Chemotherapy has given me fatigue, neuropathy and blood clots. My biggest concern though, is all about food.
We humans have 10,000 taste buds. They are grouped into categories — salty, sour, sweet and bitter. From the weakest taste of sweetness to the supersensitive bitter, they unite to reward us with all the nuanced flavors of what we eat and drink.
Taste buds are made of fast-growing cells that are orderly replaced every week to 10 days with no interruption in taste.
Chemotherapy is designed to kill the fast-growing cells of cancer. Sadly, these drugs don’t discriminate — more like carpet bombing than a surgical strike, with taste buds among the collateral damage.
I still eat, but it is more fuel than food, more need than pleasure. I am not wasting away, but it does take a concerted effort to finish my plate. With a wife who believes that the meal is a gift of love and kids who delight in preparing a savory dish, this is a problem.
I miss the satisfying sensations of good food. With taste dulled and appetite suppressed, any praise of the chef is faint and suspect. But the worst is what it does to me at table.
The dinner table has always been a required but sacred space. It is where we gather to be fed, but also to be formed, cherished and healed.
We laugh and sometimes cry, get upset but most often forgive. It is where we connect and belong, where we become companions, literally “together with bread.”
Taste buds contribute to the sacrament of the table. More than just gustatory enjoyment, they open us to deeper elements of life.
We recognize our dependence and our debt of gratitude. We find the joy of food enhanced by the presence of others sharing in the feast.
The table becomes a site of transformation and revelation, what the Celts used to call “thin places,” where the veil that separates the ordinary and the divine is exceedingly wispy and spare.
Our taste buds get us there — a journey almost impossible when we focus on taking in unpalatable food instead of reaching out with conversation and care. But that may change and I may emerge from this tasteless time with a new appreciation of the tradition of table from Abraham’s camp under the terebinth of Mamre, to that inn on the road to Emmaus.
Maybe I will remember that our mouths were designed for just such encounters.