Like so many others, during the first few months of pandemic lockdown I revisited homemaking muscles that I had allowed to atrophy. I scoured the Internet for instant yeast and organic bread flour and baked loaf after loaf. I acquired the pasta making attachments for my KitchenAid mixer and made linguine, lasagna noodles, even ravioli. l made my own yogurt in my InstantPot. I made batch after batch of freezer meals to minimize my grocery store forays. So you might think that both Dan and I have put on the proverbial “quarantine fifteen.” You would only be partially correct.
I stepped on the scale this week for the first time in a year. I prefer to tell how my nutrition is going by judging how my workouts are faring, and by feeling how my clothes fit. I’ve been lean for most of my life, except for a chunky patch in high school when my metabolism shifted after I started menstruating. When I am stressed out, I struggle to eat; I was “skinny fat” for a time in my fifties when I was divorcing an unfaithful husband and fighting to regain my confidence and my financial equilibrium, but was too overwhelmed to exercise consistently. Through a combination of lucky genes, an active lifestyle and a mostly vegetarian diet, I’ve never really had to count calories. This week, weighing myself at home rather than during my monthly body scans with my trainer at my gym, the scale told me that I was three or four pounds heavier than I was a year ago. Big deal. Given everything that’s happened in the last year, I could care less.
Next it was Dan’s turn on the scale. We were prepared, kind of, for the bad news. And no it wasn’t the dreaded plus fifteen. It was exactly the opposite. My lithe, athletic spouse, the guy with a dancer’s calves and broad shoulders, had in the past year– past few months, really– turned into a bony, frail ghost of his former self. Cancer can do that to a person. He was down thirty pounds from his heaviest lifetime weight, seventeen pounds since 2019 and the resurgence of his cancer. Until this fall, Dan was enjoying my quarantine-generated commitment to amusing myself in the kitchen. And then, eating stopped being fun and became WORK.
Now, instead of baking bread and testing out new recipes, I have been studying how to make a pureed diet appetizing, highly caloric, protein packed. With the help of oncology approved supplements and my trusty fifty year old Cuisinart robot coupe (the very first model!!) I turn baked salmon, mac and cheese, lentil stew and steamed vegetables into entrees with the required nectar consistency. As much as possible, I try to feed him the same food that I make for myself — just emulsified.
You see, Dan has two stents in his esophagus to keep the pathway to his stomach open. Each one was inserted after a trip to the emergency room due to complete blockages and the risk of dehydration and malnutrition. Each hospitalization resulted in weight loss, the most recent one catastrophic. His difficulty swallowing is the result of his 2018 radiation treatments for oral cancer (which has now metastasized to other places like his esophagus). Apparently, the radiation is continuing to attack his throat muscles, stiffening them.
This weekend I laid in extra meals for him because I am getting my second COVID vaccine shot this afternoon. I may not have much of a reaction; I just had minor arm pain and fatigue after the first one. But just in case, I’m planning ahead.
I’m so grateful to be receiving the vaccine. As soon as I was eligible I jumped on my laptop to score an appointment. No vaccine hesitancy here! I wrote a post a few years ago about measles anti-vaxxers making me crazy; I’m old enough to remember the scourge of so many of the diseases that children are now vaccinated against, including polio, which I myself contracted as a very young child.
And how I wish that the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, had been available to my generation! Had Dan been vaccinated against this common sexually transmitted virus, he would not be too frail to wait in a long line to receive the COVID vaccine now. No one knew those many decades ago that this virus could many years later result in a deadly cancer diagnosis for men. Will COVID be the same?
I understand that disinformation has poisoned so many Americans’ judgment that vaccine hesitancy is its own epidemic, including not just the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines but those against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, chicken pox, shingles and HPV, (which has a special taint because it is associated with sexual activity). Any parent of a pre-teenager who wishes to deny their child this last life saving vaccine should see my husband now. Unless you are a heartless fundamentalist who believes that any sex outside of marriage is sin, and therefore any cancer that results from it is earned, his condition would break your heart.
I’m working as hard as I can to help him to regain the quarantine fifteen that he lost, and then some. And now that I will soon be fully vaccinated, I’ll check one worry off my list as I trawl the farmers’ markets that will soon be back to fuel my culinary imagination. Spring and herd immunity can’t come soon enough!