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Chewing Gum and Cancer

Posted Jul 31 2009 11:51am


Before you're the age of seven your mother is scared to death to let you chew a stick of gum. It might get stuck in your throat - lodged in a perverse definition of the name and gum up your breathing. Later, when you've reached enough "maturity," you're allowed a small Chicklet and you walk around proudly chewing your gum as your mother hovers over you waiting for a choking disaster to strike.

Then, one day, you're allowed to chew gum unsupervised. You upgrade immediately to Bubblicious or Bazooka gum. You're the talk of the town and immediately way more funny than you used to be because you memorize the jokes on the bubble gum wrapper.

Yes - life is good for you.

You continue to diversify your gum tastes as you grow older. You experiment with gumballs, cinnamon gum, and even that strange zebra Fruit Stripe gum. Each stick of gum is an explosion of tooth-decaying flavor that lasts for a few short minutes before you spit it out and reach for another stick.

I used to be just like you, you know. It's true - I was. I, too, would chew gum whenever I wanted to. I might, just for the hell of it, have a pack in my car, another at my office, one next to my bed on the nightstand. I was not addicted to gum - but it certainly had a place in my life.

Until I got cancer, that is.

The cumulative effects of my radiation therapy killed the salivary glands on the left side of my face and I was told that the right side salivary glands might come back one day. No guarantees; just hold your proverbial breath and wait, Mr. Sparks.

The good news is that they were right; I have slowly been experiencing a resurrection of the salivary glands on the right side of my face. When my treatments ended I literally woke up every hour on the hour to moisten my mouth with water. I carried enzyme mouth sprays designed to moisten my mouth like real saliva does (it's not the same, by the way - not even close). I had a $500.00/month mouth rinse designed to help my mouth stay moist and revive my salivary glands.

On Friday, three days ago, I had my first stick of gum since I was diagnosed with cancer! It was a small stick of Eclipse gum!



Carey and I were driving somewhere, I don't remember where, when I absently reached down and took a stick of gum from her car stash. She didn't say anything, because it was obvious that I was oblivious to what I was doing and she wanted to know how it was going to play out.

I tossed it into my mouth and started chewing. An onrush of saliva from the right side of my mouth moistened the gum as I began to chew. It took me a moment, but I slowly realized what I had done.

"Honey!" I said, "I'm chewing gum!"

"I know," she smiled at me, "how does it taste?"

I was in pure bliss for a moment - until my saliva started drying up. I only make a little saliva now, but it was enough to allow me to chew the gum for five minute before I was forced to spit it out because my mouth was too dry.

I tried switching the gum from my left cheek to my right - but that was a disaster. With absolutely zero saliva on the left side the gum instantly turned into stale rubber and I was forced to switch back to the right side where at least a trickle of saliva made it more malleable and gave it some taste.

I feel like I've crossed a major milestone - but all I've done is chew a stick of gum. Still - for a guy who just a couple of months ago couldn't speak three complete sentences without a drink of water this is fantastic.

Yay me!

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