Calming the gut brain

Posted by ajh5285 @ajh5285, Jun 4 9:18am

This may seem like a humorous question, but I'm asking in all seriousness, since I have long-standing chronic stressors in my life over and above my current health problems. Given my current situation, those chronic stressors are not susceptible to easy fixes. Hence my interest in the possibility of other strategies.
My major medical situation is that I was diagnosed (then age 73) last year about the end of summer with inoperable adenocarcinoma of the pancreas; probably already with lung mets.
At my most recent medical evaluation 2 days ago, my oncologist was not satisfied with the response of my tumor to gemcitabine – abraxane, so has decided to switch me to a different 2-drug therapy, the details of which I am fuzzy on at this point, other than it involves one oral med and one to be administered via an infusion pump over 46 hours. This new therapy is scheduled to start around 10 days from now.
In the meantime I am feeling abandoned to my own devices – "abandoned" being the key word. Rationally I realize that is not so. But I'm finding that my emotions (anxiety leads the crowd) are not so easily ratcheted down. Hence the question that heads this post.
Additional recent observations leading to my question are:
Learning to switch off negative thought trains, even temporarily, has helped some, particularly when I am preparing to go to sleep for the night.
Unexpectedly, I have discovered that I am much more comfortable physically when I have congenial visitors or can experience some rare tranquility in my life.

This has somehow led me to remember the evidence that we have a larger "brain" in our gut than the one in our heads.

Does anyone have any experience to share that indicates what approaches have worked or not worked?
I'm prejudiced against pharmaceutical approaches since my professional experience in health care indicates that one drug prescription frequently leads to the necessity of prescribing another drug to treat the side effects of the first, which then may need another prescription drug to prevent the new side effects.

On the other hand is there even such a "thing" as talk therapy for the gut-brain? Or anything else that has proven effective?

Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Pancreatic Cancer Support Group.

I totally get where you're coming from. The psychology of cancer is a huge factor in how we cope with treatment on top of all the usual day-to-day stuff. I am near your age (I'm 70), but am likely in a different situation because I still have kids at home. (We're not miracle parents, just adoptive parents.) Our sons (20 and 24) are home for the summer from college and grad school, and it is a joy to have them around. Our older daughter and her dog pop in occasionally as her nursing shifts permit. We admittedly watch a lot of TV; we play Jeopardy; we work jigsaw puzzles. As we have gotten my side effects under control, I find I'm just this side of being bored, but I don't always have the concentration to do anything involved. Chemo brain, I guess, and some fatigue. I do work crossword puzzles a lot. I'm flirting with the idea of going back to work part-time in the fall. Perhaps there's a way where you can get together with family or friends for a quick lunch or snack, nothing too long or tiring, but enough to brighten your day. My oncology center offers a bunch of activities, although most are on Zoom, which isn't quite the same thing, I know.

Sleep is difficult for me. I actually got off track sleepwise back in fall 2020 when I spent three months in the hospital (myocarditis, probably triggered by covid). I cannot sleep with the lights off, and I run the TV on low all night. The crosswords sometimes refocus and relax me. I also occasionally take a Benadryl at night to relax me. (I know you said no pharm solutions, but this has helped me, and it is an over-the-counter drug.) I could see where talk therapy probably is a good option, if you can access a therapist easily and cost-effectively. Another option might be journaling. Back decades ago when I was "single again" and in therapy, I journaled a lot between therapy sessions. You could try a Caring Bridge site and use it as a sort of journal, or just open up a document on your computer and hammer away, or use a notebook and pen/pencil. Does any of that help? I'd be interested to see what other posters do to boost their spirits and process their thoughts.

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Thanks so much for sharing your story.

I would say that along with anxiety, my feeling of being so d'd isolated is a major, if not *the* major, factor impacting my mental health. It is perhaps a bit strange because I do have friends and family with whom I''m making serious efforts to stay in touch. Sometimes, however, that feels like adding insult to injury, in that so often, I have to get in touch (mostly at arms length, that is, via e-mail) since very few remember to get in touch with me spontaneously.

My family and friends are busy, and I try to be respectful of the energy and other resources they are already committed to expending by adding to their already very full lives. We live out in the country, and with my Chemo Feet I am wary about my attempting to drive myself anywhere especially into the more urban center where I receive my medical care.

I have discovered colored pencils and do find it soothing to commit feelings to paper. I am no artist and have chosen a fairly user-unfriendly tool. There is something about the time of day when the transition of day to dusk occurs. In the colder months, I found it threatening. Now that it is warmer, it wears a much more tranquil aspect. My husband adheres to a rigid regimen of heading for bed at 5 PM since that has cured many of his own sleeping issues. This means that I have to rely on our Standard Poodles and / or "distraction TV" (non-violent DVD's) to keep me company after he heads upstairs to our proper bedroom. Since I haven't climbed our dangerous stairs for a very long time, I have been sleeping in our living room.
And here I'll blame conveniently Chemo Brain, and stop rambling…

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@ajh5285

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

I would say that along with anxiety, my feeling of being so d'd isolated is a major, if not *the* major, factor impacting my mental health. It is perhaps a bit strange because I do have friends and family with whom I''m making serious efforts to stay in touch. Sometimes, however, that feels like adding insult to injury, in that so often, I have to get in touch (mostly at arms length, that is, via e-mail) since very few remember to get in touch with me spontaneously.

My family and friends are busy, and I try to be respectful of the energy and other resources they are already committed to expending by adding to their already very full lives. We live out in the country, and with my Chemo Feet I am wary about my attempting to drive myself anywhere especially into the more urban center where I receive my medical care.

I have discovered colored pencils and do find it soothing to commit feelings to paper. I am no artist and have chosen a fairly user-unfriendly tool. There is something about the time of day when the transition of day to dusk occurs. In the colder months, I found it threatening. Now that it is warmer, it wears a much more tranquil aspect. My husband adheres to a rigid regimen of heading for bed at 5 PM since that has cured many of his own sleeping issues. This means that I have to rely on our Standard Poodles and / or "distraction TV" (non-violent DVD's) to keep me company after he heads upstairs to our proper bedroom. Since I haven't climbed our dangerous stairs for a very long time, I have been sleeping in our living room.
And here I'll blame conveniently Chemo Brain, and stop rambling…

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While it is on our minds almost consistently, there is a limit as to how much we can talk about it to others.
If you don’t work, there are many other things you can do to distract yourself. One of the best books, The Purpose Driven Life, reminds us that this life isn’t really just about us.
I’m sure there is a Church in your area that would love your help in writing notes to people that are needing a good word of encouragement. Adult coloring books are fun and a new crossword puzzle every week is good for our minds. I also journaled my feelings and my prayers each day. As I did, I focused on what was positive in my life and how I could pray for others. I have been off chemo for a little while and I do miss that time of solitude! Strange, right?

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The things that have helped have been the support from family, friends, therapist, minister, and meditation practice. I have found that the Buddhist teachers has been invaluable. Particularly acceptance. I have found that in appreciating the reality of old age, sickness, and death as the human condition has allowed me to appreciate many things in life that I didn't previously. My friend came by to walk with me. Because of my unpredictable gut, I like to stay close to home. In the past I wouldn't have thought much about it but I thanked my friend for stopping by. Never did this in the past. Now I am scheduled for surgery, my nerves are a bit overactive and I need to find ways to settle down. Surgery after 6 months of chemo to be ready for this, scheduled for June 21st.

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts after a diagnosis of cancer.
After I was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer in February 2023 I think I was in a state of denial. Couldn’t sleep well for a few weeks, would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. I finally rested when I surrendered my situation to God as he is sovereign.
Each day I try to choose Joy over happiness. Joy is not a feeling it is a choice we make. Choosing joy is about rejoicing not in the circumstances but in who God is within the circumstances. Joy is based on trusting the sovereignty of God and is always available.

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To ajh== Though I am the caregiver, (my husband has the cancer) my thoughts go crazy too. In the first few weeks, I just wanted to be with him, and I was also reading all sorts of books on cancer, nutrition, diabetes, off label drugs and Big Pharma etc. He told me to continue on with my life activities, and I do some volunteer work at the church, and I continued with that. We have been praying very hard to get through this, and through my volunteer work, I have received positive "signs" and met people who have been helpful in terms of providing information or putting me in contact with drs, priests, clinical trials, or pan can info. You may not be physically able to get out and volunteer, but would it be possible for you to distract your brain by doing something from your home? Could you tutor some middle school/elementary students with math or reading,? could they come to your house (Prob need to come w a parent, if they are young or meet at a library.) That might bring some joy and feelings of productivity to your life. I knew a woman many years ago who had MS and she was in wheelchair, and she read books on tape for the blind. There are hotlines for people in mental stress, maybe worse than yourself–you can get trained to speak with these people, and it might help you and them. I don't know how well you are feeling to do any of this, but when we bring help or joy to others, often times it brings joy to ourselves, and a purpose for us on this earth. Maybe someone needs some proof reading done, or sometimes authors even like people to read their "First drafts" and comment on them. the senior centers sometimes like people to help other seniors with their computers or their technology, if you happen to have a skill in that. It could be done by phone call or zoom, or visit in person…. I am simply thinking about things you might be able to do from home that would create human interaction, joy, a feeling of success and purpose. Now I am rambling… hope this helps.

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@k13

To ajh== Though I am the caregiver, (my husband has the cancer) my thoughts go crazy too. In the first few weeks, I just wanted to be with him, and I was also reading all sorts of books on cancer, nutrition, diabetes, off label drugs and Big Pharma etc. He told me to continue on with my life activities, and I do some volunteer work at the church, and I continued with that. We have been praying very hard to get through this, and through my volunteer work, I have received positive "signs" and met people who have been helpful in terms of providing information or putting me in contact with drs, priests, clinical trials, or pan can info. You may not be physically able to get out and volunteer, but would it be possible for you to distract your brain by doing something from your home? Could you tutor some middle school/elementary students with math or reading,? could they come to your house (Prob need to come w a parent, if they are young or meet at a library.) That might bring some joy and feelings of productivity to your life. I knew a woman many years ago who had MS and she was in wheelchair, and she read books on tape for the blind. There are hotlines for people in mental stress, maybe worse than yourself–you can get trained to speak with these people, and it might help you and them. I don't know how well you are feeling to do any of this, but when we bring help or joy to others, often times it brings joy to ourselves, and a purpose for us on this earth. Maybe someone needs some proof reading done, or sometimes authors even like people to read their "First drafts" and comment on them. the senior centers sometimes like people to help other seniors with their computers or their technology, if you happen to have a skill in that. It could be done by phone call or zoom, or visit in person…. I am simply thinking about things you might be able to do from home that would create human interaction, joy, a feeling of success and purpose. Now I am rambling… hope this helps.

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I appreciate your suggestions.
I do already do some support work in the area of historical research into two different topics, and have been reassured that my recent comments have still been helpful, despite my concern over losing my analytic skills as part of the impact of Chemo Brain.
I have also attempted to support the history of compassionate care delivered by Infusion Center staff who I used to work with in a professional capacity.
I also have made & would like to continue making small charitable donations, mainly to animal rescue charities, as well as to some efforts like Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) & Chef Bernard André's World Food Kitchen.
You're absolutely right that being able to feel useful is invaluable.

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Thank you for sharing. It is strange, I felt more in control after my pancreatic cancer diagnosis and first few rounds of chemo than now – six weeks post whipple. I am anxious and on the edge of panic attacks and feel fear that I did not have before the surgery. This past week, I started taking CBD oil and it has taken the edge off and helped me sleep. It is hard to stay strong.

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I am glad that you have found something that helps taking the edge off. It is a good thing that so far, I have been able to calm down enough to sleep through my regular routine before falling asleep, since my one experience with CBD (cream) ended with my needing treatment for what looked like either an infection or severe allergic reaction where I applied it.

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@stephenkogler

Thank you for sharing. It is strange, I felt more in control after my pancreatic cancer diagnosis and first few rounds of chemo than now – six weeks post whipple. I am anxious and on the edge of panic attacks and feel fear that I did not have before the surgery. This past week, I started taking CBD oil and it has taken the edge off and helped me sleep. It is hard to stay strong.

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Hi! I’m glad the CBD oil is helping you sleep. Is there a particular type you take to help with sleep? I heard that Indica RSO (Rick Simpson oil) is supposed to be good. I struggle with sleep now due to the steroids they have me on for my horrible chemo induced nausea. I need more rest & I am not getting near enough.

Thank you!

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