It's Dec. 13, and week three is now over: I'm 38 percent (37.8 percent if you want to be precise) through The Process.
At this point I'm still feeling quite well, except that I've almost completely lost my sense of taste and eating has become exceedingly unpleasant. My mind is willing -- I'm still hungry at the right times and looking forward to meals -- but I lose my appetite after one or two bites because whatever I'm eating just doesn't taste right. My taste buds are telling me that something is wrong with the food and that it's either gone bad or been prepared incorrectly. It must be a primal thing, something the body uses to prevent you from eating something you shouldn't.
Here's the way it works.
I'm hungry and my stomach is growling, or it's just the time of day when I get together with colleagues, clients or friends for a meal. I order thinking that the hamburger or lasagna or beef with broccoli is going to taste the way it did before. I even order a little extra cheese, dressing or sauce to kick the taste up a notch or two because there's something in the back of my mind that says I'm going to need all the help I can get.
And then I take my first bite and realize that everything I'm eating either has no taste at all or tastes so bad that I don't want to eat any more.
I keep eating but the experience is anything but pleasurable. In fact, it's downright depressing. I'm reminded yet again that I'm going through treatment for cancer and could die. It also reminds me that I'm not going to be enjoying food again for at least another six weeks, and possibly much longer.
I literally have to force myself to keep eating. I've been told so often that nutrition is important to recovering from the effects the radiation is having on my body that I've started to use it as a mantra. I keep repeating to myself, "I have to eat," at the same time the taste of the food tells me I have to stop.
I now understand why I was told to eat a number of small meals during the day rather than rely on three larger ones. It's simply easier to deal with several small amounts of tasteless, bitter or sour food than a single heaping serving of it.
Until I started The Process I would have devoured last night's hamburger from the downtown restaurant where I'm a semi-regular. I would have downed it way too fast and once again been reminded by my Beautiful and Talented Wife (The BTW) to slow down so that my brain could register that I'm eating.
The BTW would have been proud of me this time. I only ate about half of the burger even though it had a great pepper sauce on it (at least that's what they told me) and took as much time to do it as it took everyone else at the table to finish their full meal. My brain definitely registered that the burger was being eaten; it just said that it didn't like it at all.
I've started to supplement regular food with protein shakes from a health food store. The shakes only have 2 grams of sugar and so aren't a problem with my diabetes, but have 20 or more grams of protein so they help achieve the 80 grams-a-day target given to me by my dietician. All of the flavors taste the same regardless of whether it's the Swiss chocolate, vanilla cream, banana cream, strawberry or pumpkin spice. At least so far they're easy to swallow.
Yesterday was a really good day for Team Stan. The radiation tech who administers The Process each morning readily agreed to come in early so I could make it to MSNBC for an interview with Chuck Todd at 9 a.m. The senior personal trainer checked in to make sure that what his team was doing with me was working. And my internist called last night to see how The Process was going and to make some suggestions about how to deal with the side effects that are now getting more intense by the day.
My internist also suggested that The BTW and I plan a trip for when this ends. I agreed, and then asked him for a written prescription for the trip so I could submit it to my health insurance for reimbursement.
This is a continuing series of blog posts by Stan Collender about his experience fighting cancer. "The Process" Stan is describing began last August.