Seeing as I used to be a healthy living/fitness/weight loss blogger, I thought it might be fitting to address the weight issue surrounding my treatment. While I lost a lot of weight during my month in the hospital, I have managed to gain it all back and then some since beginning chemotherapy.
I have said a lot of times that being sick, like real sick, will change a person. Well, it has also changed my perspective on weight gain and weight loss. This is why you don’t hear me talk about it as much anymore, nor will I blather about it too much in the future.
I first started blogging in January 2009 after losing close to 30 lbs. Not a substantial amount of weight to lose, I know. And to be honest, it wasn’t really that hard. Most of the extra weight was brought on by too much beer and nachos, followed by a period of perhaps excessive restriction that accounted for losing those final 10lbs.
After the weight loss, I threw out all of my larger clothes, vowing to never get to that larger size again. I had completely overhauled my life and habits, and saw no reason why I would ever gain the weight back.
Well, once I eased up on my more restrictive habits, I gained 10-15lbs of it back. I was bummed, but honestly the freedom to eat and drink more normally was way better than any size on a pair of jeans. So while I missed my old body, my new one was good enough.
What I could have never predicted was that I’d get an illness where weight would be the least of my worries.
Since beginning treatment, my exercise habits have dropped to almost nothing. Walks or mild sessions on my indoor recumbent bike are all that I can handle. No calorie-scorchers here. I’m home all day next to a stocked kitchen. I’m bored all day and cooking in the kitchen is my favourite entertainment!
Finally, there’s the drugs and all their side effects. None of which have affected my appetite to the point where I can’t eat, just to the point where “health food” sounds the least appetizing (or digestible). Namely, the steroids make me feel hungry all the time and come with the lovely side-effect of “puffiness.” Especially a puffed up face.
Those who know me in real life know that I complain about the weight gain and puffiness fair bit. Mostly because my clothes don’t fit. It’s hard to not feel like a sick person when flannels are all I can manage. Future Susan is at angry Past Susan for throwing out all those old clothes!
The real reason why I don’t blog about it however, is that this experience has taught me that gaining some weight back IS NOT A BIG DEAL.
Who fucking cares.
I’m alive. I’m beating cancer. I’m not morbidly obese. It gives me some wiggle room in case I’m hospitalized again and experience a dramatic weight loss. And let’s face it, I’m already almost bald anyways.
I mean, it’s not like I’m sitting here with a bucket of KFC chicken saying it’s okay to quickly gain mass amounts of weight. Because to me, health is always a top priority.
But at the same time, I don’t know why I used to be so paranoid about gaining some of it back. It’s not the end of the world. Cancer has taught me that it’s more worthwhile to learn to appreciate my body for what it currently looks like, than to spend that time disliking it and trying to change it. Weight gain, scars, and bald head included.
It helps that I have an end date. As of this week, I have five more weeks until my last chemo treatment and until I’m off the steroids. I’m hoping some of the weight will come off just by virtue of finishing the drugs and feeling healthy enough to start exercising again. I’m not sure if I’ll bother trying to lose the rest. I think I may ditch the “back to shape” programs and just live my life in a healthy way that will prevent the cancer from coming back. But most of all in a way I can enjoy it. I’ve already lost six months to cancer, I don’t want to spend any more months of my life being a slave to anything else. Vanity weight included.
This past weekend was a good example of living and enjoying my life with cancer. It included a two hour walk on my favourite local trail with the dog.
Whole wheat pancakes.
Clockwise: garlic naan, basmati rice, dal makhni (black lentils), chicken dilbahar (with spinach and mint), chicken tikka masala, and onion bhaji (like a sweet onion patty – my favourite on this plate!)
A Canadian specialty for those who don’t know. A graham/chocolate/coconut layer, custard butter icing, then melted chocolate.
Watching Buster play to his heart’s content with a golden retriever puppy, then steal his bed.
And hanging out with my best friend, Meghan.
We’ve been best friends since grade 1 and lived together in university. She’s off getting more educated in science-y things, and explained to me why eating the above Nanaimo bar with my current food restrictions could kill me. Thanks Meghan! Now I know how the smokers at the hospital feel. Getting off the chocolate has been rough. Especially when there’s no weight loss to show for it, har har har.
It has been exactly 138 days since I last set foot in a gym. In other words, 19.7 weeks, or 4.6 months. I know this specifically because I went to the gym the day before I was admitted to hospital with a 14cm mass in my chest. In retrospect, a moderate elliptical workout when there are veins protruding from your neck is NOT a good idea. But going to the gym was just a part of my day. It was a habit I spent a long time establishing and became one that was not easily broken.
I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about the gym a lot lately. When I first got sick, exercise of any kind was the furthest thing from my mind. I was on bed rest in the beginning, so walking wasn’t even an option. By the time I started chemotherapy, the cancer was pushing on my lungs and making me short of breath. The biggest roadblock so far has been the fact that the most active part of the cancer is wrapping itself around my superior vena cava – one of the main veins that brings blood into my heart. I have to be careful when I get my heart rate up and blood pumping because that area is being squeezed.
Even though I was a self-professed fitness fiend (so much so, I even turned it into my work as a personal trainer!), giving up fitness has been strangely easy for me. I still try to move my body every day for the sake of keeping it healthy for treatment. Since getting Buster, I like to save my energy for dog walks lasting 30-90 minutes each day depending on how well I’m feeling. But for the most part, I haven’t spent much of the last 138 days missing my old fitness routines and active lifestyle. It’s actually been a nice break to be lazy for a while!
That is, until recently. Over the past few weeks I find myself daydreaming about how I’m going to learn to run again, what kind of exercises I want to focus on to get my strength back, and even rejoining the gym. The trainer in me is thinking up schedules and plans to get my fitness level back up when this chemo thing is over in two months (so long as I don’t need radiation after). It’s nice to feel that motivation again, and start to feel hope that maybe, maybe, I’ll be healthy enough one day to take on an active lifestyle again.
Apart from the cancer and chemo business, I still have more roadblocks to get through until I can get there. There is of course my broken arm, which surprise, is still broken! I’ve gained a lot more mobility with it over the past few months, particularly with rotating my hand. But I’ll never be able to straighten my left arm fully, and I still can’t put any weight on it. I mentioned before that I took a gentle yoga class a few weeks ago. While I could do most of the movements, I was still very limited with my arm. Sun salutations and downward dogs are officially out of the question for me, most likely forever. Upper-body strength training will always be a challenge.
On top of that, there’s the new development of lung toxicity. The chemo poisoned my lungs and I’m experiencing decreased lung capacity because of it. I’m on Prednisone steroids now which have helped with the coughing and shortness of breath a lot. Before, I couldn’t get off the couch without gasping for air. Now I can at least yawn without breaking into a coughing fit. Next week I will start the two month process of weaning myself off the steroids, so hopefully the symptoms won’t come back. I’m also going to start seeing a respirologist to help “rehabilitate” my lungs. Here’s hoping the damage to my lungs is reversible and that they’ll be able to withstand running again someday!
I know full well that I won’t be back to my “old fighting form” as soon as all of this is over. I have learned too much throughout this experience that I don’t desire the same sort of vanity fitness goals I had before. The trainer in me is instead considering my roadblocks and thinking of ways to work around them to still have a healthy, happy, post-cancer, post-injury body.
Like any endorphin-junkie, I can’t wait to work up a sweat again. But until then, I know to keep up my daily walking routine, while enjoying this rare opportunity to be lazy. This past weekend that included lots of Beverly Hills 90210:
Chemo brain food.
As well as near-effortless meals made in the slow cooker and rice cooker:
Crockpot Chicken Coconut Curry:
Cube and brown 4-6 chicken breasts in a pan.
Cube 2-4 medium sized potatoes, slice 2 small onions, and add them to the slow cooker.
In a bowl, combine:
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tbsp curry power
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp Kashmir chili powder (or cayenne)
- 1 tsp coriander
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
Add chicken and sauce to the slow cooker, cooking on low for 9-10 hours, or medium for 6. This is not a super spicy curry, despite all the curry powder (which isn’t very spicy to begin with). Just enough heat to make your nose run a little, but all the flavours are able to shine through.
The rice was an extra special treat. I finally cracked open the saffron I brought back from Toronto!
I’ve been hoarding this and knew it would lose its flavour if I didn’t use it soon. This little box cost $10!
I used this recipe with the addition of 1 tsp parsley flakes and 1 tbsp salted butter instead of fish sauce. It was perfect in every way.
Now, I will admit that it is sometimes really hard to sit back and watch people around me do the activities I love. I’d be lying to say I don’t feel a pang of jealousy when I see a runner out on a gorgeous day, or hearing about the fitness goals and accomplishments of others. Seeing as I can’t currently do most things fitness related, my interest in it has kind of plummeted.
But I keep reminding myself that this is my time to heal. I am currently doing what is best for my body, which is completely different than what is best for someone who is in a different stage of their life. Fitness is not a linear path. It’s all about the ups and downs and dealing with the roadblocks as they come. I am trying really hard to enjoy my lazy days with 90210, the slow cooker, and casual walks, while using my daydreams of fitness routines at the gym as something to look forward to and work towards.
I have to admit, yesterday’s post about my new drug schedule was actually a bit of a lead up to this one. I haven’t spoken too candidly yet about my decision to take the drugs I am on, and I decided now would be as good a time as ever to address it.
There is a world of information out there about ways to treat cancer, and the world seems to be divided into two camps: those who treat it with “modern” drugs and those who treat it through a more “natural” approach.
Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with any form of illness can surely relate to the amount of information available in both areas. On one hand, our doctors tell us to try certain kinds of treatments, on the other hand there are books upon books out there saying that modern medicine ignores treatments that have been used for centuries.
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, the green tea started flowing. A lot of people said I needed to get a juicer immediately, eat more “sea vegetables,” and start taking supplements.
I think a lot of this is inspired by what we see in the media. It’s in documentaries like Crazy Sexy Cancer, where a woman with a slow-growing incurable cancer virtually stops the growth of the disease through lifestyle and diet. We often hear more about the miracles on TV than we do about the everyday treatments.
What some people miss however, is that there is a big, BIG difference between someone like me and someone like Kris Carr. Her cancer is “incurable” and mine is “curable.”
Hodgkin’s disease is one of the first types of cancer they tested chemotherapy on decades ago. It is one of the most responsive types of cancer through chemo, and one that actually goes away with modern treatment. A significant number of people diagnosed with Hodgkin’s in their 20s live into their old age because of aggressive chemotherapies, despite the treatment poisoning the body in the process. This book was invaluable for educating me on chemotherapy and its purpose.
I read articles in the New York Times and LA Times yesterday about how Steve Jobs put off surgery for nine months after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in lieu of “Eastern therapies.” At the time of diagnosis, he too had a possibly curable disease, and putting off surgery and chemo may have changed that. Reading this made me angry. When a doctor presents you with something that will save your life, no matter how harsh, how can you look the other way? How is your life not valuable enough?
My point, is that given the choice, I will always choose the treatment that is proven to work best. I was lucky to get a common cancer with a well-known treatment. There really was no debate or need for a bunch of extra opinions because my diagnosis and treatment is so cut and dry.
For now, my focus is on taking my chemo drugs and hoping they work their magic. My oncologist says I will always have a little piece of cancer sitting on top of my heart, so I imagine I’ll invest in that juicer just yet. Because when the chemo is done and I’m left with a poisoned body, I will continue to do what’s proven best to halt further cancer growth and make my body healthy again. I’ll just make sure to do it on the advice of my doctor first.