Coping with a Post-Cancer Body

"Weight control is not easy for someone whose body was a host for cancer."

134. 160. 153. 132. 146. 161.

Those numbers may appear random and meaningless to you, but to me, they are the bane of my existence. They represent just a handful of the many trios of numbers I’ve seen on many a scale at the doctor’s office since my diagnosis.

Weight management is by far the most personal part of my journey I’ve talked about so far. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent elated or devastated reacting to the numbers on the scale and how they are represented on my body.

Once I moved to New York after college, I dropped 10 pounds in a few weeks thanks to all the daily walking and frequent trips to the bathroom. Once I went through surgery and began the never-ending cycle of scans requiring cleanses, fasts and weird diets, my weight was all over the place. I celebrated Easter with my family just days after my surgery and visited my college campus later that week just to be met with the same comments.

“You look GREAT!”

“Good for you!”

“You look fabulous!”

I’m sure they all meant well and assumed those were harmless compliments. They didn’t see me crying myself to sleep because I had dropped 20 pounds in a week from being too scared to eat or feeling so anxious I lost my appetite. I hadn’t lost weight properly and felt incredibly guilty being told I looked good, especially because I spent the last of my money on a pair of jeans that weren’t huge on me and it took having cancer for me to finally be complimented on my body shape.

In the three years since, I’ve struggled with both anxiety and a yet-to-be-diagnosed GI issue, in addition to being on and off a variety of medications. I will go through bouts of extreme diarrhea where I can wear form-fitting dresses and shorts with pride and then, without warning, go a week without a bowel movement and look a few months pregnant in the same outfit. Most of the time, those are the weeks/months I go back to my “fat” jeans and baggier clothes.

My closet is full of things that don’t fit me. Picking out an outfit for anything is my least favorite activity because it usually ends in disappointment that my ideal dress no longer fits because, out of nowhere, I gained 10 pounds. I know what people will tell me once they read this.

“You’re SO beautiful!”

“Don’t even think about the scale - it’s just a number!”

These numbers are my health and my life. I know many people who struggle with weight loss and learn to ignore the numbers and focus on how they feel, but it’s not that easy for someone whose body was a host for cancer. The irregularity of the numbers mean there’s still something wrong with me because I really shouldn’t be able to keep weight off when I eat junk food and then gain it when I eat less sugar and more vegetables.

I know nutrition and weight is a complex topic, and everyone’s body is different, but there are many days when I feel prisoner to my body. I can’t enjoy eating a meal or even a treat when I’m at my heaviest, and I can’t help but worry about the time limit on my shape when I’m at my lightest. If you factor in the need to stay the same size for MONTHS so you can fit into your wedding dress, the struggle is overwhelming.

I’m not really sure what else to say other than dealing with a post-cancer body is really, really hard. While I have yet to accept this philosophy, all I can do is take the struggle one day at a time.

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Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.