If you know Nick, you know he loves food. Often we marvel that he can consume the quantities of food he does without gaining weight. When you have cancer, though, that’s not a positive thing.
We barbecued during the first week of treatments. Nick was able to eat grilled lamb, an ear of corn and salad. After that, his ability to eat a variety of foods decreased exponentially each day. Meat had to be ground. My friend Mari and I put our heads together to come up with a variety of foods that I could prepare using ground meat. On successive nights we ate beef Stroganoff, spaghetti Bolognese, and lamb patties with couscous. On the following night, meat of any kind had developed a horrible metallic aftertaste for Nick.
Talking with Shelly, our friend, former fellow oral squamous cell carcinoma sufferer, and guide through this experience, we learned that the things that were most palatable to him had been Boost, applesauce, and vegetarian lasagna. Nick was already drinking Boost once a day. I offered him applesauce from a jar, but that didn’t work. I made homemade applesauce, and that was much better. Homemade vegetarian lasagna, well, that’s a project I don’t want to undertake unless I can be sure sure that Nick will be able to eat it.
Nick valiantly tried yogurt. It had been recommended by the nutritionist, and although it was not a favorite of his, he tried it several times. The taste wasn’t a problem, because at this point nothing tasted as it typically did. His digestion was off, and he thought that rather than stabilizing his stomach, the cultures in the yogurt were making him feel worse. It was probably the radiation, but nonetheless, yogurt was out.
Nick found puddings easy to swallow. We tried vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, and lemon instant puddings, but I didn’t want him taking in chemicals that his body doesn’t need, so I made them all myself from scratch. And he was able to tolerate them. Then he wasn’t.
Nick tried a can of soup and discovered that it worked well. He remembered that there is a great seafood store called Swenson’s in the next town that has a variety of homemade seafood soups available each day, and the advantage is that you can taste before you buy. Nick came home with shrimp and corn soup. He also bought wild salmon for our dinner. He was able to eat some of the salmon the first night, but not after that. I made salmon salad for myself with the leftovers, and I can honestly say that it was the best salmon that I have ever tasted.
The next day I got some lobster bisque from Stew Leonard’s. This is very high in calories, but we Nick can’t afford to lose any weight, so it served double duty. I also picked up half of a rotisserie chicken, and he was able to eat a wing and a leg.
Nick has a plot in the town garden. The gardener who has the plot next to his very kindly harvested lots of Nick’s ripe strawberries and lettuce, and brought them to us. Years ago my friend Rosita gave me a recipe for a one layer cake, on top of which you put whipped cream and berries. After I made the cake, I realized that Nick wouldn’t be able chew it, so I broke it up into tiny pieces and made a sort of trifle out of the cake crumbs, berries and whipped cream. Nick could swallow it. Then he couldn’t.
During the third week of treatments, every part of Nick’s mouth was sore. The sore throat about which we had been advised, happened. There is a “cocktail” of meds that Nick must mix in small batches to help his mouth feel better. It works well for a few hours, but it has no effect on his sore throat at all. He is now drinking Boost twice a day and eating soup and applesauce.
We went back to Swenson’s. Nick wanted to try shrimp, but I was sure he couldn’t chew them. I wondered if I could find a recipe for pureed shrimp. I did. Cream of shrimp soup. He was able to eat it, and there was more for the next day.
But the next morning, Nick woke up unable to eat anything. I remember mouth sores from chemo, but they weren’t like this: his entire mouth and tongue were covered in a white rash. I told him to have his mouth checked when he had his radiation. He called from the hospital, saying,”It’s THRUSH!” THRUSH? Wasn’t that the enemy that Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were fighting in “The Man from Uncle,” a TV show from my youth? Yes, it was, but Nick had a different variety of thrush, a fungus infection. He’ll be on meds for that for 9 days.
On Wednesday June 18, Nick will be halfway through chemo and radiation.