Hi thanks for stopping by, I hope you stay a while to have a read of some of my posts and a good place to start is here with a little bit about me…
My name is Hannah and I’m 31 originally from the North East of England but now living and working as an engineer in Glasgow. I live with my wonderful other half S and our two crazy cats.
I started this blog as a way of documenting my training journey towards completing my dream of a Half Ironman triathlon and various other races and adventures whilst being slightly different from the norm…
In September 2012 I was 27, living and working in Glasgow and generally enjoying life living with a flatmate in the city however in a very short space of time my life was to be turned completely on its head…
I started to have some difficulty swallowing food at mealtimes, it would just stick in my throat and I’d end up having to make myself sick to get rid of it. I went to see my doctor who said it probably wouldn’t be anything to worry about but sent me for an endoscopy anyway.
I arrived at the hospital for my routine test and afterwards was greeted by a doctor and two nurses who pulled the curtain round my bed and told me some news I never thought I’d hear…. they had found a tumour, it was cancer and it didn’t look good.
I had been diagnosed with Oesophageal Cancer, a very rare form of cancer but even more rare for someone my age, practically unheard of to be honest – lets just say I was a shock all round.
From that day my life flipped completely and I was told to expect the worst, even being told that I might not make it to Christmas that year!
The plan was for me to have three rounds of chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumour before having a scan to determine whether I could be operated on. I started my chemo within a week. The chemo was brutal, it’s an aggressive treatment to batter the tumour as much as possible but that meant that it battered me too and I’ve never been so tired or ill, the treatment made me very nauseous.
I finished my three rounds of chemo and on the 20th December I received the best Christmas present ever – the operation to try and save my life could go ahead! I got a Christmas and New Year off chemo and my operation was scheduled for January.
The operation, called a partial oesophagectomy and gastrectomy is a massive one taking approximately 11 hours in surgery to remove two third of both my stomach and oesophagus and some surrounding lymph nodes. This involves removing the vagus nerve which links the brain and the stomach, re-routing blood vessels to supply what stomach I have left and then the remainder of my stomach is pulled up into my chest to meet the remainder of my oesophagus so that my tube of a stomach now lies between my lungs.
The operation is huge and I woke up surrounded by wires, 6 chest drains and a big tube up my nose into my new non-stomach. Through the pain I was determined to make the best of everything and had a great relationship with my surgeon who constantly made jokes with me about the lengths I’d go to to get a gastric band on the NHS!
My little hitchhiker was removed and the surgeon seemed confident that he’d got clean margins although upon pathology of the tumour and surrounding tissues they found cancer cells in some of my lymph nodes so it was declared that I’d have to go through another three rounds of chemo to help clean up any cancer that nay have been floating around. My goal was to get strong enough to endure the next phase of my treatment.
The early days after my operation were horrendous, nothing I tried to eat stayed down and whenever I tried to eat I would get stomach cramps that left me curled in a ball on the floor, I had so little energy all I could do was crawl from my bed to the sofa in the living room for the day and back again for bed time. I slept for hours but never seemed to feel any more refreshed and the chemo further battered my body. It was the toughest part of my life I’ve ever endured. My aims were simple, just get through the next 24 hours and then deal with tomorrow tomorrow.
In May of 2013 on my 28th birthday I took my last dose of chemo and was looking forward to getting back to work.
I also made a pact that I would come out of this experience a better, fitter, stronger version of myself and not let this second chance go to waste!
Life without a stomach is interesting, besides the obvious nutritional issues regarding not having a lot of room to eat enough I now have issues with low blood sugar due to a naughty pancreas randomly producing far too much insulin, my stomach decided to switch off the enzyme that processes dairy so I’m now (aside from a treat pizza once in a while) dairy free.
I also have something which is beautifully known as dumping syndrome where my food passes through me too quickly and my running skills are put to the test trying to find the nearest toilet, sometimes it’s a guessing game as to which direction it’s going to make it’s reappearance! TMI I know but I also know that runners love to talk about poop so this is my story!
In addition to losing my stomach I also lost the valve at the top of my stomach which essentially stops anything coming back up – lets just say I’ve learned my lesson not to drink something and then bend over to tie my shoes! It also makes running and drinking interesting as the liquid tends to bounce in time to my steps which isn’t particularly delicious I’ll tell you – my coach is working on fuelling me through my 70.3 which is going to be a delicate operation for sure.
My main aim is to prove to others and myself that you can do anything after this horrible disease and life can not only be good, it can be great!
Here’s to the training, hard work and determination but mostly here’s to life and this wonderful world we live in – it’s an amazing place to be!