Constipation-My Biggest Hurdle

Prior to cancer, I was already having trouble with constipation. I had been very sick for almost 2 years, and had been to several doctors. I was finally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I kind of found this diagnosis to be questionable because I had not really had any past problems. I do not know what caused these problems to arise. My biggest concern after being diagnosed with cancer was constipation – my biggest hurdle. I had already struggled greatly with being sick all of the time. I was extremely fearful of what chemotherapy would do to my system on top of all of the problems I was already having.

This is a topic most people do not care to discuss. However, I feel it is important to discuss it because it wreaked so much havoc in my life, both before AND during Cancer treatments. Unfortunately, this also is a very common complaint for many cancer patients. All of the toxins that are injected into our bodies can cause many adverse reactions, and this happens to be one of them. I really struggled with this problem, and hopefully I can shed some light on the subject in case you are faced with the same complications. This article is very long, but necessary to explain everything.

IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME

definition: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder in millions of adults which affects the large intestine (colon) which helps move the stool. IBS constantly causes bloating, gas, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea and/or constipation.

If you are not familiar with this disease, I will give you a little background. The 3 main symptoms of IBS are: 1) Belly Pain, 2) Constipation, and 3) Infrequent and incomplete bowel movements. It is estimated that approximately 13 million adults in the United States struggle with this disease on a daily basis. And I doubt this number includes all of the cancer patients that are struggling with it! This disease causes extreme belly pain. Most experience it on a daily basis. The symptoms never go away and the pain is long lasting. I personally woke up every single morning cramping severely and this cramping would go on almost all day, every day. It made it very hard to work or accomplish anything because of the severe cramping. It also made it very difficult to eat because I never knew what would cause it to flare up even worse. I literally spent most days doubled over, even when I was up and walking around. I tried very hard to use “mind over matter” thinking, but it did not work very well. The other major problem with IBS is bowel movements. When the body is not working properly, bowel movements become very difficult. Many can go 3 to 5 days without a bowel movement! I personally suffered by only having a bowel movement every 4 to 5 days. Not only do you not have regular bowel movements, when you do have one, the stool is hard as a rock and usually comes out in small pellets. They are excruciatingly painful also.

I personally do not believe the body is made to retain stool for more than a couple of days. Everyone wants to be regular. But regular can mean different things to different people. Some experience several bowel movements every day while others experience a bowel movement several times a week. Both of these are pretty normal. But when your body retains stool for more than a couple of days, it can cause serious problems. The stool continues to back up. So the more food you eat, the bigger the problem. As the stool backs up in the bowel, it becomes hard and basically gets stuck.

CAUSES OF IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME

Currently, there is no known cause for this disease. There is also no known cure. Because there is no known cure at this time, treatment focuses on relief of symptoms to try and help one live life controlling the symptoms. Since I was diagnosed three years ago, several drugs have been developed to supposedly help with IBS. I have never tried any of these drugs, and do not intend to. If you have tried everything, and can’t get any relief, you may decide to try the drugs. It is best to see a gastrointerologist and discuss your condition with the doctor. Then decide with your doctor if you think any of these drugs may help you. However, researchers think there are several factors involved. The first problem could be that the colon is absorbing too much fluid from the stool, and/or the muscles in the colon are moving much too slowly. These two factors cause the stool to become hard, dry and very difficult to pass. The second problem is the nerves in the intestines become super sensitive causing sufferers to experience more discomfort and extreme belly pain. The third problem is the brain-bowel connection, or lack thereof.  When there is a miscommunication between the brain and the bowel, this can cause a direct change in bowel habits. Once the bowel quits working or functioning normally, it causes great discomfort and extreme belly or gut pain. Imagine that you already have these problems. Your system has slowed down and is not responding the way it should. Now add cancer drugs to that mix. Many of the cancer drugs used exacerbate these problems. This is exactly what I feared, and it is exactly what happened to me.

Since these symptoms are causal effective, most doctors offer advice on how to help lessen the symptoms. When I was diagnosed almost 3 years ago, there was absolutely nothing on the market to help with the symptoms. I was told by my doctor to just learn to live with it! He gave me suggestions, but none of them actually helped. However, they may help you. The first suggestion is to drink more water. Hydration may help with the symptoms.  It is suggested to drink between 6 – 8 glasses of water a day. I have always drank plenty of water, so this suggestion really did not help me. The second suggestion is add exercise and relaxation techniques to your schedule on a daily basis. For me, this was extremely hard to do. I was so sick how on earth was I supposed to exercise? And the third suggestion is to make dietary changes. Eating large meals and fried and fatty foods tend to make the symptoms worse. Also, alcohol and caffeine can have drastic effects on your symptoms. Other foods to avoid are cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and raw fruits.  Try to avoid these at all costs.  It is advised to eat much smaller meals, and to eat more often. Try eating a very small meal every two hours throughout the day. Also, trade fried and fatty foods for high-fiber foods such as beans, bran flakes and fruits and vegetables. Supposedly, this will help cause softer stools and make them easier to pass. If you suffer from IBS, it is a good idea to try and never eat any of these foods. If you decide to do so on occasion, just expect that you will have complications. I was pretty good about not eating these foods, but on occasion, and I mean very seldom, I did indulge. I found out very quickly that eating any of these foods at any time would ALWAYS cause a problem for me. But no matter how hard I tried, there were times I just wanted a hamburger or something else. I knew the price I would pay, and I would make the decision based on how sick I thought it would make me. It is very hard to skip all of these foods all of the time, especially if others around you are indulging. I always ate vegetables including the three listed. And raw fruit was something I ate on a daily basis. Sometimes I would eat as many as 5 or 6 pieces in a day. This was probably the hardest thing for me to give up. My husband just could not live without some of these foods on a regular basis, and since we were and still are almost always together, it made it very difficult for me. I finally told him that he would have to go out without me and eat away from the house so I would not be tempted. I considered myself pretty strong, but I, too, have my weaknesses on occasion.

Other suspected causes are stress. If you are under a lot of stress, and it lasts for a long time, this additional stress to your life could contribute to your condition. I honestly believe this was the original cause of the start of IBS for me. My symptoms started shortly after several life-altering stressful conditions happened in our life. Because of the economy, our house payments became unmanageable. My husband lost his job. I suffered several major health issues and could no longer work. And, because of our large house payments, we fell into arrears. On top of all that, I was very upset and worried and fearful. Shortly after all of this came to a head, I started getting sick, and I continued to get even sicker as time went on. A few months after all of this, we were in fear of losing our home and had to start making arrangements to move. This in itself was going to be a huge undertaking. We lived in a 2800 square foot home, and we had lived there for 37 years!!! So you can imagine the accumulation of stuff. I knew that this move was going to be a nightmare, and again, I turned out to be right.

I won’t go into great detail about this now as it is a long story in and of itself. Maybe some other time! I will say that we worked 16 hours a day for over 4 months trying to get out of our house. We had many organizations come and take a lot of stuff, we donated carloads of stuff, and we threw away 17 huge trashcans of old magazines, newspapers, and periodicals that we had kept and forgotten about over the years. Because we had so much stuff, and there just was not enough time to clear out 37 years of our life, toward the end we ordered a large dumpster and ended up throwing out even more stuff. This really upset me as I feel very passionate about reusing items and not filling the landfill! But our backs were against the wall, and we were out of time. I actually cried for weeks because of some of the stuff that got thrown away. Again, I think all this stress exacerbated my Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

By the time we finally got moved out and relocated, I was very, very ill. I had pushed myself way beyond my limit and I was going to pay dearly for that. I just did not know how dearly yet. We had only been in our new location for a few weeks when I was diagnosed with Cancer. I honestly did not think I would survive! I was already too sick and now I was going to get much, much sicker from toxic chemo drugs. But in my true fashion, I decided to face it head on and try my best to survive. Almost immediately, I started having even  greater complications with my bowels.

I ended up being attended by my health plans palliative care doctor. We lived 30 miles from the main clinic and I was far too sick to make this trip on many occasions. My doctor would actually come to my house to treat me! Can you believe doctors still do that in this day and age? I was shocked to learn this, but also elated that I was going to receive such excellent care. Unfortunately, the first line of defense in treating anything by a doctor usually revolves around medication. But, hey, I was so sick I did not care. I just wanted relief and was willing to try anything. The first thing we tried was something called Lactalose. It was supposed to help keep the bowels moving, albeit somewhat slowly. But they would eventually move. My problem with Lactalose first off was the cost. It was almost $100 for a bottle of it. The second problem was that it worked very slowly. The third problem with it was that after the first few days, the cramping became almost unbearable. As the medicine would start to work, I could actually feel the knots of the bowel  in my abdomen and then severe cramping would set in. My doctor told me it was working, and to keep using it. However, he upped the anti. He told me to take even more of it. Over several months of doing this, I was taking large doses of this medication and I was only getting worse. I thought I was already as sick as I could be, but that turned out not to be true. And the bowel problem was only ONE of my PROBLEMS!!!! I had about 10 other ones besides this from the chemo.

I finally reached a point where I could not tolerate this medication anymore. I just couldn’t. I had a discussion with my doctor, and he decided to change my medication. Again, he wanted me to get a prescription medication. I cannot remember the name of this medication, but I can tell you that I never tried it. The reason: Even with health insurance, the medication was over $400.00 for a bottle. YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT!! It was over $400.00 a bottle. There was no way in HELL we could afford a medication that was that expensive. Furthermore, what if it did work? That means I would have to shell out over $400.00 a month for well over a year. This was just an impossibility for us. So we axed that idea right away. At this point, I had been going through chemo for about 5 months. I was so tired of being tired and sick! I was reaching my breaking point. If it had not been for my husband and my son, I am not sure I would have made it beyond this point. But I just could not do anything to myself and leave them devastated. So I vowed to fight on. We tried several other medications, but nothing would work. I was beginning to believe that I was going to die from stool toxicity. I don’t even know if there is such a thing, but I honestly believed this in my own mind!!

After trying about 6 different prescription medications, I was once again having this discussion with my doctor and telling him I just could not go on like this. I was just too sick and reaching the point of severe depression. I feared that even if I survived Cancer, I could not spend the rest of my life trying to go to the bathroom in this manner. Low and behold, he finally said to try MIRALAX. We discussed the pros and cons of this, and this was kind of my last ditch effort to resolve this problem. And guess what? THIS WAS THE ANSWER to Constipation – my biggest hurdle!! My husband would put a cap full in my Protein Shake every morning. After about 3 days, things really started to change! As the days went by, the severe cramping almost completely went away. I would and still have a small amount of cramping every morning about an hour after I drink the Miralax. I usually have a bowel movement within hours after drinking my shake. Sometimes it may take a little longer, BUT I have a bowel movement EVERY SINGLE DAY!! You have no idea how elated I was to learn that this actually worked!! I can live with a little cramping just as long as I can go EVERY SINGLE DAY. This over-the-counter medication has literally changed my life! I have spent almost 5 years battling this horrible disease, and now I feel human again.

I was a little bit angry at first. I just could not understand WHY my doctor did not start with this medication first. But I have begun to realize that doctors do not know everything. They do not know what will work for one patient and not another. I am just so thankful, every single day, that we finally found a solution for me! So here is my advice if you or someone you know is experiencing this problem. Talk to your doctor first and make sure it is safe for you to take Miralax. Next, just try it. It may not work for you, but it sure worked for me. And here are more reasons I am so happy. Miralax is very affordable and even more so when it is on sale. It is over the counter so you can buy it when you need it. You can even stock up on it like I have. You can take Miralax long term with no side effects and do not have to worry about other problems developing from taking a prescription medication. My doctor said he has patients that have been taking it for over 10 years. I honestly believe this was a God-send for me. If you are experiencing any of these problems, you can contact me anytime. I will be glad to help you in any way that I can.

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