A weighty issue with chemo

Who would ever have guessed that chemotherapy would put on extra pounds?  Not I !  I was actually looking at the bright side of all this and figured once I started chemo that I would actually lose a few pounds without any effort.  I had always pictured the stereotypical chemo patient as thin and gaunt.  Right? In the past yes, but not so much anymore.

No thanks to the drugs they have found that suppress the nausea and vomiting, a downside is that the steroid medication  given actually contributes to weight gain. Corticosteroids contribute to fluid retention and increase your appetite as well.  I had to take steroids beginning the day before a treatment until two days after, in addition to the ones they give you intravenously the day of treatment. Your metabolism slows down.  The chemo leaves you fatigued and you are much less active.  The strange taste bud changes take away your appetite. Then when you do feel like eating, it’s the wrong foods. Intense food cravings with chemo often involve sweets and carbohydrates.  There is a change in body composition as your body gains more body fat and loses lean muscle as they redistribute muscle mass from the extremities into the abdominal area as fat.

“Unlike typical weight gain caused simply by overeating and lack of momentum, where you are gaining both lean and fatty tissue, the weight you gain during chemotherapy is comprised only of fat. The change in body composition that is brought on by chemotherapy is normally seen as a part of the normal aging process. Unfortunately, in terms of body composition, a woman going through chemotherapy ages 10 years in the course of a year.” http://www.thebreastcaresite.com/tbcs/InTreatment/Chemotherapy/WeightGain.htm

Before each chemo infusion you have a mini checkup with a weigh in, temperature taken, blood pressure and blood work.  The scale is a digital one in a hospital calibrated to the tenths and I have a strange feeling that it is pretty accurate.  Each time I stepped on, it went higher.  It ended up averaging one pound per week over the course of treatment.  I now weigh more than I ever have in my life.  I started inquiring with other patients and heard that it was referred to as the “Chemo 30.”  Fortunately for me it was the “Chemo 20” although everything I have read says the typical gain is much less.  So much for being typical.

It’s bad enough going through chemo and losing your hair but then to have to deal with all the extra pounds is kind of discouraging.  I recently looked a full body picture of myself sitting with my daughters by the ocean and all I saw was a plump pirate!  I had to buy new clothes for the summer to fit into and really don’t want to buy a bigger size fall wardrobe.

OK, so for most of my life I never had to watch what I ate or how much I ate.  I had one of those metabolisms that everyone wants.  Even after three pregnancies I went back to my pre-baby weight within one  month after giving birth without even trying.  Then with a combination of my fourth pregnancy and nearing 40, the inevitable happened.  The pounds did not disappear and for the first time in my life I had to start watching what I ate.  After a few years I figured it was easier to carry the pounds around because now I was approaching middle age and it’s acceptable to not have a skinny waist.  Right?

I have never been to a gym.  However, prior to going back to work full time last year I worked as a dog walker.  I loved it.  I loved the dogs.  I loved being paid to walk daily.  I would push them to a brisk pace when possible although anyone who walks a dog knows that it is not always possible.  This was my exercise and I loved it.  Some pounds started coming back on once I had to stop dog walking and these were the pounds that I was hoping to LOSE once I started chemo!

Cancer survivors that are overweight are more likely to have a re-occurrence than those that are thin.  I WANT to lose this weight!  I NEED to!  Like I said, I don’t do the gym.  I do have to do something however.  I am hoping the GAIN part is over now that my chemo cocktail is finished.  I am blogging this so I can be accountable (and also so you understand why, yes, strangely I have put on extra weight).  I have a cousin who has lost over 100 pounds in the last year and is blogging about “Tomorrow is a lighter day.”  She has inspired me to do something about this.  So what will I do you ask?  I still feel crummy from my treatment last week but know that my energy will be returning.  I do have a mini trampoline and a stepper in my basement and found some exercise tapes.  They are all dusty and so is my basement.  I plan to dust them all off, well maybe not the basement.  I also plan on starting to walk again even though no one will be paying me!  Perhaps after a bit I will add a little running to it.  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,” Isaiah 40:31.  I did jog in high school and college and enjoyed it then, although that was over 30 years ago.  I need to be careful with any  upper body lifting to prevent lymphedema.  Any other suggestions?  I will take it slow so as not to get discouraged but I will start doing something!

I am really praying my taste buds straighten out so I can get on track with eating right again as well.  You have no idea what it is like when everything tastes like cardboard, metal, chalk or absolutely nothing.  You stand in front of the refrigerator or cabinets and nothing looks appealing.  Or you sink your teeth into something that does look appealing and then you can’t even take another bite.  One thing that has remained appealing through this ordeal has been the Word.  No surprises there.  Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

I’m not going to be a “pirate who doesn’t do anything but stay home and lie around…” like in Veggie Tales.  I’m ready to soar…



16 thoughts on “A weighty issue with chemo

  1. Sue, an acquaintance of mine was advised by her doctor before her chemo started to “gain a few pounds to have a cushion.” So she dutifully gained about 15 pounds, and once chemo started she expected to lose it all and then some..but it didn’t happen!! She gained more weight too! So glad you are looking at fun ways to lose the weight. (I am not a fan of the gym either.) You’re in my prayers. XOXO, Karen

  2. Like always, you make me laugh. Sue, I don’t know if you’ve been in Unique Thrift Store. You can buy some clothes to hold you over until you start the weight loss. You wanna walk Roxie? lol….

  3. I’m so there with you ! I gained 40 pounds with chemo (not steroids, but stuff for leukemia), and I can’t get rid of it. I’m coming up on one year of being off of all meds. I am also disabled (so back to my usual ”decrepit”), so added mobility is a major challenge. But I hear you ! I’d hoped for the skinny chemo. I got the porky stuff. :/

    • Ugh…I thought 20 was bad. My heart goes out to you! I wondered why “they” didn’t tell me this stuff ahead of time when they were giving me all the other info!

      • Yeah, I know….but what do you do? Fit in a skinny casket, or get bigger undies? LOL It’s just so discouraging after surviving leukemia to feel like I have to explain that I didn’t eat my way into 40 new pounds. Bleh. 🙂

  4. Sue – I am sorry you have had to deal with this nasty thing called cancer but as a recent survivor, very happy to come across your blog. I too gained 20 lbs. Three months post chemo and still have not lost a pound… am not giving up. Working out 5 days/week and giving up some of those beloved carbs. Looking forward to seeing your posts and progress – carry on, we will battle our chemo 20 together 🙂

    • Oh no. Don’t tell me it doesn’t come off once the chemo ends! I knew I was going to have to work at it but I was hoping with effort it would. I too am not going to give up! I did start walking daily and even if there is no change in weight, overall I feel better and am motivated to do more and be in the best health I can be.

  5. I came across your story and laughed because I could have written the exact same thing. I have one more chemo to go this week, and was hoping once the steroids stopped, some of this weight would come off (last time I was weighed, I had gained 15lbs) I was 10 lbs heavier than I would have liked going into chemo so now I have 25 lbs to lose. All my weight is in my abdominal area, and I have never had midriff bulge until now….so depressing to get dressed and feel bloated/fat. I do like to walk but have not felt well enough or feel my legs are strong enough at this point (just walking up to my bedroom, my legs feel like gumby) I am adamant that I will not remain this weight once chemo is done. As an obese child, I have fought my whole life to be normal weight, and I refuse to settle for this “new” body. Good luck to you, and hopefully in time, we will both have good news to report!

    • I hear you…the gain is mostly all in the abdominal area and yes that is depressing. I was not able to walk during treatment. I thought it was just from fatigue but realize now that it was an effort going up and down stairs because the muscle tone in my legs was shot as well (that gumby feeling). I have started walking since I blogged about the need to start exercising and haven’t missed a day. I am doing 2 miles a day and feel better overall but don’t see any change in the weight yet. My legs are burning every day when I walk but I am determined to get some strength back in them as I have to go back to work this week and am on my feet a lot. Yes, I hope in time we will both have good news to report in this double battle now…weight and cancer!

  6. I was doing well walking and even started a little jogging every morning and then I went back to work this week. I need to revise my plan and continue to do something! Good ideas in your blog.

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