If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that my husband and I have been experimenting with different diets, stress reduction techniques and workouts. All of this is an attempt to get some chronic health conditions that both of us have under control. I’ve alluded to my issues in the past, but every time I could have written about exactly what was going on, I decided to avoid sharing. I’ve told some of my friends, but almost always individually, never in a broadcast media. I was afraid. Health issues so publicly stated could be used to discriminate against me or my family. It also felt just a little too personal and raw. However, I have decided that it is important to my story to be more explicit. I will continue to protect my husband’s privacy though.
I hope that you can learn from my experience without having to live through it.
Since 2000 I have been almost exclusively working for startup high tech companies with tight deadlines, venture capital funding, and tough market competition. I’ve wondered at times if I would see my next paycheck because funds were getting so low. I’ve had to lay off 2/3s of my team on one day. I’ve been let go after my team made important deliverables so that a company could save a buck and continue to limp along. To put it mildly, I’ve seen some pretty severe job stress that would make a lot of people nuts. I thought I thrived on it. Mentally I liked the change and I loved the fast paced challenges. Physically, over the years it has been taking its toll. The funny part is that when I took a low stress job with a very successful company it stressed me out even more than the old “high stress” jobs did. I learned a lot about myself. I was not adapted to being a cog in the machine. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to change how things were done for the better – and frankly in a lot of environments like the one I was in, that wasn’t about to happen. As I’ve said before, I felt like I was wearing a jacket 4 sizes too small when I walked into my office.
On the whole, I feel blessed because I was so healthy through the years. I maintained an appropriate weight, I stayed active, my blood pressure was low and all the various blood tests I’ve ever had were “perfect”. I always thought I had a cast iron stomach because I never caught stomach flus or ended up with food poisoning. I believed that I could eat just about anything. I was wrong. Oh boy was I ever.
I’ve always had some issues with acid reflux. You know – heartburn – that burpy, bad taste in your mouth after eating too much or too fast. That didn’t slow me down. I figured it was normal. I think most people think that it is normal – all those Tums and Rolaids commercials make you think everyone gets it. No it is not normal. Not when it happens to you every day and you’re eating Tums like candy. There is something wrong – you need to see a doctor. I didn’t, not at first.
What finally got me to a doctor was two courses of antibiotic treatment that I needed one summer: first for a localized staph infection and then for a root canal that punctured my sinus. The extremely strong antibiotics setoff a chain reaction in my stomach that was beyond terrible. I was miserable. My heartburn was awful and to make matters much worse my stomach was incredibly sensitive when touched. I also had a lump in my throat that would not go away. Off I went with a referral to a gastroenterologist and that started the long journey to where I am today. I am not exaggerating when I say that this completely changed my life.
The pathologist report after an endoscopy came back with two diagnoses. I had gastritis (which explained why my stomach hurt so much), and I had Barrett’s Esophagus. That stopped me dead in my tracks. This couldn’t be! That is an affliction for overweight middle aged men – not slim (ahem… middle aged) women. Barrett’s is a pre-cancerous condition that is manifested by the presence of stomach lining cells (goblet cells) in the esophagus. It is caused by chronic long term acid reflux. My body was trying to protect itself from the acid that was splashing around where it didn’t belong. Not everyone with Barrett’s gets cancer, but it definitely can increase your risk.
As always, the medical profession prescribes meds to fix problems. I’ve been through 4 different kinds of protein pump inhibitors. At one point I was taking 3 pills a day and I continued to feel terrible. Next I was sent to an ear nose and throat specialist who took a look around to see if the lump in my throat was caused by anything physically wrong aside from the acid reflux. The answer there was no. My larynx was red and swollen because even a little bit of acid applied to an open wound will prevent it from healing. Meds alone were not working, and some of them even made me feel worse.
Back to the gastroenterologist. This time for breath tests for food intolerances. Yay! Fructose, lactose, and bacterial overgrowth. I already knew I didn’t have celiac disease (gluten) from my biopsies. I was lactose intolerant. Well, there went the milk in my coffee, my daily yogurt and all non-aged cheeses. That made an immediate difference, but it didn’t fix everything. At least it was a start. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include coughing up mucous after having dairy foods and having IBS. I learned that a high percentage of adults actually are lactose intolerant to some degree, but most people don’t know it and they suffer for it.
The nerd that I am, I started reading. What could I do to lower my chances of developing any cancer? Eat more fruits and vegetables. What could I do to lower my chances of developing esophageal cancer? Stop eating acid producing foods. Thus began my journey into dietary experimentation, but that is for another post on another day.
The message I have for you today is: burpy, gassy, heartburny is NOT normal. Go to a doctor and get yourself checked for food intolerances and acid reflux problems before it is too late. Your body will thank you for it.
As a footnote – my most recent endoscopy shows no signs of active gastritis nor Barrett’s Esophagus. <GRIN> I am proof that it is possible to reverse a diagnosis just by taking better care of yourself.