If someone would have told me a year ago I’d feel this great, I would have had them committed. A year ago today, August 13th, I underwent a major surgery to remove my stomach. There was a slight complication and they had to take part of my transverse colon as well. My life and relationship with food has forever been changed, but when I think about what I have been through, I mean really think about it, this may have been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
Let me explain. Don’t get me wrong, this last year has not been easy and I continue have issues I struggle with daily, but it’s part of the process. While the surgery took my stomach and part of my large intestine, it gave me so much more.
I know most of my blogs tend to focus on food. It makes sense right? If you lose your stomach, you eat differently. As a living being, you have to eat to survive. It’s something you do several times a day and I’m guessing for most of you out there, eating isn’t a stress. It’s either just something you do without thinking about, or you do it for pleasure. My relationship with food and nourishment has obviously changed over the last year and will forever be changed. The first few days after my surgery, I didn’t eat. I tried, but I considered it was a good day if I could get 500 calories in. As the days went on, I was able to eat more. And as weeks turned to months, eating got easier. Meaning it was less painful and food began to have meaning for me again. In the beginning I didn’t want to eat. Things didn’t taste good. I didn’t get hungry. It was more of a task I had to do every few hours to stay alive, not something I took pleasure or comfort in. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but food slowly started to taste good again. Then I became vegan and my relationship with food changed again for the better. As I rediscovered who I was and what my life was going to be, I discovered a new, healthy way of eating.
But the real growth hasn’t been in just being able to eat again. It’s about being alive. I know that sounds horribly cliche, but it’s true. My dad always taught me things happen for a reason and to stay positive and look for the good in things. My mom taught me to be strong and to fight for myself, what I want, and what I believe in. The combination of their sage wisdom lead me to where I am now.
Sure, I can’t eat a full plate lunch and I have to skip out on sweets. Sure I can’t really have alcohol. Sure I have to eat every 2-3 hours and keep strict tabs on what I eat to stay alive, but that’s just it. I’m alive. By a series of random events I got tested and found out I have this rare mutation. I was able to get my surgery and was lucky because I found out I didn’t have stomach cancer and because I had my entire stomach removed, I never will. A lot of people are not that lucky. A lot of people find out they have stomach cancer when it’s too late and it has spread all over their body.
I’m lucky because I found mine right before it turned to cancer, but because I was fortunate to discover I had this rare mutation and got tested, it allowed the rest of my family to get tested a well. All in all 15 of us have the mutation. 15 people who didn’t know they would one day face stomach cancer, now have a chance to stop cancer in its tracks by making a radical decision like I did. Some people very close to me are going to have to make the decision to have their stomach removed in the next few years and while I get mad and angry that this is their path, I am thankful they have a choice and I will be there for them. It’s not to say I was alone in this process, but no one I knew had ever had a surgery like this and really knew what it was I was going through. I will be able to be that support for my family when and if they decide to have their stomachs removed. They will have a choice, which is something a lot of cancer victims don’t get.
Not only do I feel lucky, but I feel healthy. Staring cancer in the face and the radical changes I have had to undergo lead me to live the healthiest life I could possibly lead. I haven’t had any alcohol since before my surgery. Not that I drank heavily, but I haven’t had a single drink or sip. Because of dumping syndrome, I can’t eat anything with too high a sugar content (usually more than 10 grams) and for the average American palate, that amounts to not being able to eat anything sweet. After a year, I’ve worked my way up to 10 peanut M&Ms, but I can only do that over a period of 30 minutes and only after I’ve eaten a meal. After surgery I had to give up coffee and because of a heart issue I have I went from 3-4 cups a day to half a cup of decaf every few days.
As I mentioned in my last post, I am 95% vegan. It has had a huge positive impact on my health, because I feel fit, healthy, and strong. It’s a diet that’s not only easy for me to eat and digest, but it also makes me feel healthy. I was working out before the surgery, but the forced weight loss associated with the surgery helped me reach my weight goals and stay there. I actually have to work really hard to keep up my calories, so I can only work out 6 times a month and I had to give up cardio in exchange for strength training. I know some people would be happy to give up cardio, but it was tough for me to let it go. There would have been no way for me keep up my calories had I continued doing cardio, so I made a comprise by focusing on strength training instead. In the process, I have gotten stronger than I ever have been and feel fit and trim. Truthfully, if I were to be completely honest with myself, this is the fittest and healthiest I have ever been. I have to work hard at it and keep track of my calories, but isn’t that what anyone would be doing who is trying to stay in shape? The only thing is while other people try to cut down on their calories, I have to eat more by making healthy smart food choices.
So as this first year draws to a close and I reflect on what lies ahead, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. The world has changed thanks to the pandemic. As a physician I know Covid-19 is real. I also have no idea how this virus will affect me with the mutation I have. Is my immune system affected by the mutation? Does not having a stomach affect immunity? Will I be able to fight off an infection the way a normal person would? These are questions I don’t have answers to. They stress me out even more as I am an essential worker on the front lines working in a hospital in a state where cases are starting to surge out of control.
I want to be around to see what the next year brings because this last year, while it has been one of the worst years of my life, it has also been one of the best. The best I can do, is do what I have always done. Stay positive, be strong and try to stay safe.