Ocho and I drove to the City this afternoon, hoping to get into the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the De Young. It was sold out. So instead we ambled through Golden Gate Park and into the botanical garden cactus sale, where Ocho bought seven vibrant green succulents.
The stress of selecting only seven of those luscious plants must have exhausted the guy, because it’s 9 o’clock on a Saturday night and Ocho’s in bed sleeping like a rugby player.
No worries. That means I can stay up late and write about a topic that is difficult to write about—my changing body.
I was extraordinarily proud of myself after going through chemo without gaining a pound. In fact, looking back, that was a sweet time. I was flat, and I was bald. But I was loved. And I knew I wasn’t always going to be flat and bald. Those were temporary experiences.
Then I went through 28 sessions of radiation. I would arrive at the Dorothy B. Schneider Cancer Center at 8 a.m., have Tony or Wayne radiate me, apply anti-burn gel to my radiated side, and go to work. Other than getting a rockin’ good burn, the whole thing was not horrible, just fatiguing. About halfway through, I found myself falling asleep at 8 p.m. every night after work.
In the six months between radiation and reconstruction I gained 18 pounds.
I quit drinking. I buy healthy, organic foods. I eat more vegetables and fiber. I avoid the Red Vines at work. I go to 5:30 a.m. spin classes. I ride my mountain bike up, well, mountains. I do my own yard work and home repairs. One would think I would have lost those 18 pounds. The digital scale says I’ve lost three.
I put on a pair of pants for work the other day. The black capris, to my horror, looked like leggings. So, I took off the leggings and put on a skirt, the one that used to ride loosely on my hips and that now cuts deeply into my gut.
Nora Ephron wrote a great book, called “I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.” It helped. But only a little. It may have helped more if the title had been, "I Feel Bad about My Gut: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman."
Here’s what—finally—has helped me: a sentence in an article on post-chemo weight gain on the American Cancer Society website.
Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, RD, an associate research professor at Duke University Medical Center said, “It’s not necessarily the weight gain, but the change in body composition that is worrisome.” The change in body composition is characteristic of the normal aging process. “If you look at these women in the year after diagnosis, the chemotherapy patient ages 10 years over the course of a year. Although you might think a change in body fat of 2% is not much, indeed it is. The time clock is sped up.”
I thought it was the Tamoxifen, but my oncologist and others say that Tamoxifen does not cause weight gain. That made me a little crazy. And a little pissed off. It helps to know that chemo and chemo-induced menopause can cause dramatic changes in your body. It helps to know that chemo takes the pause out of menopause. This was no gradual menopause; this was the entire process, which usually takes 10 years, in one year.
So here’s the new plan, and it’s a simple one: I’m going to work out more and eat less. I’m going to give losing this 15 pounds extraordinary effort. And in the meantime, I’m going to try to love this new, succulent body.