I now take food with my medicine!


vitamin-supplements_650x450-002

If you want to strike up a friendly conversion with a Brit, ask him or her about the weather – we’re really famous for our weather conversations and they normally focus on rain or clouds!  However, despite the famous British ‘reserve’ and ‘stiff upper lip’, they also frequently talk about being ‘under the weather’, a phrase meaning slightly unwell or in low spirits.

I find myself smiling at some of the conversations I hear in medical establishment waiting rooms, particularly the potentially long wait for blood tests.  Here, conversations bypass the weather and focus on being under the weather! I thought I was a regular when I started to recognise people in the queue (line!) and their pill conversations.  Statements such as “Yes, I just started a ‘blue chap’ ” (medical names are sometimes hard to pronounce).  Normally followed by “I’m on that one too and I take it along with my yellow and white chaps“.  Some people seem to be taking a veritable rainbow of ‘chaps’.  Strangely, some people appear to be quite proud of how many ‘chaps’ they take. I tend to maintain the traditional British reserve and a stiff upper lip in waiting rooms, so I keep quiet (actually I’m just happy to be inside away from the weather!).

I might join in one day and I wonder if they would be impressed with my tally of chaps? I have a funny feeling my tally of drugs is nothing compared to some of you guys and hope you will comment to prove me right! I don’t think I’m proud to give you my list but here’s my ‘chaps’, some prescription, some over the counter:

  • Apixaban (Eliquis).  To prevent a recurrence of pulmonary emboli (PE). Unfortunately, I had PE after my big surgery in 2010. 2 per day.
  • Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (Creon).  Recently added, anything between 6 and 12 per day depending on what I eat.  Check out this article on PERT.  Check out this article on Malabsorption with references to NET dietitians.
  • Multi-Vitamin (50+ age).  I’ve actually been taking these since a few years before diagnosis in 2010.  NET patients can be at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  Check out this article on the issues and with references to NET dietitians.
  • Vitamin B Complex. This was added in 2013 to mainly tackle low B12 (despite my multi-vit containing 400% RDA) and it seemed to help with fatigue.  Read more here.
  • Vitamin D3. This was also added in 2013 to tackle low Vit D levels (again, despite my multi-vit containing 200% RDA). 10µg (400iu).  D3 is normally the recommended form of Vitamin D to take, easiest to absorb and more natural.  Vitamin D3 is also known as cholecalciferol.  Many people who do not live in sunny countries are probably deficient or borderline already.
  • Probiotic.  This was also added in 2013 to try to offset some of the abdominal issues that many NET patients seem to have.  I take a 5 billion dose and it seems to help.  Check out this article with references to NET dietitians.
  • Omega 3.  This is also something I had been taking since before my diagnosis.  I think I took it for a couple of reasons, my diet did not really include foodstuffs containing Omega 3 and I was experiencing some joint pain in my hands.  I just never stopped taking it.  Dose size 1000mg.
  • Lanreotide (Somatuline Autogel).  An injection rather than a pill/capsule.  Quite a big chap!  You can read all about my relationship with Lanreotide by clicking here.
  • Levothyroxine. One 50mcg tablet each morning.  My blood tests are indicating hypothyroidism – check out my whole thyroid story by clicking here.  All NET patients need to keep an eye on thyroid levels.  Read why here.
  • Seretide and Ventolin.  These are asthma drugs, a preventer and a reliever respectively.  I hardly ever take the latter nowadays.  I had mild asthma as a child, it went at 16 and came back at 35.  I take 2 puffs of Seretide night and day.  Seems to help.  Ventolin seems to be only required if I have a cold or flu thing going on.

Of course, most people have lots of other stuff in the ‘medicine box’ ready for ad hoc issues as they arise (pain killers, imodium, cough mixture, anti-histamines, indigestion, etc etc).   I could go on forever.

Please always consult your specialists or dietitian about the requirements for drugs and supplements.  You may not actually need them.  I only take my supplements after very careful consideration, in reaction to low blood vitamin/mineral tests and listening to what ‘NET aware’ dietitians say (you’ll find references in some of the articles above).

Warning:  You should always think carefully about over the counter stuff (including online) as there’s a lot of ‘scammers’ out there selling counterfeit supplements.  Always buy from a reputable source.  With supplements, remember in most countries they are not regulated in the same way as medicines so it’s worthwhile checking they are compliant with regional food supplements directives.  The supplements provider I use is actually approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) covering UK.  I’m sure there will be similar approval organisations where you live.  Also be careful of some claims about the miracle cure of certain food supplements.  There are plenty sites with fake health news online (check out my article on this – click here).

You should be clear why you take supplements and try to consult with a specialist or dietitian for advice.

Finally, don’t forget to take your chaps, they should help you keep well!

“You must be doing OK, you’ve not had chemotherapy”

chemo

If there’s a word which is synonymous with cancer, it’s chemotherapy.  It’s what most people have in their mind when they are talking to a cancer patient…… ‘have you had chemotherapy‘ or ‘when do you start chemotherapy‘.

I was nonchalantly asked by a friend some time ago ‘how did you get on with chemotherapy’ – he was surprised to hear I hadn’t had it despite my widespread disease.  Cue – lengthy explanation!  I wasn’t annoyed by the question, I just think people automatically assume every cancer patient has to undergo some form of systemic chemotherapy.  If you read any newspaper article about cancer, they do nothing to dispel that myth, as many articles contain a story about a cancer patient with no hair.

Sure, chemotherapy is not the nicest treatment to receive and it does have pretty awful side effects for most. I watched my daughter-in-law go through 3 or 4 months of this treatment where she was literally confined to a combination of her bedroom and her bathroom.  And it did shock me to see her without hair.  I would never want anyone to go through that and it really brings it home when it happens to a close member of your family.

Despite its bad press in regards toxicity and it’s awful side effects, chemotherapy is widely used in many cancers.  Statistics show that it does work for many patients (….. my daughter-in-law is still here looking after two of my four grandsons and my son still has a wife ♥).  However, I suspect it has a limited future as more efficient and less toxic drugs and delivery systems come online downstream.  Immunotherapy is often touted as a replacement for chemotherapy but this may be a while yet.  So for now, millions of cancer patients worldwide will continue to be prescribed chemotherapy as part of their treatment regime.

However, for some cancers, chemotherapy is not particularly effective. Neuroendocrine Cancer (NETs) is one such cancer. In general, NETs do not show a high degree of sensitivity to chemotherapy. For example, it’s often inadequate for the treatment of well-differentiated tumours with a low proliferation index but can be more effective in particular anatomical locations. The one exception is for high grade tumours (known as Neuroendocrine Carcinoma if poorly differentiated) where chemotherapy is much more likely to feature.  I’m not saying that the lower grades will never receive chemotherapy – that door is always left open for those with progressive cancer who perhaps have run out of treatment options.  Putting Grade 3 to one side, I’ve heard people say that NETs is the ‘good cancer or the ‘good looking’ cancer often citing the chemotherapy thing as some justification. That is of course a stupid thing to say.  I accept that not everyone will lose their hair and not every chemo will cause hair loss.

Here’s the rub.  Many other treatments come with pretty challenging side effects. Moreover, the side effects and the consequences of these other treatments can last for some time, and for many, a lifetime. For example with NETs:

Surgery can be pretty extensive, in some cases radical and life changing.  Many cancer patients receive surgery for NETs which is still the only real ‘curative’ treatment, although for most, it’s cytoreductive or palliative in nature.  If you lose bits of your small intestine, large intestine, liver, spleen, cecum and appendix, gallbladder, stomach, rectum, lungs, pancreas, thyroid, parathyroids, pituitary gland, adrenal gland, thymus gland, ovaries, oesophagus (…….I could go on), this comes with various side effects which can present some quality of life issues.  There can be huge consequences of having this treatment.

Other ‘consequences’ of cancer surgery include (but are not limited to), pulmonary emboli (blood clots), lymphedema, short bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal malabsorption, diabetes.

Somatostatin Analogues do a great job but they do add to some of the effects of surgery (mainly malabsorption).

Even the so-called ‘silver bullet’ treatment Peptide Receptor Radio Nuclide Therapy (PRRT) can have pretty severe side effects and presents some risk to kidneys and bone marrow as a long term consequence.

I’ve not had chemotherapy and I would rather avoid it if I can. However, as I’ve hinted above, there are other harsh (….perhaps harsher?) treatments out there. Moreover, whilst hair normally grows back, your small intestines, lungs and pancreas won’t.  Many people will have to live for the rest of their life with the consequences of their cancer and its treatment.

It sometimes appears that every other cancer article involves someone undergoing chemotherapy.  I just wish someone would write an article about my lack of terminal ileum and ascending colon, the malabsorption issues as a consequence of that, my missing mesenteric lymph nodes, my retroperitoneal fibrosis, not forgetting to mention my diseased liver, my left axillary lymph nodes (and the mild lymphedema I now have after their removal), my left supraclavicular lymph nodes, my suspect thyroid lesion and my hypothyroidism which may be due to that, my small lung nodule and my pulmonary emboli which after nearly 6 years of daily injections means my abdomen looks and feels like I’ve done 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.  However, it just wouldn’t be a good picture nor would it be as powerful as one of a person with no hair.  Just saying!

I look well, I still have all my hair – but you should see my insides!

insides
(you may also like this blog – click above)

I’m not playing ‘Cancer Olympics’ with this post as I wish all cancer patients, regardless of type, regardless of treatment regimes, the very best outcomes.

Thanks for reading

You may also enjoy these similar and related articles:

Things not to say to a cancer patient – click here

Shame on you! – click here

I look well but you should see my insides – click here

Things are not always how they seem – click here

Not every illness is visible – click here

Not the stereotypical picture of sick – click here

An Ode to Invisible Illness – click here

Poker Face or Cancer Card – click here

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

 

Surgery is risky but so is driving a car


surgery

I enjoyed reading the recent blog written by Dr Eric Liu entitled The Complications of Surgery.  In his article, Dr Liu, himself a surgeon, explains that surgery comes with risks and patients should be made aware and able to discuss these risks with their doctors.

This got me thinking about my own experience which goes back to the autumn (fall) of 2010 when I first met my surgeon.  At that time, there were a few articles about whether surgery or biochemistry was the best treatment for certain types, grades and stages of Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs).  Another difficult issue for NETs can be the decision to cut or not to cut – as outlined in this article.

NETs are not that much different to other Cancers in this respect – there is always a balance between maximizing QoL and extending life.  I was very lucky that I lived on the south central coast of England because the local Neuroendocrine Cancer expertise was (and still is) one of the best in the country.  After initial diagnosis, I was followed up with more specialist tests and then offered multimodal treatment including surgery. The risks of surgery were always fully explained to me – in any case I had to sign the consent forms where they were listed!  Not sure why but I couldn’t help laughing (probably nervously!) when I noted that ‘death’ was one of the risks.  It didn’t put me off and I told him to “get on with it“.

What also caused me to smirk was my surgical labelling as a “young, slim and fit man”. I was then 55 years old, slightly heavier than I thought I should be and although I had been fit for most of my life, I wasn’t that fit at the time of diagnosis. However, my surgeon was clearly doing his own risk assessment and I seemed to tick all the boxes to be able to withstand what was to be a fairly rigorous 9 hours on his table. However, it was clear to me that age, weight/BMI and level of fitness are risk factors for surgery.

risk

I don’t want to get too deep into the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by surgeons but Dr Liu’s very honest blog and my own patient experience, highlights the need, not only for a two-way conversation between surgeon and patient, but also the need for informed consent.

I clearly survived but to be honest, it was a tough period.  During my first major operation, some risks were realised resulting in a much longer stay in hospital and some effects are still present today.  Many of the risks involved the dissection of desmopasia (fibrosis from NETs) around the aortic area (read more here). The planned 10 day stay was extended to 19 due to a suspected infection (elevated white blood cell count) and a post operative seroma (a pool of ‘liquid’) which was causing some pain. The white blood cell count eventually settled down but for the post operative seroma, I was subjected to a CT guided needle aspiration which was great fun to watch. Fortunately for this short notice and risky procedure, I was in the hands of one of the best Interventional Radiologists in the country.  Some six weeks after discharge, a follow-up scan spotted Pulmonary Emboli (blood clots) on one of my lungs and I’ve been on blood thinning treatment ever since. I returned to the same surgeon’s table 4 months later for a liver resection using laparoscopic techniques (keyhole). Again the risks were explained but it was a breeze and I was home after 6 days.

Yes, surgery comes with risks – sometimes they are realised, sometimes they are not.  Action planning to counter the common risks if realised is no doubt sensible (and I suspect already part of surgical procedures and training). However, as Dr Liu says, there can be unforeseen circumstances in the course of the operation and recovery.

Almost 8 years on from diagnosis, I’m certain the two major surgeries have played a big part in keeping me alive and as well as can be expected.  For me surgery remains the The Gift that keeps on Giving.  If you have time, I also published a blog Surgery for NETs – Chop Chop! which contains links to surgeons talking about surgery for Neuroendocrine Cancer.  There are also links to some surgical videos – I personally found them fascinating.

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

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Chasing normality

Chasing NormalityCancer isn’t always a one-time event. It can be a chronic (ongoing) illness, much like diabetes or heart disease. Cancer can be closely watched and treated, but sometimes it never completely goes away. The cancer may be ‘controlled‘ with treatment, meaning it might seem to go away or stay the same, and it doesn’t grow or spread as long as you are getting appropriate treatment. Sometimes the treatment shrinks the cancer, but the cancer is still there – it doesn’t go away and stay away – it’s not cured.  More people are living with cancer than ever before and the ratio is on the increase thanks to better treatments.

For the first 18 months following my diagnosis, I underwent a significant number of treatments and tests.  As I continue living with my cancer, that tempo doesn’t seem to have gone away.  Every 6 months (and sometimes in between too) I undergo a plethora of tests and appointments.  Some tests are annual.  I feel I’m stuck in this perpetual surveillance world – sometimes I’m not sure what to expect or what’s going to happen next!  I suspect this is the case for many Neuroendocrine Cancer patients.

I saw a post on one of the forums last week – the question was “what does stable actually mean”. The answer may seem obvious but one reputable website defines it as follows “A doctor may use the term controlled if tests or scans show that the cancer is not changing over time. Another way of defining control would be calling the disease stable“.  Worth noting that “not changing” can also mean ‘not decreasing’.

It’s 2 months until my next Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) and if I was a betting man, I would guess they will say “stable” having confirmed no remnant tumour growth and my blood and urine tests will be “unremarkable” (don’t you just love those medical terms!).

So is this normal?  I guess it could be for me but I like to tie quality of life into my ‘normal’ definition.  I also think that living with an incurable cancer is not so much about “getting back to normal” but rather what’s normal for me now (i.e. I can’t put back bits of my small intestine back in!).  As I’m tying this into quality of life which is something I’m constantly trying to improve, I must therefore be constantly trying to improve my ‘normal’. I guess for me, normal isn’t really a static thing.

Being stable and finding a new normal doesn’t mean you don’t need support.  The surveillance scans and tests are a given but the support isn’t always there in the quantity and quality you might like.  I may be stable but I still need support and often this can only be acquired by being a proactive patient.  I have a number of ongoing issue which might present bumps on the road ahead (at least the ones I can see) and these present a challenge to my normality.

  1. Thyroid lesion (ongoing).  Although it has not grown since discovered. Watch and wait.  Check out my Thyroid blog for the full story.
  2. I’m on long-term blood thinners (Clexane) due to the discovery of blood clots in one of my lungs following major surgery in 2010.  To keep an eye on the risk of developing osteoporosis arising from long-term use of this drug, I have an annual DEXA scan which measures bone density. My last scan indicated a slight reduction (nothing drastic).  I’m not getting any younger, so my bones are starting to ‘moan’ a little.
  3. I’m not syndromic but I do have some post surgical side effects.  Anyone who’s had classic NET gastrointestinal or pancreatic surgery will know the issues. It’s a constant battle but I’ve made some improvements by understanding why these side effects occur and taking action to reduce their impact.  For example, since my ‘turning point’ in 2014, I’ve managed to reduce bathroom visits by 300%, so things are pretty normal frequency wise.  I continue to work on this.  Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth  (SIBO) is something I’d like to explore with my MDT, particularly as a big increase in my probiotics dose made a difference. Check out my Nutrition series of blogs.
  4. My fatigue levels are vastly improved since my 2014 turnaround and I put this down to my turnaround changes in the last two years including keeping active and reducing stress levels.  I continue to work on this too.

A new normal can be found.  They can be improved.  However, they need to be guarded by being proactive and positive.   And …. it’s not the same for everyone.

Thanks for listening.

Ronny

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