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For those of you who have been paying attention, you know I got breast cancer for Christmas. I had my first chemo treatment on Monday, 2/11
(in keeping with that holiday theme – Happy Valentine’s Day, early!), and so far the after-effects have been weird,
but manageable.  I keep thinking of cartoons where some character starts
quivering, and then his head explodes into a Dali-esque fright mask with, oh, a
foot springing out of his forehead.

That hasn’t happened. Yet.

What is happening is that instead of my usual
eat-like-a-garbage-truck self, I’ve become someone who has to think hard about
what might be edible. The data sheet on my chemo cocktail lists this side
effect as “anorexia” – which makes me laugh so hard I can barely breathe. My
name and anorexia in the same sentence? Get outta town.

The closest analog I can come up with for the current
eating sitch is this: back inna day, when I did offshore sailing, there were
more than a few times that the rest of the crew was crawling around on the
deck, beggin’ to die. At those times, my experience was usually, “well, I don’t
feel GREAT, but how about I make some soup?”

The most memorable version of this was twenty years ago,
delivering the schooner ORIANDA from Lauderdale to Tortola.
The skipper decided to leave Lauderdale literally on the tail of a hurricane
(luckily only a weakening Cat 1), just before midnight.

No, it didn’t seem like a great idea to me, either, but a
ship is not a democracy.

Another woman on the crew and I had drawn 12-4 watch,
meaning we were first up, and would be fighting the Gulfstream by 2am. When we did hit the Stream, we had 15 foot
cross-seas and were shipping green water over both bows. Both my watch-partner
and I were literally tied to the boat (as one always should be offshore),
taking turns steering, which was like trying to wrestle an anaconda. At about
3am, the engine started to sputter (we were under engine and sail power – we
needed everything we could get to keep the ship stable!) – the skipper and the
mechanic headed into the engine room to see whassup. Diagnosis: busted fuel
hose.

The engine room was off the pilot house, which was
directly in front of the steering station. In order to work on the engine, the
pilot house light needed to be on. In order to see the compass and steer a
course, the helmsman needed to have the pilot house light OFF. We struck a
compromise – I would hold the pilot house hatch doors closed and shield them
with my body, preventing the light from hitting the helmsman in the face and
thereby risking a course change for Havana.
Or Maine.

So, there I was, holding the doors closed as heavy diesel
fumes rolled past, and the boat tossed around like we were driving through a
washing machine on full agitate. Right about then, the 4-8 crew staggered up on
deck. The first mate, who had asked me every five minutes before we left port
if we had enough Dramamine on board “because sometimes people get seasick on
these deliveries”, took over the helm – which was right behind me, remember? –
asked the skipper for his course, was told zero-nine-zero, responded “aye, aye,
steering zero-nine-….” The rest of his reply was literally drowned out as he
started hacking up everything he’d eaten since the Carter Administration.

He continued this until dawn. My watch-mate had to
re-take the helm, since first-mate-dude was pretty useless. Really hard to
steer while barfing – you tend to drag the wheel over with you as you heave.
I’m still holding the pilot house doors closed. So: diesel fumes, a violently
ill crewmate less than two feet behind me (at this point, he was like a sodden
mass of rags at the bottom of the cockpit…yep, beggin’ to die), and motion so
violent that we’re all literally hanging on for dear life.

What I wanted most right then – other than for things to
settle down, just a bit, or for blessed dawn to break – was some coffee. And
some soup. Which I got, a few hours later, once the dawn did break and I could
get down to the galley (I was ship’s cook), clear away the debris from the
rough passage, and get things going.

So, chemo “anorexia” for me is more like eating like a
10-year-old. PB&J sandwiches, mac-n-cheese with grilled chicken, chicken
noodle soup. My usual chili, garlic, and stinky cheese palate has vanished.
It’s only until June, though – who knows, maybe I’ll feel better about bathing
suit season after this!

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

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