My cousin recently sent me a video of her 7-year-old daughter gleefully attacking a large bowl of shrimp, explaining how to peel them and prepare them for cooking. She said, “It’s very easy, but kind of gross. First you take the tail off, then the skin off, then you plop it in the bowl.” As I faced my own two-pound bowl of barely defrosted shrimp, I wished I could muster some of her enthusiasm. The shrimp were cold, the work annoying and the process endless, sort of like isolating at home in the time of coronavirus.
But I was reminded of how lucky I am to have food, and health and determination – things that can be in short supply for cancer patients wresting with the additional hurdles imposed by the pandemic. One patient I spoke with this past week was struggling to eat because his pain levels had gotten so high, he couldn’t stomach it. Yet his appointments for pain management had been delayed again by another two weeks due to concerns about the virus.
Another patient I know was worried about access to food – neither she nor her husband were able to work, she due to her active treatment and he due to virus-related work restrictions – making it impossible to imagine where the next meal was going to come from. And a third, wheelchair-bound and dependent on a continuous supply of oxygen, isn’t able to get close enough to the stove to cook for herself without risk of a fire, despite ample supplies in the fridge. The home health aid on whom she has been dependent for years has stopped coming, and replacement assistance doesn’t know how to cook.
Cold Fingers, Warm Heart
In this crazy time of so much uncertainty, planning anything past the end of the day has become nearly impossible. But planning your next meal shouldn’t have to be. Food insecurity is a problem for millions of people around the world during normal times. Supply-chain disruptions, economic disruptions and the safety issues of obtaining and preparing food in the age of the coronavirus have created an additional burden for cancer patients at a time when increasing threats to a weakened immune system makes good nutrition that much more important. A healthy diet helps patients recover from treatment and strengthen natural defenses against disease, including COVID-19 and cancer.
Although numerous meal delivery options have emerged during the pandemic to supplement ongoing food banks and support services, many have long wait times – either standing in line or awaiting delayed online processing. That can be challenging for anyone who is hungry, unthinkable for someone who is immunocompromised.
A home cooked meal makes everyone feel good, but it can be hard to ask for — or offer—when following social distancing guidelines. I would much rather have been able to drop off a home cooked meal to each of these patients. But under the circumstances, I was glad to be able to help them navigate resources and flag their needs to those who could obtain the appropriate support.
So, as I dipped back into the bowl of icy-cold crustaceans, envisioning the salads and stir-frys that lay ahead with abundant protein, nutrition and flavor, I reminded myself to count my blessings, instead of shrimp. Although the process of acquisition is a little more stressful than in pre-pandemic days, and my fingers were surely cold, I am ever grateful for the abundance of food and health I have now, and the loving family I have to share it with.