Cancer 3 Purgatory: food

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Cancer 3 Purgatory: food

Paul Brasington 2023
Published by Paul Brasington in Good health · Wednesday 12 May 2021
Tags: Cancer
I collected the prep pack for the CT scans today, then went for a stroll and coffee in Hastings. This is a strange limbo-like period, when life feels more or less normal (I feel absolutely fine) and you walk around doing normal things, seeing things in much the same way as usual, enjoying something like a particular music track as I’ve always enjoyed it, and then the thought crosses my mind “but I have cancer”.

It doesn’t obliterate my sense of normalcy, and sometimes it might heighten my appreciation of the present, but it comes with the gravity of deferred foreboding.
I think the unknowns in front of me are harder to bear than a clearer picture of the future would be, even if that picture was grim. They introduce an element of fear, not because I’m afraid of death itself, but I’m afraid of how I might have to feel if that’s my prognosis. It’s not exactly rational, though I suspect it’s human enough.
Unhealthy food
Procedures involving the bowel, including colonoscopy, understandably demand attention to what you eat. It feels a little ironic, in that the things you can eat two days before the procedure are the exact opposite of the “healthy diet” I normally pursue, not least to ward off dangers like bowel cancer. I normally eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as good high fibre food like granary bread, Shredded Wheat cereal and pulses.

But a colonoscopy, and indeed the virtual colonoscopy I have to go through on Monday, requires that you minimise any foods that might stick to your innards and obscure the clarity of the view. So on Saturday I’ll be restricted mostly to things like white bread, eggs and cheese, chicken breast or fish; not forgetting mashed potato, tinned custard and ice cream.

On Sunday I can have a light breakfast (eggs or honey on toast, but not jam) and then must not consume any solid food till after the procedure on late Monday morning. I can have clear soup, and more tinned custard. I’ll be drinking an unpleasant iodine marker fluid through the weekend, which I can expect to have a laxative effect by Sunday.

I’ve been through a version of this already (twice) before a normal colonoscopy, with the difference that for the normal procedure you have to drink a full litre of laxative on the evening before and stay close to a toilet for most of the evening.

At least the volume of laxative and its effects take your mind off how hungry you’re feeling at that point. The experience brings home how happily rare it is for most of us in the west to have to endure serious hunger. Many are much less fortunate. Then again for a country as wealthy as the UK the proliferation of food banks in the last ten years is the clearest possible sign of the moral bankruptcy as well as the practical economic failures of our governments.

The rituals of food
It also struck me how monotonous our days become without the rituals of food. These rituals have been especially important through the various lockdowns, when we’ve had little else to punctuate the passing of each day. I do most of the cooking in our house, and would usually look forward to my time in the kitchen away from computer screens, fussing around a chopping board and the stove. As we emerge from what we’re told will be our last lockdown (we’ll see) it remains hard to imagine a different rhythm to the day.

The virtual colonoscopy is necessary because the obstruction in my colon prevented the team from looking into the further regions of my bowel. I know I already have one significant tumour, and the fact that it’s possible there could be more higher up is necessarily worrying. How much can they actually remove? Perhaps this is the difference between survival or not, though I suppose a colostomy would give the surgeons more freedom to hack away. Because these are unknowns it leaves me room for fear, or at least for hope against hope. That’s all I can do for the next ten days or so, telling myself that it’s going to be alright.

Assuming I do come through whatever they have to do, it remains possible that my diet will become permanently restricted. I don’t know enough about this. I think about food all the time (or at least much of the time), planning our meals, but I really don’t want to have think about it in that way. My partner Mary has a nightshade sensitivity so I’ve already had to work out how to cook tasty food without tomatoes, aubergine, peppers and potato (fortunately she can eat sweet potato). If I have to add to the list of forbidden foods I fear we’re going to make difficult house guests.

But I imagine there’ll always be tinned custard.

Ah Mary, I know too well how she must be feeling, having been there myself with a previous partner being treated (successfully) for breast cancer. Mary has a version of what I’m going through, having to deal with our lack of knowledge, keeping her hope to the forefront of her mind. And for the most part this is how we conduct ourselves, positive and optimistic for each other’s sake. But every so often I can see the doubt breaking through, the extra pressure in the way she holds me. I am so glad I have her to help me through all this, but dear God I wish I could take that pain from her.

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