Chipmunk Cheeks and Eyebrows

I want one but not the other. My most recently posted photos alarm me, mostly because I think they may alarm you.

Starting chemo, I defied it to actually make me unable to eat. I was careful and gentle with the first four rounds, knowing their possible effect on my stomach. But the opposite happened after Day 7 of those first infusions: That’s when I was eating grilled meatloaf sandwiches and four egg omelets. My weight stayed in place. Even with a more than occasional childhood favorite of milk and Oreos. Oreos dunked in a tall glass of milk all at once and eaten with a spoon. Then Christmas came. And by then I had proven to chemo it wasn’t going to stop my love for food. It could sway me away from hot and spicy but not from most other.

Cooking and exploring recipes from other cultures had become a favorite hobby for Bill and me, starting when we first met 21 years ago. While living in Rockford, we belonged to a Cooking Light supper club in Chicago for five years. We cooked regularly with many friends, including a monthly night with Jim and Lynda. In the early 90’s Grandma came to visit us. Up early one morning and intrigued by my cookbook shelves, she started counting. “You have 150 cookbooks.” Hmm. I had never counted. When we travel, I don’t buy sweatshirts or t-shirts. I buy a cookbook. For many years, friends and relatives have given me special cookbooks. For my 30th birthday, I used my birthday money and bought eight new cookbooks. Inside each I wrote: “For my 30th birthday – from Grandma Murphy, Grandpa & Grandma Mills, and Mom & Dad.” When Julie visited last fall while Bill was traveling, she created another very special cookbook for me, gathering loose recipes from the cookbook shelves. It’s now a favorite, titled by Julie: “Every Loose Recipe in the Kitchen: Linda’s Fabulous Conglomeration of Culturally Authentic and Diverse Recipes, Rescued from Eminent Neglect due to Life’s Natural Order of Priorities.” The chapter titles get even better.

So for chemo to march in and say, “I’m going to take this away,” I felt challenged. I did not want to worship a porcelain goddess for four months. I did not want it to take away this part of my life. Admittedly, over the last six years, I’ve made more mac’n’cheese than paella, but cooking is still a part of me that I tend to protect, knowing I will get back to it. And there were evenings mid-chemo, after Day 7, that I celebrated by cooking. I kicked everyone out of the kitchen, cranked up Gloria Estefan, smashed garlic, chopped onions, and watched them dance together in olive oil. Breathing deeply and listening for the sizzle.

My eat-anything metabolism lasted through the first four treatments. Then my metabolism changed, but my eating habits remained the same through the last four treatments, through Christmas cookies and decadent desserts, through holiday cooking. Perhaps encouraged on by a few steroids, I was overjoyed with my ability to eat -- until my jeans were too tight rather than too loose.

So, what you see is not a puffiness entirely related to the medication itself. You are seeing a woman 20 pounds heavier than in October because she loves food, and yes probably found comfort in food after the metabolism fell. In some strange way, I was fighting “chemo” with food.

But this week I’m happily eating salads every night. Not just the odd one, wondering how much dirt I’m consuming, but enjoying those leaves knowing a little dirt will once again build my immunities. Last night rather than Oreos, I had a bowl of fruit: raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. Sweetness missed for a few months as I limited my fruit to the peel-ables: apples, pears and bananas.

My medical experts remind me that they are happy I’ve gained rather than lost weight over the last four months. So this year, like many past, I’m starting the New Year with a few extra pounds to shed.

Staying strong,