My body is one treatment away from the end of chemo. This weekend marks the precarious bridge between the treatment a week ago and the final one on Valentines Day. This weekend my immune system will be at its ebb – the neutrophils fighting to come back, any germs that harbour in me, fighting to take possession of their host, me.
It’s my reality - a surreal balancing act.
I can’t feel it – I just know it’s happening. I’ve lived in a bubble since the last treatment, staying far from humans and our parasites and germs which hitch rides on us all. That too is surreal – staying in contact through the web – feeling like I’m on the moon.
The race between my plummeting white blood cells and the germs has shown itself a little. I have thrush for example. It’s a yeast infection of the tongue – how delightful. It is also ironic. The fungus coats your tongue in a blanket – putting an insulation layer between you and food. Between you and flavour. That’s not just ironic. That’s just cruel.
Living without flavour is something I would hate. Now that I’m doing it and know it’s temporary – it’s a little bit bearable.
But something’s happened. I find myself more aware of taste – hunting carefully for it with every bite. Attuning my senses as I can.
Just last week I saw a science program about taste – and they told the story of a wine taster here in Canada who fell, bumped her noggin while curling, went to a wine tasting two days later only to discover after the first swig that there was nothing there. She couldn’t taste it. With rising panic she tasted a second red. Nothing. That was 7 years ago or so…She never got it back. She was lost.
I feel myself hitting back. In defiance I reach out for the strongest tastes I can muster. At a restaurant two weeks ago I pulled back the waiter as he was leaving with our order to add anchovies to my Caesar salad. Anchovies! Anchovies? Me? Me, who would walk around the block as a kid to avoid the smell of a fishmonger’s? And I could taste them. I may never do it again, but they kicked ass.
I made one of our favourite side dishes last week – basmati rice with caramelized onions and greens folded in, fresh ginger and garlic, red pepper, a little shaved carrot - I salted it. Then I salted it. By the time we forked it in our mouths, our kidneys were begging for relief and a bucket of water.
But I could taste it. Even I could tell I’d used a backhoe’s worth of salt. It kicked ass - and not in a good way.
And what’s saving my soul right now? My precious nose – while my tongue is subjugated to the tyranny of this white, furry blanket – my nose is in hyperdrive. Ever on the hunt for the most expressive smell it can find that’s beautiful.
It dives for every pot – we made stock on the weekend – I spray myself liberally with my perfume and drink in the smell like I’m dehydrated sensually – I absent-mindedly bought a bar of soap near the cash at the drug store the other night, olive oil soap with lavender…the smell of lavender…while at other times reminds me of lace and grandma’s, has come to smell of beauty and the earth, and sweetness mixed with spice – I found myself in the bathroom yesterday, grabbing at the pretty block of plain brown paper and just inhaling the essence of wild fields and sun and warmth.
Just standing in my bathroom, in the basement of this old house, at the end of Canadian January, transported sensually to
Existentialism in the bathroom. I think that's where most people find it, isn't it?
And in the kitchen.
My eyes are part of the conspiracy – I ache for beauty – at a time when my own feels so buried, a field of fuzz on my head, not enough eyelash to hit with a mascara wand, eyebrows once so defiantly bold that now look like a smudge – at a time of year when tree limbs are asleep and unconscious of the wind and the windchill, when the soil is rocked solid by ice, where the beautiful grays and browns and purples are the sum of the spectrum – the time of year when I start dreaming of magnolia and daffodils, crocuses and those first winter snowdrops that will poke above the soil not long from now – I look for beauty in people’s eyes and smiles, in red sofas, in fur hats, in dappled sunlight, in caramelized onions.
And I stare.
My meals need colour…this isn’t an appetite issue (I’ve gained five kilos and am over-sufficiently spongy). This is my sensual appetite struggling through this winter to supersede biology.
It’s a gift. Seeing, tasting and smelling like I’m parched. It’s a gift.