I spent some good time at that buffet. In the mornings, I would get up early and go get early breakfast (oatmeal with walnuts, sunflower seeds and a mashed banana) and then go for late breakfast around 10:30 am (bacon, eggs).  I would also eat early dinner at the buffet around 4-5:30pm and then 2nd dinner around 8:30pm.  One day my friend was looking for me and she decided to check the buffet and of course that’s where she found me. We had a good laugh.

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One of my favourite mid day snacks – build you own nachos

When it came to 2nd dinner time, we often ate in the main dining room which consisted of a three course meal. I would often just order the main meal and share it with my friends. If I wanted an appetizer, I could often finish it but then only eat 1/4 of the main meal. The cool part is that the dining room dinner had many sugar free options that were listed on the menu. This also included dessert!  I definitely took advantage of the sugar free ice cream.

I couldn’t drink many of the beverages offered on the vessel as most of them were mixed with juice loaded with sugar. One day I happened to catch them refilling a juice machine and the first ingredient was high-fructose corn syrup, followed by glucose.  I quickly dumped out the glass of juice I had been holding.  I mostly ordered white wine, beer, or caesars on the ship.  I had sips of my husband’s frozen mudslides and other delicious sugary drinks.  I missed having frozen daiquiris, margaritas, and other delicious frozen beverages.

So maybe I couldn’t eat heaping amounts of food at the buffet. Maybe I had to bypass the ice cream bar.  Maybe I had to avoid the sugary beverages.  Maybe the buffet was a constant reminder of life prior to my total gastrectomy.  However, I have to focus on the positives.  I ate like a Queen those seven days and how much weight did I gain? Much to my own surprise. Zero.

 

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On the road without a stomach

I’m sure at this point, people are wondering….where have I been?  It’s been a busy month to say the least. So many exciting things have been going on and just as I’m going to write the post for my past exciting adventure, another one creeps up.  This post will focus on the past two adventures – Philadelphia and Cuba.

I’ll start with No Stomach for Cancer’s Spotlight on Gastric Cancer in Philadelphia last month.  I’m still glowing from the experience.  Not only did I get to meet Dr. Parry Guilford and his research team, but I also had the opportunity meet many people from the No Stomach for Cancer community.   Many of these people have provided me with much support over the past year with CDH1.  In addition, I also had the opportunity to share a meal with Marne, a fellow CDH1 blogger, and her husband Kyle.  The funniest part was that Kyle was actually the minority at the table – being the only one with a stomach.

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To save you from the bore of all the details of my trip. I’m going to list a few of my highlights from the trip (in no particular order).

1) I was lucky to be able to travel to this conference with my mom.  Many people there had lost parents or other family members to gastric cancer and I felt so thankful that my mom and I could enjoy this experience together.

2) I was in a room with many other people living without stomachs. When am I going to be in a room with that many stomachless people?!?!

Thanks to Dr. Parry Guilford and his team (front and centre), we can all live to tell the tale

Thanks to Dr. Parry Guilford and his team (front and centre), we can all live to tell the tale. Everyone in this photo (except for Dr. Guilford) live without stomachs!

3) I was able to network with others in the No Stomach for Cancer community.  One of my goals of attending the conference was to learn more about pregnancy post gastrectomy.  I was able to spend a lot of time with one woman who has been pregnant twice post gastrectomy and is doing well.  It was great to share stories and increase my knowledge that pregnancy post gastrectomy IS possible although classified as high risk.

4) Mom and I realized that we really are cheap dates and were able to split every single many meal throughout our trip – yay no stomachs

5) I was able to see Philadelphia – including the Rocky Stairs.  Only seems fitting given the challenges I’ve overcome over the past 12 months.

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At the top of the Rocky Stairs at the Museum of Art

6) As a physiotherapist – I noticed that many people who had gastrectomies, also had the same slouched over posture while sitting, standing, and walking.  It’s something that was really eye-opening and I’ve made a bigger effort in becoming more body aware and correcting my own posture as I too fall into this category.  I would advocate for all those who have had a gastrectomy to see a physiotherapist to avoid long-term consequences of having an the abdominal surgery.   (How many of you just checked your own posture?)

Phili was definitely a great experience and I hope to be able to attend many more events like this in the future.

The second big travel trip I have successfully survived was Brandon and my recent trip to Cuba.  I had a great trip with majority of it sitting in the sun and one day trip to Havana.  However, I realized that traveling without a stomach has it’s challenges but it’s doable.  When you travel, you often will go for long periods of time without eating a meal.  Often you are required to be at the airport 2-3 hours early and then you have your plane ride.  By the time you get to your destination and find food, it could be hours later.

I had eaten breakfast around 8am at the airport but didn’t eat another sit down meal until 4:30pm.  At that point, I was tired, weak, fatigued, and had a massive throbbing headache.  Thankfully, Brandon was able to find us food at the resort and we were able to eat.  I instantly felt better and the headache was gone.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before since surgery so now I’m fully aware of the consequences of letting yourself get low on food stores.

Often I will compare this feeling to a video game.  You are a character running around in an adventure and your health bar begins to run low. At first you are so fast and charged but as your energy level depletes, so do you.  BUT, as soon as you eat or restore your health, the energy bar instantly goes up and you feel instantly better.  It’s amazing how much food does for you.

Brandon and I ate half of our meals together and half of them apart.  At home, we eat together at the dinner table, but when Brandon finishes, he can go do other things while I finish eating.  However, in Cuba, he would finish his meal and then patiently wait for me to finish.  It wasn’t necessarily bad, but definitely different.  Plus, the wait staff are so efficient that once they notice your plate isn’t full they try to take your food away.  This happened a lot for me since my plate was never full and I took many breaks.  Most of the days when we ate alone, I had to do Sudoku puzzles or something to distract me or I would eat too fast and pay for it later.  On the plus side of things, neither of us got food poisoning…but wondered if it’s even possible without a stomach?

I brought oatmeal for a snack because I figured they didn’t have it in Cuba and it was a good thing that I did.  I have learned that oatmeal is something I can’t go two days without and definitely a staple in my diet.  Also, I would often go on my daily scavenger hunt to find bananas at the buffets.  When I found them, I would always take a handful and sneak out of the restaurant.  Banana’s are another staple in my diet.

I was concerned also about what I would drink at the all-inclusive resort since many of their beverages are sweetened.  On the second day I took a risk and ordered a pina colada and was fine.  Big win.  I’m assuming I was okay because the juice and sugars were all natural, but who knows. I was pretty happy.  Since I still have difficulties drinking a glass of water, I was able to water down the slushies to create my usual 1/2 juice, 1/2 water combinations.  There also was an ice cream bar and I was able to eat a scoop of ice cream and feel okay.  Double big win.  I have noticed my tolerance for sugar has increased as long as I pace myself…not sure if that’s a good thing though…haha.

Before we left for our trip, I had to go out and buy a set of new bathing suits since all I owned were bikini’s.  I ended up picking up a few nice tankini’s a few days before the trip so I could keep my scar out of the sun. However by day two, I caved and rocked the bikini for a day.  There were people of all different body types rocking the bikini, so I figured, why not?  If anyone asked what happened, I sure had a good story to tell.  I think that day was huge and more of a celebration in terms of accepting my new body image and I was proud to overcome that barrier.

So that’s my mini travel blog about traveling without a stomach.  I have much more information to share but I’ll be back soon to write my mandatory gastrectoanniversary blog.  This time last year, was my last day with my stomach.