I'm becoming aware of the connection between a healthy appetite and the will to live. My dad stopped eating a few weeks ago when he was at death's door. This is one of the 'old ways' of dying: refusing to eat, not from conscious choice in most cases but from a more instinctive, animal, sense that life, the life force, is coming to an end. Hospitals increasingly acknowledge the need for a dignified death and don't feed patients intravenously at this point. My dad's recovering now, partly through the attentive care of my mother, who has been spoonfeeding him all his meals, adding in fresh vegetables and his favourite ice cream brought in a thermos from home.
Something I've noticed while undergoing chemotherapy is that the chemicals have induced a strange loss of appetite, causing me to go off the fresh, organic, raw foods I had been treating myself with so joyfully for a few months. More problematic: even thinking about certain foods has me feeling queasy. I'm the main cook of our large family's (and droppers-by) main meal. The way I cook, I now realize, is to imagine the meal as though we're eating it and work backwards - so I'm handicapped before I even start. Walking to town to buy provisions for our meal yesterday all I could usefully conjure up in my mind was pizzas, cheese on toast, chocolate mousse - hardly recipes for people with cancer, let alone a healthy life.
And losing appetite has caused this zest for life to wax and wane lately with the three-weekly cycle of chemical treatment. I'm watching it curiously, kindly, learning to nurture myself through the troughs. I'm lucky to have plenty of love and other resources to help me through – I wonder how others, less fortunate, cope with this double-edged treatment, the cure that could as easily kill.
There's some upsides though. I've discovered that my imagination still has a lusty appetite, even if it isn't for things green. Last week while waiting for a friend at the local (chamomile tea the order of the day) I managed to munch my way through the entire menu – in my mind. Roast beef with all the trimmings – aaah. Pizza with chips - mmm. Sandwiches filled with all manner of cheeses, meats and pickles. Washed down with a couple of pints of Harveys. I could get used to this!