The Big C

“The latest biopsy did come back as cancer.”

Those are definitely not the words you want to hear. Now, admittedly, after dealing with a sore on my tongue that wouldn’t heal for about three months and that was surrounded by a reddish area that kept growing, this was in the back of my mind as I made my way from my dentist to my regular doctor to an ENT (ear, nose, throat doctor). But oral cancer, in my tongue? Me? A lifelong non-smoker who had never taken a puff of anything, legal or not, and who had never used any other types of tobacco products at all? This is the sort of cancer that most often strikes older men with three pack a day habits, not females under 40 who have never adopted that habit.

“The doctor recommends radiation, followed by surgery if necessary.

When I asked, the reasoning was that surgery on the tongue or in the mouth is disfiguring and can have a large impact on things like speech and eating, especially given where the tumor on my tongue happens to be (left side, about in the middle from front to back). Radiation can shrink tumors to the point where surgery afterwards can have less of an impact than initial surgery can.

However, conventional wisdom is surgery first, then radiation if there are areas missed by the surgery. Ever hear that phrase “the margins are clear”? That’s what post-surgery pathology is looking for: no evidence of cancer cells around the perimeter of the removed tissue, which generally indicates radiation is not necessary, although consistent, regular followups are.

Besides, my speech had been degenerating for a couple of months since the tumor continued to grow and is ulcerated in the middle, making it very painful to talk. And swallow. So I sound like someone who might be a little mentally challenged, and the only way my speech could be any worse would be if I couldn’t speak at all. I can’t speak on the phone at all right now, and it’s getting pretty tough for people to understand me when we’re face to face.

So, off we went for a couple of other opinions. I haven’t written about this previously, because I’m a fairly private person, all things considered. But there’s a dearth of sites about oral cancer compared to things like breast cancer, so I thought I might give people like me, who are searching for others’ experiences, anther place to land if they, too, are given the news that there’s something growing on their body that shouldn’t be.

Primo guacamole

Years ago, I never cared for guacamole. That’s probably because every version I’d had was processed into something resembling the stuff that could be found in a baby’s diaper after a particularly bad intestinal bout.

However, I sampled some made by one person that wasn’t quite so processed, and found that it could be quite tasty. I’ve modified it a bit, as hers tended to be a little too watery if it sat for awhile, and I like mine a bit stronger, so I use more red onion and garlic. This is a great taste as you go kind of thing, and the amounts can be adjusted to suit whatever tolerance you have for the various ingredients.

Primo guacamole (serves about half a dozen, or 2-3 hungry people, or 1 person who doesn’t like to share)

6 slightly soft Haas avocados
1 lime
2 medium tomatoes
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely minced (depending on your tolerance)
1 – 1 1/2 cups diced red onion (ditto)
Fresh cilantro, minced (to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Place the avocado meat in a good sized bowl, and mash it a bit with a fork. Personally, I like my guacamole a little chunky, so some diced-sized pieces of avocado are always welcome. Squeeze lime over the avocados immediately to prevent browning.

Quarter and seed tomatoes (this will keep it from getting watery on you). Chop roughly and add to avocado mixure, stirring gently to combine. Add remaining ingredients and stir a bit more. Give it a taste, make any spice adjustments, and enjoy.

Chewy Chocolate Cookies

Because sometimes, you just need some chocolate.

1 3/4 cups (unbleached) all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (minis)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
3 egg whites
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350.

Sift the first five ingredients into a bowl and stir well.

Combine 3/4 cup chocolate chips plus the oil in a small saucepan and heat on low, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl (preferably the bowl of a Kitchen Aid or other mixer) and let cool for five minutes. Add corn syrup, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and egg whites* to chocolate and stir well. Add flour mixture and remaining chocolate chips to the wet ingredients and stir well. The dough will be slightly dry, but should stay together if pressed in your hand.

Drop by level tablespoons about two inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray or (better) onto Silpats. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Let cool for 2-3 minutes, then move to wire racks to completely cool. Do not store these cookies in the open air.

If you use an ice cream scoop (dip) to drop the cookies, use a smaller one, as otherwise you will get uneven cooking and the outer eges will be crispy while the center is raw.

* Egg whites: I used a carton of egg whites (All Whites) for this recipe. Three tablespoons equals about one large egg, so I added five tablespoons to the mix initially. When adding the flour, my mix wound up a little dry, so I added a bit more egg white while the KA was mixing for me until the dough was moist enough to stay together but still dry enough to retain the chewy factor after baking. The total egg white addition was probably about seven tablespoons. Your mileage may vary, so adjust according to your needs.

Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life