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[Cancer, Food]

[cancer|food] Pathologies and attitudes

Last week I almost got into an argument with my Dad. That pretty much never happens. We get along well, and on the occasions where we disagree, we’re quite civil in resolving those disagreements. But he said something about the food I’ve been eating lately which touched off a wholly unwarranted defensive reaction in me.

What Dad was actually talking about was dietary fiber and my eternal GI struggles. But what I heard was, “You’re eating badly too often.” Note these things are not mutually exclusive.

I’ve always had issues around food. At one point in my life, I was in therapy to try to manage that. Food is pleasure and comfort to me both, and my sense of satiety (mouth hunger, if you will) isn’t very well correlated with sense of fullness (stomach hunger).

For some years, I hovered at around 300 pounds of body weight. I was a very large, very uncomfortable person. Eventually through a combination of diet and exercise I got my weight down into the range of 240. There have been periods when I’ve been able to keep it as low as the mid-220s. These days I bounce around closer to 250, though my weight can vary considerably depending my cancer treatments.

Weight has always been an issue. I’ve always been sensitive about it. My doctor described me years ago as an “easy keeper”, meaning I put on weight at every opportunity but have to struggle considerably to shed it again. My metabolism wants to be fat for some reason. This is born out by family photos. A photo of my grandfather and his brothers standing in a row looked like a collection of aging linebackers.

In addition to all this, I am very clear on the relationship between both the quality and quantity of my food and my health and weight. It’s a difficult, triggery topic for me at best.

So, cancer…

Over the past five years, I’ve had over 1,600 hours of intravenous chemotherapy. I have spent over eighteen aggregate months of those years either in chemotherapy or waiting between sessions, and perhaps another aggregate twelve months going through the arduous recovery process. One of the most fundamental experiences of chemotherapy is an almost immediate shift in taste buds, characterized by metallic tastes and dulling of intensity, followed by increasingly strong and challenging food intolerances, as well as loss of appetite and chronic upper GI disruption.

In other words, food slips away from me, and once gone it stays away for a long time.

I’ve spent as much or more of the past five years being alienated from one of life’s greatest pleasures by my cancer and its discontents. It won’t be too terribly long, some months to come, before I lose my relationship with food for the last time.

So now, while I can, I eat what I want. It’s not like we’re worried about diabetes or heart disease at this point. I won’t live long enough for those to matter. I am not being an idiot, and I am not eating pure garbage, but I’m enjoying a lot of things in a bit less than moderation.

Because I am saying good-bye.

So when Dad said something I interpreted to be critical of my diet, I bristled. Wrongly as it happens. But I had not realized how sensitive I was on this topic.

It’s weird. I’m supposed to take care of myself, but every moment of denial is a moment I will see little or no reward for later. And frankly, being plump is part of why I’m still alive. Chemo has to take a lot away from me before I grow dangerously thin. Likewise, weight will actually somewhat slow the effects of my coming terminal decline.

But, yeah, food. That’s one part of my life I will never make my peace with. Cancer has been both a great poisoner and a great enabler for me there.

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