Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chemo Brain and Cooking

It’s been less than two months since Al and I returned from Antarctica, but it seems like just yesterday! We still carry our pictures in the car to show them to people who have not seen them. Sometimes Al strikes up a conversation with strangers and they want to see them. After writing about the grandeur of Antarctica, I thought,”What is there to write about in Jacksonville? What can God do to top his creation of Antarctica?” I think I am experiencing my first writer’s block. But then I remember Psalm 139:13-16. And I remember writing, “Just as God cares for the animals in Antarctica, from the tiny krill to the huge whales, so he cares for me, too. Just as He tends the fertile marine waters in Antarctica, so does He tend my world in Florida!”
I am learning to cook again. You see, Al retired in 1999, but I kept working fulltime until 2011. Al took over the grocery shopping and the cooking. He is a good cook and makes some things better than I do. I always burn the pancakes and when I cook a full dinner, I never get all of the food ready at the same time. I’ll say, “Well, we can start on the meat while the vegetables finish cooking.” Even when I retired, Al did not want me in the kitchen. I have some insensitivity and incoordination in my hands and fingertips from the chemotherapy. He was afraid I would cut myself with a knife. Now, however, I have discovered the healing properties of emu oil. My radiation oncologist first recommended it to me in case my skin got irritated from those treatments. Thanks to God, I did not have any skin problems with the radiation, a miracle in itself! But now I use this oil two or three times a week because the skin on my forearms and shins was thin, a side effect of the chemotherapy drying my body out.  It tore easily if I just brushed again a piece of furniture in the house or a bench outdoors. I don’t have that problem anymore and if I do get a scratch or cut, I rub emu oil on it and the wound heals in less than half the time.
 While Al has been busy working on his brother’s house, though, He has been too tired to cook, so I have started to take over that chore! Tonight I cooked steak with sautéed shallots, rice, and mixed vegetables. Everything came out hot at the same time, but I did have some problems, since it has been literally years since I cooked a meal like that. I cooked the steaks on top of the stove, and they were delicious! Except for, or perhaps in spite of, the fact that I tried searing them first to lock in the juices, and the outside got burned a little. It also took longer to cook on the stove top instead of an outside grill or indoor boiler. What did I learn? To lower the heat and allow more time to cook steaks without burning. When I served Al’s plate, I put the burned side down, and he ate it without complaint! Lucky for him, I have another set of steaks in the freezer to experiment on again!   While cooking, I kept hearing grease pop, so I put a grease screen over the steaks. I kept hearing the sound but it was coming from the mixed vegetables cooking on the stove! I took a closer look and saw the problem! My polymer spoon rest was touching the vegetable pot and it, the spoon rest was getting scorched! I quickly removed it and put it in the sink. It had a large black spot about three inches long; I tried to rub it off, but it was permanent! So I hid it under a plate in the sink so Al wouldn’t see it. The next fiasco happened with the rice. I cooked just one cup instead of two, in a smaller pot. I let it simmer for 20 minutes, per the directions on the label, but it had started to stick to the pan. It did not burn, thank God, and I was able to salvage most of it. Lesson learned: cook a larger portion in a bigger pot. Again, lucky for Al, we have plenty of rice in the pantry for me to practice my new cooking skills. 
I had to leave right after dinner for a meeting at church, so I hid the stuck rice from Al by putting the top on the pot.  I said, “I’ll wash the dishes when I get home!” When I got home, Al went to talk to a neighbor. “Oh, this is perfect! I can clean up my mess while he’s gone!”, and I did! So my dinner was a success after all! The steaks were edible, delicious, in fact!!! The rice pot cleaned up like new! I just have to buy a new spoon rest for the kitchen. And for the record, I did not cut or burn myself! Yea, God!
These little mistakes in the kitchen remind me of the term “chemo brain,” used in the oncology world. I first heard it from another patient. It refers to the fact that we sometimes forget things, or don’t pay attention to what we are doing, or have trouble finding the right word when we are speaking. I first heard it from another patient in the infusion room. My response at the time was, “Oh, we call that a brain fart in our house, and you don’t have to be on chemotherapy to have one.” I actually prided myself on NOT having chemo brain. Then I found out that it is a true concept in the medical world when I attended the Breast cancer symposium in April this year. The oncologist said there is a physiological reason for having it! Well, that explains my brain farts for the past three years, though it doesn’t let me off the hook for the ones in the past 35 years! I first realized I had succumbed to this side effect in November. I purchase Lenox ornaments for my daughter and some young cousins every year. They are personalized with their names and the year.  This year I was preparing for my trip to Antarctica and made a careless mistake. I always order two years in a row because one year I forgot! When a representative from Lenox called and said, “If you order today, the shipping and handling is free,” I said “OK” and ordered one for the year 2012 and one for the year 2013. When they arrived, I counted out my daughter’s by year, and there were too many ornaments! I then discovered that I had ordered two sets of 2012 ornaments. OOPS! I could not send them back because the mistake was mine! I told the mothers they could explain it to the children in one of two ways. Number one, Aunt Bobby was absented minded this year. Or number two, it was a special year that deserved two ornaments because we were all together in New York City for cousin Bill’s change of command ceremony at the Staten Island Coast Guard station.  That would have been an excellent excuse except Super Storm Sandy devastated Staten Island three months later, still in 2012! Well, they can always say the extra 2012 ornament signifies God’s grace in having them live through such a disaster! Whatever excuse they choose, one thing is certain. Chemo Brain exists!
Pictures show my garden waking up from winter! Here are the first blooms of the lavendar lantana, white penta, orange gerber daisy, and fuchsia azaleas. 

1 comment:

  1. Your dinner sounds delicious! I think we've all had a similar situation or even worse. Seems like I recall a little pressure cooker disaster involving spaghetti sauce all over the ceiling :)