Breast cancer lesson number 56: Try not to bite off more than you can chew (literally!)

Anyone who has ever joined me at the dinner table will know that, when it comes to food, I like to eat ­–­ and preferably fast. I love nothing more than spending hours in the kitchen preparing a freshly-cooked meal, only to spend about five minutes inhaling it. I know it’s not good for digestion, but a clear plate and a satisfied stomach are certainly good for the soul.

It will come as no surprise then that many of my pre-chemo fears were food related. What if I can’t taste anything? What if I lose my appetite for the first time ever? What if I hate the smell of cooked food? What if I have to live on a diet of pineapple chunks and ginger biscuits for five months? In the food department, I thought I had all food fears covered. But, it seems I may have missed one. What if I find it hard to actually eat?

While I am delighted to report that both my portion sizes and my appetite have not decreased, the size of my spoon has! Thanks to the lovely chemotherapy cocktail, my mouth has been slowly filling with ulcers since the weekend. Now, one side of my mouth is angry and inflamed, leaving me with a hole the size of a teaspoon through which to pass any tasty treats. Eating a beef and prune casserole and rice dish with a teaspoon is not to be recommended. Soaking your cereal in milk until it ressembles pulp just so it will slip down, is not to be recommended. I have heard of savouring your food, but 45 minutes to clear a plate, is tortuous, not tempting.

I know what you’re thinking. She doesn’t blink at the prospect of having her tummy cut open, but give her a mouth ulcer and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. It does sound rather insignificant, but I can assure you, it is anything but. One of the hardest parts is knowing that, when you’re recovering from surgery and recovering from chemo, meal planning isn’t just something to do, it’s the highlight of the day. Now, even comfort food isn’t comforting!

Having struggled on with a combination of Corsodyl and Bonjela for days, this morning I was beaten by a blueberry (and it was such a juicy-looking blueberry too). It was at that point that I decided to go to the dentist for something other than my bi-annual check-up (another first I hasten to add). And thank goodness I did. While it seems the Bonjela was tackling the mouth ulcers, it was also damaging the skin wherever it went, leaving my mouth nice and raw. I am a big fan of this little blue tube and its magic ulcer-removing properties, but apparently chemo isn’t. It has therefore been relegated to the bathroom cupboard and is to be replaced with warm water rinses, more Corsodyl, lots of fluids and sugar-free gum.

Sat here willing my mouth to heal and trying not to think about the prospect of eating tonight’s seabass with a teaspoon, I have two regrets. The first? I wish I’d paid a bit more attention to the useful ‘Mouth care during chemotherapy’ guide (click here for lots of top tips) I was given (not that it banned Bonjela, but it did advise against certain triggers like acidic drinks). The mouth is a side effect hotspot, because the cells in the mouth are fast-growing. Chemo drugs like fast-dividing cells, whether they’re cancerous or not. And the second? I knew I shouldn’t have had those salt and vinegar Pringles on Sunday night (it was like eating glass).

At least the dentist was free (and she even shaved my teeth slightly as it looks like I’ve been chewing my gums too). I just wish she hadn’t reminded me of the need to stay away from spicy food. When your palette is muted from the drugs and everything tastes a little bit bland, there’s nothing like a bit of hot chilli powder to spice things up. Chemo obviously doesn’t like to factor the word fun into its regime! 

Don’t worry! I would still be smiling if it didn’t hurt so much. Maybe this is life’s way of punishing me for more than three decades of fast eating. I would like to strike a deal with the chemo drugs (in time for cycle 2). I will use more mouthwash, eat less salt and enjoy every mouthful from this day forward, if I can have my mouth back please! After all, Seabass really should be eaten with a fork, not a teaspoon!

Time to bring out the homemade ice lollies methinks…