For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is stricken and withered like grass; I am too wasted to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my skin.
Psalm 102: 3-5
These verses provide an accurate representation of what many people think of when they think of cancer patient—gaunt, wasted, sunken eyes. Even medical school students are prone to think that unexplained weight loss is a symptom of ovarian cancer. Just the opposite is true: it’s the inexplicable gain that many of us experience, even when following a program of sensible weight loss, that’s a tip-off.
A friend and I rejoiced in our weight loss post-surgery—each of us lost about twenty pounds once the tumor and various body parts were removed. “You’ve lost weight even in your hands!” a friend exclaimed after I returned home. That loss was short-lived. My gynecologic oncologist warned me that most women gain ten to fifteen pounds on chemo.
I had intraperitoneal treatments—liters and liters of saline and chemotherapy drugs sloshing around in my abdomen. All of us knew to wear comfy pants with elastic waistbands to treatment. My chemo nurse told me that another patient had done before and after weigh-ins, gaining more than ten pounds after chemo.
It’s true that some people get mouth sores because of their chemo and find it painful to eat. I did not. And much of the time what I wanted was comfort food—mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, milkshakes—that required little effort in the chewing department. (Fortunately, my celiac disease had not yet manifested, so I could enjoy all the pasta I wanted.)
The weight I’d lost after surgery came back. I have friends who have been unable to lose weight after treatment. I’ve not really tried. It’s easy for me to slide into self-pity. Poor me, with two cancers and celiac disease! I think I’ll have some more saltfatsugar while I still can. Knowing that this behavior is counter-productive (it’s hard on my knees and it’s one of the risk factors in a lot of other diseases) doesn’t seem to stop me.
This is something I need to think about.