Sunday, January 30, 2011

Liquid lunch, but not the fun kind

So far I've been extremely lucky as far as chemo side effects are concerned. Apart from a short dizzy spell early in the week (for which I have happy little brown pills), everything has been fine.

Well, more or less.

Every day brings a slight change: On Monday I felt great, and ravenous, eating everything I could get my hands on (especially good cheese; need I remind you of the orange Americana served for breakfast in the hospital?).

Tuesday started out okay, but late in the afternoon it felt as though someone had snuck into my mouth with steel wool and started scrubbing.

That night, The Boy made a delicious-smelling stir-fry, but I could hardly bear to have anything touching my tongue.

Yeah, this is a thing that happens. Mucositis.

See, chemotherapy works by killing cells that grow and divide quickly, which includes cancer cells — but also many other types of fast-growing cells (which explains why hair loss is often a side effect). Among the fastest-dividing cells in the body are those in the mouth and throat, which makes sense: they're constantly being scraped away by food, so have to bounce back quickly.

You know when you drink, say, really hot soup, and you take the roof off your mouth? It feels like that, but (as I'm learning) it takes more than a day or so for the cells to recover.

And one of the main challenges is dryness. I'm now carrying a water bottle everywhere, and waking several times a night, painfully parched, to chug from it.

So what's a girl to eat?

At the beginning of treatment, my nurse practitioner recommended stocking up on Ensure Plus. We dutifully picked up a six-pack of Creamy Milk Chocolate flavor; my intention was that it would be for emergencies only. Because, really, have you seen the ingredients?

Here's what Wikipedia says about some of those ingredients:

Choline chloride "is mass produced and is an important additive in feed especially for chicken where it accelerates growth."

Sodium molybdate "is used in industry for corrosion inhibition ... It will explode on contact with molten magnesium. It will violently react with interhalogens (e.g., bromine pentafluoride; chlorine trifluoride). Its reaction with hot sodium, potassium or lithium is incandescent."

Potassium iodide "is a precursor to silver iodide (AgI) an important chemical in photography. KI is a component in some disinfectants and hair treatment chemicals."

Mmm. Something my body needs anyway.

But at this point, attempting to eat pretty much anything else was an ordeal. The leftover bean-and-kale soup that had been delicious on Monday night now felt like gravel, even after I whizzed it in the blender. Yogurt was better (especially frozen), but required some amount of tonguework, which I was not up to.

Okay, Ensure. You win.

But even in my debilitated state, I couldn't just chug it from the bottle. That is not how I roll. So I stepped it up.

Okay, it's not terrible. Sweeter than I would prefer, with an odd, chalky aftertaste; it's not something I would seek out for its taste sensation, but if you have to keep calories up somehow, there are worse things. Apparently it comes in other flavors, Strawberries & Cream and Butter Pecan (eww!) among them; I don't have an urge to experiment. Yet.

The worst of the discomfort lasted about two days; by Friday I was here:

(That's white and sweet pureed potato topped with Heinz baked beans and cheese)

And by Saturday lunch I was here:

(That's strawberry shortcake and tiramisu from Modern Pastry, thanks to Lovely Co-Worker Sarah).

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Anonymous JJ said...

When my mom was going through chemo I seriously wondered when someone would put together a good dietary plan for all this stuff, with recipes. Ensure seems to fit in, in it's sort of horrible way. Lady, no one has ever made it all look so good!
Lurv you

6:29 PM  
Blogger adele said...

Wow. That Ensure almost looks tasty. If the manufacturers had any sense, they'd hire you to help them with a new marketing campaign! :)

5:26 AM  
Anonymous MeEEeeeeee said...

You've got style Bairn.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I can't tell you enough how much I love this post!

3:23 PM  

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