[4 minute read]
25 years ago I discovered I was allergic to avocado – the only allergy I have. It affects me if I eat it or use products with avocado oil in it, It gives me an itchy rash but it’s not too problematic, I wasn’t a big fan anyway!
10 years later I realised I need to be careful with my lactose intake. Whilst nothing has been diagnosed I find my digestive system unbalanced by things which are too milky or creamy causing bloating and discomfort. I never liked cream and there are many milk substitutes nowadays, so this doesn’t impact my eating too much either. If I crave macaroni cheese, lasagne or custard, I make them at home using lactose free milk (oat or almond are my favourite).
I won’t bore on about how, 7 years ago, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Suffice it to say that I was incredibly lucky. It was diagnosed very quickly as a slow growing type (Dukes A). I had great healthcare/insurance from the company I worked for, so I was cared for at a Harley Street hospital.
I had a Hemicolectomy to remove the cancerous growth – basically a section of my bowel was cut out and the remaining healthy sections stitched back together. I did not need chemo or radiotherapy, I simply had to heal from the surgery.
Whilst in hospital, for the first few days I couldn’t eat. The procedure made my digestive system go into shock so for a while my bile duct stopped working (gah!) Those were dark days, I felt very unwell. A tube was put down my throat via my nose so nurses could visit at hourly intervals to drain off the green acid-y liquid which a body normally uses to digest food, otherwise I threw up violently.
My consultant was keen to maintain my energy reserves, so next step was a drip fitted to provide nutrition intravenously. It wasn’t much fun having the hole in my arm to tap into a vein. I couldn’t go anywhere without bringing my little trolley of fluids with me, but I was alive, and I was determined to heal.
It’s funny how aimless your days become without the usual punctuation of meal times. I couldn’t bear to think about food. Although television provided a welcome distraction, I changed channels a lot. It was early December and most programmes focused on what people might eat or drink over the Christmas. It was also hard for my body to relax into ‘sleep’ mode because it was being fed constantly. I was encouraged to move about, so I walked up and down the corridor, stopping to look at the non-stop London traffic which passed outside the window.
Next I was encouraged to drink milky beverages designed to build up my strength which tasted ghastly! Came the day they said I could eat solid food -introduce 1 thing at a time they advised. My digestive system needed re-training to deal with food.
Ordering shepherds pie, I just ate the potato topping. Next meal I tried a cup of coffee and half a blueberry muffin. Good, but with a downside. It was horrible to have my stomach (which must have shrunk) feel so full. Now disconnected from the drip, I could be more adventurous with my walks. Flights of stairs were accessible so I travelled up and down the hospital corridors, walking off what I had eaten while cautiously bracing my abdomen which had so recently been cut open and stapled shut.
I came home a few days before Christmas. The journey by taxi and train was terrifying, I felt worried about my stitches, or that people might bump into my sore stomach. To be home amongst my family was joyous. Tears filled my eyes as we parked outside my house which I had left 2 weeks ago, unsure if I would return. My children and our dog were delighted to have me home. I felt cautiously optimistic.
Learning to eat was a slow, and sometimes still painful, process. Adhering to introducing 1 new foodstuff at a time from the list the hospital provided of ‘low residue’ things to eat. The list included many of the foods we look down on as trashy: white bread, white rice, cornflakes. The rule of thumb being that my digestive system should not work too hard, so no red meat or raw vegetables, only chicken and fish, avoiding roughage or fibre. I had introduced peas, so they were my only vegetable for a while. My appetite was tiny, so eating little and often was necessary. I had extra snacks at 11 and 4 o’clock. I ate lots of soup with white toast while peanut butter provided a useful energy boost.
I built my walking up from short to longer distances. My dog was gentle with me (somehow she knew I was fragile), so as my confidence grew, I put a halter on her so she couldn’t pull and walked her by myself.
My consultant saw me annually over the following 5 years. My check up included a colonoscopy and an (expensive) blood test which would flag up anything new growing. One year I had a scare, but after closely monitoring the growth it was deemed nothing of concern. At my most recent test I was told I could come back in 5 years, so I feel almost ‘normal’ now.
I’ve always wondered, though, why me? I don’t smoke, I barely drink and my main indulgence with food is a sweet tooth. I’ve been concerned that my eating habits, which included lots of red meat, were a contributory factor. My Mother was big on cooked breakfasts and I ate meat at most meals.
In November 2019 I became pescatarian – my children are both vegetarian so it seemed foolish for us to cook 2 separate meals or fight the wisdom that eating less read meat is better for one’s health. I expect soon I will stop eating fish, but for now it’s a gradual transition to the new eating regime.
I have a breakfast of muesli and various fruits, but I have add bran cereal for additional fibre. I take some fairly generic vitamin supplements. For lunch I have soup or jacket potato or a sandwich. In the evening my OH cooks something hearty for the whole family. My eldest is vegan now so we use yeast extract to replace cheese and have soya or quorn if we want to mimic meat. I genuinely feel healthier on this diet, but I’ll admit I find food less exciting nowadays.
My biggest treat is still chocolate or cakes! My sweet tooth is as strong as ever.
I’ve written this specifically for Food Matters Resource meme,
but also linking it up to #WickedWednesday