It’s been nearly one year since the partial gastrectomy to remove the tumor in my stomach. I thought that I’d share a summary of my experience over the past year for those who might be facing a similar surgery. There are many personal accounts online from those who’ve undergone gastric bypass but for those of you battling stomach cancer, here is my story…..
In October 2007 I learned that I had cancer. The diagnosis was non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, stage 2E, grade 1, presenting as a tumor the size of a lemon in the upper portion of my stomach. Aside from a couple of adjacent lymph nodes, the cancer had not spread. I had four treatments with Rituxan in December 2007 but this had only a minimal affect on my tumor. In the spring of 2008 I went through six cycles of R-CVP with similar results so surgery was planned for October 2008. On October 8, 2008 I had a partial gastrectomy with vagotomy and pyloroplasty to remove the tumor in my stomach. The removal of the tumor resulted in the loss of the upper third of my stomach along with the vagus nerve that ran through my tumor. The top of my stomach was closed and my esophagus was reattached to a new hole that had been made in my stomach. The esophagus was stapled to the stomach from the inside through a hole in the pylorus. I was hospitalized for a week following the surgery.
The biggest change following the surgery, of course, was the reduced stomach capacity. I couldn’t eat more than a handful of food at a time so it was necessary to eat many small meals throughout the day. The main thing that I wanted to know from my doctors was “Will this improve? Will I be able to eat normal meals again?” I was told that my stomach would gradually stretch and that “a year from now you’ll be able to eat more normal meals”. A year later….I weigh 115 pounds, I’m a size “0” and my stomach capacity has grown a bit, perhaps, but I still eat very small meals throughout the day. Some days I’m able to eat a bit more than others but, in general, I feel much better if I eat no more than a cup of food at a time. I have to constantly think about what I eat and how much I eat and “The Daily Plate” on Livestrong.com has been a great tool to help me track my nutrient and calorie intake.
What I’m able to eat has also changed since my surgery. If you want to know what dumping syndrome is, just drink an “Ensure” after your surgery….you’ll find out shortly after. I eat nutrient dense, calorie dense foods in order maximize nutrition and calories. I eat whole grains (farro, bulgur, etc), sprouted grain bread (Ezekial 4:9), beans and legumes, seeds and nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, I was a pretty healthy eater prior to my surgery so this wasn’t a huge shift for me but there have been a few major changes. I’m now lactose intolerant and while I can get away with a little cheese here and there, yogurt and milk usually lead to dumping. I have a very low tolerance for sugar and simple carbs now, too, so…..no ice cream, no cookies, no pastries, no crackers, no processed foods. Half a dozen M & M’s can send me to bed for an hour with dizziness, nausea and a racing heart! I used to LOVE coffee but I only drink green tea now. I also enjoyed wine prior to my surgery but I can only have a sip or two now before I start to feel the effects. It’s best to keep solids and liquids separate to avoid dumping food into the intestines too quickly. And, of course, there can also be motility issues that cause things to move too slowly. For this I take 200 mg magnesium at night (this also helps insomnia). It sometimes seems like the list of things that I can’t have is longer than the list of things that I can but I’m getting used to it. In general, my stomach capacity and what I can eat have improved little over the past year
When my esophagus was reattached, a stricture formed, making it difficult to swallow my food. While the problem actually occurs where my esophagus joins my stomach, I feel it as tightening sensation in my throat. In order to correct this, I’ve had my esophagus stretched several times. I also developed an ulcer in my stomach near the esophagus, likely due to a weakening of the microvasculature in the area caused by the surgery. LOL! At least, that’s how it was explained to me….I’m not a medical expert, I just live with this stuff!
The good news…..a year later and I’m cancer-free. I’m 47 years old and I’m a size “0”….and I feel pretty good about the way that I look! I miss coffee, wine, yogurt, pastries, cheese and crackers…..heavy sigh….. Now I snack on almonds, or lentils, or tabbouleh…..it’s just not the same…..