Tuesday, November 21, 2017

FAP and Lynch Conference



The University of Michigan sponsored a Hereditary Colorectal Cancer Family Day this November in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This wasn't the first year for the family day but it was my first year to attend. I asked my mother, who also has Familial Polyposis (FAP), to attend with me. Although she was reluctant at first to travel the distance for a two day trip, she was ultimately glad she attended.

Me and my mother, Ina. Travis, Carleton, and his son Kevin
We hopped on a plane on the morning of Friday, November 10 and made our way to Detroit, Michigan where we were warmly greeted by Kevin, a fellow FAPer and advocate for FAP and Lynch Peer Support Group in Michigan. That night we were privileged to enjoy a small meet and greet with fellow FAPers - Kevin, his father, and Travis with Hereditary Colon Cancer Foundation.

The following morning the conference started and we learned about a variety of topics related to Lynch Syndrome and Familial Polyposis. There were an estimated 60 attendees this year - primarily from Michigan. There was a variety of speakers including genetic counselors, doctors of Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine, Surgery, a Dietitian, and Travis.

We learned a great deal of information during this one day conference. As a child, I had genetic testing completed to confirm my Familial Polyposis suspected diagnosis but I don't remember ever talking to a genetic counselor afterwards. I visited with one of the genetic counselors to learn more about this area that I hear others talk about frequently. Genetic counselors help individuals gain access to genetic information and technology, genetic testing and diagnosing, and understanding hereditary conditions. They also can help an individual with a hereditary condition obtain testing and counseling for that individual's family members to determine who else in the family may have the condition.

My mother and I weren't very familiar with Lynch Syndrome before this conference. We learned about Lynch Syndrome from genetic counselors at the University of Michigan Cancer Genetics Department and Dr. C. Richard Boland, himself, who found the gene mutations responsible for Lynch Syndrome. It was interesting to learn that there are 5 different gene mutations that can occur to result in Lynch Syndrome and depending on which gene mutation one has, it will vary the type of cancers the person is predominately at risk for developing. Both syndromes have autosomal dominant inheritance meaning an individual has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease if one of their parents also has the gene.

Lynch Syndrome is also known as Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer as the colon isn't carpeted with polyps in the 100s to 1000s as is the case with Familial Polyposis. Although both syndromes have increased risk for other cancers, Lynch has a high occurrence of colorectal cancer, endometrial, and ovarian cancers as well as elevated risk for stomach, liver, urinary tract, central nervous system, small intestine, and sebaceous gland cancers. FAP on the other hand has elevated risks for cancers of the thyroid, small intestine, liver and smaller but still elevated risks for central nervous system, stomach, pancreas, and bile ducts.

Adenomas (Pre Cancerous Polyps) can look different
Screening for cancers is essential for adequate care of Lynch Syndrome and FAP and this includes regular endoscopies and colonoscopies for cancers of the GI tract. Doctors John Carethers, D. Kim Turgeon, and John Byrn explained the colon cancer processes, technology, and techniques used for screening, colonoscopy preps, and surgeries involved for those with both conditions.



Adenomas, precancerous polyps, can vary in shape and size which is why the colonoscopy prep is so important to help the doctor properly identify polyps within the GI tract. There are various prep options including drinks, enemas, meal preps, and pills to help ensure proper cleansing preparation.


For the best results, your stool should become light and transparent,
like the example on the farthest right
Michigan Medicine's Dietitian explained ways to help reduce the risk of colon cancer with healthy eating habits and exercise. It was recommended to:
  • Maintain a healthy body mass index
  • Exercise for at least 30 minute a day
  • Avoid sugar -energy dense foods and drinks including alcohol
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes
  • Limit red and processed meats
Grilling or smoked meats have also been shown to increase risk of cancer as charred or burned meat contains carcinogens. Also, the use of a multivitamin, calcium, and vitamin d supplement have been shown to help reduce cancer risk although should be discussed with your doctor.

As genetic counseling plays an important role in identifying hereditary conditions, it is also important for communicating with one's family members for their own genetic testing. We heard from a genetic counselor and a patient panel about their experiences talking to their family members about genetic testing and the assistance received from genetic counselors with family members.

Travis, with Hereditary Colon Cancer Foundation, shared his experience with FAP and ways to advocate for awareness and education of the hereditary colon cancer syndromes. Dr. Elena Stoffel closed the conference with learning about medical advances to prevent the need for chemotherapy such as immunotherapy and gene therapy.

The University of Michigan, Michigan Medicine Department made registration available for a research study of microbiome identified through one's stool and a genetic registry. My mother and I decided to register for both projects.

The Family Microbiome Project looks at the bacteria among family households - families with and without Lynch or FAP. Although this project is currently enlisting family households, they are interested in individuals for a future research project.

The University of Michigan Cancer Genetics Registry has enrolled approximately 6,000 individuals from 4,700 families. To enroll an individual simply needs to have a hereditary cancer syndrome or personal/family history that is possible for one. Enrollment includes consent, medical and family history questionnaire and potential for a blood or saliva donation for research purposes. One doesn't have to reside in Michigan to enroll. Those registered are also notified of events such as the Hereditary Colorectal Family Day. If you're interested in enrolling or learning more, contact Erika Koeppe by email or calling 734-998-1274.


If you're in the Michigan area and interested in a support group for Lynch or FAP there are two support groups to choose from:
  • Gilda's Club of Greater Grand Rapids - Alice 616-885-6426
  • FAP and Lynch Syndrome Peer Discussion Group - Kevin 734-476-7425




My mother and I had a great time attending the conference and would encourage you to attend any future conferences for networking and educational purposes.
It was incredible being in a room with so many others with the same condition at once!

Monday, November 13, 2017

When The Female Sex Complicates the GI

Have you ever noticed how the symptoms of GI issues are nearly always the same regardless of the actual diagnosis? They all seem to have in common diarrhea, constipation, nausea, cramping, pain, and bloating to some degree. And we can have more than one GI diagnosis thereby compounding the GI symptoms. Without medical testing, how would we ever know which GI diagnosis we have when all the symptoms are the same?

I was recently diagnosed with C Diff, a nasty gut bacteria that creates toxins. It's symptoms? Diarrhea, cramping, nausea, loss of appetite, dehydration, rapid heart rate, and fever. Without testing, my doctor and I would have never guessed I had C Diff as I have nearly all of these symptoms simply due to adhesions and short bowel syndrome. Fortunately though, the infection was discovered and I'm being treated with antibiotics.

My doctor's office called a few days after starting antibiotics and asked how I was feeling. I was able to eat better with reduced pain but continued to have severe bloating and nausea. The nurse was to relay the update and would call me back with any additional instructions from my doctor. However, since talking to the nurse my pain has increased yet again and with the start of my menstrual cycle, I noticed compounding symptoms.

The experience of menstruation is different for every woman. No cycle will be exactly the same nor will the symptoms be exact. Some experience early warning signs of the impending menstrual cycle while others have no symptoms. Some experience excruciating symptoms while others experience none.

There are physical and emotional or mental symptoms that can accompany menstruation. Physical symptoms that are considered normal include:

  • Swollen or tender breasts
    quickmeme.com
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Bloating or gassiness
  • Cramping
  • Headache or backache
  • Clumsiness 
  • Lower tolerance for noise or light

It doesn't take long to realize that several of these premenstrual symptoms easily overlap with those of the GI realm. It's not uncommon for premenstrual symptoms to worsen a woman's existing GI symptoms. There's an interesting study from 2014 discussing GI symptoms before and during menstruation of healthy women. The results showed that even among healthy women, there is a higher incidence of diarrhea and abdominal pain and the presence of GI symptoms increases when a woman is experiencing emotional symptoms or fatigue. It would then be understandable that GI symptoms would further worsen for a woman already prone to GI problems. 

With the start of my menstrual cycle, I often lose my appetite and experience bloating and occasional cramping. These symptoms are identical to my regular GI issues only exacerbated. My already severe bloating is worsened to the point that I feel unable to eat even if I did have an appetite. I already periodically have backaches due to weak abdominal muscles that are unable to properly support my back after repeated surgeries. 

I anticipated my doctor's office to call me again on the same day my menstrual cycle decided to start. I pondered what I would tell the nurse. How could I be sure that my symptoms are from the infection, menstruation, or another issue altogether? I felt such great improvements after just four doses of my antibiotics only for symptoms to worsen once again after four days of treatment.

The remainder of the time on my antibiotics would be the same - excessive bloating, continued nausea, mild pain with eating, and an alternating mix of diarrhea and constipation (as constipated as someone with short bowel syndrome can be anyway). Fortunately, with antibiotics, the early fullness resolved and I've been able to eat regular sized meals again. The source of the remaining symptoms though continue to be uncertain - perhaps it's a combination or maybe it's not. Only time may tell as the course of the antibiotics and my menstruation ended simultaneously.

With the completion of the antibiotics, I'm scheduled for a follow up appointment in another three months. We shall see what happens with my symptoms over the course of the next three months. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Seeking Answers

My health abruptly changed in 2015. Until that dreadful day in May 2015, my health had been stable since 2007, when I had an unexpected hospitalization due to my hemoglobin inexplicitly plummeting to 4. In 2015, I was suffering from loss of appetite as a side effect of my antidepressant medication resulting in a hospitalization for dehydration.

I continued to feel well physically until the night before my discharge from the hospital. That night I started experiencing an unceasing headache. The headache didn't improve with Tylenol and I finally gave in to trying Morphine - even though Morphine stopped managing my pain several years ago. However, it was in the middle of the night and I didn't want to bother my hospitalist with a medication order simply for a headache. So I consented to give the Morphine a chance to work. As I suspected, the Morphine had no effect on my pain and instead caused extreme nausea and constipation. It wasn't until I was given Phenergan that my nausea started to subside and I was finally able to obtain some sleep in spite of the pain. I didn't expect though to experience such an intense slow down of my bowel that I would feel as though I was starting to have an intestinal blockage from the Morphine.

And that's when my health changed for the worse once again - with that Morphine shot. Ever since I received the Morphine, I've been experiencing chronic nausea, early fullness, and increased abdominal pain particularly when eating. My GI doctor at the time ordered an upper scope and a barium x-ray to check for anything blocking my stomach or delaying gastric emptying. Both tests results were negative for any issue. My doctor chalked my nausea and pain up to adhesions from my previous surgeries. This was quite likely as I have had problems with adhesions previously causing nausea, vomiting, excessive diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It made sense and with multiple trial and error of medications, we found a regiment of medications that managed the symptoms to a tolerable level. I reached a point that I was able to accept my new health status.

My health started to change again though once again in 2017. I've started to have more intestinal blockages - two this year already - whereas I never had this issue previously. My last blockage was in mid August and it was as though someone once again flipped a switch on my health and it abruptly changed yet again. My blockage, fortunately, cleared on its own the next morning. However, with the clearing also came extreme early fullness and abdominal pain with eating. I was no longer able to eat an average size meal. Instead, I was being reduced to eating 8 ounces of soup and feeling as though I had over eaten. The nausea remained at the same level and actually improved due to reduced food intake. My early fullness and abdominal pain continued to worsen though as time went on since the blockage in August. I was further reduced from 8 ounces of soup to a few bites of food and was no longer able to drink liquid without severe abdominal pain and bloating.

With the news of my increased frequency of blockages and my worsening symptoms, my new GI doctor ordered a CT Scan with Contrast. The results showed:
  1. Enlarged liver and pancreas
  2. Renal Cysts
  3. Hyperdense Stones in the Gallbladder
  4. Mildly twisted Mesentry
  5. Possible inflammation or infection of a fallopian tube
  6. Adhesions with dilation of my small intestine indicating possible obstruction
With these results my new GI doctor believed my symptoms were stemming from adhesions, gallstones, and the fallopian tube. And so he ordered labs to check my values and referred me to my gynecologist. My gynecologist advised she thinks the issues with fallopian tube are simply adhesions and not an issue but will be ordering a pelvic ultrasound for better imaging of the fallopian tube for further diagnosing but wants to wait until my GI issues are improved to allow for improved viewing of the ultrasound. My lab results came back well.

My doctor decided to stop my Sulindac medication as side effects of Sulindac include nausea, pain, and diarrhea and to double my Prilosec to help heal any ulcers or irritation possibly caused by the Sulindac. I did notice some improvement to my ability to eat in the evenings. However, the mere sip of water with a morning Prilosec caused instantaneous pain and bloating followed by severe nausea within 20 minutes. Throughout the day my pain continued as well as difficulty eating due to the pain and early fullness. I started to have some days of constipation, which are rare for me on account of my Short Bowel Syndrome.

Next my GI doctor ordered stool samples to be tested and upper and lower scopes. My lab results came back as positive for C-Diff infection and my scopes showed enteritis, or inflammation of the small intestine, likely caused by the C-Diff. I also still have fundic gland polyps in the stomach and a new small polyp in my small intestine that was biopsied to test for cancer. I was started on a round of Vancomycin antibiotics for the C-Diff and my doctor advised I should start to feel better within 2-3 days of starting the antibiotics. And so I wait for both the pathology results and for the antibiotics to work.

As I'm awaiting resolution of my symptoms, I can't help but wonder if some of these issues were starting to appear in 2015 when my health suddenly took a turn for the worse and it was missed by my then GI doctor who dismissed my symptoms as adhesions and adhesions only. Was I developing gallstones back then and it was missed because testing was restricted to only inside my GI tract? I experienced concerns with the previous GI doctor in relation to my Iron and B12 levels as he felt I didn't need either supplement and after consenting to a three month trial without my medications, my levels worsened and I have since required regular iron infusions in addition to iron medication to maintain appropriate iron levels.

I'm trying to not dwell on the what ifs of what may have been discovered two years ago if my doctor at the time had taken the time for additional testing. Perhaps nothing else would have been found. Either way I am grateful for my current doctor for taking the initiative to continue to search for answers and resolutions to my symptoms. Although he anticipates my symptoms to significantly improve once the antibiotics are completed, he reassured me that if the symptoms aren't improved upon we will continue to search for answers to increase my comfort to beyond a just functioning level. My spirit and hopes are lifted with this reassurance as I give time for the antibiotics to work and hopefully work with great outcomes.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Fear of Food

Almost two months ago I experienced yet another intestinal blockage. Instead of this one being induced by medication, it was induced by food. This time I enjoyed steamed vegetables at lunch and stewed okra and tomatoes at dinner. I seemed to be doing well after lunch but as soon as I finished my dinner, an immense pain began to take over my abdomen. I didn't think too much about it for the first hour. Pain is normal for me and although I don't suffer from an immense level of pain everyday, it also isn't uncommon either to occur periodically. However, after an hour I still hadn't used the restroom. This is uncommon for me; I tend to have 2-3 bowel movements within the first hour of eating. My abdomen was becoming increasingly extended, tender, and firm. The pain wasn't lessening; rather it was worsening as the night went on.

I feared the worst but knew it was likely an intestinal blockage. However, unlike the previous partial obstruction this year, this presented as a full obstruction. I wasn't able to have any bowel movements of any amounts. As the night progressed, I tried my usual methods to relieve the pressure and get my intestine moving again. I took a double dose of milk of magnesia and I vomited all that I could.

Yet there was still no change. I began to quietly panic. I couldn't avoid the hospital very long if something didn't start moving. I decided to wait until the morning when I could call my GI doctor and request a direct admission to the hospital so that I could possibly bypass the ER. At 5 am that next morning, the blockage finally cleared and I was able to have the first of many bowel movements that day after not having any for over 10 hours. In fact, I spent the next 7 hours in the restroom. Needless to say, I was unable to go to work that day as I wasn't able to leave my restroom!

I have never had to worry about intestinal blockages prior to this year. I underwent testing to determine the cause of my sudden onset of chronic nausea and increased early fullness and pain after my last hospitalization in 2015. The results indicated that my adhesions were worsening and likely once again causing a stricture around my lower intestine. This was the cause of my worsening health with chronic vomiting and extreme diarrhea to the point of severe dehydration and malnutrition in high school. Thankfully, my adhesions have not caused such an extreme case as this at this point. I rarely vomit and my short bowel is nothing like that of those high school moments.

With medication and time, I've become accustomed to the early fullness, chronic nausea and pain. I'm able to manage it decently well most days. However, after this last intestinal blockage I've noticed another sudden change. My early fullness has become even more severe to the point that a mere cup of soup is filling and I easily become miserable if I eat more. My nausea has remained the same fortunately.

In addition to significantly smaller portions, I remain leery of vegetables unless they are mashed or pureed. I can't bring myself to eat vegetables otherwise. I've limited myself to soft foods that primarily consist of meats, some breads, soups, mashed vegetables, french fries, and noodles. Not much of a healthy diet by any means.

I have since ventured back into eating a small amount of lettuce every now and then but not on a regular basis anymore. Even when I do eat a small salad, I remain terrified that I'll be causing a blockage with my meal choice. Thus, I haven't allowed myself to resume my previous normal eating habits as other whole vegetables pose a greater risk than lettuce for an intestinal blockage. Interestingly, the fear of the risk of other whole vegetables is so great that I don't really miss eating these foods. I'm sure at some point I will venture further back into additional food choices, but at present I'm content with my overly cautious mindfulness toward my food. In the end, we need to be comfortable with whatever choices we make - physically and mentally.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

CBD Oil and Gastrointestinal Issues: A Sponsored Post

I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

Cannabis has been in the news quite a bit over the last few years particularly for its medicinal properties and this includes those of the compound CBD found within the plant. There are several well known benefits of cannabis but my interest lied in the benefits possible for nausea and pain as these are two issues I experience on a daily basis. Medical marijuana isn't yet legal where I live and I have no interest in the psychoactive properties of marijuana's THC compound. However, the CBD compound can be made into a oil from the hemp part of the cannabis plant allowing the medicinal properties to be accessed without psychoactive properties. Cannabis compounds, or cannabinoids, attach to receptors within the human body producing particular effects. The human body even produces certain cannabinoids itself. The receptor that CBD interacts with is CB2 and has specific effects on inflammation and pain. There are some side effects such as tiredness and sometimes change in bowel habits, appetite, and weight. For more information regarding CBD oil visit Medical News Today.

I consented to review BioCBD+ to discover any benefits for my nausea and abdominal pain. According to BioCBD+, CBD Oil can help with the following conditions so I was hopeful.
CBD: Past, Present and Future Premier Issue #1
BioCBD+ Total Body Care states it has 10 mg of BioCBD per capsule that is water soluble rather than oil based CBD. According to BioCBD+ , the water soluble formula is absorbed and more efficiently used by the body.





The suggested dosage of BioCBD Total Body Care is 1-2 capsules a day to support and maintain total wellness or up to 5 capsules per day for treating severe discomfort.

It didn't include instructions for when to take the capsule in regards to time of day or with meals. I started by taking one capsule per day in the late afternoon, typically following an early dinner.

The first time I took BioCBD Total Body Care I was experiencing severe abdominal pain and bloating that day. I did notice within half an hour a reduction in my pain; the pain didn't cease but it did decrease in severity. 

My chronic nausea was tolerable except for one day when I experienced a mysterious licorice odor for a full work day in spite of being unable to locate any source of such an odor. This licorice odor caused severe nausea that required me to utilize a medical mask and peppermints to cope with the nausea.

After 2-3 days of taking one capsule per day, I began to notice slight insomnia. I didn't experience an increase in energy level just an increased difficulty to sleep. I typically go to sleep between 9 pm and 10 pm. I was no longer feeling ready for sleep by 9 pm but instead it was becoming closer to 1 am before I could sleep. However, when I did sleep, I slept very hard and awoke rested. 

It was around the same time frame that I noticed two other effects. I developed an insatiable appetite and my Short Bowel Syndrome worsened. I increased from my usual 15 to 20 bowel movements a day to 30 or more per day. My skin was becoming perpetually sore and raw from the increased bowel movements.

After a week of taking the BioCBD Total Body Care the worsened Short Bowel had become unbearable. The frequency and urgency of restroom trips started interfering with my ability to function at work and limited my ability to participate in activities. I didn't want to leave me house. The benefits of reduction in abdominal pain and nausea wasn't outweighing the increased bowel movements and their effects on my skin and my daily functioning ability. I decided to discontinue the supplement to see if my symptoms improved. After 2-3 days without the supplement my symptoms did indeed improve but not before I had a Short Bowel flare that left me incapacitated for a full day.
My appetite returned to normal and 5 days after discontinuing the capsules I noticed another significant decrease in my appetite. Food no longer sounded appetizing, I no longer had food cravings.


With CBD Oil's ability to target inflammation, I thought perhaps this product would be better suited for my mother as my mother has arthritis and experiences inflammation more than I do. My mother shares my two rare diseases of Familial Polyposis and Short Bowel Syndrome so she has similar GI issues. However, in addition she has Diabetes, Arthritis, and an ileostomy whereas I have a straight pull through - not an ostomy. So perhaps, I thought, if she does experience a change in bowel movements, it wouldn't be quite the interference that I experienced. She obtained approval from her Nephrologist to start the BioCBD Total Body Care capsules.


My mother consulted her Nephrologist and with approval started taking one pill a day and tried taking the capsule at various times throughout the day. Unlike me, she did not notice any changes to her bowel movements. After trial and error of various times for taking the capsule, she found one capsule in the evening to be most helpful. My mother reported she tends to have more arthritic pain, particularly in her back and hips, in the evening after completing a day's worth of activities. My mother also has chronic leg cramps, primarily in the evenings. Both of these issues present a sleep disturbance for my mother resulting in frequent nights of poor sleep. However, with one capsule in the evening my mother noticed reduced pain and improved sleep on a regular basis. She did not increase the dosage from one capsule to two capsules when she didn't notice any improvements or to attempt to obtain further improvement. Overall, she was pleased with her experience and recommended the BioCBD Total Body Care capsules for inflammatory pain management.