Stomach Woes

So now I’ll make good on my promise to post more often even when I’m not feeling great!

I tend to be pretty healthy, other than that pesky cancer. I’ve always felt lucky to have a fairly solid, stable constitution. Yet there’s something about cancer treatments that always seems to gut me–literally.

Last time, I came in with a nausea phobia and I mostly got over it. Systematic desensitization works! Turns out if you endure it enough, you can overcome the phobia. The funny thing was that most of the nausea didn’t come from chemo, which we didn’t realize until about 3/4 of the way through treatments: it came from the narcotics.

Previously, I had head and neck cancer, which has brutally tough, painful treatments. I was on high dose patches of Fentanyl, an opiate even stronger than morphine, and for about 4-5 weeks, I couldn’t keep food or water down. We discovered only after the pain started dropping after treatments that the Fentanyl had caused most of the nausea and vomiting–it had caused a rare side effect of gastroparesis, in which your stomach basically stops processing food. The food goes down your throat, pools in your stomach, your stomach says, “Nope,” and then it comes right back up again.

I went into treatments this time very wary of narcotics. So far, other than right at the start when I was having a lot of lung pain, I’m avoiding them. Yet I’m having stomach problems again, this time I suspect from the combo of chemo drugs with radiation (both of which massively dehydrate you). Last week was my third chemo and I ended up at the ER this morning just trying to deal with severe cramps and nausea. I was worried that without medical assistance, I wouldn’t be able to lay still on the radiation table and I don’t want to miss a single treatment.

Nausea is still a mild phobia with me, but this is where I need to stop my self-pity and engage my brain. There is a pattern here, if you look for it–specific things happen on specific days after chemo. The first three days after chemo, I feel fine–sometimes even great. Then the downward slide begins into discomfort and then pain and unhappiness.


The key–and why I’m blogging about this–is to treat this as a problem I can help solve. If I look for patterns, I can be proactive. I know the three days after chemo I’ll feel well enough to eat and drink the right amount, so I need to be diligent about that. I also know the stomach problems begin on day four so I can take medicine to get ahead of it (the way I do with my nausea medications).

A key part of getting through cancer treatments is coming to understand what the treatments mean for you. Everyone reacts a little differently–only you can know how you respond and relay that back to your doctor for advice. I believe this is part of why studies show that informed patients who are active participants in their care tend to do better–they ask questions, look for patterns, and bring them up in appointments.

Tomorrow’s another chemo day, so here’s looking ahead at establishing a better pattern!


Related Posts

Be Your Own Advocate

I routinely encounter folks dealing with serious illness (mostly cancer, in my circumstances) who accept whatever the first doctor they meet tells them, even if what they’re told is that there is no hope. I

Read More »

Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

April is head and neck cancer awareness month! Be aware of the causes and symptoms, summarized in the graphic at the bottom. For me, it was a swollen lymph node below my jaw that didn’t

Read More »

Clinical Trial Math

Clinical trial math example: Monday + every two months = time to start worrying about my scan the following Monday. Tuesday + pain below my right ribs = worry about that AND the scan the

Read More »

My Best Days Are Ahead Of Me

Last year, I was in the hospital from chemo for my birthday, not knowing the cancer would blossom again months later. This year, I’m walking around San Francisco–short of breath sometimes, but walking–looking forward to

Read More »

Unpredictability and Patterns

The every-other-week treatment schedule has become habit at this point. In at 7:45 am, IV and blood draw, discussion with the trial nurse, meet with Dr. Ani, get the blood test results, then infusion and

Read More »

Speaking Out and its Price

I’m exhausted and stressed and sad and angry. I try to keep my posts here focused and positive, but it’s really hard at this point. I was contacted last week by the Organizing Director of

Read More »