The weight of cancer

I thought a symptom of cancer was that you lost weight.  Apparently not, not even for metastatic cancer.

I’m a comfort eater: salty, starchy food is my go to when I’m tired, when I'm feeling down or when I'm just plain bored.  Over the past eight years, I've found it difficult to break this habit.  I ate and drank my way through caring for my husband and Tommy, his brain tumour.  I then drank and ate my way through grief and coping with being a young widow.  I started buying ugly clothes to motivate me to lose weight, however it just made me feel even worse and led to more comfort eating.

Then, in 2018 I was diagnosed with breast cancer-- metastatic breast cancer.  The cancer had spread to my bones and as a result I had fractured my pelvis, making it painful for me to walk.  With limited mobility, steroids and haywire taste buds from the chemo, I managed to bloat and creep up to an all time high of 79kg.  My healthy weight is 62 kg.

Even though I'm the same person, with every kilogram of weight gained, I've felt a little more of my self worth slip away.  Since gaining four dress sizes I've felt my whole body language change.  In work meetings I'm more defensive and less secure.  In social settings I gravitate to the quiet corners and stick with friends, staying well within my comfort zone.  I frequently leave the house without any make-up on now - who would want to look at fat old me?

Needless to say, the comfort eating, bloating and side effects from the chemo have really affected my self confidence.  I've gone from a size 8 - 10 in 2010 to a size 16 in 2018 and I hate it.  I hate what I look like.  Bald, bloated face, dry eyes which bizarrely stream with tears and a fat round broken body.  I desperately want to lose weight and feel in control again.  Going through cancer there's so much that you can't control but I feel that my weight should be within my powers of control.  However, as the dieters among us know, the more we focus on food and diet, the more weight we seem to put on.

Inspired by the nutrition session during The Approach at Penny Brohn, as soon as I finished my chemo and it was just the three weekly antibody treatment regime, I had a consultation with a nutritionist.  She advised me to go on a ketogenic diet and to try intermittent fasting.  I was fine with the intermittent fasting but after 6 weeks found the ketogenic diet limiting and started to slip.  I then beat myself up about slipping, making myself feel even worse.

Wanting to exercise again I saw the physio at my cancer centre and after a few sessions with her was discharged to join the local Move More scheme and was signed up to my local gym.  I had an exercise routine designed for me, making allowances for my broken body however when I had a break after a bout of flu, I struggled to find the motivation to head back to the gym. 

In another attempt to motivate myself I signed up for some personal training sessions in the park.  I loved these but they were only once a week and after 10 sessions I couldn't afford to continue and without my personal trainer, I stopped exercising.

I've tried detoxes, meal deliveries and counselling.  I want to lose weight but it feels like I'm in perpetual self destruct mode.  I know what I should be doing and need to do.  I can start new routines and habits, it's the maintaining them that I really struggle with.

It seems as though there's a jabberwocky on my shoulder, one who has taken up permanent residence.  He comes alive in the afternoon, around the time fatigue starts to hit.  He makes me think how nice it would be to have a cold glass of wine and something comforting to eat like salted crisps.  I battle with him for a bit but then pretty quickly I start to agree.  I do deserve it.  I've worked hard.  Life is short, I should make the most of it and enjoy it.  Besides, there's nothing else to do, I'm by myself and the night is long.  And so the bottle is opened and the cupboard raided.  Each morning remorse and resolve kicks in--until mid afternoon when the jabberwocky wakes again. 

I'm now working with an occupational therapist to design a routine that fits around my fatigue.  I need to plan out my days to give myself purpose and schedule in meals and exercise.  The exercise needs to be realistic and give me more energy rather than drain energy.  As a result I've moved my walk from first thing in the morning to lunchtime to help with the post lunch slump.  I'm sticking with the intermittent fasting - eating between 10 am and 8 pm and have signed up for Detox Kitchen's fridge fill  so I eat something healthy rather than takeaways in the evenings when I'm tired. 

I'm hoping that by sharing my weight battles fellow cancer clubbers won't feel alone in their weight battles.  I'm also hoping friends, family and carers understand the impact this has on our self esteem.  If we're having a bad day, perhaps one of the best things the best thing you can do for us is give us a hug and take us out for a walk.

What a difference 10 years makes

Chadder's top five tips for cancer weight loss

  1. try intermittent fasting
  2. keep a food diary, log your meals and all your snacks
  3. plan your weekly meals in advance
  4. plan your day, diarise exercise and meals
  5. keep moving, especially when you feel too tired to do anything, get outside for a walk
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