A month after my last radiation, and almost two months after my last chemo, I am eating some solid food, though it is difficult. Things still have very little flavor, and what tastes do get through, are distorted. Still, I am able to eat solids with minimal gagging, and though I have very little in the way of saliva, I can wash the food down with water or decaf coffee. Now that I have not had any caffeine for a couple of months, I don’t miss it, and may not ever go back to drinking it on any regular basis. The sticky, foaming spit and dry throat are still a terrific burden on my mind, interfering with not only my eating and sleeping, but my ability to speak well or sing. The weakness in my throat and lack of resonance which set in about half way through the chemoradiation are still with me, but I believe I am finally getting a meager portion of the strength and control back. I have now seen a dietician twice, and have some useful information on how to build my appetite and weight back up. I need high-calorie-density foods: those with maximum calories per weight or volume, of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Fats are most effective, because they are 9 calories per gram, vs. 5 calories per gram of carbs or protein. Another reason for me to avoid overloading on protein, is that protein actuates the satiety reflex more quickly and strongly than carbs or fats, therefore my lack of appetite will be worse if I start off with high protein foods. This all boils down to eating very differently from the almost vegetarian, generally Mediterranean diet I had been loving before cancer came and overturned my apple cart.
My first solid food in several months was on 11/23: a banana. Then on Thanksgiving, I feasted: a fried egg, two sausage links, and a few bites of a Belgian waffle at Denny’s, all washed down with decaf coffee. Since then, I have been trying some sort of solid food every day, and though nothing appeals to me much, I am learning to eat whether hungry or not, and to wash down things that taste both wrong and vague. The pace of my recovery is maddeningly slow, but I can look back to a month ago and see clear improvements. I am sleeping well now, only waking once or twice a night to clear my throat. My voice is sounding more normal, more of the time. My weight has stabilized, and I have a BMI of 22, which is quite normal and healthy. Now to regain a little more of the weight I lost, get stronger, re-learn how to eat, sing, and speak, and get on with life….
…and then there’s the beard. I have worn a beard almost all my adult life. The chemo probably slowed all my hair growth, but the radiation really did a job on my jaw. The Linac rotated around the isocenter (an imaginary line from my head to my feet – more on that in the next chapter) and the X-rays were focused in the plane of my lower jaw, perpendicular to that line. That meant they had to go through my teeth and my cheeks, and that included the follicles that produce my beard. My entire beard suffered, but the worst of it was in a half-inch wide swath aligned with my lips. I close this episode with a slide show of my face as it changed during and after the treatments:
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More on the Linac in the next installment,
with information I got from the Medical Physicist
who knows more about it than anyone else on earth.