Four years on from my bowel cancer operation and I’m still looking for new strategies to cope with the after-effects. Here I look at trying to find the right dietary balance to help get back to a fairly normal life
April is bowel cancer awareness month in the United Kingdom and this year also marks the fourth anniversary of my cancer operation and the 21st in this series of Cancer-talk blogs.
I started writing this blog just before my ‘big op’ to remove the cancerous growth in my lower bowel.
Back then, in 2015, I found lots of information aimed at patients that was either too-gory or over-technical and so I thought telling a human-story about fighting cancer might help get me through it all in-tact and support others following in my footsteps.
Now four years on, I have conquered many obstacles that face post-cancer patients, such as fear of the disease returning and insomnia; but I still have a slight terror about my unpredictable bowel patterns when I am out and about.
This can be really a life-inhibiting and has prevented a return to a normal social life.
Every venture has to be planned carefully, especially if I am travelling to report on a conference and other activities.
I am a self-employed journalist, blogger and PR consultant and while most things can be covered from my home office, sometimes you need to attend events in person. It is important to let people you are still alive and active!
To help, there are pills and potions to slow down the urgency of needing the loo. Things like Loperamide, Imodium and Codeine. But they all have side effects. The main one being stomach pains caused by constipation, especially with Codeine, which while effective can knock me out for a day or so as I get tired much more easily since having all that chemo and radiotherapy.
This is not brilliant especially when you’ve got deadlines to catch, but I’ve been very frank with the editors I work for, but most are pretty understanding and I have journalist colleagues who I can pass work on to if necessary.
Get my diet into synch with medication
But I am making a renewed attempt to see if I can find a better balance to get my diet into synch with my medication.
I was encouraged to give this another try by a speaker at the last quarterly Bowel Cancer Support Group at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, where I had my operation four years ago.
Low residue diet
She suggested a low low-fibre and low residue diet might help a bowel cancer survivor like me.
This means binning normal healthy eating advice and moving away from the traditional view that more fruit, veg and wholemeal bread & pasta is good for you.
Instead white bread & pasta is the order of the day along with white rice, ice cream, cheese, lean meat, poultry & fish together with cucumber, tomatoes and potatoes. Bananas, peaches and ripe melon are OK, either raw or cooked, but as with everything don’t eat the skin or seeds.
Smooth yogurt is OK, but avoid nuts or piece of fruit and stay away from fatty foods and dried fruits unless you need to reverse the preventive treatment and overcome constipation brought on by too much Loperamide. Vegetables to avoid include broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. This is particularly important if you are out and about or on the move by plane, train or automobile.
It does feel a little like a see-saw, going from one extreme of traditional healthy foods like rye bread with seeds and wholegrain cereals, supported by fibre-supplements, such as Normacol or Fybogel, to get the bowel moving again when I feel secure and there is no need to venture far.
I’m determined to make a real effort to see whether the foods I eat can make it easier to return to more balanced normal life-style.
Before signing-off, can I once again thank my wife Ann and the family and the NHS staff who have continued to support my progress over the last four and more years.
According to the charity Bowel Cancer UK’s guide for journalists, someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes in Britain. That’s almost 42,000 people every year – and every 30 minutes someone dies from the disease in the UK.
But despite the grim statistics, it is treatable and curable – especially if diagnosed early – and there are well over a quarter-of-a-million people like me living in the UK today who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
For move about living with and beyond bowel cancer, see here for more information from Bowel Cancer UK.
To see earlier blogs in the series, see Cancer-talk
- Main photo:Harvard Health Publishing