Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reflection on My First Thanksgiving After Cancer Treatment

One of the first holidays I celebrated after finishing my leukemia treatment back in 1988 was Thanksgiving.

Back then, I was in pretty rough shape.  You see, it wasn't just that I was worn out from completing four courses of heavy duty chemotherapy from January to July. I also endured a bout of acute non-A, non-B hepatitis in August, which turned my eyes and skin a sickly shade of yellow, had me puking my guts out for a week solid and then eating baby food for several weeks after that.

It was hard to believe that acute hepatitis could knock me on my ass harder than a week of chemotherapy infusions. Plus the fatigue I experienced while I was recovering from it all was just so devastating.  This was the first time in my life that I felt so wiped out that I could barely do anything. 

So having made it through eight months of cancer treatment and a month-long ordeal with acute hepatitis, I was bound and determined to celebrate my good fortune on Thanksgiving 1988.

Unfortunately, it seemed that no one else in my parents' home was as invested in celebrating and eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal as I was.

So despite my profound fatigue, I volunteered to make the Thanksgiving meal since apparently no one else would.  It was a real struggle.  I spent most of my time sitting at the kitchen table doing all the prep work.  But I wasn't going to let my residual health problems get in the way of a good, home-cooked meal. (By the way, I had Hepatitis C, confirmed by a blood test when it first came out in 1992, so no chance I could give that to them through food preparation, in case you were worried about that.) 

And since I was the one cooking, I decided what everyone else was eating.

One of my favorite cookbooks at that time was Jane Brody's Good Food Book and she had a recipe for Potato Stuffing (follow the link for the recipe.)  Since my energy was quite limited, I decided this was the perfect compromise between making stuffing and making mashed potatoes.  Plus reading the recipe, it sounded quite delicious to me.

Needless to say, everyone who came to the dinner table that evening hated the Potato Stuffing.

But you know what?  I didn't give a turkey's butt end.

I was grateful to have, so far, beaten cancer.  I was grateful I was still around to cook, even if I was physically handicapped by the aftermath of the previous nine months of dealing with a life-threatening illness and its treatment.  (To be accurate, it actually was actually two: I learned much later that the acute hepatitis could have killed me too.)  I came to the table with gratitude in my heart and a new appreciation for my family too.

So if they wanted to be petty and complain that they didn't get the traditional stuffing they wanted, after passing on making or even helping the girl who just had cancer and acute hepatitis make dinner, well then just screw them.

I enjoyed my dinner.  I embraced my second chance at life.  It was just too bad my family was so focused on the Potato Stuffing that they couldn't join me in celebrating my hard-fought personal victory over cancer.  

In the esteemed words of Sandra Boynton, my favorite greeting card illustrator back then, my motto moving from that day forward was "Don't Let The Turkeys Get You Down."

In retrospect, I now know Thanksgiving 1988 was just a preview of coming attractions in regards to my health, or chronic lack thereof.

I've now perfected the art of preparing a small but still traditional Thanksgiving meal while sitting down at the kitchen table.  After all, I have had the last seven chronically awesome years to practice, practice, practice.  And pace.  And rest.  And spread the preparation over several days.  And schedule lots of recovery time afterwards.

Now, when I sit down at the table to eat, I have my ever grateful husband by my side, who is always thrilled when I am able to cook for him, even when the best I can do on Thanksgiving is heat up a pre-made meal from a local restaurant or grocery store. 

You know, I would have made that delicious Potato Stuffing again this year if I hadn't somehow misplaced my Good Food Book cookbook somewhere along the way from 1988 to now.  I bet my hubby would have loved it!  Oh well.  There is always next year...

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deb aka abcsofra said...

Loved this post! What a hoot! Too bad no one in your family seems to have the love of cooking that you do/did. But take home is just as good in my book. I am fortunate that this year my 20 yr. old said she wanted to cook it all. God Bless her. Have a wonderful Turkey Day ahead.

Shannon said...

I just love your never-ending positive vibes and attitude Selena. I really admire that in you ;) Loved this post and am grateful you shared it with us.

I'm grateful for having a wonderful man to share my life with too. Even if we are having some troubled times learning to cope with my poor health. I'm so glad to have met you and so many like us online for support. It means so much!