As the numbness of being newly diagnosed wore off I started trying to think of some positives of chemotherapy. I came up with a temporary reprieve from unwanted body hair, time to read my humongous book pile, an insurance-covered boob job, and a harsh, yet effective weight loss program. Boy was I wrong!
I never lost the hair on my legs, never had the gumption to read while I was going through treatment, I finally did get the boob job after a year and a half, and I gained weight. I gained thirty pounds over the six months of chemotherapy. I blame it on steroids and the medical professionals at my oncologist’s office. “If the only thing you ever feel like eating is ice cream then just eat ice cream. It’s more important to keep up your strength than it is to watch what you’re eating.” Luckily for me I never had much of a problem with my appetite. So I ate ice cream. And everything else that struck my fancy.
A couple months after my last treatment I started counting Weight Watcher’s points and in just a few weeks I lost half of the weight I had gained. Then the bionic ovaries my doctors assured me had shriveled up and died came back to life and I started getting monthly Zoladex injections. Guess what they did. They made me gain back the 15 pounds I had lost seemingly over night.
We made our move from Arkansas to Pennsylvania in the midst of those injections and really, who’s going to count points or calories during something like that? Not me, that’s for sure. I finished the injections, I got past the stresses of settling and getting the kids adjusted in school, and I started back at Weight Watchers. It took a while, but it finally started to budge a little.
The problem was I just wasn’t terribly serious about it. By this time I was getting fairly close to my reconstruction and I wanted to make sure the surgeon would have enough belly fat to make breasts I could be proud of. That was my excuse anyway. I had been a Barely B on a good day and, while I didn’t want to be huge, I wanted to make the surgeon earn his money. I also figured a couple weeks of narcotics following such major surgery would help with the food cravings, making getting into the swing of dieting that much easier.
It was a great plan. I started out pretty good, even with all the meals friends were bringing. And then… And then I had a horrible skin reaction to something, most likely the eight hours of anesthesia and mostly likely due to chemical changes from the chemo. They started out as blisters or maybe hives in the area of my abdominal incision and traveled down throughout my groin and pelvic area. Between the oncologist and dermatologist I was tentatively diagnosed with dermatitis, shingles, urticaria and fungal folliculitis, but never anything definitive. With each diagnosis came a new medicine, more often than not including high dose steroids. “Hello all the fat I’d lost and then some.”
But wait. It didn’t stop there. The skin problems went on for several months and during this time the feline ovaries with the nine lives came back again. The gynecologist tried to convince me I was’t having periods, but that the bleeding was from changes to the uterine lining due to the Tamoxifen. She may be the one with the medical degree, but I’m the one who has lived in this body for 40-some years. I had felt the familiar pinch of ovulation, the “bleeding eposides” were cyclical, and most telling of all, the hot flashes and nightsweats had stopped.
I had received a Zoladex injection when the bleeding started again so my estrogen level was suppressed. This, of course, was during one of my high dose steroid regimens. The weight was going nowhere and frankly, I was so miserable between these horrible periods/bleeding episodes and the blisters or hives – oh, and the steroids caused a terrible rash from my neck to my toes on top of the hives, which at this point were numbering close to 100 in one concentrated area – that my weight was the least of my concerns.
The bleeding had gotten so bad that I became anemic and the gynecologist scheduled me for a D&C and uterine ablation. We had to cancel it, however, because of all the rashes and hives, etc. What a godsend that turned out to be. I had seen my oncologist on a Thursday and the next day the family went camping. I started another period and on Monday I called to see what my estrogen level was just so I could let the gynecologist know. It should have been less than 27. It was 92.
BINGO! I think I did a great job of keeping my smugness under wraps as my gynecologist told me, “Well. I guess those were periods. You’re going to need a complete hysterectomy with oopherectomy as soon as we can get it done.” At this point I was rash free and the hives or blisters or whatever those annoying things were had calmed down quite a bit.
So I had another abdomenal surgery to remove all my girly parts and was thrown into menopause again. After recuperating from that I decided to try Weight Watchers yet again. I’d do okay for a couple of days and then decide my life was too short to deny myself the yumminess of life. And then I’d do alright and nothing would budge. Neither my oncologist in Arkansas nor my oncologist here ever seemed to care about my weight and in fact always rationalized it for me. Every time I see my doctor he tells me I have so many factors working against me. That’s all I need to hear and suddenly I have permission, nay, encouragement to stop at Starbuck’s on the way home for the biggest White Chocolate Mocha with whip available.
But I’m tired of this. I want to feel better. I want to look better. I just want to look like me! I haven’t seen the real me in three years. I don’t want my feet or my ankles to hurt anymore. I want more energy. I want to wear cute clothes!
This time I’m going to do it. I started Monday and so far I’ve done well. I realize that’s only five days, but that’s five days of eating healthy, drinking water, exercising… Now if I can only do that for another five days and then another and then another… I realize it might be a lot slower than it was before I was 40 and before I had my ovaries yanked from my body. But that’s okay. I like to think I’ve got nothing but time.
Maybe, just maybe, after I’ve lost all this weight and another 10 to 15 pounds just for good measure, maybe then my new normal will seem a little more like my old normal.
Jen – I hope you had those ovaries bronzed for posterity! It is funny how many misconceptions I had about breast cancer too. I remember eating like a pig the Christmas I was diagnosed, thinking I would have a ready-made diet plan with the start of chemo after New Years. Ha! I should have figured I wouldn’t get a cancer that would make me lose weight!
I’m sure you can do it! It feels good to be back to normal! I’m pulling for you!
My first time ’round with chemo, I gained weight, but not a lot, not like my husband who ate a pound of tapioca pudding every day he was on chemo. This time, my onc’s nurse said that since my liver was so “compromised”, I should limit my intake at any one sitting to what my two hands could hold, cupped. Luckily I have big hands. Anyhow, I lost 30 lbs (I had plenty of “extra”) in about 2 months doing that. I also cut out some of the higher fat snacks, but not all of them. I occasionally still have ice cream.
I could still stand to lose 20 or so lbs, and I may still — I’m going to be on this chemo, assuming that it keeps working, for months and months and months…
good luck with the diet & recovery from the indignities of chemotherapy!
Amy in NYC
I had never really had a weight problem before cancer. When I get stressed I just do not eat. I actually lost during chemo. Then the surgeon wanted me to put on some weight before my surgery. So I ate Sprinkles cupcakes, ice cream etc. I did gain the weight. After that it seemed to keep adding especially in places that I never had it before. When I talked to my oncologist he said try to eat only 24 grams of fat per day. Does anyone know how hard that is????? My Omega 3 pill is 1 gram of fat itself so now I am down to 23 grams. I spoke with my OBGYN in the Spring – One year after my ovaries were removed. She said that what they are telling Menopausals is to adopt the South Beach Diet – Maintenance phase (phase 3). I read up on it and I have started to use it and it has helped. I can have real salad dressings and basically I can through away all of the low fat stuff. I still have a problem with whole grain pasta, but overall it has been good.
curious about the pain in your ankles.
my ankles hurt me too, and they get swollen — don’t know why, but never had that before the chemo
(could you send your response to my email: email@example.com? I haven’t been logging on so much lately)
Oh, Jen. I almost cried reading this. While I’m sorry about your weight issues, it is beyond comforting to know that others are experiencing this, too. I was in San Diego last week with my kids to do a little surfing. One day, while walking with my daughter past an O’Neill store (which doesn’t carry anything bigger than a size 4), I caught a glimpse of myself in the window reflection. And I did not recognize myself for a moment. I still have an image of myself as I was before cancer. And I refuse to let this new image become who I am. I am with you on this Weight Watchers diet. In fact, I’d love a WW buddy. Email me if that holds any appeal…firstname.lastname@example.org
I gained weight during chemo and thought that was such an injustice. Not only do I have to feel like I am a character in the night of the living dead but I kept eating.
The only good thing that came of it was that anything I thought tasty during chemo became a disgusting taste after chemo. I guess there is a taste memory because some lovely cookies and crackers now make me sick to smell them.
So, sure the weight just piled on. I am short so I came to resemble a 5′ x5′ box with a little head. I caught sight of myself in a bathing suit this February and I hardly knew myself.
But, it has been 8 months now, and thanks to Weight Watches, no drinking wine Mon – Friday, and really just time for my body to recover, I have lost 5 pounds. Only 15 more to go.
My very best wishes to all of you. And, please cruise through my blog if you have the time and interest.
I am no expert but to be more specific about dieting try to do a non estrogenic diet. If you are estrogen receptive. anti-estrogen diet will work better than weight watchers. I have tried both. Anti-Estrogen wins hands down.
Wow, great post. I can relate in many pounds, I mean ways! Thanks for sharing!