About three weeks ago I was wrapping up chemo treatment 38. My platelet count had crept back over the magical number 70 permitting another treatment. My weight was about 230. All was seemingly well and proceeding as expected … except my stomach felt a bit bloated … a condition that had seemed to be building for months with no real side effects.
That was all about to change.
That Saturday, nearly three weeks ago, I awoke to nausea, vomiting and the inability to really eat or drink much of anything. We went to the oncologist the following Monday and they gave me a couple of bags of fluid thru my port and loaded me up with some strong anti-nausea medicine.
They suspected problems with my gall bladder … the only problem it’s been gone nearly four years. The next concern was the liver. So the next morning I went in for an ultrasound … they were checking liver function and making sure no cancer tumors had spread to my liver. The good news … no new tumors and liver function appeared OK but I did have a buildup of fluids around my liver.
On Wednesday, went back to the oncologist and they gave me another bag of fluid. They also drew blood to test for hepatitis … I had hepatitis B in the early 80’s. Fortunately that blood test did come back negative.
Meanwhile still hardly eating … for nearly two weeks my diet consisted of McDonald’s fruit smoothies and applesauce … the result … I lost 25 pounds over two very long weeks.
So my oncologist scheduled me for a CT scan a week later … which confirmed and agreed with the findings of the ultrasound.
So the diagnosis after nearly two weeks of testing and losing weight was that I was suffering from ascities.
Here’s a little summary from Wikipedia …
“Ascites is a gastroenterological term for an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity. The medical condition is also known as peritoneal cavity fluid, peritoneal fluid excess, hydroperitoneum or more archaically as abdominal dropsy. Although most commonly due to cirrhosis, severe liver disease or metastatic cancer, its presence can portend other significant medical problems such as Budd-Chiari syndrome. Diagnosis of the cause is usually with blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the abdomen, and direct removal of the fluid by needle or paracentesis (which may also be therapeutic). Treatment may be with medication (diuretics), paracentesis, or other treatments directed at the cause.”
So about twelve days after my complications began, I was sent to the hospital for the out-patient procedure of paracentesis. Basically a container sits by your bed to collect the fluid, they stick a needle connected via tubing to that container into your stomach, and another tube comes into that container creating suction to draw the excess fluid out. They closely monitor your blood pressure throughout the procedure because your blood pressure has typically adjusted to the excess fluid in your body … and extracting the fluid could cause blood pressure problems. But I had no problems.
They drew out nearly four liters of excess fluid … I reckon that could create some problems for my liver, stomach and digestion.
The next step is to test that fluid to determine if it is a result of the cancer spreading … are there cancer cells in the fluid?
The good news … there were no cancer cells in the fluid.
The bad news … that seems to point to an issue with the liver.
So this next Monday, over three weeks after this all began, I have an appointment with a gastroenterologist to see if we can out what is going on with my liver.
As I mentioned earlier, to the best of my recollection the stomach bloating had been building for four or five months but without any complications … with the possible exception of some weight loss over those months and a change in my diet … eating less. But this little tidbit from Wikipedia reveals that it also may have been the source of the fatigue I have been dealing with … and explain the weight loss.
“Those with ascites due to cancer (peritoneal carcinomatosis) may complain of chronic fatigue or weight loss.”
Hindsight is indeed 20-20.
My weight is still over 20 pounds down. And my diet has nowhere near returned to normal. Breakfast typically consist of a boiled egg, half an English muffin with honey and a bowl of fresh peaches (now that’s a plus in this ordeal). Lunch is typically a fruit smoothie although today I tried a half a chicken salad sandwich and some fruit cocktail. Dinner is typically a side salad topped with egg, tuna and cheese along with a small piece of pound cake topped with fresh peaches.
Of course, my oncologist also has put me on a diuretic to keep the fluid from building up. So between the diet and the diuretic my weight is probably not going anywhere for a while. Strength is slow in returning … as is my normal diet.
Fortunately I have been able to work from home this week … and that’s a blessing.
But my struggle with my faith during these trials and complications has continued … more on that in a later post. After an hour long discussion with a brother IN Christ yesterday my understanding of why I’m struggling is becoming clearer.
I’ve learned though that when your faith falters, the faith of others does oftentimes carry you through those dark places. And the faith of my loving wife has certainly done that … as well as that of many others I’m probably not even aware of.