By Gideon Schneider
October 31, 2008
With a sultry voice she unveiled a list of ingredients like it was a catalogue of forbidden pleasures. At the same time a thick, gooey flow of rich Belgian chocolate sauce oozed from the carafe, inching its way to the moist, spongy cake below. Normally the advert would have me salivating like an oligarch over an oil well, but my recent chemotherapy session had left my stomach churning so violently that I gagged at the mere thought of eating. This wasn't just nausea, this was M&S nausea.
Upon leaving the hospital I had felt fine and even dared to believe that I'd escaped the dreaded side effects. It was only next morning, on waking, that I realised the sickening truth. As I lurched to the bathroom, my agitated intestines felt more stirred up than a United Synagogue made to consider the appointment of a woman rabbi. My stomach was making sounds any soldier would be scared to hear on the battlefield. In fact I felt so ill I couldn't even face the prospect of swallowing the very anti-sickness pills that were designed to soothe me.
Breakfast was out. Lunch was a no-go. At dinner I made a plucky attempt and managed a bowl of plain spaghetti. It wasn't so much the constant feeling of nausea, but the even stranger sensation that food had become unappetising. Food is usually the quickest way to my heart; my addiction to it is rivalled only by my Facebook dependency. I've always seen seconds as essential and desert de rigueur. At a recent wedding where the bride looked like a meringue, I found myself drooling for all the wrong reasons. I couldn't help thinking that a scoop of vanilla ice-cream with raspberry coulis was a more fitting accompaniment than bridesmaids. But with treatment messing with my love of fressing, I felt more disorientated that Kerry Katona on This Morning.
Over the next few days a pattern emerged. In the mornings I would feel at my worst and not want to leave my bed; by evening, the nausea had subsided just enough for me to pick at a small meal. Now I appreciated my mother's stamina enduring morning sickness for four pregnancies. It was also making me empathise with my friend who suffers from Crohn's disease. It's hard to understand how debilitating constant intestinal troubles are until you have them yourself.
To make matters worse, the hospital discovered I had contracted a common stomach virus. Having built up a strong immune system during a childhood of grimy summer camps, my body should have fought it as housewives do a fly. But with my natural defences now debilitated by the chemotherapy I was going to need the additional help of antibiotics.
The good news was that the lump on my neck was shrinking. A sure sign the drugs were doing their job. Unfortunately I had recently splashed out on several new shirts accommodating my neck's wider circumference. And with the weight I was rapidly losing on my new no-food diet, I started to look like Victoria Beckham in Jo Brand's hand-me-downs.
Actually I was happy to see those excess pounds drop off and even considered submitting suggestions to Woman's Own to help their readers lose weight - until I weighed up the likelihood of ‘get cancer and start chemo' making their top ten tips for November.
When my appetite began to return after a week, I was dismayed to discover my taste buds had taken a hit for the team. An odd metallic taste accompanied all my favourite foods. I might have kept the foil wrapper on my Dairy Milk, for how bad it tasted. For me, Hell isn't other people - it's sitting muzzled before a mountain of chocolate. Dante could not have devised so delicious a punishment as the bag of Cadbury's my cousin brought me back from South Africa. If my previous crime was over-indulgence, I was now getting my just desserts.
So with Dirvla Kirwan's seductive voice stirring up more repulsion than temptation, I switched off and got some fresh air. In some ways it was refreshing to be unaffected by imagery that would usually have me enthralled. I was impervious to Stuart Rose's savvy marketing and freed from the hold that comfort food had over me. If only the chemo would now free me from my Facebook addiction.