Current Status: Pending. Better.

It’s been about a month past the actual surgery, and I am slowly, slowly, feeling the tide of “normal” energy return. It arrives briefly, a teaser, and then fatigue kicks in again.

But it’s coming back. I can feel it. And this gives me strength.

Pluses:

  1. The surgical drain will be removed this week.
woman in pink dress doing jump shot while extending arms under white clouds
I would probably pop a bunion if I did this, but still. 

Freedom! What people don’t tell you about surgical drains is that they are clumsy, they stink, and they make normal movement difficult. Here’s a link for more info about the Jackson-Pratt drain system.

 

  1. I can drive again.
low angle view of cat on tree
I will be alert. I will look both ways. 

This, ladies and gentlemen, is also a freedom. No more do I have to call Uber. No more will I be confined to the walls of this (admittedly loved) house, trapped between naps and half-hearted attempts at chores. I can get drive-thru coffee. I can drive to forests.

Woot!

 

  1. The holidays are coming.

This one is balanced with some cons as well. I struggle with envy of those who are healthy, have intact, functional families that come from all around to visit. Cutting back on social media – the showcase of our hoped-for selves – will be a requirement. I can’t handle the perfect Facebook posts and the full-haired mothers and clean houses and cousins and grandparents. It makes me sad, and jealous. This is petty, isn’t it? I should cheer, root for them all. I should be a better person, meditate on it, extend the full light of compassion. And in my better heart I do. But not now. I’ve still got grief on my shoulder, fatigue on the other, and the twins of hope and fear to contend with. They take up a lot of my time.

On the other hand, there is the food. And the color. And the celebrations and neighbors and friends and candy and presents and watching my daughter open presents. There’s my husband’s goofy good cheer when I cook his favorite roast. There is the yearly ritual of baking a fabulous cake. There is packaging, pumpkin spice, coffee and pastries. This whole season: It’s too much sugar and carbs and drinks combined with the ancient warmth of huddling together against the darkness. Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or just the tree.  It is this rallying-together-against-the-cold, this gratitude and kindness across the set table that says I’m here –  that I love. It’s the human condition. It’s us.

And hallelujah for that.

  1. I can write again.

 Recovering from both chemotherapy and surgery dragged me into a depression. Fatigue sapped my thinking into some vague void where words float, linger, don’t connect. This meant that writing anything – even reapplications for disability, let alone phone calls to the wireless service – were Sisyphean tasks that were best left gathering on the kitchen table. And they piled and piled until this past week.

New motto: When all else fails, make piles.

But leaf by leaf, this leaning tower of smog certificates and insurance notices is coming down. Like The Thing from the old Fantastic Four comics says right before a fight: “It’s clobberin’ time!” Instead of fists, I’ve got a dark roast, my papers, and a pen.

IMG_9336

Cheers.

The Ice Cream and F*%k it Diet.

I’ve had it with cruciferous vegetables.

I’m sick of brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, watercress, and other vegetables like artichokes and garlic and peppers and beets. I’m tired of walking the Green Mile for produce and minding each health-conscious bite.

close up photography of cat
One more cup of green tea and “kitty” will puke.

When you are not a cancer patient (and I am impatient, wanting this to be over, which perhaps it never will be), food is an ally, a benevolent companion. You buy and eat, and cook and eat, in a set of light, repeated gestures that do not cause much pause.

cat paws in shallow focus photography
These are actual paws.

Cancer shifts the scales.  Food becomes more fraught. It becomes more heavily weighted with meaning, assessed on a scale of its antioxidant values and not of taste or flavor. I have found myself looking up food names and “cancer” many times during the course of a day in order to reassure myself that my meal is fighting free radicals.  Searching for “maitake mushroom” and “cancer,” for example, brings up a list of products, research, and formidably-medical sounding articles that paves the way for each reassuring bite. I have felt, at times, a zealous worshipper at the secular altar called “health.” Too much.  A person can become obsessive or worse, self-righteous.

Certain foods can become “good.” Some “bad.” And these judgements can extend to ourselves. You are a “good eater.” (Healthy, weight-conscious, working hard to resist with produce.) You are a “bad eater.” (Steak, chips, soda, sugar. Meh. Pass the beer.)

Well.

To. Hell. With. That.

I am starting a new diet called the Ice Cream and F&*k It Diet.

person holding ice cream with cone
Hold that mother high.

Because, sisters and brothers, you’ve lost enough. You’ve worried enough. You’ve googled and read enough. Stayed up late through the night, scrolled through your phone, lost a body part or tissue, reeled through waves of nausea, stayed in while your friends played, lost a sure future, and wondered-what-you-did-to-cause-it enough. You know what? Here’s the answer: We don’t know. People who jog and do yoga and eat vegan get cancer. People who smoke and drink live long lives. This isn’t an excuse to chuck all effort, but it’s a way to give yourself a break.

In that spirit, which is the spirit of  We Don’t Know, So Go Ahead and Live, here are the essential principles of the Ice Cream and F*%k it Diet:

  1. There are no essential principles.
  2. Eat what you want.
  3. Cruciferous (which means, by the way, “of the cross,” as in crucifix, a cross to bear) vegetables are great, but they will not save you.
  4. Because:
  5. We will all die. (Don’t say this at parties.)
  6. Is there syrup on it? Frosting? Fat or sugar? You know what to do.
  7. I know I know– “not every day.” Of course.
  8. Popcorn with butter first, then the seats. Bonus if you scarf it before the trailers end.
  9. I am so tired of caution.
  10. What is the food for danger? The Carolina Reaper? The Naga Viper Pepper?
  11. Read Derek Walcott’s poem.

And do what he says, and live. With culinary and sensual abandon, in whatever forms those take.

I wish you a great feast.

 

 

 

 

My Relationship to Food

Show of hands if cancer has made you re-think your relationship to food?

Me, too. Not that I was ever an unhealthy eater. Au contraire. For the last two decades, I’ve prioritized fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins (mostly fish, chicken, eggs), and lots of exercise. I was running 5 and 10k races, lifting weights, and I kept my weight healthy. In talking to others, I hear this story frequently: “I did everything right, yoga, ate vegetarian, meditated – and I still got cancer.” I stand 100% with you, and am truly sorry.

We do so much to bat back mortality. Skin creams, reps at the gym, another helping of kale. Green tea and running. We “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Like Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, we’re looking for Daisy’s green light across the water, the one that says you’ll stay young and healthy forever. It’s as if we’re under some collective delusion that we alone will avoid the final drop off and if only we find the right combination, the right cream, the right treatment — well, we’ll be all right then. And we keep on, going on, butting against the inevitable.

Cancer mocks that. Cancer is a skeleton who knocks on the door and refuses to leave. Cancer says, “Whatever,” shrugs and smirks at the next helping of broccoli. But I do it anyway, eat better anyway. It’s the one thing I can control, one of the few parts of the radar blip where I can say: “I’m here. I’m going there.” The  shadow side of this is that some people, and I’ve met a few – who become so obsessed with food and unproven cancer cures that it borders on an eating disorder. (Steve Jobs’ decision to follow elements of the Gonzales regimen, to include coffee enemas and taking an enzyme from pigs, may have contributed to his shorter life span.) But there is one, emerging practice that seems to be supported by scientific research, and it’s a big reason why I’m writing this post today. It’s about fasting.

The evidence?

  1. Fasting-Like Diet May Turn the Immune System Against Cancer
  2. Fasting Might Boost Cancer Busting (Scientific American)

 

I’ve decided to do a modified, 24-hour fast prior to chemotherapy, and a 12-hour fast after my infusion. Fasting for 48 hours prior – the recommendation for chemo –  is too much of a stretch for me, and even now, heading into 20 hours of no food, I am beginning to dream of cakes, pasta piles, cream cheese frosting, sushi, and banana splits. My body is screaming for carbs. I’ve been poring through recipe magazines and books and staring at the butter sauces, pancakes, battered fried prawns.

And cake. Did I say cake?

 

blueberry-banana-cake-7
This photo is from a fabulous cake website. Not that I’ve been looking. https://livforcake.com/blueberry-banana-cake/

I am going to bake this cake tomorrow. And eat it.

Alone. Heh.

And oh my God I miss bacon.

I miss bacon and fries and burgers and pizza and candy. I miss chocolate shakes. I miss a cool mojito – alcoholic thank you very much- with cussing and dirty-joke telling friends around a table in suburbia. I miss steak, I miss fried chicken, I miss Coke – my cans of Coke and Diet Coke – and I miss Swedish fish. I never ate much of these – always in moderation – but the casual nonchalance – the not-fretting – is what I miss the most. Always there is a second guess now with my meal, always more pressure. It is another price to pay for this disease.

And so, this Friday, it’s 22 hours of fasting now and an infusion in a few hours. After the Taxotere, I’ll go home and probably nap, read a bit, wander and not get much done. But it’s ok, it’s ok. Food is coming.

And I’m here. You’re here. Thank you. And love out.