Thursday, October 8, 2015

Reclaiming Life’s Little Joys

Looking back it’s hard not to become at least a little resentful at some of life’s little pleasures that have, one by one, fallen off the list of things of which I am able to partake and enjoy.  The list is getting kind of long now, thanks to my cancer.  It started off slowly enough, though, and initially had nothing to do with any kind of terminal diagnosis.  At first it was just about that process we all have to face, that of simply getting old.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I fell big for those sugary cereal commercials with which advertisers used to inundate the airwaves on Saturday mornings (I presume they still do).  I wound up with a confirmed cereal habit which continued well into my adulthood.  

Sometime around the time I turned 40 I came down with the worst intestinal bug I’ve ever experienced.  I won’t offend you with the details except to say that there are only so many items it’s possible to cram onto a list of gastro-intestinal symptoms, and I had them all.  It started out bad and got worse and worse—and you know I’m not exaggerating by the mere fact that symptoms of this nature would propel me to get off my lead-lined butt and seek medical help (at the time I really hated going to the doctor).   But I did.  In fact it initially seemed that the only good thing about it was that the occasion of having to drop off stool samples gave rise to some really obnoxious, beneath-my-age-and-level-of-maturity-and-social-status humor.   Such as the relatively mundane:  “Can you tell me where I drop off my sh*t?” to, “I’m sorry to be giving you so much sh*t today, but the doctor downright insisted.”  And so on.  I would be proud at the present time to be able to report that I acted my age, but unfortunately that is not the case. 

What did happen is that we discovered that somehow I had become lactose intolerant.  This was a bitter blow.  I had come to love a bowl of cereal accompanied by a tall, frosty glass of milk every day at breakfast.  Except on certain Saturdays and Sundays, it’s all I ever ate for breakfast.  Now the cruel vagaries of the medical profession were taking this away from me? 

The doctor suggested that I try taking Lactaid or similar dairy relief tablets before the meal but that didn’t work very well.  I simply gave it up.

Now—fast forward to today.  My other breakfast food that I dearly love are McDonald’s Egg McMuffins, and my own bacon and eggs which I’m used to preparing myself on alternate weekends.  That was before my taste buds went into rebellion, leaving me nothing but a sweet tooth.  But I have been noticing something just lately.  Small doses of ice cream no longer upset my stomach.  This got me to thinking:  I began to wonder whether the condition might be in recession or even remission, and that perhaps I can try again to handle a bowl of cereal if I take a couple of Lactaid tablets first?

The short answer is: Yes!  I was reluctant to buy a whole big box of cereal to check out this theory—but in the end I thought, what the hell.  What am I saving my money for?  So I bought a variety pack of the small stuff and two of the bigger boxes of brands not contained in the variety pack.  First up:  Froot Loops.  OMG.  Do you know, I used to love Froot Loops so much that I would eat them  dry out of a coffee cup?  I don’t know why I stopped doing that once I could no longer eat them wet but my guess is I’ll be going back to that.  Yesterday it was Apple Jacks.  Luscious.   And this morning, Lucky Charms.  Have you ever heard of anyone going back for seconds on breakfast cereal?  No?  Then  you don’t want to hear about my thirds this morning.

Tomorrow:  Frosted Flakes.  Tony the Tiger still promises, “They’re GR-R-REAT!” right there on the box cover. Of course, I have to wonder whether a red-blooded tiger who expresses a preference for fast junk food instead of slow nutritious natives is a good role model, but we’ll let that go for now.  The marketing messages here are mixed.  I’m looking at the variety pack box, and I can tell  you right now that it won’t contain enough food to satisfy me, so I’ll be padding it out with Lucky Charms or Apple Jacks.  One message enthusiastically promising the product will be great is entirely subjective in nature and cannot be proved one way or another.  A banner across the top promises, “Good Source of VITAMIN D [caps in the original.]”  Well, okay, fine.  But if you think that means you can dismiss the need for vitamin D from your mind for the day, guess again; look more closely on the nutrition panel and you find that one box provides just 10% of the Percent Daily Value.  No big deal, though.  I mean, who expects to get an entire day’s worth of nutrition from such an itty bitty box containing a serving of no more than 130 calories?

This made me curious to see what kind of marketing messages the Apple Jacks brand was throwing at me.  After all, with a bigger box it has more opportunity.  Interestingly, the nutrition promise came first; a tab in the upper right corner promised that Apple Jacks is a source of Fiber and is made with Whole Grain (is that still considered good these days?  I get confused.)  The kid marketing was done primarily through the artwork.   There’s an image of an emaciated apple face jumping down from somewhere; by the expression on the creature’s face, it looks like it’s having fun at least in a Walking Dead kind of way.  Here’s another image with a face; at first glance it looks like it was probably intended to be an apple stem, even though it looks to me more like a ruptured vein.  Its actual name is CinnaMan, so I guess it’s supposed to be a cinnamon seasoning creature of some sort; in any case, as presented on the front cover I don’t see either figure as presenting a motivation to purchase for any age group.  But Apple Head and CinnaMan do cavort on the back cover in some kind of game-oriented comic clearly intended for kids; it’s over my head but presumably the kids get it.

The Lucky Charms box wastes no time at all talking to adults on the front cover; it gets right down to business by promising the kids five new diamond charms.  (But hey, I looked for them, too.)  One of the side panels contains some nutritional copy aimed at the adults, again touting whole grain and promising a lack of high fructose corn syrup.

So there you go.  The culinary experience for me was great, taking me back to my childhood, and with no adverse effects that I can see.  I will be adding this to my morning dietary routine going forward.

Now I’m dying to try Captain Crunch.  I love Captain Crunch.  The problem with Captain Crunch is that if it goes down the wrong way, you’re hosed.  This has been true since forever.  The entire claim to fame of Captain Crunch is that it stands up to a bowl of milk and will not go soggy—like, ever.  Some kind of food additive makes this stuff so crunchy that I’m sure it could hold its own against a bowl of broken pottery shards.  You could pave interstates with this stuff.  It is delicious, but in my condition, if some of that were go to down the wrong pipe I could be in big trouble.   So I’ll have to think about it.

What else to report on the medical front?  I am finding out why cancer patients talk about good days and bad days.  Yesterday was not a good day.  First, fairly significant “firebrand” style pain from the tumor or whatever is going on in my side woke me up at about 3:30 AM.  I was able to beat it back with an unscheduled dose of Dilaudid, which my  prescription allows me to do, but the pain continued to nag me all day until bedtime when it went away on its own and I proceeded to sleep like a baby.  Go figure.  Then at about 3:00 AM that night (last night) I woke up with heavy breathing; this was not a panic attack but could have led to one had I not been through it before.  I took a shot of my inhaler then an unscheduled does of Atavan to deal with the breathing anxiety, which I am explicitly authorized to do by prescription (that’s what it’s for), and then slept soundly after that.  Today, so far, has been good.  Very good.

If I could count at all times on feeling as physically good as I do right now, life would be much sweeter.   It’s not knowing at any given time what medical issue might lie around the corner that makes it more difficult.  Among other things it’s scary to try to plan travel under those circumstances because, quite frankly, you can’t be sure of making it from here to there without an incident!  That’s why shorter hops near home are so much more attractive and we will be doing some of those, and have been.

Meanwhile, All Hail Lucky Charms!  Thanks to you I’ve recaptured one more of life’s little pleasures.   Until and unless something like this happens to you, friends and neighbors, you really can’t understand the sheer joy of that.


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