Eeeeeeek….. the piercing scream of the small child shattered the quiet murmur of the grocery store. Even the soft 80’s rock being piped in from the speakers of above seemed to pause for a heartbeat.
“Mommy! It’s the cereal monster!”
“Shit” I was in the cereal aisle. Cancer and COVID hadn’t killed me but all of sudden I was in danger of being ripped to pieces by a cereal monster. Whatever the hell that was.
“Caitlyn! Hush! It’s not nice to point.” I heard a frantic mother admonishing her child. Looking to my left I could see the exasperated mother quietly trying to correct her child while pushing her young stubby arm down. I realized too late that the child was clearly pointing at me.
Instinctively, my hand went to my mask-covered face and touched the visible scabs and dermatitis which were left by weeks of radiation to my throat and face. There’s no doubt that the dried scabs resembled bloody cornflakes. From a vampire’s perspective, I probably looked like a a heaven-sent breakfast. To a small child, however, I looked exactly like the Cereal Monster. The irony of the situation did not escape me. Looking like I did, I was indeed standing in the cereal aisle, directly in front of the corn flakes.
I toyed with the idea of raising my hands above my head in my best Lon Chaney* impression and advancing on the still terrified child and her mortified mother. From a monster’s perspective, the child was worth terrorizing before consuming. She had obviously been plumped for maximum monster diet satiation from a steady diet of sugary cereals. In the end, though, I let her scurry off with an oversized box of Lucky Charms clutched in her grubby hands. Truly, it was her lucky day to have escaped the Cereal Monster.
I’ve been noticing the side effects of my radiation treatments for several weeks but, like anything we live with, we tend to forget about or at least push them to the back of our minds. There’s no use dwelling on what you can’t change, right? For others, though, coming across my new radiation enhancements was a bit startling.
I actually felt pretty fortunate, as many of my side effects didn’t show up until late in my treatment. The ones that did were likely to go unnoticed. The splotchy hair growth on my face was a great example.
One month into the COVID “Shelter at Home” order I didn’t look much different than many of the zombified dads I saw trudging around my neighborhood with kids in tow. There are only so many times you can mow your grass in a week. So many of these dads had been recruited as de facto baby sitters by moms with jobs or moms who were just sick of doing all the heavy lifting. Moms inevitably sent Dads and their broods out into the neighborhood.
This new Dad Look of dirty sweat pants, uncombed hair and patchy razor stubble from half hearted shaving attempts came from the hard realization that home schooling kids for eight hours a day, providing three square meals and being a constant source of entertainment was hard work. And to think that so many of us complained about the quality of public education pre-COVID! Walk a mile in a teacher’s shoes and you will be singing a different tune.
My look, while similar to those shell-shocked dads, was cultivated from a lack of energy and the inability of my facial hair to grow back where the radiation had entered and exited my face and neck. Along the way, the the radiation also nibbled away at my energy like a mouse does cheese.
It’s human nature to want to pick and poke at growths and oddities that arrive on our skin. And there’s clearly a reason that a show like Doctor Pimple Popper not only exists–but thrives!
Running out of your own zits to harvest? No worries! We at TLC have your “Summer of Pop-A-Palooza!” I kid you not. That’s precisely how the show was advertised.
That leads me back to the time I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror and marveling at my patchy hair growth. I rubbed my finger across the stubble and was surprised to feel the hairs come off under my fingers. I was my on Wolly Willy.
I began by rubbing out some totally to-die-for hipster side burns. As I began to work on creating an ironic jaw line facial hair, I ran into a problem. Not only was my facial stubble coming off but so was my skin! Not wanting to rub down to raw bone, I immediately stopped, turned on the faucet and rinsed my facial hair stylings (and a bit of skin) down the drain.
Fun and games aside, when I’m not terrorizing small children and trying to create my own “non-dad’s frazzled sheltering-in-place look,” I’m busy trying to force food down my gullet. The oncology medical teams preach trying to eat healthy and enough(!) in order to maintain an appropriate weight during treatment, just like a Pentecostal pastor preaches abstinence and waves poisonous snakes above his head. The body needs those nutrients and protein as it battles to rebuild the healthy cells which have been knocked out by the radiation. Losing too much weight can result (in my case) of my mask not fitting properly. That could result in having to have a new mask made and, with that, new points mapped on my head and neck to ensure the radiation still targets the correct areas.
How hard could eating possibly be? It actually wasn’t too bad the first week or two. Slowly, though, the radiation began to do strange things to my body, specifically to my taste buds, my saliva glands and the entire interior of my mouth.
Have you ever been punk’d by someone who gives you what you think is one food but it actually tastes like something else? I can remember being punk’d as a kid and punking others with baker’s chocolate.What looks like sweet milk chocolate can be bitter and disappointing.
Radiation Therapy is the Ashton Kutcher of medical treatments. Ashton Kutcher has been living in my mouth for five weeks now and punking me along the way. Everything that passes my lips taste like wet cardboard despite my expectations. I’m not talking about a really nice high end cardboard that you might find a box of Jimmy Choo’s nestled in. I am talking about the cardboard you find in a basement coated in years of dirt and cobwebs.
And because I have a hard time producing saliva, I eat with a water glass in hand to help moisten the cardboard as it slowly dissolves in my mouth into a thick paper mâché. Ashton is no help either. He sits across from me usually with large piping hot large extra cheese pizza in front of him. Laughing as I gag my food down.
The other day Ashton got a taste of his own medicine. As he was shoving a slice into his maw, I could tell something was wrong. His moans of food pleasure suddenly stopped. With his mouth agape, he bent forward and expelled the bubbling hot pizza back on to his plate.
“Ahh..ahg…my mouth.. so hot…burns”
Pizza cheese burn. Culinary napalm that sticks to the roof of your mouth and leaves sores, blisters and the inability to eat anything crunchy for days.
Welcome to my world Mr. Kutcher, where the inside of your mouth is raw and tender. Chewing becomes not only a challenge but a small victory when you can masticate your food into small enough bits that swallowing only hurts as bad as the chewing–and not worse.
Shortly after the pizza incident, Ashton packed up and headed back to Hollywood. Evidently California has some of the best pizza burn doctors in the world many will often throw in a face tuck or a shot of botox for a nominal charge.
Lucky for me, my mouth seems to be on the rebound, as well. Each day it gets a little easier to eat. I’ve graduated to a better tasting cardboard and the sores inside and out are starting to heal. Now if I can only find a surgeon who can do something about this cereal on my face.
*Interesting fact. After writing this sentence I did a quick Google search of Lon Chaney as I couldn’t remember if it was Lon or Laun. Turns out that Chaney was diagnosed and struggling with bronchial lung cancer which was exacerbated by artificial snow made with cornflakes that became lodged in his throat during the filming of Thunder.