One misconception of cancer is that everyone gets thin. When I was told I’d be starting chemotherapy, I envisioned turning into a thin, hairless creature with purple circles under my eyes.
One misconception of cancer is that everyone gets thin. When I was told I’d be starting chemotherapy, I envisioned turning into a thin, hairless creature with purple circles under my eyes. At that time, I had long reddish hair down to my back. I’d been working as a personal fitness trainer in a gym and was in what I thought was good shape. I was 25 and had that desirable look of youth and innocence I’m sure many older folks can identify.
What I was not prepared for, was the weight gain.
Now, I can’t speak to all treatment plans, but I do know that steroids are a pretty common drug to take with lymphoma. It began with dexamethasone, or “dex.” In the first three months, the weight gain was negligible on my 5’7” frame. Five to 10 pounds, which I chalked up to a result of low activity due to fatigue, and my pretty consistent diet of fried eggs on toast.
Then came the prednisone. Three months into treatment, I experienced something called pulmonary toxicity from the bleomycin in my ABVD cocktail. My heart sank when the doctor told me the strong steroids were necessary. There was no escaping the weight gain now. And I puffed up like a balloon.
They also changed my chemo, which wiped out my thinning hair in two short weeks. To put it bluntly, I went from a fit 25-year-old woman, to an incredibly sick, bald, fat woman. Words can’t properly describe just how much this affected me. I wasn’t myself. I had inhabited this shell of a stranger in what seemed like a blink of an eye. As a result, I stopped acting like myself. Not one person ever saw what I looked like bald. Only my dog, because I knew his opinion of me would never change based on my appearance.
So, how do you look good and feel good when you’re sick? I wish I had some inspiring words here, but I don’t. All I can say is that, for me, it thankfully did not last forever. My hair is now chin-length and I dropped the prednisone weight almost immediately. Exercise has been my best confidence booster. I did light workouts throughout treatment to help bust fatigue, and they helped me feel like not a total shlump. Now that I’m done treatment, I’m experiencing incredible fitness gains and the improvement has been huge in getting my self-confidence back.
My best advice? Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Before cancer, I put much of my self-worth into my physical abilities. I could run long distances and lift heavy things. But physical abilities don’t last. Ever. No matter what happens to you. Find worth in who you are as a person, so you can keep appreciating and growing as that person no matter what happens to your outer shell.