I don't remember my first taste of feta, but I do remember when I began craving it.
It was a typical "chemo day" for me in the fall of '08, about five months into my 16 month treatment plan for breast cancer. My morning started with a parade of nurses and technicians taking turns trying to access my port. After at least 6 tries they had a line in, which almost immediately infiltrated and had to be restarted with an intra-peritoneal needle. It felt like a nail in my chest. I gritted my teeth and cursed my surgeon's placement for the hundredth time. The nurse flushed my port with normal saline, one eye on my face for my reaction, and sighed in relief at my shudder when the taste hit my mouth.
"What do you want to eat, honey?"
I looked up at my husband in disbelief. He always asked this; I just couldn't believe his inate ability to ask at the exact moment I felt the most nauseous. I realized I was still holding my breath from the anticipation of the nail going in. I blew it out slowly.
"I'll have pizza."
It was our little ritual, every chemo day. I would get plugged in, and he would wander down to our favorite cafe, knowing by the time he went through the line and got back upstairs, my pre-meds would be kicking in and I would be hungry.
So he nods and saunters out, cracking a joke at the nurse as he leaves. My funny, wise-ass husband is clearly a favorite here among the mainly female staff of nurses (and one effeminate male nurse he shamelessly flirts with), so I would like to go off on a side note and describe him to you.
His name is Robert. He hates it, so I call him Bob. Everyone else, calls him Bobby.
Bob has been through a lot in the past 8 months or so. The night I was diagnosed, I was 6 doors down the hall from his mother's room, who was dying of a rare peritoneal cancer. She passed away shortly after that. In the midst of his grief he was still there for me during multiple surgeries, complications, illnesses. He took care of our children, then 7 and 1, when I was too weak or sick to hold them, changed diapers, made school snacks, shaved my head for me - and somehow maintained his sanity and sense of humor. He'll probably never know how much I really love him for that.
Bob returned with two takeout containers and two fountain drinks. "They have a new pizza," he told me, opening mine up on the side table of my recliner. "It has artichokes but I figured you would like it."
It smelled heavenly. Fifteen minutes ago, I felt like vomiting. The pre-meds were working!
The pizza looked like a flatbread with artichokes, calameta olives and feta cheese. It tasted like nectar from the gods. There wasn't much those days I cared to eat, but I loved that pizza.
Bob ate his turkey sandwich in the straight-backed chair across from me, looking pleased with himself. My nurse returned, ready to change my IV bag.
"Time for your Benadryl, Sarah. Oh my, is that pizza from downstairs?"
"Yes! Its a new one. So yummy. You like feta cheese?"
I stopped smacking long enough to offer her a piece. We ohhed and ahhed together between bites while she changed my bag. The benadryl was the favorite part of my day- as soon as it started infusing I would start to feel sleepy, and soon I wouldn't be able to hold my eyes open. The nap, a precious commodity these days, would also be on a full stomach.
I saw a woman, well-dressed and with her own hair, watching us from the hallway with a strange look on her face. Obviously, she was either new to the Infusion Center, or not a patient. Not everyone understands.
I leaned back into my recliner, still some grease on my face, yet strangely content for the moment. My eyelids were heavy as I listened to Bob and Amy, my nurse, discuss the latest Top Chef. My bald head felt chilly, but Amy, anticipating this, was already tucking a warmed blanket around me. I drifted off and dreamt I was eating feta cheese pizza again.