I hate kale. I really want to like it. I know it’s a super-food. I know there’s the equivalent of four thousand times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D, iron, and rust. And I’ve tried to fancy it up by cooking it in butter and lemon and sea salt and a hint of Parmesan cheese, but I just can’t make it taste good to my palate.
Thankfully when I was going through cancer, the thought of eating kale didn’t exist. Otherwise, I would have been told by everyone and their brother, “You should eat more kale.” I would have appreciated the sentiment, but I would not have been able to let it go without adding the snarky, “Fine. You first.”
My super-food during treatment was Chicken Flamingo from The Pasta Houserestaurant. For the uninitiated, it’s grilled breast of chicken lightly breaded, with white wine and lemon sauce, garlic, broccoli, fresh mushrooms, prosciutto, and multiple cheeses. I had them add these crispy fried potato wedges to the plate, and I’d mop the soppings with white bread.
It was the only thing that didn’t make me hurl on a chemo week. I drove there for lunch and sat at the bar, eating by myself. I repeated this ritual for dinner. Twenty chemo infusions. Forty Chicken Flamingo’s.
Was it the healthiest of choices? Actually yes, yes it was. It was the healthiest choice for one simple reason: without it, I wouldn’t eat, maintain weight, and keep things moving inside.
Chemo drugs change the way your taste buds react, so nothing tastes like it should. Imagine the possibility of all of your favorite tastes turning on you. It’s a miracle many chemo patients find anything they like, rather than having to resort to swallowing ten cans of Ensure a day to keep from starving. Chicken Flamingo was a Godsend for me.
That’s not to say that kale couldn’t be a Godsend to you, or broccoli, or cauliflower, or those red berry thingies from which they make that really good juice you can mix with vodka. What I am saying, though, is that you have to find what works for you and milk it for all of its worth. Please God, you’ll have time to eat healthier once those taste buds get back to normal.
I bring this up for one reason: the best way for you to deal with cancer is your way, and I mean this in every aspect. Because contrary to…really…any belief, there is no road map, blueprint, or hieroglyph.
If you are under 40 and you have been directly affected by cancer, you need to look up the folks at Stupid Cancer. They are a definitive voice for the young adult cancer movement, and they rock hard. They also make you think, which is actually a good thing.
The other day, they put up this question on their Facebook page:
Can we please stop with the military terms in cancer? War, battle, fight, warrior, soldier…. OR is this OK?
I have heard some people complaining about this before, how words like “war,” or “battle,” or “fight” are terrible analogies. Norm McDonald does the funniest two minutes on this I’ve seen, talking about his Uncle Burt “waging a battle on cancer” while laying in a hospital bed watching Matlock.
As funny as it is, I think he’s off the mark in one way. When he says, “They say that he’s waging a battle with cancer,” the telling word is not “battle” or “cancer,” but rather “They.” Nowhere did I hear “Uncle Bert said he was waging a battle.” It was “They said he was waging a battle.” Uncle Bert may have been mortified thinking that these words were being spoken about him, if he actually knew about it.
I know that my family and friends talked to their families and friends about my disease, but I can’t say that I ever asked for specifics. I never asked, “How do you refer to my situation?” I never sat with them and said, “This is how I feel, this is how I refer to it, this is what might make me uncomfortable.”
Just imagine how bad it would be if I had a really treatable form of cancer, but a relative or friend in hysterics thought that no matter what, I was going to die, and they spread that falsehood.
Or what if you were a cancer patient who had been in the military who feels that “battle” or “war” is reserved for nothing but the battlefield; would it irritate you to no end that people were referring to your plight as a “war?”
Cancer is truly one of the most utterly personal things that any human being can go through. Nothing will humble you, frighten you, empower you or transform you like this disease. It will beat you from pillar to post, physically, psychologically, and completely.
Yet more than almost anything, cancer tends to be reactionary, no matter how proactive we try to be. I can’t speak for everyone, but I never thought about how I wanted to present my cancer to the rest of the world. I fell into it.
My amazing friend Donna Heckler is one of the most girly-girls I know. She’s a lady in every sense of the word, and she has written an amazing book called Living Like A Lady With Cancer. At times, she felt that cancer stripped her of her femininity, and she wrote about things she did to get it back. She shares tips, stories, and hope for all women to feel empowered, to actually feel like a lady in every sense of the word while vacationing in seventh bowel of hades.
To me, she fought like a rock star. To her, “Oh, I’m not a fighter. I’m just a lady. I’m no warrior.”
Me? I’ve never seen a battlefield. I’ve never been to war. I’ve been in, like, two fistfights in my entire life. But dammit, I was a fighter in this. I saw my own version of hell. Cancer and chemo beat the living shit out of me incessantly, and I constantly fought back. This, for me, was a battle against a bully, a fistfight of epic proportions. War analogies fit my perspective.
And like it or not, our perspective is our reality.
And the odd thing about Donna and I is that we were both right, because you have to deal with this your own way. Life forever changes when you hear “You have cancer,” and you don’t actually have time to prepare. You react, you dodge, you parry, you get walloped, you run, you hide, you get angry, you fight, you deal, you survive, or you don’t.
But if you don’t, it does not mean that you lost. It simply means that the physicality of the cancer had the upper hand, but all it took was the meat. People are not about their bodies. People are about their stories, their gift to the world long after they’ve outlived the usefulness of their body.
Abraham Lincoln may be dead for over 150 years, but the legacy, the story, the history, and the lessons continue to shape how we should live, and they will forever remain a part of our American fabric. An assassin’s bullet took his body. His story, full of hope and mission and surviving strife of unimaginable proportions, would not be extinguished.
So to those who get irritated with others who use military terms or don’t eat kale or whatever, bask in your right to feel that way, but bask in our right to do what we need to deal with our situations. Yours is not our life to live, and ours isn’t yours.
And if anyone has an any-way decent recipe for kale, let’s have it.