So last May, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer. It's not considered curable but it is treatable. One doctor told me to think of it like diabetes – I will likely be on various treatments for it for the rest of my life, but those treatments should keep it under control. They found it before I became symptomatic and I'm otherwise very healthy, so my prognosis is pretty good. Since the diagnosis, I've been on a couple of different medications for it that have worked well and, importantly, have had no impact on my ability to eat and drink as I wish. I've kept drinking my cocktails and my wine and I've eaten whatever I want, so I haven't mentioned it here until now. (I do know that some of you here would have wanted to know this sooner and I very much appreciate that, but it's just such a buzzkill to bring it up. I don't mind talking about it in the least, though, so don't hesitate to PM or email me if you have any questions or advice to offer.)
The standard treatment for myeloma for someone my age is what's called an autologous stem cell transplant. It involves filtering cells out of my bloodstream, then nuking my bone marrow with a single, high dose of a chemotherapy agent, and then putting those cells back in. Once the cells get back into my bloodstream, they'll go back into the bone marrow, set up shop, and start producing all of the different cells that bone marrow normally produces. It's a very safe procedure with one significant caveat: between the time the bone marrow gets scorched and the time the cells get everything back into production, I'll be lacking a functioning immune system. For the first three weeks or so, I'll be in a special hospital room with filtered air, limited access, etc. (although I can have visitors as long as they're healthy). Once my immune system starts functioning at a minimal level, they'll send me home where I'll continue to recuperate for another couple of months before they'll let me go back to work.
So why do I bring this up now? I started my hospital stay this morning (and in fact have already received my whomping big dose of chemotherapy). A few minutes ago, the dietician walked in and gave me a talk regarding eating and drinking while severely immunocompromised. Yes, for the first time, this wretched disease will actually affect what I can eat! Not only am I in a place where they will not let me have my evening cocktail or wine, I will also have to worry about everything I put in my mouth! As Dr. Zachary Smith would have said, “Oh the pain, the pain of it all.”
So what are the limitations? First off, meat must be cooked to well done. Meaning inedible. That's any fresh meat, of course. Even cold cuts that are bought in sealed packages must be heated until steaming before they go onto a sandwich. (Deli counter cold cuts are not allowed at all.) Fish must be cooked to well done. Meaning inedible. Cheeses are restricted to commercially packaged, pasteurized hard and soft cheeses. No buying sliced cheese from the deli. Soft cheese such as brie must be cooked before being eaten. Bleu or any other moldy cheese is out of the question. Any sauce or dressing with raw egg in it or any eggs that are not cooked hard are verboten. Ironically, highly processed foods, like Cheez-whiz and Spam are just fine. Pasteurized tofu is encouraged.
On the other hand, there's a lot that's not terribly restrictive. Well-washed fruits and vegetables are fine. Baked goods that don't have custard in them are good. Just about any bread, grain, or cereal product is also on the acceptable list.
I'm already looking into ways to deal with the hospital food situation. My wife will be able to supply cookies and other baked snacks while I'm here, which should help to keep both my calorie count and spirits up. I only get one cup of coffee for breakfast, but I think we'll be able to bring a coffee maker in as long as we use bottled water in it. Being able to have good coffee every morning will be another big factor in me staying happy while in my enforced isolation.
So for the next few weeks, I'll not be posting much in the “What's Cooking?” thread. After that, I'll be looking at ways to eat well while having to strenuously watch for any chance of microbial contamination. It should be an interesting next few months.
Letterman asked Zevon if his condition had taught him anything about life and death. ''How much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich,'' Zevon answered. (From a 2003 NYTimes article on Zevon by Jon Pareles.)