Unfortunately, there are quite a few people who have had to face the prospect of a total gastrectomy, and there are a number of guides about what to expect soon after surgery, but I haven’t seen much about the longer-term aftermath of this drastic treatment. This post is intended to fill that void, albeit with a single person’s perspective on life without their stomach.
I was diagnosed as having gastro-oesophageal cancer on Easter Monday 2017. The “treatment protocol” called for a series of chemotherapy, followed up with removal of my entire stomach and a few centimetres of oesophagus immediately above my stomach, and then finished off with a second series of chemotherapy. The total gastrectomy occurred on 21 August 2017. Pathology on my stomach and the surrounding lymph nodes that were removed indicated that the first round of chemo had managed to kill the cancer and that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes or to any other organs. Pity that my stomach needed to be extirpated in order to find out that the first lot of chemo worked. For a diagram showing the replumbing of my gastrointestinal tract, see https://www.nostomachforcancer.org/images/Gastrectomy-Before-and-After.png.
That means that I have been living without a stomach for 2 years now. What the heck? How is this possible? Obviously, it must be possible or else I wouldn’t be writing this. But considering what the stomach does, it is really quite incredible that life can go on pretty normally without one. However, there are a some new rules that come in to play. More on that later…
First of all, what is the impact of a total gastrectomy?, There are a few digestive functions that happen to get “thrown out with the bath water” when your stomach gets cut out.
So how does a body cope without these functions? Let’s go through them one by one from my perspective.
Consequently, I have had to work out a few rules for eating and drinking.
And just to finish off this monologue, a couple of savoury tricks that I can perform even though I can’t work out how. Firstly, even though I don’t have an oesophageal sphincter, I tend to burp – and quite frequently at that. And I can even let out a rather large belch every now and then, but not at will. And the other thing is that, despite not having that huge muscular pump called a stomach, I can actually vomit – nothing like with the force that some of us have come to experience through our wayward lives, but the unmistakenly familiar abdominal contractions and the nasty after-taste are there all the same. Bizarre!
Well that brings me to the end of this exposé into life without a stomach. Now remember that this is my reality, and, as the doctors keep telling me, “everyone is different”. So don’t assume that this is a standard aftermath of a total gastrectomy. But perhaps it sheds some light on what might be in store further down the line for those who are faced with this daunting proposition.
I hope that you have found this interesting and even a little bit entertaining. Let me know, one way or the other. I'm also more than happy to field any questions that you might have.
Best wishes and big hugs to you all,
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