As a little girl, I remember a family friend going through chemotherapy. We didn’t see him often. But when we ran into him at a store the difference was a bit shocking. He was bald and had obviously gained some weight. It’s the only time I can recall seeing someone else go through this process.
By the time I was older, my perception of cancer patients on chemo was different. I assumed they were rail thin and frail looking. Emaciated. That’s what they showed in the movies anyway. That’s how clients on their deathbeds look.
And that was the message I got when I started chemotherapy. My first oncology nurse told me she wasn’t running a weight-loss clinic and my job during chemo was to eat. The social worker gave me tips for combating the inevitable metallic taste I would develop, and how to treat mouth sores.
So you can imagine my shock when I stepped on the scale after cycle one and I had actually gained weight. How was that possible?! It turns out it isn’t totally uncommon. I take steroids on certain days during the cycle. I’m less physically active because I wear out so quickly. I’m trying to drink more to stay hydrated. And I regularly receive IV hydration.
It isn’t a lot. Just over 10 pounds. The doctor isn’t concerned. But it feels like it might as well be 50 pounds. My clothes are a little tighter. My face looks fuller (especially without hair!). I’m sure my female readers understand.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m so happy that I’m not having a hard time keeping weight on. I’m so happy I don’t have mouth sores. I’m so happy I don’t have trouble eating. I’m so happy I’m not throwing up. I’m so happy I don’t have a metallic taste in my mouth.
But I think it’s not what people expect. It’s not what I expected, at least. It’s so frustrating to see the scale bounce around and not have much control over it. I walk Mischa daily, but I can’t do a lot more to burn calories. I’m definitely eating healthier than before, but that’s not going to combat a bag of saline. And I’m not really supposed to lose weight right now anyway.
So what does a cancer patient look like? Some lose weight. Some gain weight. Some stay the same. Some lose their hair. Some don’t. We all look a little different.