Sick Body, Healthy Body Image

Yesterday I stepped on the scale for the first time since being discharged from the hospital. Over the four weeks I was in hospital, I lost around 7 lbs. Not an unhealthy amount for the time I was in there, but a lot for a person who spent the majority of their days lying in bed. The nurses and doctors weren’t concerned. When you have cancer, weight loss happens. Yesterday I noticed I’d lost even more weight, bringing my total up to 10 lbs. And I’ve been eating a lot since being discharged!

I’d been trying to shed a few spare pounds for months. One would think this would come as a pleasant side effect of being in the hospital and on chemo. But it’s not. I don’t want to lose weight. I am terrified of looking sickly.

Over the years, I have worked really hard at improving my self-image. Throughout my original weight loss and efforts to eat well and exercise more, I really learned to love and appreciate my body. Even when I gained some of that weight back, I could still look in the mirror and like who was looking back at me. Not a lot of women can do that, and that ability was one of the qualities I was most proud of. It took many years to get to that point.

But cancer has thrown my self-image for a bit of a loop. I’ve learned it is one thing to look out of shape, and something entirely different to look in the mirror and see a legitimately sick person looking back at you. Thinning hair, tired eyes, dull skin, shallow cheeks. That is an image I am not ready to deal with.

Mind you, after only two weeks into treatment, I definitely don’t look sick. Hell, I probably won’t ever look that sick. Because, you know, the cancer is shrinking, and I am technically getting better.

This will certainly be a new challenge for me. To learn to love my body even when it’s full of bruises from the needles and blood thinners. Even when my nails are flaking, my skin is dry, and the inside of my mouth has sores. To still want to treat it well when the room is spinning and it feels like someone is taking a jackhammer to my skeleton. To still appreciate everything my body does for me, even when the cells inside insist on growing at a rapid and deadly rate.

Never did I think I’d be upset to watch the scale go down when I once tried so hard to fit into my skinny jeans. It’s hard to resist from thinking that my body has failed me, even after all the work I put into it. But really, it’s all just a learning process of how to work with it, and still love my body despite all it’s been through. I can’t say I’ve tackled this hurdle entirely yet, but do know that I don’t plan on giving up on it.

This is why one of my big goals for the month of August is to increase my level of physical activity. Walking, light indoor cycling, stretching, light strength training. Nothing strenuous, but all things that will help my body prepare and stay strong for treatments. The other goal is to get dressed, do my hair, and put on make-up as often as possible. Even though I technically can, I prefer not to lay around in my peejays all day.

And just to prove to you that I am still eating well, behold, my Monday dinner:

That would be Spanish rice with chicken and veggies, and homemade cornbread with cheddar cheese. Who knows what sort of cravings I’ll have after my second chemo treatment today, so I wanted to make sure I got a good meal in beforehand.

For the Spanish rice, I used this recipe as the base. I also added smoked paprika, garlic scapes, broccoli, beans, leftover roast chicken, and subbed some of the rice out for quinoa.

Now, let’s talk about the cornbread.

I’ve been looking for a good cornbread recipe for a while. Most of them are too sweet for my taste. Many recommend adding creamed or frozen corn, but honestly, I don’t like the whole corn kernels in the bread. Others just have too much flour.

Instead I followed this recipe from Chef Michael Smith. I not only love him because he’s a Food Network host based out of the Maritimes, but also because none of his recipes have ever steered me wrong. Instead, this recipe has you cook the cornmeal in a milk mixture first. No flour, just a bit of brown sugar, and no clumps of vegetables. It was perfection!!! Oh, and clearly I made it in a loaf pan as opposed to a cast iron skillet.

After an amazing weekend of family, friends, good food, and feeling great, I am off to the hospital for chemo #2. Definitely scared, but today I’ve got my big girl pants on. With a bit of eyeliner.


Posted on August 2, 2011, in Baking, Cancer, Goals, Health and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 55 Comments.

  1. It’s amazing to feel like you are defying society. Being on the opposite end is not easy, no matter what people say. You’ll get your strength back in no time. So glad to see your cooking again and enjoying good food…without creepy hairs. ;)

  2. Just wanted to say your attitude is wonderful and good luck on chemo #2 today. xo

  3. I am really proudof you for continuing to love your body while you are going through your cancer treatments. I remember one of the things my dad sad after he found out he had luekemia – he was M.A.D. and he said “I just don’t understand it. I treat my body so well and then it turned on me.” I’m glad you’re taking a different approach!

    • I definitely have those moments too. It has certainly changed my opinion of what healthy living is and my perception of treating my body “well”

      • I still have those moments too. I remember one day that I just pounded my fists and cried because I felt like my body had betrayed me. I run marathons, eat organic veggies, do all the RIGHT things and still am a cancer patient. But it has completely changed the way I look at my body and what it means to be healthy. Now I’m not so concerned with whether or not I fit into a certain pair of jeans, instead it’s making sure I feed my body all the good things it needs and let the jeans fall where they may. I haven’t given up the looking good aspect of it completely (I am a GIRL, after all;-)), just that there is another more important part of having a healthy body now.

        Good luck to you today, Susan!! xoxo

        • It’s also worth mentioning that because we were so good to our bodies before, they are now better equipped to deal with whatever treatment we throw at them. That’s what I tell myself when I’m feeling frustrated about it all anyways ;)

          Thanks Erica!

  4. Very interesting topic. Loving and appreciating your body at this time must be one of the toughest challenges, but it sounds like you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Keep reminding yourself of what you are capable of during this time, and what your body will do for you in the future. I love your attitude, lady. Keep that chin up as you’ve been doing :)

  5. Both the rice and the cornbread looks amazing. Very insightful post too, keep going Susan!

  6. You are such a good writer-I know the topic sucks these days
    but I just have to say I WOULD buy a book you write someday.
    I am not B.S.’ing ya !

    That cornbread is making me salivate-kinda wish one could buy a
    homemade one at a store/bakery in the Maritimes!!!(lazy me)

  7. Delurking to say I feel you on the weight loss thing. I have crohn’s disease and when I first got sick almost 3 years ago during my first year of university and before we knew what was wrong I lost about 30 pounds (on my 5″2.5 frame from a healthy, athletic 125-130 pounds) and it messed with my self image. Especially when I ran into people from high school who would assume other things about my weight loss if I chose not to mention I was sick… I’m back at a healthy weight now but slowly losing it again as I come out of remission with my drugs no longer working for me. It sucks! At least now I’m prepared with a closet full of clothes fitting anywhere from a size 00 to 4!
    Anyways from reading your blog I can tell you’re an incredibly strong individual with a great support system and I look forward to reading your post the day you can say you are officially cancer free. Stay strong!

  8. Good morning!

    I found your blog through a bunch of other blogs that were involved with the great fundraising act and I just wanted to say a quick hello and let you know how much I enjoy reading it.

    It’s weird to say enjoy when it’s such a somber topic, but I think you have an amazing attitude and strength way beyond your years.

    I’d totally buy the book too! :)

    Good luck with the next round and hang in there, you will rock it!

  9. That cornbread looks amazing – I’m glad you were able to eat such a great dinner before the next chemo treatment.

    I’ve been hating my body for a long time now, but now that I have been diagnosed with cancer I’m kind of liking it. I, too, don’t want to look sickly, I want to look healthy and fit, and guess what, that is how I look! I just didn’t see it all along.

  10. Can I just say, you rock?! Your attitude has helped me fully appreciate my life, my body and my country. I love how you speak exactly what you think, how you feel but still are determined to be positive.

  11. Eric Robichaud

    Your blog makes me hungry.

  12. Hello,

    I found your blog a few weeks ago and I have been keeping up with it, and I just wanted to tell you that you are so strong and positive its infectious! Keep it up!

  13. I have always felt that you have a healthy body image and your priorities are always right on. Why should cancer change that about you? (Rhetorical question :-p)

    The corn bread looks amazing and I’m glad to see you fueling yourself well :-)

  14. My sister-in-law had a great idea. She went out and splurged on a whole assortment of new, fun and comfy pj’s she could feel good about being seen in. She was comfortable with the great visitors who came by even when getting really dressed was too difficult, and she didn’t have to worry about feeling “caught undressed”. A bonus — she would have more energy for the visits!
    And besides, having clean, fresh pj’s makes you smile!
    P.S. Those days have passed, and she’s out on the loose again!

  15. You know what? You were amazing before cancer and you are even more amazing now! this post makes me want to celebrate life! You are giving me so much inspiration through your strength and positive attitude. Lots of love to you today, and I hope treatment 2 is ok…

  16. Interesting post. You are amazing! I am always sending prayers your way!

  17. Last night me and my mom were discussing cornbread and why they all had to have corn meal and flour and not just corn meal! Guess what I’ll be making very soon? lol

    Good luck with your 2nd treatment today! You remain in my prayers!

  18. Every photo I see of you, I think you look better and better. You’re definitely getting “healthier,” even if it comes with the crappy side effects. You’re such an inspiration, Susan!

  19. Just want to say that your Blog is inspiring in many ways. Thanks for showing everyone your positive attitude while regaining that balanced life and appreciating the beautiful things in life. I’ve come across your blog from the times and transcript, and I was really touched by your story. I suppose I am always trying to find that balance in life as well, and in small ways I relate to the way approach things in life. Oh, and I absolutely love cooking, especially when that said food makes you feel good.
    Sending good positive thoughts to you today! Cheers and thank you for sharing your thoughts. They are inspiring.

  20. Also agree that you are a great writer…will totally buy your book :) I like your mindset when it comes to the weight loss effects of cancer, it’s a smart one. You look fantastic, no matter what though!

  21. Good luck on your second chemo! I forgot to mention that I used Nioxin shampoo and conditioner from the start of my chemo. It will strengthen your hair and when it falls out keep using the shampoo and your hair will grow in nice and thick when you are done with treatments and cancer free. :-)

    • Ooh!! Thanks for the tip!! I haven’t heard of that stuff yet. My hair is good after one treatment, but I’m not sure if I can expect the same thing after this second one…

  22. I imagine it’s quite a mind shift when you’re losing weight for an UNHEALTHY reason instead of because of diet and exercise. Hang in there!

  23. susan,

    i can’t even imagine watching your body change so much over the course of all this, and i am so proud of you for keeping a positive attitude about it all. it is so easy to get down about things, and i think its just so amazing that you have such a positive, fighting spirit! love you friend!

  24. At the risk of sounding like a zealot, have you tried yoga? Basic Hatha yoga, or restorative yoga. A good instructor can guide you throw poses, advise on breathing techniques and help you maintain good communication with your body. It’s also very forgiving of bad days and very empowering emotionally as well as physically.

    • No, yoga is a totally legitimate suggestion! I used to do a lot of it until I shattered my elbow in February. Now I have trouble with even the most basic poses (downward dog!!). I can’t go to a class now because of my weakened immune system, but I do still do what I can for stretching in the privacy of my own room :)

  25. Once again, you impress me. Even during this time, as you fight cancer, you are STILL living a balanced, healthy life – especially body image wise. Amazing. You totally inspire me. Just so you know.

  26. It is hard to see the physical manifestations on the outside the reflects what is going on inside. Now is the time to play with your hair :D Maybe also play with some hats now and find some you like if you want to wear them when you lose your hair, at least from a sun protection standpoint.

  27. Oh, my goodness gracious, girl! If you’ve been eating cornbread that was too sweet, chile, you musta been gittin’ the recipe from a certified Yankee! Cornbread is a Southern specialty, and you shoulda asked some GRITS for the recipe! [GRITS = Girls Raised In The South] And you’re on thin ice — NOT using a cast-iron frying pan {or Dutch oven} to make your cornbread is downright illegal! (And if it’s not, it outta be, that’s for sure!) I’ve giving you my Grandma’s recipe (and that side of my family is a little bit Cherokee, so that means the recipe is closer to the original way of using corn than it would be otherwise).


    1 cup cornmeal
    1/4 cup flour
    1/2 t. salt
    2 t. baking powder
    1/4 t baking soda

    1 large egg
    1 cup buttermilk (another key ingredient)
    2 T baking grease

    1, Preheat oven to 450 C.
    2. Sift dry ingredients into a bow
    3. Break in the egg and add the buttermilk
    4. Stir just enough to be sure the ingredients are well-mixed
    5. Melt bacon grease and pour it directly into the skillet to coat the bottom and sides
    6. Then pour bacon grease into the batter and stir
    7. Pour batter into the skilled
    8. Bake at 450 for 30 minutes

    If you want to get really fancy, you can use a little bit more bacon grease and use it to brown finely chopped green onions and then stir that back into the batter before you pour the batter into the skillet.

    I promise you that cornbread will be so good that if you put a piece on your head, your tongue would slap your brains out tryin’ to get to it!!

    And if you like spicy stuff, let me know and I’ll give you my recipe for Mexican cornbread (with peppers and cheese, among other things).

  28. I love the honesty and genuineness in this post…it is evident how truly strong you are and beautiful inside and out. Thanks for being so open and willing to share your feelings. Good luck and thinking of you as you take on Chemo #2!

  29. Julia said it all right there.. you are genuine & strong! It amazes me as you think thru how you view yourself & loving yourself right now during this. You are right, many of us can’t even say what we like in the mirror when we are well so you are just amazing as I have said before.

    I wish you the best possible during this 2nd round…

  30. So freaking crazy how things change. I remember you talking about the Toronto 10 and now that 10 is gone in cancer land. Weird.

    I have been thinking about you a lot, as always, but have been so busy at work. Sorry I haven’t texted or emailed this week, but I hope you know I love you and think about you alls the timeeeeeeeeee

  31. Be sure to do things to keep up your positive attitude everyday too. Positive outlook is a huge determining factor in terms of speed of recovery. Even more important than keeping up the physical side of things.

    Can’t do yoga per se, or much of anything else? Try yoga nidra. The Amrit Kala (.com) store has some great CD/Downloads. But there are other yoga nidra cds out there. All you need to do is lay down and follow along mentally.

    Sounds like your nutritionists haven’t put you on a gluten free diet. A lot of US doctors put people (with certain types of cancer) on that kind of diet during chemo. Ask if that might help you keep you weight up. Or at least slow down the loss, which might be better for your body.

    • Thank you for the yoga recommendation!! I haven’t thought of doing anything like that, but it’s absolutely perfect. If I can’t do the physical part of it, I can at least get the mental benefit :)

      And there’s been no talk yet of going gluten-free. Although, I heard of people doing that because gluten apparently stimulates the growth of cancer cells (namely, cancer cells in the brain). So far I’ve just been told to stay away from produce with high retention of bacteria and pesticides (berries, etc) and also no dramatic increase in anti-oxidants because the chemo is already doing it’s work with the oxygen in my blood system.

  32. Wonderfully written, Susan! Your attitude throughout this entire experience so far has been so POSITIVE. As a reader, it makes me super thankful for my health and other blessings. Please know that even though I don’t know you personally, you are in my prayers often!! You’ve SO got this!!!

  33. Hi Susan. I know it’s been ages since I’ve commented on your blog, but I just had to today. You are handling this with more grace than I could ever imagine having, and I am in total awe. I totally remember lamenting those extra 10 lbs together—in another blogworld that seems so distant now! I hope you know you are beautiful, 10 off you, 10 on you, and despite whatever the cancer throws at you. Lots of love, Lara

  34. Good Luck Susan! You’re in our thoughts and prayers. My dear friend just finished his chemo and had the first of two surgeries to remove the remaining tumors in his ribs and sternum. He’s taught us all that cancer doesn’t affect the human spirit … and he has managed to stay in pretty good shape despite some pretty toxic chemo and radiation. Stay positive and take care of yourself. It worked for him and I know it will work for you too.

  35. Now, I am a total creamed corn in the cornbread purist, but I’m pretty sure if you put cheese on top of anything, I’ll eat it.

    As always, loads and loads of positive thoughts and love coming your way my friend!

  36. Thank you for posting that cornbread recipe. It looks so good!

  37. I am praying for you. Please, please update us tomorrow.
    You are so strong.

  38. You are beautiful and strong on the inside, where it matters the most.
    As long as you’ve still got a smile, beauty is never far away.
    Good luck with increasing your activity and thank you for being an inspiration :)

  39. Okay, I feel a bit silly comparing my chronic pain to cancer, but I can’t help but relate to your situation. I never had a bad body image per se, but since my health problems developed a few years ago, I have learned to view my body in a new light. At first I started to hate my body and question why it was so weak. The stress only added to the negativity – my skin, hair, and weight were all suffering as a result!

    Then as I accepted my situation, I realized the only thing that was important was caring for my body and nurturing it in spite of everything else that was going on. And recognizing that beauty is not what I see in the mirror but how I choose to view my body inside and out. And how I choose to take care of it.

    So yeah, I totally get it and I view it as a blessing to come out of a crappy situation!

    Good luck with round 2 my dear! You are doing awesome!

    • Haha, I specifically write so even those without cancer can still find a way to relate! I can totally understand how chronic pain can mess with your body image. It’s really hard to want to treat our body well when it feels like it’s working against us. It definitely takes a mind shift to realize that this is when we, like you said, need to care for and nurture it the most :)

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