I’ve always had a stomach of iron. Born and raised in Rochester, NY, I am a good native daughter, able to wash down a Nick Tahou’s Garbage Plate (red hots, please) with a Genesee Cream Ale. It’s been a while since I’ve ‘enjoyed’ that kind of meal, but my gut easily takes on spicy Asian dishes as easily as jalapeno-and-bean-laden Mexican cuisine.
My gastrointestinal system has been good to me, I suppose, because I have been good to it by eating a fairly healthy regular diet (per the nutritionist at Wilmot Cancer Center) of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole foods, yogurt, grains, and moderate meat consumption. The Husband and I love to eat. We’re omnivores who adhere to fresh, organic, non- or low-processed foods whenever possible. Organic coffee, artisanal goat cheese, locally-raised beef – yes, we are those foodie people.
What’s your poison?
The drug I am on to prevent a recurrence of melanoma super-charges my immune system. Unlike the more common types of chemo that destroy everything, including white blood cells, in the battle to kill cancer cells, Ipilimumab (Ipi-lim-u-mab) takes the brakes off of my immune system. I am chock full of cancer-seeking-&-destroying T-cells. Yes, this ingenious drug uses my own immune system. No, there’s nothing ‘natural’ about this.
What does a hyped-up immune system do? Well, sometimes it attacks the host. (That’s me.) Common side effects are rashes and diarrhea (gentle reader, let’s call this “gastrointestinal turmoil,” because who really wants to read that D word over and over?). Awesome. As I am one of those people whose mosquito bites swell up into welts, breaking out in a rash is manageable. I did experience a period of itchies that would come and go, but after a lifetime of sensitive skin I am pretty good at just not scratching.
Then began the gastrointestinal turmoil. See paragraph one re: Stomach of Iron. I do not get gastrointestinal issues! What does one do?? Two solid weeks of the BRATT diet (banana, rice, applesauce, tea, toast), swigging Imodium, chills and fever, and spiraling down as a blubbering agoraphobic.
Can we please go back to the itchy rash? I know itchies, I can do itchies.
After one solid week of the BRATT diet, et al, with little change, the sensitive and astute teaching fellow medical resident who interviewed me at my check-up stated, “You’re miserable, and you are slowly starving to death.”
YES. THANK YOU FOR NOTICING!
My gastrointestinal turmoil would continue for another week. At my lowest point, under a blanket and weeping giant tears while being irrational about my doctors trying to kill me, The Husband knelt next to me and said, “I know you’re in there, I know you’re sad, but I’ve been waiting for you to get mad.”
I did. When I get mad enough to do something about something, I get organized. I had started a little journal book with Ipi Infusion #1, and have daily since April 2 documented my temperature twice a day, everything I eat and drink, all medicines I take, bowel movements (hey, it’s relevant), and any general observations about my body. Therein lies (some) answers. I could easily trace that yogurt, despite its gut-magic probiotics, was not my friend. Oatmeal was a surprising game changer.
Nary a dairy, and it’s cramping our style.
My love of cheese is well documented. I love it all, from fine organic goat cheese to pressurized Easy Cheese in a can. Apparently, for all the cooking The Husband and I do, we use a lot of cheese. As I was on a limited diet, and in mid-section turmoil all the time anyway, our cooking fizzled.
Food is intrinsic to our living and our loving. Finding or inventing recipes, shopping for ingredients, preparing food side-by-side in the kitchen with a glass of wine or a cocktail – when those components of our life were taken away, the flavor of life left our mouths. We were both starving.
Food glorious food.
Whether it’s because I got mad enough or eliminated enough dairy, the ship seems to be turning. At my check-up during week #2 of gastrointestinal turmoil, a carefully listening nurse practitioner picked up on my “everything here feels wrong” (as I waved my hand over my entire torso), and recommended I start a regimen of taking Pepcid 10mg twice daily. Stroke. Of. Genius.
As of this writing, I am a week since my last gastrointestinal event, and gingerly proceeding with eating normally (read as: I want to eat everything in sight). I’m limiting dairy and am completely off of alcohol and coffee (at this point, I don’t even miss the coffee. A cold beer, on the other hand, is like a mirage…). For Memorial Day, we grilled bison burgers instead of beef, for a lower-fat alternative. The best part may have been the working side-by-side in the kitchen. Slowly, but surely coming back to life.
Vegan cheese is a cruel fraud. It’s a good thing I have a rich imagination.