Cooking With Myra: Watermelon sorbet is cool, refreshing
By Myra Starkey
July 9, 2012 at 2:09 a.m.
Updated Sept. 3, 2012 at 4:03 a.m.
I have spent many days in the last few weeks in Houston with my mom. She is undergoing chemotherapy at M.D. Anderson for advanced-stage ovarian cancer. She was only diagnosed about a month ago and still feels relatively well for a 78-year-old.
She had her first of nine rounds of chemotherapy one week ago and that made her feel bad with nausea, fatigue and numbness in her hands and feet. People are willing to undergo the effects of chemo because they hope it will cure them, or at least prolong their life.
Cancer is not a new word in my family. I had breast cancer when I was 39, but have had no recurrence since I took chemotherapy and radiation treatments 12 years ago. I believe I am cured, or at least that is what I hope.
I hate that anyone gets cancer or has to suffer through treatment, particularly my mom. Perhaps all of us wish that our parents would live long and meaningful lives and then, someday, just suddenly pass painlessly in the darkness of the night.
Struggling with cancer can be a messy, prolonged and unpleasant battle. I think she is tolerating all of this fairly well. We are Christians and know that we will go to heaven when we die, not perfect or deserving, but only forgiven. For some reason, all of us want to stay on Earth as long as we can.
Heaven sounds great, but it is just different and foreign and we don't know anyone who has actually been there and come back to tell us about it. Mom assured me she is ready to go, only not right away.
M.D. Anderson is a really big place. It reminds me of the old Starship Enterprise in which Mr. Spock and his companions jetted through space. It is not like life as we normally know it. There are many buildings all connected by long skyways which lead to and from the mothership.
Patients and caregivers can either walk or take shuttles through the tubes from one place to another. The shuttles deposit you at the opposite end, where you secure a wheelchair for your loved one and push them to the next series of tests.
Mom and Dad typically stay with either my sister Susie. who lives in Houston, or at the Rotary House. The Rotary House is a hotel connected to M.D. Anderson via skyway. The hotel allows one to park their car in the garage and never have to navigate the medical center parking garages until they are ready to leave.
Food and provisions are readily available. In addition to the cafeterias in each building, there are kiosks in some of the hallways connecting the buildings. Starbucks, Dryer Ice Cream, Cupcakes, Market-to-Go and gift shops appear out of nowhere.
It would seem that each of the individuals passing to and fro on all these skyways and hallways were just going to their jobs and indeed some are clad in white coats and hospital scrubs, so this is their life. Still, most of the wandering throngs are patients or their families, some still smiling while others only carry tired and empty stares.
I sat outside Starbucks on my last visit. I had risen earlier than my parents and went downstairs for a latte. There are tables scattered about, and I relaxed at one to watch those who passed by. Those sitting around me were taking their time savoring their muffin and morning coffee before their day started.
Some were caregivers like me who stole away for a minute alone to ponder what the day may hold. Be it good news or bad, most folks there seem to have a positive mood and perhaps one can if they know that in the end they can feel confident that they did all they could.
I sat next to a lady who carried a backpack with a tube that led somewhere under her shirt. She wore a turban on her head, a sure sign that she had lost her hair. She explained that her treatment was delivered daily and she had been at the hospital for more than a month. She had come there from Minnesota and her husband had accompanied her.
I did not ask any personal questions because she seemed more interested in me. I talked about my mom and her treatment, which would start later that day. She continued to smile and look at me with her clear, blue eyes wrinkling at the corners. I guessed her age to be around 60, but she could have been younger.
Her skin had a pale glow, almost unnaturally translucent, but she shined with hope. She was excited because she would be going home on the weekend, for how long I did not ask. She bid me goodbye, expressing blessings of good health to me and my mom.
I noticed that many of them wore the white hospital bracelet and had pale skin. I missed my floor being too deep in thought and not paying attention and came back down with one lone elevator companion. She was in her early 50s, near my age. Her wrist had a white hospital bracelet, and I commented before I had time to think how cute her haircut was. At this comment she yanked on the top of the wig and laughed.
She got off on my floor and told me that she had been back and forth to this place for about a year, most of the time staying three weeks alone while she got treatment. This particular visit she would be there for a total of a month. She said her children were grown, she was divorced and it was easier for her to be there by herself. She waved at several folks as they passed acknowledging them as you would a neighbor.
She seemed to want to talk, so I asked her about the different places in the hospital to eat and she gave me the run down on each of them. Apparently, she traveled freely depending on the cuisine and specials that day. She told me where to get the best soup, dessert or fried catfish. I marveled at her mood, but said nothing.
I waved goodbye, having made a new friend in a place that did not seem very sad in that moment. Later in the day, I saw her again and she waved. This seemed to be an amazing occurrence in a place that has tens of thousands of people walking around. Who can say why we cross the paths of others? One could wonder if there is a purpose in it all.
Mom's chemotherapy lasted about six hours, during which time she ate a sandwich and chips, and we watched three full-length movies on the movie channel. She commented that all we needed was buttered popcorn and a Coke, which I can make sure happens on the next trip.
We were like a mom and a daughter on movie night, except that one of us had an I.V. bag that steadily and silently dripped its toxic load. We finished at around 9 p.m. and my dad came to collect us. Mom got in the wheelchair and we headed for the skyway, which led us to the Rotary House.
On the elevator, I noticed a sign which said they were playing the movie "War Horse" the following night. Mom commented that she hoped they could go since they would be there for a few more days. I smiled and said, "I bet they serve popcorn."
I realize the reason we are at M.D. Anderson is a sobering one. Somehow, I think it is best to approach all of life by taking a deep breath and putting one foot in front of the other, even when our path is unknowable. We are making the most of every moment, enjoying our time in the hospital cafeteria eating veggie pizza on Tuesday and Cuban pulled pork on Wednesday.
Mom is sampling different types of soups and is starting to like fruit punch flavored Gatorade. Most people positively associate this with sports and athletics, but I drank so much Gatorade when I had chemo that I cannot even stand the thought of it.
She is back at home in Lake Charles this week, mostly resting, but able to visit with friends who stop by or call on the phone. My sisters and I check in regularly with her and Dad to make sure things are going well. She has had some rocky days where she must stay in bed and others when she can play cards with friends. I continue to pray for her health and peace while she is on this journey, knowing confidently that God is in control. I can only stay the course.
My mom doesn't have much of an appetite these days and so when I call, I frequently try to get her to eat something. Last week, I called Mom and asked what she had been eating. She replied, "Watermelon."
It seems that she has developed mouth ulcers from the chemo and not much tastes good without hurting her mouth. I mentioned that I made some watermelon sorbet and she simply said, "Bring me some."
"Sure," I replied.
Anything for Mom.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.