This is the chemo diet

Chemo has killed most of my tastebuds, literally. They’re all but gone. A few sense a hint of salt, a couple increase sour by 1000%, and the rest pick up every bitter flavor known to humans. My mouth feels coated, and for lack of a better word, hairy. The tip of my tongue is numb, like it was burned sipping a scorching hot cup of coffee.

When I realized that all I could really taste was bitter, I sampled all the spices in our cupboard: allspice, basil, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic, cloves, mustard, paprika, sage, thyme, ginger, coriander, fennel, salt. What I learned was that most spices are bitter, really bitter. Sage was the worst (once one of my favorites), and garlic and black pepper were almost as bad. Surprisingly, cinnamon is one of my new faves (it’s really good mixed in with black beans, btw). And salt is my new best friend.

Regarding foods, I now prefer plain and white. It’s very unlike me to want to eat white foods, but during chemo you eat what you need to eat. Malnourishment is a very common issue during chemo. You have to find what foods work for you and stick to them. For me, it’s mashed potatoes, oatmeal, eggs, corn, white gravy, bread, broth, chicken, pasta with butter, yogurt, soft cheese, white beans, white sugar, and for an attempt at a little flavor, caramelized onions.

There is no joy in eating when everything tastes bitter or like nothing at all. Today I drank a Coke and it tasted like mildew to me. I tried to eat a piece of sourdough bread, and it was like I bit into a lemon peel: intense  and revoltingly sour.

This is where mind over matter can help. I keep reminding myself that food tastes good, and I try to override my brain which is screaming at me to stop eating. And it works, to an extent.

I cannot wait for chemo to be over so I can once again enjoy pickles, hot sauce, sausage, squash, stinky cheese, citrus, champagne, or as Amelia says, everything but stew. I love food. Except stew.

Conclusion: Life is pretty damn boring without tastebuds.

 

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The is not the chemo diet

Chemo fries fast-growing cells all over your body: the lining of the mouth, gut and respiratory tract, bone marrow, hair, nails, and skin. All of these things take a serious hit – my bald head can tell you that. There are a lot of things that I’ve done to try to minimize chemo’s effects.

The one thing I don’t do is take any supplements or vitamins without checking with my doctors. You don’t take antioxidants that help repair cells when you’re trying to kill cells, you don’t take things that are processed by your liver when your liver is already taxed, and you don’t take things to try to boost your immune system when it could also boost cancer cell growth.

From day one I read everything I could get my hands on, scouring for information, for answers. Folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, milk thistle, green tea extract, mushrooms, antioxidants, garlic, alpha lipoic acid, marijuana. The first few weeks I’d go in with endless questions for my oncologist, “Have you heard about this? Does this help? Can I take this?” It was a resounding “NO” every time. I finally got it, stopped searching for the magic bullet, and let the chemo do its nasty work.

Chemo is quite a ride, and you can’t get off until it is over. You have to hunker down for 18 weeks (or more or less, depending on your regimen), endure it, learn from it, grow from it (not the cancer though – it can die) and begin rebuilding when it’s over. After chemo, that is the important time. That is when the real recovery begins.