Content Warning: This article mentions things such as cancer and disordered eating and eating thoughts.
During winter break during my junior year of college, I felt what felt like a rock in my stomach. I figured it would go away if I ate. It didn't. After a sleepless night because of the pain and an emergency room trip, it turned out that it was nothing too worrisome. I kept up my doctor's appointments and stayed in good health, until fast forward to June 2018 when something started to not feel right. I made a doctor's appointment and by September and two surgeries later, long story short, I had cancer. At least, I did. By the time I awoke from surgery, they had already taken the tumor out because it was, "unequivocally cancer."
I always felt weird telling people I had cancer, because in my mind, it was sort of a, "Did I really have cancer?" feeling. Up until the surgery, the doctors couldn't tell if my tumor was cancerous or not. They even sent up a sample to Stanford to get it evaluated (that's right, my brains have no hope for Stanford but my tumor got in). There were no chemo or radiation sessions. I didn't lose my hair. I didn't tell many people about the potential of if I had cancer or not, because what if I didn't and it would make me sound like a drama queen? In the end, all I ended up with was a nasty looking scar that I told my now-husband looked like "as if Godzilla got run over by a car." Trust me on the visuals.
My cancer journey that affected me wasn't the cancer itself. It was the aftermath. Several weeks after the surgery, I was prescribed pills to take twice daily. The pills would ~hopefully~ keep down my hormones that could potentially flare up the cancer cells again. I say "hopefully" because my cancer was so rare, they had no concrete proof that this medication would actually help me. The medication was actually mostly used for AIDS patients who couldn't keep up their appetite or weight. But I had an appetite! That was my problem that I would later find out the hard way. The doctor warned me of some side effects, including weight gain due to the increase in appetite. I took it relatively lightly. How bad could it be?
Growing up, I was skinny. I was the skinny and short kid. Honestly, I didn't have much else going for me. I wasn't very book smart, I wasn't good at any sports or hobbies, I wasn't good looking. I was average to the extreme. Except for my weight. I would often get comments about how skinny I was, how lucky I was. Back then, I basked in the glory that I had good genes and metabolism. I kept up my under 100lbs until college. Could you tell that diet culture and mentality really had a hold of me?
When I started taking this medication, I didn't really see an effect. But then it started. 2 lbs, 4 lbs, 6 lbs. By summer of 2019, I was about 10 lbs my starting weight. I lost it for a little while for my wedding, but it went back up and added an extra five. With that, my image of myself crumbled. My stomach would be bloated like I had a beer belly, I could tell my face resembled a circle more than an oblong, and my knee caps had fat on it. Before I could catch myself, I would be staring at the arms or legs of people skinnier than me, wondering why they could get a 100% sweetness milk tea with boba and pudding. It's not an exaggeration when I say unless I was sleeping, I was constantly thinking about food. Even when I was talking to someone, I would be thinking about how hungry I was. I went to the gym and did hot yoga religiously. I started eating gluten free noodles, stopped eating so much carbs, and ate more vegetables. Before, I would eat maybe half or 3/4 of a portion of a restaurant meal. But now, I was inhaling a full size portion and still felt hungry. I no longer knew how much I ate to feel full before cancer and thought that if a plate came with food, that was what should be consumed. If my thoughts weren't on how hungry I was, it was about the guilt of the food I consumed. Should I have chosen to eat that? I should have forced myself to save half. I should’ve gotten the low calorie option but goddamn I was so hungry. The thoughts were endless.
The worst part was that no one understood. Not truly. It was easy for everyone to tell me to control my portions. To eat healthy. To run. Everyone had sympathy but I had a chair bashing creature inside of me yelling, that's not what I mean! It was no longer just a biological control of my stomach and brain communicating, telling me to eat when I was hungry, it was my brain forcing me to think I needed to eat more to survive. I think I did a good job masking my feelings. Friends knew about my weight gain problems, but not this deep.
I sought out professional help too. I went to a weight loss doctor, a nutritionist, asked for advice from my oncologist, and even hired a personal trainer. In the end, most of it came down to: count your calories, watch what you eat. Reader, maybe you can tell by now that with my chaotic brain, counting calories was not the way to go. My mental health spiraled down deeper than the Grand Canyon. Being Type A didn't help. What do you mean myfitnesspal doesn't understand what this Japanese dish is and what calorie it is? I only ate a spoonful of ice cream, how many grams is that? I had to weigh that too? I used olive oil spray for my pan, how many grams is that? I felt the stress was worse for me than counting calories so even though I tried multiple times, I stopped.
I had doubts about writing this. I survived cancer. What more could I ask for? There are people actually suffering with it, and what am I doing? Complaining about being able to live all because I gained 15 lbs? I'm grateful that I don't have cancer. That this medicine I take is potentially saving me. But I wrote this in hopes to show you that illnesses aren't one dimension things. If anyone has to go through the same problem, or through similar thoughts, I'd want someone who understands to be by them. My cancer could be hopefully long gone but I will forever be affected.
While this story sounds negative, there has definitely been some good. I enjoy more vegetables now. While I don't obsess over it anymore, I'm consciously healthy about what I eat, but I don't let a burger and fries get in my way anymore. Some things I'm still working on. I exercise more, even if I'm still working on not being guilty if I don't feel like going to the gym. I wake up early now (pre-cancer, my weekends started at around 11AM), but sometimes the need to feel like I need to do something exciting and get something out of my day forces me to not relax. It's a work in progress. Of course, I wish I never had cancer to begin with. But having it also taught me a lot of things, good and bad. If you're ever in this situation, or similar, you may feel hopeless. I'm not going to say, don't worry, because that's pointless. You will worry, you will hate this. But at least if no one understands you, I will. And I am here to tell you that you'll be okay.
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