You may have heard me moan about food lately and how whatever I eat seems to be trying to destroy me internally. Well, I hit rock bottom about three weeks ago and ended up a sobbing mess.
Well, what actually got me so upset was that I was beginning to think food and my body were going to leave me housebound. Basically, I was at a stage where whatever I ate my body simply couldn’t handle it. My stomach would sound like a washing machine and then there were the few occasions where I’d sometimes think “did my stomach just move?!”. Going to work and being out in public were beginning to become a real problem. I was basically having to rush from A to B because of there not being a toilet near by. Immodium was becoming part of my diet, but not always working. I was beginning to think it would be easier to just not eat. Thinking this throws up a real internal battle. Because, last year, during chemotherapy and the allergic reaction to it I wasn’t able to taste anything and my appetite had completely disappeared. I used to cry watching programmes on channel 4 about people’s diets/issues with food. – I’d be yelling at the telly “eat, for christ’s sake – if that’s all you’ve got to do to survive, eat!” – it all seemed very simple in my eyes.
So there I was, beginning to wonder if I could survive on air and water. I of course slapped myself repeatedly. What I put in my body is now more important than it’s ever been. My body is no longer an amusement park. I realised there must be something I can do. So I went through all my leaflets and notes from Doctors/Nurses/Dieticians/Beating Bowel Cancer and started making notes on diet. Especially a diet post bowel cancer and the treatment/surgery. I read more than once that I’d have to be patient. I also read that the diet I once had might not be the diet that works for me now.
I accepted I’d have to spend a bit of time rediscovering my diet. Which is tricky especially after reading about the anti cancer foods and things I should be doing to make sure it doesn’t return. In my head, I’m eight months post surgery and I should be eating well. I should be eating things to keep cancer at bay.
But, I went back to basics. I had to. I spoke to Louise and Lilian at Beating Bowel Cancer and they were brilliant. I also spoke to a few bowel CA patients. Helen, Suze and Hazel – they reminded me of everything I’d read, but they also re assured me that it is about finding what works for me. I’ve also got to get some quality of life back. I need to be able to get out and about. What I eat now, doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be eating that in two years time.
I started my diet with white bread, bananas, chicken and honey. My mum (if you read my tweets you’ll know what she’s like) wasn’t the most supportive of this choice.
“Oh for God’s sake, Hannah. What am I going to do about the shopping and evening meals if you’re eating weirdo food?”
“It’s only temporary and it’s to find out what’s not agreeing with me”
“I’m sure you imagine these things”
“Yes, that’s right. I imagine bowel cancer and everything that comes with it. And now I want to be forever running to the toilet. Unable to go out”
“Oh, you know what I mean”
The first week of my new diet was quite simply brilliant. My stomach was calm. I wasn’t rushing for the toilet. I was able to go to work and not feel nervous being out. I went out during my lunch break for fresh air. I gradually added tomatoes, tomato soup and rice.
After 5 good days and only requiring one Immodium tablet I decided the weekend would be the best time to try some new foods. I was at home, so it didn’t matter if things went a bit wrong. Well, I’m pleased I didn’t need to be anywhere that weekend because it went very wrong.
I stuck to the foods which I’d been having during the week. But I’d also added goat’s milk and a weetabix on the Saturday morning. I was then ill for all of Saturday and most of Sunday. I spent the weekend in the bathroom or on my bed feeling drained. Sunday evening came and I was well and truly miserable and fed up. Which is where I then decided “I really fancy something nice” – I’ve taken comfort eating to a whole new level. So I had ice cream and tinned pears and I enjoyed it. But then paid for it that night and until Tuesday. You’re probably thinking, why add to the problem with food like that? I’d had enough and I thought, well I’m ill, so I might as well eat what I fancy. This is reserved for real low moments.
So during my work week I stuck to foods I knew would be OK. I introduced slowly some carrots, new potatoes and tinned tomatoes. All still OK. I could really feel a difference in my stomach. Things were settled and finally I was over the weekend.
Then I started thinking about before the basic diet and the foods I was eating. It couldn’t be?
Could I really have a problem with dairy?
Suddenly it was all making sense. I was really ill after milky hot chocolates, cheese sandwiches, milk and cereals, yoghurts in the evening, ice creams and cakes. Suddenly all the meals we’d eaten the past few months were all making sense. The cheese on top of the pasta. The carbonara. The fish pie. The chocolate.
I write a food diary. I have to. I also have a diary of my toilet habits. Something I learnt to do during treatment. I’m able to look at what I’ve eaten and how my body has reacted to it. I’m also careful to try new foods slowly. Otherwise how am I supposed to know what food upset me if there’s 10 new foods to choose from?
There on the food diary was the evidence I needed. Dairy might be a problem.
So, this weekend I’ve decided to try a different approach. I’ve not got stuck into any cheese, milk or ice cream. Instead I’ve eaten all safe foods. But I have tried:
- Soya banana flavour yoghurt (I’ve missed yoghurt)
- Dairy free chocolate (The need for some comfort eating has not gone)
- Dairy free biscuits (Humour me)
- Dairy free chocolate milk (I wasn’t sure about soya milk just yet)
- Dariy free cheese (I wanted some cheese on top of my tinned tomatoes and pasta)
I’m sat here after a day of what can only be classed as “stuffing my face” and I feel FINE! My stomach is calm. I’ve lazed about all day. More importantly, I’ve gone to the bathroom when I’ve chosen to go.
I knew, mentioning this discovery to my mum would cause a row. I told her what I thought and I was met with this beauty.
“Oh here we go. Everyone’s allergic to dairy these days”
“I’m not doing this to be trendy”
“Well, honestly. I’m sure you imagine these things. Can’t you speak to someone who knows what they’re doing?”
Apparently I don’t know my body well enough. I had a bit of a sulk and then I got a bit ranty. I might have ripped into her. Told her I’m sure she’d give up dairy too if it meant she could leave the house without worrying about crapping herself. That went down a treat.
Even with the little gems my Mum comes out with, I am in a much better place both physically and mentally this weekend. I like food at the moment and I feel OK. For the first time in months.
It might not be dairy. I might get 2 weeks down the line and discover something else sets me off. But, I’m willing to find out by trial and error. Next week I am planning on trying onions and sweet potato. Yes, it’s that gradual the introduction of new foods. It helps me keep track though and make sure I know what’s working.
I do need to try dairy again, I know that. But that can wait. I know it’s a potential problem, and something to look at when I’m safely at home.
If it is a dairy problem, then I’ve got a lot of learning to do. Just from the small research I’ve done the last few days there’s a lot to learn. Sometimes dairy has different names on food labels. I will have to think about what I’m eating. I will have to think about eating out. I’m sure at times I’ll get fed up with it all. But, if it means I have some quality of life and am able to get on with things then I’m willing to educate myself.
Maybe I can finally say goodbye to the constant nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pains and so on…
(Yes, my mum reads the Daily Mail).