An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound (Or Ten) Of Cure
“What you gonna do with all that junk? All that junk inside that trunk?”
-The Black Eyed Peas “My Humps”
Growing up in an Italian family food was kind of like the other sibling in the house. It was always around, eager to hang out, and impossible to ignore. I’ve been a foodie since before the term foodie was coined. I love the kitchen; it’s my favorite room in the house. I love the smells, the sounds, and the genial mood that usually accompanies a night of fine food and endless drink-be it standing up around my granite island or sitting around my well-worn farmhouse table. As my paternal grandmother, my grandma Goodie, would always say, I’m a true kitchen rat.
I embrace this now-as a woman in her forties…but it wasn’t always that way for me. My love of food was often a point of shame-and something I hid until I was well into my twenties. Because I wore my food; I wore it on my hips, my breasts, my thighs, and of course, my butt. I have always been active and I was never really much of a junk food junkie-I liked the real stuff, real meals-good food. But no matter how many diet fads I embraced throughout my teens, no matter how much I tried to starve myself throughout my twenties, no matter how much weight I lost, I always had curves.
Understand this though; I am very comfortable in my skin. I made peace with my body type years ago. It’s genetic. I’m Italian. And as long as I stay fit, I don’t feel fat. I know, just like everyone else, I have good body days and bad body days. I’ll never be a size 6-and that’s okay. As long as I am healthy, I’ll take being curvy and happy than skinny and miserable any day. But…
Six years ago, once I accepted the fact that I was indeed going to have to go through chemo I tried to find the bright side (other than the obvious obliteration of cancer) and like an Oprah Winfrey ‘light bulb moment’ it hit me. Chemo makes you skinny! It can give you an aversion to certain foods, smells, and can make you nauseous. Bingo! Finally a diet I wouldHAVE to stick to. I can look forward to losing that little extra I tend to carry. I can totally rock the chemo-chic look, and maybe even fit into those sample sizes I’ve always coveted.
It doesn’t work that way. The chemo I had was NOT the Lifetime movie version of chemo. You know-head in the toilet, endless vomiting, bedridden, and gaunt until the final credits roll. This is real chemo for early stage breast cancer. And this chemo makes most women gain weight due to a little something the nurses like to slip into the IV right after the Ativan knocks you out…Decadron. Decadron is a very powerful steroid and necessary to take when on certain drugs for cancer treatment most especially, Herceptin-which I take because of the HER2+ amplification found in my tumor. So I was able to eat…and eat I did. Oh, on chemo days not so much, but generally I felt good-and hungry! And even though my diet remained fairly steady, heavy on fruits, veggies, and lean protein-low on processed crap. I gained weight. A lot of weight. And I was even walking several miles each morning. But every two weeks, when I went to my beloved oncologist’s office, that stupid little slider bar on the scale kept moving further to the right. Over the fourteen month course of my treatment I gained more than twenty pounds. So now, not only was I bald, I was fat too.
Chemo chic? Nuh-uh, I looked like Uncle Fester.
It took me two years to lose all the steroid weight-and it was not easy. So when I found out I had to go through chemo again the second thing I said was “Ugh, I don’t want to get fat again.” The first thing I said is utterly inappropriate and unrepeatable in this forum.
I discussed my concerns with my oncologist-because the first thing you always hear about cancer prevention is maintaining a healthy weight. My doc agreed that because I already went through the drill once-and had no adverse side effects to the medications, I could try to take the chemo/Herceptin cocktail with half the amount of steroids. Well, I’m now six months into my treatment and I’ve still managed to pack on nearly ten pounds.
But I’m reminding myself to be kind to myself. Treatment is temporary. Food is nourishment and nourishment has kept my body strong. Every eight weeks or so my doc informs me of how much weight I’ve gained since my last visit (like I don’t know) and he tells me to keep exercising. I tell him it’s his fault for pumping me full of more ‘roids than Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1980. It goes round and round-a vicious cycle of friendly banter and finger pointing. But I don’t doubt when I am finished in December the weight will begin to come off again-though I know I will have to work on it. When I get a little bummed about “all that junk inside my trunk” I tell myself that my body is protecting me and allowing me to not just survive but thrive.