I like some things. Others aren’t my favorite. Those who know me have probably heard me express my biases. Offer me a Bourbon whiskey and I might turn it down. Not on my list of the good stuff. Offer me a Scotch whisky and I will ask what kind it is, perhaps rolling my eyes at your reply. I like what I like and I don’t what I don’t. Some tell me I’m inflexible. Not so. I’ve tried several varieties of Bourbon and have yet to find one that appeals to me. Experience has taught me what to expect.
All of these likes and dislikes have molded my personality, creating a unique person. Dare I say it defines my soul? I do some things, avoiding others. I talk using certain idioms, never saying other words. That’s just who I am. What makes me happy may or may not make you happy. Dan likes a good cup of tea. I prefer coffee. Coffee from Dunn Brothers. Their French Roast. The one from Columbia. These likes and dislikes define me.
What if the likes were taken away? Would that change who I am?
Last fall I started an experiment to learn an answer to those questions. This was not an intentional experience! I’m open to new things, but giving up what I like isn’t something I choose. I’m still trying to figure out the good in this exercise. How much good can I find in a cancer diagnosis? What benefit comes from having the essence of my soul taken away?
Let’s go back to my doctor’s office in the early winter. He’s explaining the various procedures, I’m trying unsuccessfully to talk him out of them. He discusses the side effects. Most seem pretty benign, not a big deal. So my sense of taste changes, maybe food will be a little metallic. I can deal with it. These side effects only last a couple of weeks.
Have you ever heard the doctor or dentist say “You might feel a little tug now”? Sure you have. And you know what to expect. Excruciating pain. Just short of a scream. I didn’t realize that they use the same sideways reference to other side effects. I was three weeks into that “change” in my sense of taste. Here’s what the handout told me to expect:
Loss of or reduced sense of smell or taste. Usually temporary. No treatment available. This is rare.
I didn’t taste anything.
Judy and I love to eat. There is a joy to creating a meal of complex tastes and textures. We even get satisfaction from pairing just the right drink to go with a meal … perhaps a fine wine, maybe beer, or just enough ice in the water. One of our favorite meals is pizza. In all humility, my pizza is exactly what God had in mind when he invented food. “And it was good” certainly applies to my creation, too. The other night I cooked a pizza. For dessert we had a tub of fresh-cut fruit. What an outstanding combination! Savory and sweet. So simple, so perfectly matched.
Let’s try this again, now with no sense of taste. Pretend that everything tastes like cardboard. Imagine how I felt to discover that sausage pizza tasted exactly like the chunks of fresh pineapple. Exactly the same. Even the mouth feel was the same. Exactly the same. Just like cardboard. Juicy, watery cardboard.
Where’s the joy in creating a meal if there’s no taste?
Another night we had some Pringles as the appetizer. (Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.) For dessert we had baklava. I had to go back and grab a couple of Pringles to believe what I feared. Pringles and baklava tasted the same. Exactly the same. Why bother with a fine dessert if mass-produced salted cardboard tasted the same? Where’s the joy in life?
Other side effects have changed my life in other ways. My energy is gone. I want to take more than one nap per day. My creativity is sapped. I don’t want to write. Even my body is turning against me, gaining more than a dozen pounds. I’ve never been this pudgy. To top it off, I don’t even want to go to the club to exercise.
Am I still me? My likes and dislikes have been taken away. Bourbon and Scotch taste the same. Just like water. My definition of who I am is being chipped away. What’s left?
They assured me that life would return to normal. Taste would come back. I’d take fewer naps. I would return. What if I didn’t? What about those who have afflictions that aren’t temporary? Take bipolar disorder. Last week it’s sleep all day. Next week the energy returns. That’s my goal, but for a bipolar person it’s a cycle, not a one time event. Would that cycle define me, as my life style defines me?
My life before cancer treatment was the life I liked. I liked my likes, my personality, my physical being. I liked being around the people I love. There’s a joy to all that. The treatment took everything away. For a moment. Gone just long enough to remind me how important the routine of daily life is. There’s joy in that good cup of coffee. There’s excitement in a good discussion with friends, especially when paired with comfort food. What if it’s taken away?
That’s my soul the doctor was talking about a couple of months ago. He thought it was just some side effects. Sure, the side effects are going away in a few weeks, just like he said, but a change is permanent. Now I appreciate taste. Wanting to exercise takes on a new excitement. Being with the people I love is a conscious goal, not just what I do.
I like what I like. I really like what I like. That’s just who I am. Please don’t take that away.
The subject of this note is one of the reasons I’ve taken a brief vacation from blogging. I will return, and have already started writing some new posts, to be published soon. The side effects of the cancer treatment are passing, although slowly.