I've always done everything right. I'm healthy. I'm fit. I eat all the right things and do all the right exercises. I'm a fiber junkie and love a well-oiled, predictable bowel! The people at Kashi love me and I love them.
That's why it was pretty easy for me to notice that something wasn't right in mid-September. I found myself suddenly going to the bathroom all the time. For the sake of practicality, I'm going to call it pooping. No medical terminology needed. You're not my doctor. I'm not sitting in an exam room, so I feel no need to refer to it as a bowel movement.
It wasn't diarrhea in the sense that we think of diarrhea. For us laymen and simple-minded folk, diarrhea is a matter of urgency and explosion and pain and sweat and tears. For the medical community, diarrhea is simply a matter of frequency. And I was frequent. It was solid, but it was frequent. So frequent that I started going through a roll of toilet paper a day. So frequent that I switched from the plush, pricey and highly recommended Cottonelle with Aloe to Target's Up and Up brand just to save money. So frequent that one of the lasting reminders of my last pregnancy reared its unattractive head: hemorrhoids!
For some moms, they can forever blame their children for the baby weight they never lost or stretch marks that will never truly fade. For me, it was a belly button that never quite went back to normal and hemorrhoids. Petty matters really in the grand scheme of things and really minor reminders considering I actually looked like I was carrying twins (9 pound baby + extra amniotic fluid = very large belly).
I can distinctly remember going to my OB for my 35 week appointment in a vain panic and telling him that he had to do something about it because I was never going to be able to get a bikini wax again. It was scary. It was ugly. Imagine a large pregnant women in stirrups pointing down to places she can't even see any more and demanding a cure, all in the name of going to the spa again!
He just laughed and told me they weren't "that bad" while motioning with his hands as to how bad they can be and what he routinely has to deal with in office. And when he has to "deal with it" in his office, that means it's B-A-D. He also assured me that most women get them in pregnancy, they will get better but they will never go away. And if my esthetician had been bikini waxing for any length of time, she had seem them because they really are that common. I didn't believe him. I haven't been waxed since.
And with the "'roids" came blood. Just enough to be noticed, but not enough to write home about. As he promised, they did get better as soon as Lachlan was born. Something about removing a 9 pound bowling ball off your rectum can do wonders for those suckers! Any sighting of blood over the next year was infrequent and I always chalked it up to the 'roids, my new found friends for life!
I never had the urgency, but I did have the urge to go a lot. I could make it through errands and make it through my runs (which is a feat in and of itself for some runners), but it was clearly noticeable and it was wearing me out. I wasn't in pain, I wasn't bloated, I wasn't cramped up and I wasn't gassy (what women is?). I was going an inch at a time and what would normally take me one trip was taking 15. I was redefining "dropping the kids off at the pool." I was dropping one kid off at a time all day long, and that takes up a lot of gas and puts a lot of miles on my hypothetical minivan so to speak.
Being the self-healing type that I am, I started eliminating things out of my diet after a few weeks. I'd finally decided that this wasn't some weird flu or bug I'd caught, so it must be something I'm eating. Dairy was the first thing to go since I knew I was lactose intolerant. No compromise. No Lactaid pills. No Starbucks. I was in the prime of Pumpkin Spice Latte season and I was saying no to dairy.
Secondly, I stopped eating gluten. My mother has Celiac Disease, and given its genetic connection, I thought it might have come upon me as well. Pregnancy can do weird things to one's body, including triggering allergies and dormant DNA. I actually noticed a slight improvement, so hoped I'd solved the issue. I just needed to give my small intestine a few months to heal and I'd be good as new. Living a gluten-free life is actually quite easy these days and there's really nothing you have to deny yourself if you don't mind doing the cooking yourself or paying a little more for specialty food at the grocery store. It also kept me from finishing off the kid's snacks and eating a lot of junk I probably didn't need to be eating anyway.
Some of you are probably already cringing at the thought of a life without dairy or gluten (wheat, barley, rye), so you'll cringe even more when I tell you I also cut out sugar, my beloved Diet Coke and coffee. I was sure that something I was eating was causing this, and was willing to do whatever it took to find out what it was. I'm not someone who adores food. I mean, I like food in general. And there are a few things I love (like Rice Krispie). Don't worry, you foodies can blindfold me and peg with with rotted fois gras and spoiled endive later. I don't watch the Food Network, could not pick any of the popular TV chefs out of a lineup (with the exception of my beloved Rick Bayless) and don't cruise the cookbook aisle at Barnes and Noble (short of all the Rick Bayless books I own).
As I cut things out of my diet, I noticed the number on the scale continuing to drop. Granted, I had had a baby the year before, so losing weight was expected. And between running, Stroller Strides and nursing, I was burning some serious calories on a daily basis. But even I was amazed at the number on the scale and how quickly it was ticking down. And this is coming from a girl who grew up in LA, worked amongst the ultra skinny in Hollywood and had mastered the art of 5 spin classes a week while living on skinny lattes, Diet Coke and fat free microwavable popcorn. For the first time in my life, I had to buy a belt just to keep my shorts on. Any time anyone commented on my weight, I told them I was just as surprised, blamed running and nursing and told them I must have a tape worm. Turns out I did.
After a month off gluten, I wasn't seeing the drop in toilet paper usage I expected and finally broke down and went to Urgent Care. With a family history of gastrointestinal issues, I wanted to make sure that my days of a finely tune GI tract weren't over. I also wanted to rule out any lingering fears that I might have something seriously wrong. I knew something was wrong, but I wanted to get it fixed and was finally at the point where I knew I couldn't fix it myself.
Not only was our toilet paper budget out of control, but I was tired. Many a night it was all I could do to lay on the couch, crawl into bed as soon as the kids were down or cook dinner while sitting on a bar stool. I could go out and run mile after mile, yet by nightfall didn't have the energy to stand while cooking dinner. I blamed the pooping. It was exhausting.
Urgent Care is my version of a primary care physician. Don't think I was dribbling down my leg and desperate when I finally walked in. I just so rarely go to the doctor, it's not worth actually finding a PCP and developing a relationship. I've confessed this to them and they are happy to fill my PCP void.
Urgent Care was fun and I had to use big girl phrases like "bowel movement" and "soft, but formed" and "I just blame the hemorrhoids!" over and over again. I was sent home with a fun little test kit that made changing dirty diapers seem easy. God bless lab techs because there is nothing glorious and no paycheck great enough to make smearing fecal samples on a slide worth it for me. Then again, I've also said if it wasn't for all the poop, I'd love to be a nurse.
I dropped off my discreet little brown bag at Urgent Care the next day and would spend the next two weeks waiting for my scheduled appointment with the GI while you guessed it, continuing to poop all day long!
In retrospect, I had 4 out of the 5 top symptoms of colon cancer, except I was only 34 years old.
90% of colon cancer cases are found in people over 50.
I'm being very graphic and open about the details here because I think it makes an important point. It takes away the shame, but I also I think it's vital that we be in tune with our bodies in every way. The more we know ourselves, the more likely we are to notice when something just isn't right. This means we should know our skin, we should know our breast (or man boobs) and we should know our poop. And yes, we can eat all the right things and do all the right exercises and put on all the right sunscreen and use all the organics in the world. But nothing takes the place of knowing your own body and having no shame in talking about things that might be a little embarrassing but might save your life.