Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Breast Cancer Side Effects: There's more to me than there ever was

Pictures of me are rare. Pictures of me online are almost non-existent, partly because I have tried to keep myself anonymous in this regard. However....for this, I will break my rule.
When I started out on the cancer trail I was fairly slender. At 5'4" tall, I weighed 135. Most people when they are told that they have cancer, and for those who are on Arimidex and other similar medications, weight gain is one of the side effects. One of the culprits is the steroids which are used to manage other side effects of chemotherapy.
Some people, however, lose weight from chemo therapy. I maintained it. After having cancer the first time, I gained weight. Not horrifically so, but maybe 20 pounds. It was after the second go round that I ballooned.
Three months after having finished chemo and shortly after finishing radiation, I had a complete hysterectomy and oophrectomy (ovaries removed). Being menopausal then, I found that weight gained didn't want to come off so easily. I know that calories in have to equal calories out. There's the rub.
We tend to toss off this as the cancer's fault. I know that the lion's share of this is my fault. Being told that you are stage 4 has a huge impact. First, there's the "Well, heck, if I'm going to die soon from this anyway, bring on the hot fudge sundaes!" The second part of it was that I was pretty mad at my husband. He couldn't handle the fact that I had a pretty strong chance of dying. I needed him to acknowledge this and because he couldn't, I was mad at him.
Now, you have to understand that I met my husband in the bicycling club. We did lots of mileage. It wasn't unusual for me at that point in my late 20s to ride 150 miles a week, sometimes more. He's also build differently than I am. He has a naturally high metabolism and has long slender bones. I'm average in my bone structure, except that I'm really short legged, long in the body, but short in the leg. So...stuffing my face with sweets (always my downfall since I was little) was a stupid way to stick it to him. Self destructive? Absolutely.
I also know that when we tend to do things like this, we are trying to fill a hole. Guilty as charged. I also find it difficult to get the exercise I need to do because the radiation really really hurt the muscles on my pelvis. It feels like I have a constant knot there, and trust me, I'm as reliable as the local meteorologist in predicting changes in weather.
It has also given me new I'd rather not have, of how our society treats people who are overweight. We are invisible. When people do notice us, there is an element of "have you no self control? Are you so undisciplined as to turn yourself into this? Why don't you take care of yourself?" Sometimes, there is just too much to take care of. We are, as a nation, prejudiced against the fat.
Right after the first go around, and also after the second go around, I did all that I could. I walked for at least an hour a day. I did step aerobics (now that was a trip....literally, imagine someone who has a hard time remembering her right from her left doing some of these Charlestons left then switch....hey, I have two rights...), I did water aerobics (and was the youngest in the class). I found it difficult to get the exercise done and still be mom and wife. So, after a while, I gave up.
I also know it is far to easy to blame the cancer and the treatment. At 11 years post therapy it is time to do something about it. Maybe now that I recognize what the issue is, I'll be able to think about it and decide not to put that piece of chocolate in my mouth....or rather, put one piece of chocolate in, not 5.


  1. Oh dear...I identify totally! I gained a lot of weight taking Tamoxifen for 5 years as a participant in the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial in the 90's (and owning my own high stress travel agency). I'd lost 3 sisters (aged 48, 46 & 34)to BC and Ovarian so I jumped at the chance to try to prevent being the 4th sister to get it. Last year I finally got sick and tired of being FAT and miserable, I joined Weight Watchers. I had great success...lost 72 lbs. Then had my routine mammogram and oh crap!!! Got breast cancer anyway! Well at least I had 15 more years than I probably would have had w/out Tamoxifen and I was in better shape for surgery. Had the gene test and yes, I have the BRCA1 gene mutation so my number was up. I was very lucky it showed up on the mammogram at stage 1, but I had bilateral done because of my family history and several years of suspicious but non-cancerous cells kept showing up in the opposite breast. I just finished 6 months of weekly chemo and I guess I could say yahoo! I'm a one week survivor! I plan on being the long term survivor you are. You have a great attitude and sense of humor. I share that outlook... most of the time. I appreciate your blog about your experience and your honesty. I know it's always in the back of your mind. How can it not be when it has altered your life in a direction no one chooses. I agree that you don't really understand cancer until you have it yourself. Even going through it with my sisters did not prepare me for my own experience. Started taking Arimidex this week so here come the hot HOT flashes and weight gain again-ugh! I've been a little too good to myself through treatments and gained 20 lbs back so Weight Watchers here I come and out in the garden to dig, dig, dig & weed, weed, weed the jungle. Best to you in your long life after the big C. You're an inspiration. Thank you.
    Melanie (found you on My Breast Cancer Network - my shareposts are under Melanie)

  2. Keep on fighting Melanie! Remember, Arimidex and Tamoxifen don't necessarily cause weight gain...I know I'm responsible for alot (heck, probably MOST) of it. I was told once that they usually only added 5, the rest of my ummm 60 pounds must have materialized out of thin air!

    I did weight watchers for a while and I believe in the program, I just was too stingy to be paying $10 a week to go, and I felt bad when I didn't have a good week because I slacked off.

    Your number isn't necessarily up...don't forget, for everyone who survives, survival is 100%, and some of us do make it....but, no one can live forever, although by the size of my quilting stash you might think that I believe I will!

    I'll join you in the garden now that I have my taxes done. :) Lisa