a man and a lamb shank holding onto either side of a heart that is being broken in half

Cancer Made Me Break Up With Food

Man, I loved to eat. I mean, who doesn’t right? I really enjoyed food itself, though – the taste, texture and look. I loved to explore the flavor of everything I could from seagull’s eggs to fried alligator to haggis. It was an adventure for me, going to a brand new restaurant and trying whatever their signature dish was and I was rewarded many times over with taste-gasms that put real-gasms to shame. Unfortunately, cancer came along and changed my bond with food forever.

My special relationship with food

Food and I always shared a wonderful relationship. It was like… you know that couple everyone hates on Facebook? The one that always posts pictures of their latest date and how it was “AMAZEBALLS!!” The people who get post replies like “OMG totes adorbs AF!” The pair that makes you say “why can’t they hide their seemingly endless relationship bliss like proper God-fearing folk?” Yeah, that was me and food. We loved each other out loud and proud and didn’t care who knew it. Hot wings? Slobbering sauce and bleu cheese all over my face in public. Didn’t care. Pasta? Left with a shirt stained with tomato-color speckles. Didn’t care. Frenched lamb shank? Picked it up like Fred Flintstone eatin’ a dino-drumstick. Didn’t care. It was one of a few things in life I received a distilled form of enjoyment from that didn’t come along very often.

Enter my lymphoma diagnosis

When I was diagnosed with lymphoma and all the accoutrements that came with it, I knew that chemo had a tendency to cause nausea and a host of other digestion-relation issues. I was absolutely terrified that I’d be too nauseous to eat, so I made the doctors give me three different forms of anti-nausea medicine, in ascending order or potency. I think the third pill was what they used for pregnant elephants. Seriously, I wasn’t messing around. I knew I was going to have to put back on all the weight I lost like a champ. Oh, the hubris. I thought it would be one of the very few times in life where I could eat like a sumo wrestler with a tapeworm and not feel guilty about it. I was excited! A silver lining to my lymphoma if ever there was one, I was sure.

The first thing I did the day I got home from the hospital was to order a deep fryer for my house. I was going to deep fry something after that hospital food, come hell or high water, and I didn’t care if it was my shoe. Slather on enough batter and salt and anything can taste good in a deep fat fryer. I bought all the supplies I’d need and got ready to fry up a smorgasbord that would make Dr. Atkins himself weep carb-free tears of rage. I went to sleep that night in my own bed for the first time in months, smiling, dreaming of the food that was awaiting me the next day.

Mouth sores from chemo

I opened my eyes around 11am, tired, but eager to eat. So, you know that phenomenon when you wake up and for the first few seconds, you forget everything in your life that sucks? Well, that’s how long I got to enjoy my bliss – a few seconds, because the first time I swallowed I almost yelped in pain. The chemo had given me terrible, horrible, mouth sores, and I could barely take a sip of water without a stinging pain that would make a wasp say “oh dayyyum.” I went to the bathroom and checked my mouth in the mirror and, sure enough, there it was, a white velvet blanket coating my mouth like a model in a 70s Playboy photo shoot. Candida. The fungus. It had taken up residence in my mouth and throat so thoroughly that I thought I was going to start sneezing out spores.

Dealing with changes to taste

It took me a week to get the candida under control enough to start eating again, but that was just the first battle cancer and I fought over food. The chemo also does an amazing thing to your taste buds – it’s as if it knows you have to eat more so it makes eating as unenjoyable as humanly possible by making everything taste like wallpaper paste. Overcooked wallpaper paste. With a side of kale. I had to use so much salt on my food that Amazon sent me an email that said “We see you have bought ’10 tubs of 1lb box of salt’ Do you need deer hunting gear?” Neither the salt nor the deer hunting gear helped, my tastebuds were ruined for months to come. It was a horrible cosmic irony – I was able to not lose my appetite, unlike many who go through chemo, but the cancer still made it impossible to enjoy food.

Still struggling with my food relationships

Fast forward to today, when I’ve finally entered the waiting period to be declared “cured,” and  I’m still not back with food. At best I’d say we are in an ENM (google it) relationship now. Most times it's still a chore to eat, and I keep shedding weight like a wrestler the day before weigh-in. I just can’t seem to gain, and the things I do eat are nowhere near as enjoyable as they were. There was a time in my life when I’d have seriously considered kneecapping you if prevented me from getting a BareBurger, but now everything is just “meh.” Even if I get a delicious, juicy, greasy spoon plate of fried chicken I only end up eating a few bites and lamenting my lost culinary lust. Like a drug addict looking to repeat that first high, I keep expecting it to be great. They call it chasing the dragon roll, I think, trying to get those powerful taste-gasms I used to get. At this point, I don’t think that will ever happen again and so I’m left to go drown my sorrows in a nice, tall, cold, frosty, glass of… store band purified water. Yay. Talk soon.

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