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The Other C Word

ejourneys's picture

I count myself lucky in that I had never vomited while on chemo. It took a carrot to make me do that. One raw carrot.

I've never had any problems with carrots, raw or cooked, in the past. But this one sent me on an approximately 30-hour odyssey of severe stomach cramps and the inability to keep anything down, solid or liquid.

In my personal scale of physical suffering, it was worse than chemo (plus surgery and rads, combined), but not as bad as dysmenorrhea. (Yes, my dysmenorrhea was that bad.) The cramps came and went in waves, giving me a few seconds of breather in-between onslaughts. Finally I could down a bit of lightly-salted water, a couple of small sips at a time, near the end of two mostly sleepless nights. A sitting position was agony; I did best lying on my side.

My partner wanted me to go to the ER but I successfully nixed that, having experienced the futility of the ER with respect to my cramps; that story appears in the long post linked above (in my excerpt from 10/2/87). I explained that such a trip would only make me feel worse, and that I would agree to go only if I felt my situation couldn't be resolved at home, given enough time. (Six years ago I had taken my partner to the ER for what turned out to be a bowel obstruction requiring four days in the hospital. If that sort of thing were happening to me, then yeah, I'd go.)

My partner said that I had taken her to the ER several times for considerably less at her request. She wanted to repay the favor. I told her I appreciated and understood that -- but in my case, the ER was the last thing I wanted or needed.

By Monday morning my ordeal had ended and my leftover pain had calmed down to the dull roar of soreness that continues as I write. I wasn't going to take any chances. I avoided food and kept only to water.

My main concern was that I didn't want to throw up the anastrazole. I took it later than usual, after I was pretty sure my stomach had emptied (again). I wondered if the ondansetron that I never had to take for chemo would be appropriate for helping me keep the anastrazole down, if it came to that. I see my medical oncologist in about two weeks; that will be a question to him just in case this sort of thing happens again.

This is not the way I wanted to take off those few pounds that I had gained on anastrazole.

I saw my radiation oncologist on Tuesday for a regular checkup and mentioned what I had experienced over the weekend. He said that most likely it had been from E. coli. With respect to chemo, he said that chemo does change the body's microflora, which can take time to recover, and that can create certain sensitivities. The good news is that if this was indeed E. coli, my bout probably helped inoculate me against that particular strain. For now, though, I need to be careful while I recover from the weekend. He also confirmed that I was right to stay home rather than go to the ER.

After returning from my appointment I fixed myself a protein drink: my first food in about 44 hours. (And the food I'd had 44 hours earlier had come back up.) Tuesday's calories came to 1255: still low, but far higher than my 0 calories on Monday and the 548 I had consumed on Sunday and later regurgitated. On Wednesday I returned to eating vegetables (beyond the V-8 I'd had on Tuesday), but I cooked them; I'm not ready to return to raw just yet.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "People who have weakened immune systems — from AIDS or drugs to treat cancer or prevent the rejection of organ transplants — are more likely to become ill from ingesting E. coli." I'm nine months out from chemo and my blood work is back to normal, but I can't help wondering whether this might be a factor. I'm also supremely thankful that this hadn't hit me while I was undergoing chemo. Also, the omeprazole (Prilosec) that I had been on through chemo and radiation had also placed me at risk for an E. coli infection. According to Mayo, "most healthy adults" recover from this within a week.

That leaves me with the question: past active treatment, with normal blood work but also with various side effects from ongoing endocrine therapy, am I considered "healthy" by Mayo's standards in this particular context? I'd like to think the answer is yes, but I honestly don't know.

I had done this piece -- to the Creativity Heals prompt "dream" -- shortly before I ingested the carrot. I had photographed the bunny in my yard three years ago.

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