Friday, June 4, 2010

Chemo and the hell it plays with your tastebuds

Ok - so, my order of treatment has been (1) chemo (2) surgery (3) radiation (4) ongoing herceptin and tamoxifen. That may not be the order you do it in. Often surgery comes first, but I had a really big tumour and my oncologist wanted to try and shrink it first. And he was succesful.

So let's talk about chemo. Everyone is afraid of it. I certainly had a mental picture of what it would be like based on, I don't know, after school specials and very sad movies. But mine was very manageable. Yes I lost all my hair, most of my eyebrows, all but 7 eyelashes (total between the two eyes) and lots of other body hair. Yes I was tired, green, irritable and, sometimes, very shakey and cold. But at no point did I think I had to stop. Everyone's experience is different though. And I talked to many people who did want to stop. Work with your doctors, nurses and other health carers to try to make your journey as manageable as possible.

The single biggest problem I experienced during chemo involved eating. I was never nauseated to the point of vomiting. The new steroids worked wonders for me. But food never tasted good and eating became a challenge. Water tasted like death. And the thought of eating made me angry. I love food - cooking is my single biggest hobby and I read cookbooks for fun. My altered tastebuds were torturing me.

So I turned to the Internet and books. I found very good advice from others further down the cancer path - keep trying. Try new foods. Try foods you used to hate. Try foods again even if they tasted awful before. My tastes continued to change throughout treatment. Food never tasted good - but sometimes, some foods tasted close to normal. Cucumbers, which ironically had been a craving during my pregnancies, were one of these foods. Apples, bananas, raw vegetables in general were ok. Small portions of whole grain bread. Oatmeal porridge. Meat wasn't great. Coffee wasn't great. Wine was dreadful. And hot dogs - lord - hot dogs were horrific.

But you have to eat - even when food tastes awful. Eat healthy foods as much as you can. But also choke down the foods that bother you least, even if they aren't spectacularly healthy. Some days a fast food hamburger may be the thing that doesn't bother you - eat it. I think I ate just ice cream once for supper. Cherry Garcia.

That reminds me of another thing I read that was not good advice for me. Some people said don't eat your favourite foods during chemo as it can ruin your love of them after you finish treatment. I tried that but out of desperation returned to old favourites, like Thai curries and Ben and Gerry ice creams. They were fine - not great - but manageable. And it has not had any impact on my love of these foods now that my taste buds have returned to normal.

Finally, if you are having trouble eating, talk to your nurses. They usually have lots of advice, tricks learned from years of helping people like us. And, if you happen to have joined a support group or have informally built relationships with others undergoing cancer treatment, talk to other people to see how they are coping. Make it a priority to find out how to make eating more enjoyable.

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