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How Jolly Ranchers Help Me Live in a World Full of Food I Can't Eat

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I peel away the wrapping paper to reveal the colorful cardboard box holding my birthday present, a mega box of green apple Jolly Ranchers. I unwrap the slippery plastic wrapper for the hundredth time this week and pop the sticky sweet goodness into my mouth. You’re probably wondering who thought giving a 14-year-old a box of candy as a present was a good idea, but it’s more than just candy to me — it’s my sanity. I know it sounds weird, but when it feels like your genetics betray you and don’t let your organs do their job, like digestion, hard candy becomes a pretty big part of your life.

Picture yourself sitting in a room full of tables and chairs with a hundred other people surrounding you. Everyone is told to sit, so you do. Waiters bring out silver platters covered in tall reflective covers, concealing the origin of an incredible smell. They put the plates down and an array of delicious-looking food is revealed. You look down the line and see everyone is excited about what was put in front of them, it is everyone’s favorite meal. This has to be some sort of heavenly dream for everyone else, but for you it’s some sort of nightmare. Imagine sitting in front of food you so desperately want each and every day, and you just can’t have it.

You are surrounded by a world advertising this “incredible experience.” Food is ingrained in our society, and for a good reason, too; if it weren’t, all you food-consuming mammals wouldn’t be here today. What people might not realize is that eating is a part of every aspect of our culture: you go to a party and there’s food, go out with friends and there’s food, you go to the movies and there’s food, go to a carnival and there’s food and you get together for Christmas and there’s food. And for Pete’s sake, there’s Thanksgiving, a holiday that’s supposed to make us think about what we are thankful for and appreciate all that we have, but instead most people just stuff their faces with food and stare aimlessly at the TV watching football.

Commercial after commercial is about food. “All you can eat” this and “finger-licking good” that. I’ve stopped watching regular TV for the most part for exactly this reason, but for the sake of research I watched primetime TV for an entire hour recently and about 60 percent of commercials that hour were for a restaurant or somehow related to food. Driving down the highway, BOOM, a million food billboards and signs for food at the next exit. There’s no escaping the vivid pictures of the juicy, greasy food I cannot eat. And the last thing I want to hear on my Pandora during the ride to the hospital is a commercial telling me to drop everything and drive to the nearest fast food place to try some burger or fries I can’t even smell without gagging, let alone eat.

My bag of candy is the only way I can survive sitting at meals. At parties, I have my pack of Ice Breakers; at Thanksgiving, I couldn’t get by without my pie-flavored gum and apple Dum Dums; and at birthdays I have my trusty birthday cake gum. Sounds great, right? Candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner — every kid’s dream. But what about when I start to get tired of the sweet flavors of Jolly Ranchers, and I can no longer ignore the more than slight chemically taste of the artificial gum? Most people can just put down the candy and go eat a cheeseburger. I can’t.

Sometimes my green apple Jolly Rancher can’t help. I don’t really sit down with my family for meals, and I don’t go out with friends if I know the night will revolve around food. I make it work for the important parties and events for holidays and birthdays, but the rest I have to learn to let go. I have better things I could be doing than eating; with my feeding tubes and central line I can eat, drink, talk and walk all at the same time. I could be learning Mandarin, or training to be an undercover CIA spy or heck, finding out the key to the universe.

My green apple Jolly Ranchers really do pull me through, most of the time. If it weren’t for them, I would’ve spent many birthdays and school events wishing I could taste something. Even though they can only help so much, my candy means I can be more comfortable around people that are eating. A green apple Jolly Rancher is so much more than another sugary snack; it truly is my sanity.

Follow this journey on Climbing Rivers.

Originally published: August 11, 2015
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