Chemotherapy and good side effects are not usually discussed in the same sentence but one unexpected outcome of an elephantine infusion of toxic and unpronounceable drugs has been that after fifteen years without it I have regained my sense of smell!
Lacking a sense of smell – anosmia - is almost certainly far more common than is acknowledged. Part of this may be that it never feels quite serious enough to make a fuss about. In my case I have mentioned it to a number of GPs, asthma specialists and even a naturopath but got nowhere, probably because I myself had trouble taking it seriously.
Just one more thing on my face that didn’t work! (Specs, hearing aids, much dental fixings…). I attribute my own loss of sense of smell to the drugs I have taken over the years for allergies and asthma.
It happened gradually (and after living in the heart of oil-seed rape country in 1985 when the whole village had streaming eyes and noses) and it was only when someone would suddenly pause at a honeysuckle bush, or mention a cooking smell, that I became fully aware of it.
The smells that I have missed most are outdoor smells. Hot dry pines in the South of France, wood smoke from a bonfire, peat smoke in the North, bread wafting its doughy yeasty loveliness from the oven, coffee, fish and chips, the earthy smell of soil when I am digging or weeding, seaweed and the saltiness of the sea. Fresh bedding. Cut grass. And the people I love.
Food also tastes better.
Taste was more impaired than absent and I have for a long time preferred meals to be exciting and spicy rather than subtle and under-seasoned. Now I believe that I can identify every single ingredient in a lentil and vegetable curry, fruit juice is dancing with flavours and sunshine and coffee is a wonder to savour and linger over, rather than 'just' a hit of caffeine.
Other side-effects were less dramatic and less welcome. Previously unknown levels of sleep deprivation have already been documented. The well-known but little understood 'chemo fog' remains much in evidence resulting in an inability to type properly as my brain was no longer wired to my fingers (I cuold not porperly splel w8rds), to remember the end of sentences, to know the day of the week, or to know where the new packet of tea bags lives.
Energy levels dipped during the first week following treatment and slowly but surely accumulated into a general umbrella of weariness over the course of the three FEC treatments.
There are others that I have almost forgotten, like when my coleslaw unexpectedly tasted as if I was sucking on an old car battery. Or when I suddenly felt dizzy in Tescos looking for stock cubes and was stumbling up and down aisles muttering and cursing to myself and almost landing in my own trolley and getting some strange looks.
After the second treatment I had a restful Saturday and on Sunday we decided to take the papers to Wetherspoons for a leisurely breakfast. I had to take my first pills at 0800 so we were up early anyway and walked across the park and up the side of the River Tay to the restaurant. I had a very fine small Full Scottish Breakfast and my striped hat matched the upholstery in the booth. I felt like a normal person. A slow walk took us back home and I went to lie down for an hour or so. As I dozed I was wakened by the phone ringing. I ignored it and could hear Suz answering it from the other room. She came through. I ask who it was.
'Adele,' she said. I flung my arms out, gazed into the middle distance and wailed, 'Never mind, I'll FIND someone like YOU…,' ending on a top B flat.
Suz waited patiently. 'Adele is the manager of the hotel in North Berwick' she said. 'She got your letter'. I'd written to the hotel, 'Dear Madam/Sir, unfortunately my enquiry does not fit onto your online automated drop-down menu booking form so please forgive this old-fashioned letter. These are the circumstances in which I find myself [brief account of past, current and future treatment provided] and we will require a first-class holiday in February or March,' and I had located a stamp, then an envelope and had got it into a real letter box.
Suz looked out the window until I had finished. 'She – Adele, that is, – thinks that their hotel would be a perfect place for our holiday and they will do all they can to make our stay very comfortable and easy. We just need to let them know actual dates.'
Hurray! I lie back down, happy, rolling in the deep. I heart Adele. The holiday is coming together and I will have my Fair Isle hat to wear on the train. First class tickets please. Station stops between now and then are as follows - last chemo session in the second week of December, two weeks to recover, Christmas Day lunch already booked at a lovely nearby 'slow food' restaurant across the park, the minor irritant of three solid weeks of radiotherapy (fifteen zaps) taking up January, February to recover, then a week by the seaside.
Lots to look forward to indeed.
To be continued...
Episode 1 can be found here.
Episode 2 can be found here.
Episode 3 can be found here.
Episode 4 can be found here.
Episode 5 can be found here.
Episode 6 can be found here.
Episode 7 can be found here.
Episode 8 can be found here.
Episode 9 can be found here.
Episode 11 can be found here.
Episode 12 can be found here.
Episode 13 can be found here.
Episode 14 can be found here.
Episode 15 can be found here.
Episode 16 can be found here.