Good Belly 12 Day Challenge

Greetings, my belly buddies!

So last month I took the Good Belly 12 Day Challenge. 

Good Belly is a company that makes a dairy-free, soy, and vegan juice drink that contains the Probiotic “Lactobacillus plantarum299v, a well-studied probiotic strain formulated for daily digestive health.” (according to their website goodbelly.com

Now anyone who has read this blog knows I am a HUGE proponent of Probiotics. I have been eating a 1/2 cup of FAGE 0% Total Greek Yogurt every morning for the last couple of months. I was curious to see how my guts would react to probiotics with dairy out of the equation. So the idea behind the challenge is to drink 8 fluid oz of Good Belly a day or you can take one of their Good Belly + shots a day for twelve days. They caution that when beginning the regimen, one may experience bloating or diarrhea for a few days (which is the probiotics balancing out the digestive system). The company also recommends discussing it with a physician before starting. I didn’t only because I have been taking probiotics for such a long time that I really wasn’t too concerned.

So I signed up for the challenge on the interwebs, and immediately received my coupons in an e-mail. I printed them out and popped over to the supermarket to find me some Good Belly. Now at my local grocer, I had two options: both of them were Good Belly Organic Quarts. They came in two flavors: Mango and Pomegranate Blackberry. I grabbed one of each. Each quart has four servings. They didn’t have the Good Belly + Shots available to purchase, so I settled for the straight up juice. 

The first four days, I drank the Mango juice first thing in the morning. I usually have myself a piece of fruit, yogurt, and water in the morning. I just swapped the yogurt for the juice instead. I noticed my guts weren’t as grumbly as they have a tendency to get in the mornings. I didn’t see a difference in bowel movements though. I was expecting more obvious side effects. Nothing. 

The next four days, I had myself the Pomegranate Blackberry juice. I wasn’t as big of a fan of this flavor (but that’s just a personal preference.) I found it too sweet. As a matter of fact, I have to mention the fact that there is a good portion of organic evaporated cane sugar in the juice (22 g in both beverages). There is really only 25% juice in it which I found problematic. Still no major differences in bowel movements, although I can’t deny that my guts appeared to be less vocal and less prone to gas/bloating pains. I began to wonder if I have a slight allergy to dairy. 

The final four days, I opted for the Mango again. Pretty much the same results. Shrug. 

I have been taking probiotics for years now, so I really shouldn’t be surprised that there wasn’t a strong difference in my system. I can say I wasn’t as gassy or bloated as I was eating yogurt. Interesting and requires further experimentation. I don’t think I will do the juice again though; it was far too sweet for my liking. 

I am currently experimenting with a probiotic supplement from Nature Made. Now this supplement has Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (10 billion cells per capsule). Good Belly had the same probiotic, but now I am curious to see what happens if I only take a supplement in the morning with my breakfast.

Next time, I will share my experience with the supplement. I will also compare the three probiotic consumables I tried and which one is most effective (For me that is. What works for me may be completely different for you). I will do the supplement for 12 days and the go back to the FAGE yogurt for 12 days to see if my suspicions about lactose intolerance have any weight. Trial and error, baby. That’s what life is all about. If you’d like to try the challenge for yourself, check it out here

Best of health to you all!

See you next time,

Steph

 

Life: Redux

Hello, hello! Spring is upon us. Cue the classic analogies to new love, cleansing, and rebirth. Yahoo!

I wanted to take a break from all the info grinding and talk about something very personal. It doesn’t really relate to UC or my j-pouch. If you don’t feel like reading on, peace out! I will catch you on the next blog post when I talk about my 12 Day Challenge with Goodbelly Probiotics. For those of you still sticking around, right on. Off we go. 

For all the sharing I do regarding my journey with IBD/surgery, I don’t really delve into my personal life. Yes, I have spoken to you all about sex, food, self-image, and the embarrassing situations that UC threw at me. I feel compelled to share something with you that has changed me just as deeply, if not more so, than Ulcerative Colitis.

Last May, my youngest sister Alexandra passed away suddenly. She suffered from sickle cell beta thalassemia, a disease she was diagnosed with at birth. There is currently no known cure. Basically, her body produced abnormally structured blood cells. As a result, her own defense system was destroying those cells and rapidly creating new blood cells to compensate for the loss. This, in turn, caused an overproduction of iron. If the body has too much iron, it can cause fatal complications (such as organ enlargement and heart failure), and most patients die early as a result. The disease is incredibly rare; there aren’t many treatments beyond monthly blood transfusions. Even then, the average lifespan of a sickle cell patient is 30. Alexandra was only 20 years old.

Alexandra wanted to be an elementary school teacher. She would have been a damn good one too. I’m not saying that because I have sibling bias (maybe a little) but I have a whole folder filled to bursting with glowing notes and illustrations from second grade students she taught during her classroom internship. Children are the most brutally honest among us. That should be evidence enough. Alex had over 600 friends on Facebook and managed to keep up with almost ALL of them. I can barely manage to get together with my own small group of friends once a month. The feature everyone identifies most with Alexandra is her infectious laugh. Loud, long, and shrill. A belly laugh at its deepest. The kind of giggles that send you reeling more than the joke itself. Her favorite season was summer for obvious reasons. A baby born under the sun of Miami, she never lost her love for the warm air and water. She hated Chicago but loved everyone she came to know who resides here. She was messy and hated cleaning. Disorder was the order of her life. Alex had dark, curly hair. Bouncy, shiny. She always attempted to straighten it (although my younger sister Kristen and I confessed to curl envy). Hair products lined her vanity. Alex loved bright nail polish in neon colors. Alex introduced me to lots of new music. She never failed to be in the know when it came to upcoming artists. She had great hipster moments: “You listen to (insert band name here) now? I listened to them way before you did! You said you hated them.” Everything was extreme. Bigger than life. She was devastated when she found out the show “The Hills” wasn’t real. Like hiding under a blanket and screaming. She’d be pissed that I brought that up, but it makes me laugh. I admire the passion Alex expressed for ALL the things she enjoyed. The biggest sweet tooth I have ever known. She had three cake pop kits. Loved to bake with her friends and concoct all kinds of outrageous goods. Everything from chocolate chip Oreo stuffed cookies to rainbow layer cakes. A talented performer and improviser. That girl was fast on her feet. Funny as hell. Comebacks were her specialty. Never missed a beat onstage. She couldn’t sing (neither could I) but won the most enthusiastic voice in a group. The girl had some funky dance moves though. Silliness was her specialty. She breathed it in like oxygen and spread it to everyone nearby. Alex adored a good mystery, especially if it was scary. We used to play the Nancy Drew mystery games on the computer all the time. Girlfriend loved horror flicks. Loved the adrenaline rush from being spooked, frequently braving terrifying films and haunted houses with her friends. It should be no surprise that Halloween was her favorite holiday. She was working her way through college at Target with my sister Kristen. They were known as the “Target Twins.” Well-loved and sought out by co-workers and customers, the two of them made the best “Fast, Fun, and Friendly” pair on the floor. Alex has the most amazing variety of friends. From all walks of life. All ages and talents and aspirations. She didn’t make it a habit to judge people. She was open and embraced everyone, no matter how flawed or damaged they appeared to anyone else. Alex saw lovely things in every person. Her beautiful olive colored skin left friends and acquaintances to ask my family if she was adopted (as K and I are both of fair complexions). No frickin’ way! Alex was blessed with the Mediterranean skin and hair of my mother’s Greek genes. Sun kissed and happy. She was gorgeous, through and through. Sassy, lively, and bright. A true sisterwoman. She didn’t give a flying fist of fire what anyone thought of her. 

Image

I could go on for days. I have such fond memories of her. The loss of my baby sister has shaken me to my very soul. I cannot accurately express how much this has changed my family. I’m not sure I want to. At first it felt like picking up pieces and starting over without her was wrong. Like leaving her behind. One can rationalize that the world will continue to turn. Time heals. “It will get better”. The infamous phrase pushed in my direction at every available opportunity in an attempt to help. Because it’s confusing. Because it’s awkward. Because it’s hard. For everyone who knew her. Even just a little bit. Because she left such a mark on us all. 

I have struggled with a horrific bout of depression since that time. For the first few months after Alex departed, I worked hard to be strong for others. I told myself she would want me to move forward; live life passionately and openly. It was around that time grief truly took hold and settled inside me. I didn’t know how to be strong anymore. I didn’t want to be. Grief buried itself deep…with fierce roots. Nothing felt good. Not friends. Not work. Not theatre. Not food. Not writing. Not family. Absolutely nothing. I began to hate, hate, hate. Myself more than anyone else in the world. I wondered if I had been a good enough sister. Was I too mean? Did she know how much I love her? I wondered about her death. Why did she have to go? Was she in pain? Did she just fall asleep and dream of pleasant things? Could something have been done to help her?

I forgot how to be social, or simply chose not to be. It didn’t make any difference to me whether my friends stuck around or not. I assumed they either didn’t care or felt so awkward being around me that they preferred to stay away. I lost all gusto for my caregiver work. Looking after children became a lonely job for me. During their nap times, being alone with my own thoughts was rotten. A spiral of self-loathing twisting round and round. “Don’t be so lazy. Get up. Do something. Fix this. What’s wrong with you?” My body started reacting negatively to all this hatred. Aches and pain in my joints and back manifested due to the tension and stress I continued to build upon myself. I curled further inward, thinking I was protecting myself from others. I didn’t want to upset anyone else, especially not my family. I cried daily, shaking violently and sitting on the ground for what felt like hours. Hiding in the bathroom to avoid showing tears in public or at work. Sometime before the holidays, something gave way. I physically could not go to work anymore. I wasn’t sleeping or getting enough nutrients. I felt sick constantly. My fiance Tim was doing his best to give me support (and I thank my lucky stars every day he is in my life), but I knew my depression was putting stress on him too. Guilt and anger crept in. “Alex wouldn’t want you to feel this way. Stop being such a crybaby. Suck it up.” It was so easy to be mean to myself. To punish myself for not doing more. For not picking myself and getting better. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. To burden them. The holidays passed in a haze of alcohol and false smiles. It felt wrong not having Alex there. So damn wrong. My parents and K seemed to reflect what I felt in their eyes. I wanted them to be happy. I hated seeing them so sad too. Fumbling to connect with them, and falling short every time. I resented the people that had all their loved ones with them. Anger overwhelmed me. I’d hear someone running down the hallway of our apartment building and suddenly recall running downstairs to the car the morning my dad called to tell me Alex died. I’d start shaking, panicking. I’d wake up in cold sweats hearing my own screams in my ears. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” Hearing my dad crying and telling me to be strong. What could I do? Where could I go? 

What’s that phrase? When you are at the bottom, the only place left to go is up. So I started making the climb. I began going to therapy. Beginning to open up and talk about all the things I was holding inside me. The grief, the sadness, the guilt, the stress. The dysfunctional thoughts and self-deprecating pattern I had fallen into. Even post traumatic stress. It appeared that my life lost all sense of purpose, meaning, and structure. It’s been four months since I began going to therapy. I attend my sessions on a weekly basis. It helps. It helps a lot actually. More than I thought possible. I can feel myself healing. In bits and pieces. Finding joy in small moments. Learning to love myself as an individual. Not to judge. To forgive. To rest. All this and more. Reintroducing the practice of yoga into my life has given me a new goal to strive toward. There is an understanding and acceptance of self within asana practice that gives me great joy. I have also started meditating to calm my overactive mind. Learning to find quiet moments has been tremendous for me. My mind wanders, yes, but I’m getting better at escorting it back to the peace, the calm, the breath. It is an unbelievably powerful tool. I had my doubts. I was proven wrong. Thank goodness. I see my friends more often now. I am working again (just part-time but the little one I look after keeps me very busy). There is a lot of change happening to me right now. Going with the flow is all I can do. All I want to do if I’m being honest. It is a journey. I use that work a lot. I don’t really know how else I can possibly describe it. It ebbs and flows. Each day is different. 

I still have bad days. They are less frequent. I allow myself to have those bad days and move on. Not every day is perfect, but that’s okay. “Normal” is not something I expect out of life anymore. I don’t even know what that means to me. The loss of Alexandra has left a hole that cannot be filled. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say it that way. That sounds so empty. Alex is part of me…and that girl was SOLID. She makes me smile and laugh and cry. She is with me always. She is here even now, as I write, clumsily trying to put down in words all the things I have felt. Pouring all of this out for strangers in the hopes that they understand and share this grief. It helps to know you are not alone. Loss is something we all have to bear at some point in our lives. How we overcome that loss makes all the difference in the world.

I suppose the real reason I wanted to share all this because I wanted you to know Alex. She was too damn cool. Really. She would have loved you all. I know I do. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to talk about Alex on this blog. I’m glad I did. Thank you so much for sticking with me through this journey and (hopefully) for joining me on the one to come. You mean so much to me. Even if I never get to hug you or laugh with you or hear your story. I love you guys. Your e-mails and comments have inspired me to keep this blog running. Sometimes life pushes you down, drags you through the mud, and kicks you in the gut like a school yard bully. I am beginning to understand that if I can stand up, clean myself up, and go back to school the next day again (even if I might get hurt) then I will be all right. I know that if I get dirty, I can always go home and clean up again. Or ask the bully if she needs a friend too. 

I send all the love in the world to my family, fiancé, and friends. I send hope, strength, and love to all of Alex’s friends. I send positive thoughts and good vibrations to all those who are grieving and healing. We are not so different as we seem. I share my experiences with you to help myself and others in earnest. Thank you for this gift of life and learning.  

So what’s next on this journey for me? I have been accepted into an intensive program to complete training as a yoga teacher. The course begins in June and runs for two weeks. I’d like to chronicle this new phase of my journey here on the blog. Tim and I are getting married in September (in a theater like the proud performing arts geeks we are!) so this summer is going to be mighty busy! Exciting possibilities and new beginnings to look forward to!

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, my next feature will be recording my experiment with Goodbelly Probiotics. I talk a great deal about the benefits probiotics have provided for me. I have gotten a few e-mails asking me if I have ever tried this line of products for regulating digestive health. So, at your request, I will be conducting my own Goodbelly 12 Day Challenge and sharing the results with you! For more information on the challenge and Goodbelly Probiotics, check out http://12day.goodbelly.com/.  

Wishing you all the best of health and happiness,

Stephanie 

 

What the hell is a temporary ileostomy?

Greetings and salutations, readers.

So, in my last post I provided a general overview of the procedure ileoanal anastamosis, more commonly known as j-pouch surgery. Due to my severe case of ulcerative colitis, I elected to have the surgery done. During the first step of the surgery, I had my entire diseased colon (large intestine) removed, the j-pouch formed, and ileostomy created. Not all surgeries go down like this; I am speaking purely from own experience. This is going to be a long one (it required some digging for relevant information from my blog archives), so I have placed in bold some key points if you want to skip to a specific segment you have questions about. 

WHAT IS AN ILEOSTOMY?

Sometimes the phrase “Show Don’t Tell” really comes in handy. I found this amazing animation on Youtube that can give you a nice, simple look at the medical aspects of a standard “Brooke” ileostomy (which is what I had). If you want to skip ahead about 2:00 minutes into the video, that’s when they start showing you the ileostomy itself. The first part simply gives you a general look at the digestive tract. 

The ileostomy essentially gives your poop a place to go while your body recovers and heals with the j-pouch in place. Yes, it may seem really freaky. At first, hell yeah it is. The stoma (the part of the ileum that is exposed through the abdomen) moves and dips and makes noise. It’s alive; it’s a part of you on the outside. I would definitely give that a 10 out of 10 on the freaky scale.

BASIC CARE

The waste that will come out of the ileostomy will be softer and runnier since the food is only partially digested. Things like potatoes, applesauce, and rice have a tendency to bulk it up if the bowel ever gets too loose. A bag is worn over the stoma and attached with either a ring (it’s like a giant ring of glue) or a more traditional adhesive. Bags can be transparent or opaque. Some people like to keep an eye on things. I myself always opted for opaque (I could never get over seeing the stoma pushing out waste. It always icked me out). There are one piece systems (Bag with adhesive attached) and two piece system (Bag and adhesive separate). I liked one-piece better. Less to fuss with. You just cut the adhesive wafer to fit the shape of your stoma, remove the appliance you are currently wearing, gently clean around the stoma with warm water (never rubbing alcohol…ouch), dry off, and apply. You usually have to change the entire system every 2-4 days. It depends on how your skin reacts to the adhesive and how well it is applied. I struggled with the system a lot at first (even with the help of the ostomy nurse and my mom). I found a groove and did it on my own after a couple months. You have to empty it a few times a day (varies with how much you eat). There are a few good brands: Hollister, Convatec, Coloplast, Nu-Hope. I mostly used Hollister and Convatec and had good experiences with both. There are tons of videos on Youtube showing how to empty and change your ileostomy bag! Take your pick; they are in abundance. I love the internet! I wish there had been more of these when I was going through my surgery. It is nice to see more people sharing their experiences. 

You can check out all specifics on ostomy suppliers here: http://www.ostomy.org/ostomy_info/suppliers.shtml 

TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT ILEOSTOMY? 

Like the video said, it can be either temporary or permanent. In my case, it was temporary (although due to a number of insurance battles, I lived with my little ileostomy roughly two years). Depending on your condition, you may only have the ileostomy for 3-6 months. You never really know if it will end up permanently a part of you until the ileostomy takedown. Doctors give you the opportunity to live with the j-pouch (unless there is some circumstance that prevents you from being able to use it) and if for whatever reason it does not work out, they reverse the procedure and create a permanent ileostomy. I do know a few people who have permanent ileostomies. And you what? They are the most badass people I know. No joke. One of my buddies travels the world, climbs mountains, jet skis, and parasails with his ileostomy. You can run, swim, jump, climb, play, anything and everywhere! Suffice it to say, while an ileostomy may seem like a obstacle, it really doesn’t dictate who we are as individuals or what we can accomplish. The limitations lie mostly in our heads. Which leads me to…

MENTAL IMPACT

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to diminish the impact an ileostomy can and does have on one’s life. If you look at some of my posts from my first post-op, you will easily find in my words the fear, depression, and doubt associated with my ileostomy. It was with time I learned to adapt. That’s really what it is about. Adapting to a new lifestyle. Whether it be for a few months, years, or the rest of your life. 

I like to think of the ileostomy as a baby. It needs to be changed frequently. It will make funny noises when you don’t want it to (sometimes it sounds like burping or a small fart; it varies with what you eat). You will probably name it (you should, humor always makes everything better). You will probably talk to it. And you will most certainly yell at it. Frequently. You can never get it to do what you want it to do. Because you really have no control over it. The thing is though: that’s okay. There is a balance that occurs. A mutual respect even. An understanding. You may hate it at first. You may hate it for a long time. It won’t always be that way.  

Here is what I learned: https://stephlws.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/ostomy-educational-theatre-and-ileostomy-life-as-i-know-it/

EATING

I will say this, if you drink lots of carbonated beverages (soda pop, beer), you’re in for a 24 hour symphony of toots from your ileostomy! It is loud! Also your ileostomy inflates like a balloon. It is a sight to behold. Amaze your friends! I took soda pop out of my diet right away and it actually did me a world of good. I haven’t had soda pop in years. I don’t miss it honestly. So consume at your own peril. It is fun to experiment with food. Drinking/eating dye colored food is a riot. Spaghettios sometimes come out whole. It’s a kooky exercise in amusing yourself. I found I could eat most things. Raw food was a lot tougher on me (it isn’t really since I have had the j-pouch though). I had snacks in my purse and a bottle of water most of the time. It is easier to become dehydrated so water was my best buddy (still is, actually!). Alcohol is a lot harder on your body. I wouldn’t recommend getting wasted with an ileostomy. I did…Ugh. Just no. All day long. NO. Blockages can occur with certain foods. I will talk more about blockages later. While eating, chew slowly and deliberately. Drink lots of water. Be wary of the diet sheet your doctor will give you once you are discharged from the hospital post surgery. Keep it on your fridge. Follow it. Lots of people I have encountered who had issues were trying to eat sandwiches and fries right out of the gate. Dude…seriously? I know once the appetite returns you feel like you could eat anything. Resist the urge. Trust me. Just like everything else, your body needs time to adjust to the major changes that occurred. You will be able to eat most foods. It will be different for everyone. Trial and error. A food diary is an awesome tool to keep track of things as you recover and start eating normally again. Post op, your body is going to say, “What did you do? What is this shit?” And it may protest for a while at first. It may mean pudding, jello, broth for a week or two but it’s better than being fed through a tube in your nose after trying to down that burger. You will get there, as always, with time. A pattern is emerging! Time. Curious thing. Also a douche sometimes. 

BODY IMAGE

Pre surgery, I already bad body image. Older and wiser have I become. I like myself (most days). You may struggle with it like I did at first. My fashion sense evolved as a direct result. I had to turn it around. What can I do to make myself feel better about the way I look with this little bugger on my belly? I wore lots of lacy high waisted panties! Retro is in again. They are easy to find nowadays. So damn comfortable and great for concealing the ileostomy. It helped give me that boost of confidence I definitely needed while wearing my ileostomy. Function and fashion. Flowing dresses, tunics, and draped tops became staples of my wardrobe. I soon found clothing that I felt comfortable and confident in. Later on, I grew more daring and started wearing fitted tops and jeans again. Time changes your perspective, or as I like to call it “I stopped giving a fuck and started wearing what I wanted.” It felt pretty sweet. Liberating, even. I haven’t looked back since.

SEX

Intimacy is impacted greatly. I have a post dedicated to my journey on that front. Check it out here: https://stephlws.wordpress.com/2009/01/02/lets-talk-about-sexwith-an-ileostomy/ 

I have links within that post regarding these awesome ostomy covers that one can wear during intimacy. It was probably the best purchase I ever made with my ileostomy! It tucks everything in so you don’t have to worry about it all while you are getting up close and personal with your partner. They are outstanding. I go into detail on how I got myself back in the saddle and dealt with the awkward, strange new world of sex post surgery.

TRAVEL

Going places with an ileostomy is not bad at all. I was absolutely terrified of going out in public with my ileostomy. Questions like, “Are people going to notice? What if it makes noise? How will I change it in a public bathroom? What if I have a leak?” You get over it; have a backup bag at all times (either in your purse or car or both!). That’s why I had the surgery in the first place. So I COULD go out again! Not stay cooped up in the damn house while the whole big world was calling for me to jump back in the pool. I flew a few times long distances with my ileostomy and as long as you go prepared, you’re absolutely fine. Medical equipment in your carry-on is a non issue. I always kept a doctor’s note in my purse just in case but no one ever stopped me. 

Investigate tips and tricks on travel from my post here: https://stephlws.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/traveling-with-an-ileostomy/ 

BLOCKAGES

Blockages can occur from time to time if one is not careful. Actually, even if you are careful blockages can still happen. You may hear horror stories of folks who had blockages and had to go to hospital. All I can say is, pay attention to your food and how you eat. Take everything slow, at turtle speed, I’m serious. Even in a perfectly healthy ileostomy situation either something just disagreed with you, you didn’t chew something well enough, or you ate too much of something (I have done all three). Unless you are bleeding, vomiting, or haven’t had to empty your ileostomy for a few hours, you can work most small blocks out yourself.  

Tips and tricks from my own experience with blockages here: https://stephlws.wordpress.com/2009/07/01/how-to-deal-with-a-blockage/ 

EXERCISE 

Post op, you are slow to move at first. Walking will be your go-to. It is the easiest and most efficient way to get your body back in gear. It helped me tremendously the first few months. I’d walk everywhere, all the time. I graduated to yoga. I have lots of friends who do pilates and weight lifting. I mentioned my friend with the permanent ileostomy who is basically a daredevil. In time and with care, you can definitely ease yourself back into a healthy physical state of being. It’s good to consult the good doctor about any plans you may have first. Base covered is usually a good bet. I have made yoga a daily practice to stay more in tune with my body. It has helped me be grateful for my body, health, and peace of mind. It has given me an outlet to conquer my depression. The mental and physical benefits of yoga cannot be stressed enough. I highly recommend giving it a go! You may find something else that suits your fancy. I have another j-pouch friend who does belly dancing! 

Here’s a great easy little 20 minute yoga practice you can do every day to help with digestion. I love it! And it would be great to warm yourself up after surgery too! If you’re interested:

Well. Damn. If you’ve stuck with me this long into the post, congratulations! We did it. It’s over. 

Lesson for the day: temporary ileostomies are part of the transition on the long road to recovery. They are part of the solution. That is the best way to look at them. The rest is up to us as patients, as humans, as living, breathing beings with dreams to accomplish and hearts to love, to accept and adapt with them. Then our worlds can keep on turning so we can keep on living it up as much as we can.

Hope this has been helpful to you all, and as always, best of health! 

Take care!  

In Layman’s Terms: A Breakdown of Ileoanal Anastomosis (aka J-pouch Surgery)

Hello, friends. 

I would like to be more proactive on the blog here in 2014 (a resolution I intend to keep this year). I get a number of inquiries regarding my experience with the surgery and most of you who have followed my journey understand my deeply rooted belief in self-education. I thought I would assist with some links, photos, and illustrations that I found helpful throughout my multiple surgeries. It is my sincere wish to provide some insight medically into what the ileoanal anastamosis is and what it means to have one. I feel like I have covered much of the emotional/physical aspects of the j-pouch (see my previous entries for more details ;) 

My first visit was to j-pouch.org where I found myself staring in the face of what suspiciously resembled my high school anatomy book. Nevertheless, the website provided a great set of simple illustrations to break down the procedure. Here is what they taught me.

Figure #1 

So here, the illustration shows us what a normal GI tract looks like. We eat our food, it passes through the esophagus and into our stomachs where all those digestive enzymes shake it up. Then the food heads into our small intestine for nutrient absorption and digestion. After that, the digested stuff makes it way to the large intestine (colon) and water is absorbed. The waste hangs out in our rectum until we finally have to poop which, of course, exits through the anus. I wish I could do this like the “Magic School Bus” with Miss Frizzle! Anyone remember that show? Am I aging myself right now…? Moving on!

Figure #2 

This surgery for me took about 6 hours total. Okay so the first step of the surgery goes like this: the large intestine and lining of the rectum is taken out (that’s all the stuff you see in the picture that is darker in color). The surgeon tries to save the sphincter because that is how we control our bowels. Without it, we would have to wear diapers pretty much all the time (which is kind of how I felt when I had ulcerative colitis). It took practice after my surgery to retrain myself to “hold” my bowels but I can go for about two-three hours comfortably now. The urgency is not nearly as bad as it was when I was ill. 

Figure #3

So during this part of the procedure, the j-pouch itself is created using a part of your small intestine (labelled the “reservoir” in the illustration). The pouch basically replaces your colon as its function is to hold waste until you need to go to the bathroom. Surgeons will then create the temporary loop ileostomy. This means that a little part of your small intestine is diverted and brought out in a small opening made in your abdomen so that your body has a place to evacuate waste while the j-pouch heals (Experience has dictated usually 2-6 months for most. I had mine for two years and I was perfectly fine). You have a small bag that is attached your abdomen for you to poop. It is strange at first but there is honestly nothing you cannot do with an ostomy! Doctors will let you go once your bowels wake up and they are sure the ileostomy works. You will see an ostomy nurse before you are discharged and they will give you equipment and accessories as well as teach you how to take care of your new temporary buddy. 

Figure #4 

This second step surgery took about 45 minutes for me. So after you have been kicking it with your ileostomy for a few months, the surgeon brings you back in one more time and then tucks your little friend back into your guts (the ileum) and reattaches the intestine to your healed j-pouch. So from now on when you eat, your food goes through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, j-pouch, and out your anus. Boom! Relatively normal (albeit a little more frequent) bowel movements! 

I will go into more details about the ileostomy itself next time. If you guys found this information helpful, let me know! If there is something you would like me to cover in a future post, comment below or shoot me an email. 

I am hoping to shift gears here and provide a solid resource of information to help make the idea of surgery less overwhelming. Making the decision to have surgery is a huge deal. I’d like anyone going through the same experience to have as much information at their fingertips as possible. Thank goodness for the internet, eh? 

Best of Health and special shout out to j-pouch.org for their images. If you have a chance, check them out. Lots of good info floating around over there. 

Take care! 

 

3 Years Ostomy Free! J-Pouch Life

Greetings all!

Well, it is official. 3 years since my ostomy removal surgery. 

Here’s some things I have learned since then:

-A cup of nonfat Greek yogurt is my best friend. EVERY DAY. Also it keeps me full until lunch. Surprising.

-You CAN get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. And when you do, you wonder who blew sunshine up your bum.

-Taking gummy vitamins every day makes me feel like a kid in the best way. 

-Just because you introduce a food once and your gut says, “Eff you!” doesn’t mean you cannot try it again a few months later with different results.

-Small portions. Chew slowly. Or else you’re gonna have a bad time.

-Peppermint tea+Heating pad=Stomach ache-Be-Gone.

-I hate exercise but I love to walk. It’s easy. I walk everywhere and it feels goooood.  

-The sex is still amazing with a j-pouch…😉

-My saving grace? A good solid water bottle I can carry everywhere.

-Red meat sits in my guts for a couple days then explodes like Mount Vesuvius. EEEEEEEEECH. 

-With the above in mind, food really is outstanding.

-You can fart and still be a lady. I promise.

 -Beyond a drink of wine or beer, the booze makes me hate my life for two days afterward. Getting drunk is worse (and more dangerous) without a colon. I wouldn’t recommend it. You’re gonna have a bad time. 

-Nobody will know your secret unless you tell them.

-It’s great fun to make up ridiculous stories about your surgery scars. Bonus points if listeners believe said stories.

-There is nothing you cannot do.  

-I have a great goddamn support system in my family, fiance, and friends.

Blessed. Lucky. All that happy stuff. Real talk? It is about being prepared. As prepared as one can possibility be. EDUCATE OURSELVES ABOUT OUR ILLNESS. We honestly don’t get all the information from health care givers. With the internet at our fingertips and mountains of knowledge at our disposal, it would be downright stupid not to take advantage of learning as much as we can about what we will encounter. Yeah, it’s scary as hell. It’s not what we want to hear. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear but I said, “Well, shit. All right. I have to have this surgery. What does it mean?” Taking those steps to find out more made everything more manageable. I had options; I had ideas; I had questions for my health care providers. They were surprised and pleased I asked them. You can’t know everything there is to know. But having a battle plan before going into the arena is always a good bet. If things went all pear-shaped, I had some answers in my back pocket to play with. When I didn’t follow my own advice or that of my doctors, I floundered. We all screw up, right? Stick with it. Learn from what you did wrong and try something else. I am speaking in generalities because I feel at this point, most of you know what I have dealt with (whether that comes from your own experiences or reading about mine here). Ulcerative colitis changed everything about me. My medical experience taught me how to be an adult damn quick. If you want answers, speak up. Look for them. Going into it blind may sound appealing. “Ignorance is bliss”, after all, eh? Not when it came to my life.  I will be in control of how this plays out. Not the disease. There is always a choice. I don’t regret the one I made. 

Preachy? Yeah, it is. Not even going to lie there. But true. I get many emails asking for my advice. So there it is. Plain and simple. Educate yourselves. READ. That’s all I did. I read and I tried things out. Check out some of the links of my sidebar to start. The community just keeps growing! Be open with your doctors. If their bedside manner sucks, find a new one. Don’t be afraid to tell them you’re not happy with how they’re treating you. Do something about it. Take control of your life. 

Look, Mum, I did it! 

You CAN have your cake and eat it too. Make it yourself!

Best of health to all. Be well, my friends. Thank you for stopping by.  

Colon Free Food Diary: Reflections

Call it what you will. Food Diary, Food Journal. A royal pain in the rectum.
I hated keeping food diaries whenever I fell ill or after my surgeries. LOATHED it. When doctors made the suggestion, a tight lipped smile pinched my face as my insides screamed, “NO! #$@%&!”
It is, however, as you have seen, ridiculously helpful.
You are able to better track/narrow specific foods that may be the culprit of some nasty gastrointestinal phenomena. Likewise, it can also demonstrate what GOOD things keep you from keeping your lonely toilet company all day.
So what was uncovered here?

My average bathroom visits on a good day are about 4 or 5. All with control and comfort. Little to no pain.
Raw/Lightly cooked vegetables do not sit well with me. Duh. I think that is the case with most of us. However, for the most part whenever I have vegetables cooked into a dish, everything sits well.
Fried/greasy foods kill me. Just downright knock me down and drag me through the mud. No amount of probiotics or good digestion can help the resulting typhoon of a mess I become. That’s why it’s a rare occurrence.
I do have my staples. I’ll admit, looking back, I thought, “Man, my diet is kinda boring.”
I do quite a bit of cooking, but aside from dinner, I do really have my safe foods that I frequently default to. My yogurt HAS to be everyday. We are never without it in our fridge. It just doesn’t happen. If I do not eat it, I am in the bathroom a lot more. My guts gurgle like an angry baby who wants a bottle and when he doesn’t get it throws a serious tantrum.
I love fruit. I eat a lot of bananas and apples. I don’t peel the skin off apples because A.) I’m lazy and B.) It doesn’t upset my guts at all anymore. It used to. But it was one of those “Wait a while and try again” foods.
Tea is awesome. Especially with an upset gut. It helps settle like no other. So does Gas X. Another thing we always keep stocked in the medicine cabinet.
Loads of water. People hate water. I know. It’s boring. But without it, I would be on the floor unconscious. No bull. Without a colon, you have to drink twice as much water since the primary responsibility of your large intestine is to absorb water! Staying hydrated was never so important as it is now. I have had a couple of bad dehydration spells in the last two years. No fun.
Better to drink more water than pass out at a baseball game and be wheeled into an emergency room only to be released less than an hour later with a cup of juice, a poke in your arm, and a $1000 ER bill. True story. Just sayin.

Protein is good. I keep hearing it said that the American population gets too much of it, which is most likely a statement I will concur with. However, I do think it’s an important staple of one’s diet (10-15% from what I have been told by my doc). Otherwise, there goes your iron intake and muscle mass and say hello to fatigue and exhaustion and skin issues! Been there, done that. Not going back. Ever.
There are many debates about eating animal-based protein. I don’t want to fight about it but I will say I think protein is fine for us colon free peeps as long as you are getting a little bit of everything. Get that protein through fish, eggs, chicken (I don’t really do red meat because holy wow, you saw what happened when I ate that burger! Bad news.), and beans/nuts (if you can handle them, which I sadly cannot). It’s like every dietitian will tell you: “Good variety and in moderation.” That really is the key. Unless you’re vegetarian or vegan. In which case, I can’t really help you on that. I don’t know much on the plant-based battlefield.
Of course, every person is different. Finding out what works best for you can take some time and creative culinary experimentation.

All that said, I love food. I love it LIKE WHOA. I love that I can enjoy more of it with only minimal restrictions. I am learning more about the art of cooking every day and finding more recipes that I can dissect and rearrange to suit a colon free diet. It’s not THAT different honestly. In fact, I may go so far as to say it’s better than the diet I had before the ulcerative colitis hit me.

My two cents. Just some twenty-something’s opinion. No doctor or nurse or health care professional. I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about food. But I believe the only way to know for sure what’s good for YOU is to find out for yourself. A food diary/journal can be a great tool for accomplishing just that. I can sit here and say to you, “YEAH, yogurt is the shiz” (which it is :P) or “Oh man, red meat, soooo bad! Beans are the devil!”

That’s just one person’s body though. Yours may be COMPLETELY the opposite! I try to ignore food fads and diets because the only one who knows my body is ME. I have developed this diet over the course of the last two years with much trial and error, occasionally food diaries and many scribblings to learn what is good and what is just “OH GOD NO NEVER AGAIN”.

And why not? I have this second chance with a j-pouch to have a good quality of life. I don’t want to screw it up.

I earnestly hope this exercise has helped alleviate some inquiries/concerns. This was a fun little project! There is always more to learn about your own habits because they do change over time.🙂

I may start posting some tried and true recipes for tasty colon free living! I just have to go through my stack of recipes and notes. I have to laugh at the thought. THAT will be a project in itself.

Thank you, everyone! As always, any questions/concerns/ideas/suggestions feel free to leave them!

Best of health to all!

Colon Free Food Diary: The Final Day!

Apologies. I didn’t get an opportunity to get near my laptop yesterday to give you all the final day. We are going out of town this weekend and there is much we are struggling to accomplish before we depart. However, the show will go on!
We do not stand upon ceremony here! So let’s take a look at what we have:

9/25/12

Bathroom Visit: 6:40 a.m. Consistency: Normal

Wake Up: 7:00 a.m.

Breakfast: 7:30 a.m.
“And how are we feeling?” Bleary-eyed and achy. Didn’t sleep much last night. Nothing a little breakfast and a good hot shower can’t fix.
What’s on the Menu: Do I really need to tell you?🙂
1 container TJ’s organic strawberry probiotic nonfat yogurt
1 banana
1 16 oz. glass of water (filtered)

Vitamins: 2 One-A-Day Multivitamin Gummies

Bathroom Visit: 12:00 p.m. Consistency: Normal

Lunch: 1:00 p.m.
“And how are we feeling?” Cooking in my parents’ kitchen and listening to the new Mumford and Sons album. They are outstanding. Feeling pretty good!
What’s on the Menu:
Grilled ham and cheese with avocado
Vegetable soup (I forget what brand…Progresso, maybe?)
2 16 oz. glasses of water (filtered)

Bathroom Visit: 6:30 p.m. Consistency: Normal

Dinner: 8:30 p.m.
“And how are we feeling?” Beat. Long day. Didn’t get home until late again. But we are both super hungry. So we decide to hunker down for a food coma and make some serious business pasta.
What’s on the Menu:
1 cup TJ’s Mini Cheese Ravioli topped with: 1 tbsp grated Parmesan Cheese and 1/3 cup of Glen Muir Organic Tomato Basil Sauce
3 Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano Cookies (How I love these things. Never go food shopping hungry.)
1 8 oz. glass of Toasted Head Untamed Red Wine
1 16 oz. glass of water (filtered)

Bathroom Visit: 10:00 p.m. Consistency: Normal

Bedtime: 11:00 p.m.

Bathroom Visit Tally: 4 times

YAY! Done! I will have a separate post regarding reflections/discoveries tomorrow to share. It’s been a while since I have kept a food diary. It’s an excellent exercise in understanding and dissecting one’s eating habits.

Have a lovely Thursday, all!