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R.I.P Salad Bar and Other Losses

· DYP,DYP your way,oral cancer survivor,overcome,cancer survivor

My family and I along with friends, visited Bryce Canyon, Utah recently. After an intense and awe-inspiring day of hiking, we moseyed into the local cowboy-themed diner for a hearty meal. The waitress took our order and five minutes later returned with a tray filled with drinks and clear glass plates. “Help yourselves to the salad bar,” she said with a smile on her face. Salad bar? Ewwww burst out of my friend’s mouth like a bucking bronco. The waitress dodged the comment and our group like the roadrunner escaping Wiley Coyote. With the pandemic, I thought global salad bars everywhere met the same demise as the dinosaurs, but, apparently, I was wrong. We promptly renamed it the Corona Bar, and although our plates didn’t budge from the table, we imagined them piled high with leafy greens dressed in COVID-19.

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The salad bar may be alive and kickin’ in Bryce, but they’ve crawled into hibernation in my neighborhood. That’s okay, I’ve never been a salad bar fan and consider myself a one meal from the menu kind of gal. However, there’s plenty I miss and feel sad about since quarantine. I miss eating inside restaurants, I miss Target runs, I miss hugs, I miss entertaining inside my home, I miss spontaneity, I miss grocery shopping, I miss writing at Starbucks, I miss my privacy. Mostly, I miss how easy my pre-quarantine life felt. Everything now requires an extra step, extra energy, extra planning. I’m sad about the activities and trips our family has missed, I’m sad my girls can’t physically be in school with their friends, I’m sad too many kids can’t be inside the classroom, I’m sad for my children to have to experience this, I’m sad for cancer patients going through treatment, I’m sad for the anger and divisiveness I’ve witnessed, I’m sad for struggling businesses, I’m sad for the suffering of others, I’m sad people are dying.

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The future of the salad bar remains cloudy, but here’s the irony…I can’t eat salads, well, I can but with tremendous difficulty since my second oral cancer diagnosis. The tongue is the strongest muscle in our body, rests in our mouth from the front to the back of the throat, and surrounded by teeth. Together, they assist with eating, taste, speech, swallowing, digestion, and facial structure all of which were impacted by my surgeries and radiation scar tissue. The rebuilt half of my tongue remains soft and pink but no longer flexible as it’s been tethered to the bottom of my mouth. My lower right teeth, replaced by a partial denture which can’t chew or bite, prevent my cheek from caving in, my upper teeth from dropping, and create a barrier to contain food and liquids. The healthy left side of my mouth carries the extra load created by all these replacement parts on the right which are now more form than function. Simply put, the right side remains on permanent disability, and the left side works overtime.

With trial and error and a few tricks up my sleeve, I’m a pro at eating and drinking using only half of my mouth. I chew my food A LOT, somewhere between bite-size and mush, so I don’t choke It’s an exercise of endurance and patience but thankfully not painful. I have a diverse diet although I’ve eliminated a wide selection of fresh fruits and veggies because the effort isn’t worth the reward of only a morsel or two of food. The amount of required chewing to breakdown these fibrous and solid bites exhausts me and, eventually, my jaw muscles poop out. I’ve learned the hard what happens when I don’t chew my food enough.

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I miss eating salads. I miss crunching into an apple. I miss nibbling on raw carrots. I miss licking an ice cream cone. I miss red wine, sparkling water, or spicy food because the tissues on my tongue are altered and overly sensitive from radiation. I miss socializing in crowded or loud spaces because of the strain it puts on my vocal cords. I miss the dinner conversations which bypass me because I eat at a snail’s pace, so I don’t choke. I miss the tooth I lost last year and sad because I know there will be more. I’m sad for the people who let me down when I was ill. I’m sad for putting my family through this. I’m sad thinking about the collateral damage of cancer as I age and the impact it will have on my longevity and quality of life. But what makes me the saddest is everything I was cheated on during those three foggy years of illness and recovery.

Let’s be clear…the sadness from loss and struggle does not diminish the joy I’ve also discovered from these experiences. There is space for both. I’m grateful my older daughter could read to my younger daughter when I lost my voice from radiation. She’s a stronger reader because of it. I’m grateful I could blend up my favorite chopped salad when I had a craving making it more like gazpacho. I’m grateful to those who showed up to help when I didn’t think they knew I existed. The list of silver linings and warm fuzzies is long and, perhaps, I’ll dedicate a future blog to it. Right now, recognizing my losses and taking time to mourn them has played a critical part in my healing, moving forward, and finding peace. Perhaps the salad bar might make a comeback in my neighborhood or advances in medicine will improve the way I eat. Either way, I’ll be fine taking it one day at a time.

I DYP – Discovering My Power, My Way by recognizing my losses. Could this work for you?

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