As it turns out, you don’t really need a stomach. This is a stroke of good fortune for me, as in less than two weeks I will no longer have one. The events leading up to my no-stomach status make for a long story, but here’s the condensed version:
My mom died of stomach cancer last year, and because so many people in our family have died of the same disease, doctors decided there was a good chance it was hereditary, which is extremely rare for stomach cancer. They did some genetic testing and, sure enough, they found she had a mutant gene responsible for something called linitus plastica, or, in more modern parlance, hereditary diffuse gastric cancer. In a nutshell, it’s a cancer that forms within the walls of the stomach and is virtually undetectable by modern diagnostic technology until it becomes lethally large. I’ve been told only 100 families in the world have been diagnosed with it (mom always said we were special).
Once my mom was diagnosed, doctors determined that her mother (my grandmother) likely died of the same disease, which meant all of her sons and daughters, and their children, and their children’s children could potentially have the mutant gene. Genetic testing was recommended for all of us.
Here’s how it breaks down: If your mom or dad has the mutant gene, you have a 50/50 shot of having the gene yourself. Not great odds, but at least people can now learn whether they have the gene before it causes the cancer (something we couldn’t do ten years ago), and, if they choose, take action.
Which leads to the whole me-no-stomach thing. Turns out I carry the mutant gene (I’m pushing to be made an honorary X-Man), and the recommended preventative measure to ensure people like me never contract HDGC is a total gastrectomy, which essentially means snip the esophagus where it connects to tummy, snip the tube that connects the intestine to the tummy, remove the tummy, and sew up the remaining tubes. Obviously, it’s much more complex than I’ve just described (there’s some funky stuff to do with connecting the liver to the intestine a bit further down so that it can inject bile into food once it clears the esophagus), but that’s basically all I really know or want to know. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.
The upshot is that I will no longer have a place to store food. It’ll go straight into my digestive tract. Consequently, I will eat smaller meals and much more often. If all goes well, the type of food I eat will remain essentially unchanged, save for an emphasis on protein. I’ll also need to drink around meals rather than during them to ensure my food doesn’t flow through me too quickly. And I’ll need to get a shot of vitamin B12 once in a while, since that’s the one nutrient that you need a stomach to absorb.
But that’s about it. Life should be more or less back to normal a couple of months down the road, assuming all goes well. And I’ve every reason to think that it will.
I’d write more, but I’m hungry. And since that’s a feeling my doctors tell me I will never again experience after the surgery, I’m going to take this opportunity to act on it. Mmmmm. McDonald’s.
More to come…