Not bad observations by Suleika Jaouad on food and chemo/cancer treatment, and just how complex and hard it is at times. Most of us learn by trial and error (mostly error) what works and what doesn’t, and this evolves over time and phases of treatment and recovery. One of the best advice from one of my hematologists, if it works, stick with it.
But my relationship with food has been complicated since my cancer diagnosis. Chemotherapy can wipe out the biggest appetite. It can render delectable food not only inedible, but downright unviewable, unsmellable, unthinkable. After my first hospitalization, a six-week stay in isolation, I quickly learned to be careful about which foods I chose to eat when I was in the depths of sickness. Some of my all-time favorites, like my mother’s rice pudding (extra cinnamon, with cardamon and grated almonds, plus my mom’s T.L.C.), no longer represented comfort food but triggered memories of nausea, the beeping of the I.V. machine and the fluorescent lights of the hospital room. Like other dishes, it has become a food casualty of chemo.
Having cancer changed the way I ate and thought about food. My symptoms dictated my eating habits. The sores in my mouth and the bouts of nausea, for instance, stole the pleasure of eating and made it an ordeal. At some points in my treatment, eating wasn’t even an option. During my bone marrow transplant last April, my only food came in the form of yellow-green liquid hanging from an I.V. pouch. It was the first time I considered how the physicality of eating — the cutting with a knife or slurping with a spoon or chewing of tender meat — was a big part of what I enjoyed about food. In the transplant unit, I remember wanting, more than anything, to bite into a stick of celery. I dreamt about the “crunch.”