As faithful readers of this blog know, my eating habits are, shall we say, a bit off-kilter. This is through no fault of my own, I assure you. Being on the cancer diet for nine months has a way of taking the punch out of you a bit. I’m trying, though, to eat by mouth as much as possible, and my recent round of weight loss is directly attributable to that: nothing through the feeding tube+small amounts of food by mouth+a body still recovering from the ravages of cancer and the associated treatment = weight dropping like a stone in water.
So it was back to the old feeding tube for me, for use a couple of times a day. Lately, that has become three times a day because the weight continues to slowly come off the frame. And I’m trying to stick to that, if only to get my mother’s nagging out of my ears.
But a funny thing happened on the way back to normal, a trip that looks as if it will not be ending anytime soon. And I don’t mean funny ha-ha.
I’ve mentioned the hideous burning pain I’ve felt occasionally in the past month or so, that feels like it’s going to finish what the cancer itself could not, complete with nausea, vomiting, and the desire to just curl up and pull a rock over my head. Unfortunately, that pain seems to be coming much more often now and staying longer, like some freeloading bum of a relative who just wants to hang out on your couch eating all your chips and drinking all your beer while monopolizing your television and leaving the seat up on the toilet. This last round began on Friday and lasted into Tuesday morning, where it finally dissipated into a lingering nausea. It was bad enough to cause me to miss the first home preseason game – the first football game I would have been able to go to in a year. None of that is good. No, not good at all.
Saturday, with wave one behind me and with wave two upon me, I finally croaked out to my mom that perhaps a visit to the gastro people was in order. After all, a person can’t go on like this, and I certainly can’t afford to drop more weight. At 106 pounds, I weigh less than I weighed throughout high school (110), and I’m bony enough without calling more attention to all the sharp angles. But with this sort of pain gripping me, it’s almost impossible to eat or pour something down the tube, because it comes right back up.
So they wanted to give me an appointment for a month from Monday, the day we called. My mom pointed out that this was in fact no good, and I told her I’d be dead by then if this kept up. A few moves from point to point on the phones in the doctor’s office, and we found ourselves with an appointment for Wednesday. Hooray.
When we finally got in to see the doctor after waiting around for an hour, and after he told me how much better I looked now than I looked when he put in my feeding tube almost a year ago (thank you, now that my skin isn’t being burned off by radiation, I suppose I do), and after I described the symptoms, the first words out of his mouth were, “Do you still have your gallbladder?”
Now, I never really thought about my gallbladder. Who does? It’s not as if it’s the first thing on my mind. “Gee, I wonder how my varoius internal organs are doing this fine morning?” But he’s a gastro guy, and it’s like me diagnosing a technical issue I’ve seen a thousand times before when someone describes their problem: I’m sure that my symptoms clicked for him the same way someone’s email problem would for me. And naturally I have my gallbladder still, since my surgeries were for tumor removal and tube fitting. But perhaps not having it would be better. As he explained it, people who are not nutritionally functional for an extended period of time and/or who lose weight rapidly in a short period of time – like, say, oral cancer patients who have been having a formula fed to them through a tube directly into their gut – are at risk for impaired or reduced gallbladder functionality. It gets “sludgy”, stones build, and then when that person does start eating real food again, the efforts the gallbladder makes to do its normal job create the pain that makes the person wish they were dead.
When I was younger, and all through high school, I never had any broken bones. Never required any surgeries. I had injuries, of course – it’s next to impossible not to with all the activities I was involved in and how reckless kids tend to be with their bodies. But throughout it all, if I got banged up, I healed and moved on, and I never had anything particularly serious other than a bad case of bronchitis, laryngitis, colic, and dehydration (all at once) that landed me in the hospital in the ICU for a few days the year after I graduated high school. I seem to be making up for all those missed opportunities now: a cancer diagnosis, two surgeries, two hospitalizations, two months of radiation and chemo, and a tube to get calories, all in the span of a year.
Before I chalk another surgery on my scoreboard to remove another piece of me, we have to go through some tests. On the 5th, I’ll be returning to the outpatient center – which is where all my PET scans have been done, another of which I had Thursday, and during which I asked the tech to be on the lookout for my gallbladder during the CT part (it was hiding, so no news there) – for an ultrasound, followed an hour later by a HIDA scan. Like the PET scan, the HIDA uses a radioactive tracer. Unlike the PET scan, where you have to wait about an hour before the scan, for the HIDA, images are taken at specific intervals as your body deals with the tracer. The test takes about two hours. That will be yet another in a series of unproductive daytime hours for me, I can see that already. After that, it’s back to the doctor later in the month, to discuss the results and where we go from here.
One of the questions I’ve been amusing myself with today is about the potential surgery. It’s done as laparoscopy, just as the tube placement was. Which leads to the inevitable question: since I have a hole in my abdomen where the tube is placed, will they actually be able to blow up my abdominal area without me leaking the air out? Or will they have to slap a piece of duct tape around the hole? Inquiring minds want to know.