I believe in valuing what you have. I also believe, as Joni Mitchell pointed out in her song Big Yellow Taxi, “that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
When I first heard that I had cancer, I briefly lost something that I didn’t even know I had—my sense of a future. So I felt like I had been blessed with a miracle when the oncologist told me that mine was a slow-growing, “indolent” lymphoma that might let me live to be a grandmother. Great, I thought, I highly value a lazy cancer. Even better, the doctor indicated, it might be possible to vanquish the “bad cells” in my neck and shoulder with radiation.
Five days a week, twenty minutes a day, for the past month, I have lain bolted by a plastic mask to the chilly steel radiation table. The mask, which looks like a bizarre colander shaped like my face, helps immobilize my body so the radiation will always enter at the same spots. Day after day, I can’t help but feel a bit like the bride of Frankenstein. Day after day, the nurses give comfort by tucking a warm blanket over me. I value their kindness and careful work as well as their reminders to put in my earplugs. Without the plugs, my hearing would be overwhelmed by the hammering pops of the radiation gantry as it creeps back and forth across my body aiming murderous arcs at the target. Muffled by the plugs, the pops become a crazy tick-tick-ticking that makes me think of an earnest kindergartener playing a solo on rhythm sticks. Day after day, I value my imagination’s ability to distract me as I stifle my feelings of helpless claustrophobia.
Now my treatment is coming to an end, and so is my ability to enjoy food and drink. Three weeks ago, I could no longer detect the peanut buttery tang of my favorite cereal. Another week passed, and the flavor of salt disappeared. Just in the last few days, the reassuring sweetness of sugar departed, making eating an even more emotionally charged chore. Everything, including water, tastes bitter or as boring as cardboard. I rummage through the refrigerator and cupboards in hopes of finding something to quell my hunger. But no matter how much I consume or how many foods I try, all seem hostile.
If I had known the taste atrocities to come, I would have reveled more in all my favorite dietary vices when my taste buds were working correctly. But don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know how important a capability is ‘til it’s gone? The oncology staff has said that although it may take many weeks for my body to heal, my gustatory hell should not last forever. I value their encouragement. And I value my faith in a tastier future.
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