Last year I was having lunch at the food center. I ordered my food from a “ zhi cha” stall selling all kind of cook food. As part of my healthy eating regime, I usually order vegetables, steam egg and a fish. I would remind the cook’s assistant twice, to add generous amount of gravy to the dishes so that the rice will not be dry. If the stall gives a free bowl of soup, I will be very happy and appreciative and will make a point to always patronize the stall for lunch again just because of that bowl of soup.
Moving to the nearest empty table, I began my lunch. Two gentlemen came to share the table with me a few minutes later. Looking at their food, I realized that they have ordered from the same stall. One of them looks like in his late 40s the other in his 60s. Five minute later, they have literally finished what were on their plates and I was still struggling to finish the last portion of my food.
I have noted that for the past two years, lunching out has began to be a chore for me not because of being unable to decide what to eat but more because the act of eating has began to be a task and a challenge. Twenty years after completing radiotherapy for my nose cancer, I realized that swallowing food (especially food with dry texture like chicken, fish or some type of vegetables) has to be deliberate, occasionally forceful (if the food gets stuck in the throat even after washing it down with fluid). Sometimes I gag suddenly because of small remnants of the food (e.g. Kit Kat) get stuck in the dry areas of the throat. However eating food that is watery will eliminate most of these unpleasant experiences
Late last year, I requested for a medical test to check the strength of my throat muscles in swallowing different kinds of food. I called it a Barium Meal as the radioisotope barium liquid was added into each of the three categories (meat, salad and bread) to see the swallowing motion on X-ray. I was told to chew them and swallowed them when I was ready. The strength of the muscles was captured on dynamic X-ray film and this was recorded. The results showed that overall; my throat muscles were still functioning well although there were some signs of muscles fibrosis. I will be repeating another similar test again soon.
Swallowing for me is an ANNOYANCE but it is not a major ISSUE. Notwithstanding, I am appreciative that I am able to eat and enjoy the food (although at a lesser extent) and more importantly to be able to eat with the people I want. One of my house rules is that I make it a point to eat out once a week with my family because this is the time for my family bonding. For me, this reason far outweighs the small annoyances of swallowing.
Finally let me end with this Charlie Brown’s quip which I believe, resonates loudly not only with me but with all nasopharyngeal cancer survivors.
Lucy remarked: “ I am making a list of all the things that I have learned in life, well actually, I am making two lists.” Charlie enquired, “ Why is one list longer than the other? ”. To which Lucy replied, “ These are the things I have learned the hard way!”
19th year old NPC cancer survivor. Treated with radiotherapy.