From Lacuna Loft writing:

You wake up one morning to discover that you have lost your favorite of the five major senses. Which one is gone? How does it change your life?

For me, this isn’t a hypothetical. It actually happened to me, albeit not with my favorite sense, but that’s the thing; you don’t know the value of anything until it’s gone.

So, the scientist in me feels compelled to ask, you, the reader, first; how many senses do we actually have? Science doesn’t actually know. That might seem a little horrifying, but the list of things we don’t know is so vast and lengthy that it would take several Wikipedias to list (I don’t mean “Wikipedia pages,” either). So, there are the Big Five we learned in Kindergarten — touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing. Then there are others we learn about later — intuition, subtext, time, balance, etc. We’ve done experiments with dogs that have determined our canine friends have a sense of time (by measuring how enthusiastically they greeted their owners when the owners had been away for half an hour, vs how enthusiastically they greeted their owners when they’d been away for four hours)(I imagine this is the only study measured by “lamps and table-top objects destroyed”).

Of all the various senses that I know and love, the most critical one, to me, is the sense of humor. Without that one, just kill me, now (it’s worth noting that one of my oncologists actually made that observation at one point — “If you’re not sardonic and facetious, we’ll know something’s really wrong”).

As far as the others; I like being able to see and hear and taste stuff, I guess? I know what life is like without a sense of touch, strangely enough. So, bit of back-story. On Nov. 1, 2017, I went in for my third neurosurgery to remove what was thought to be an anaplastic astrocytoma, and turned out to be a glioblastoma. UCSF, where I had the surgery, has a stellar surgical reputation, and they are very serious about protecting it. Which means my surgeons were super-aggressive in giving my ventricles a good flossing. Unfortunately, the tumor was located in the part of my brain associated with “bodily sensations.” So, on Nov. 2, 2017, I woke up with absolutely no touch sensations on the left side of my body. I could still “move” everything, but if you can’t feel your limbs to tell if they’re moving, it’s pretty much just de-facto hemiparesis (inability to move on one side of the body). I could hear and see just fine, I literally just could not “feel” anything happening on the left side. I had to closely supervise anything my left arm and leg were doing if I wanted them to do it correctly. You probably wouldn’t list your sense of touch as your favorite sense, but, until you need a “spotter” just to help you walk down the hall without toppling, you can’t really appreciate it.

My point here is, you might lose one sense and it’ll unintentionally hit others. Trying to choose a “favorite sense” is like choosing a favorite leg (which I now have, thanks to some residual neuropathy and neuralgia). And some of us don’t get the luxury of choosing what we give up for survival — usually, the bill doesn’t arrive for a year or two until after services and flesh have been rendered. The only — more primal — choice most survivors get is, “Do you want to survive?” And, for far too many of us, that choice doesn’t work out. Having said that, there are plenty of extraneous things in your life you could happily do without — you just don’t know it until you’ve lost something big and start wishing, “Oh, I wish I’d just lost THAT instead of THIS.”

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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