I remember vividly the moment years ago in induction, around Day 9, when I realized just how quickly chemotherapy (especially high doses of it) can ravage your muscles and body fat and leave you looking like Skeletor. I had been mostly bedridden for 2 days, unable to summon the energy to stand long enough to shower or even change out of my hideous hospital pants. When I finally got around to peeling them off, I looked down in horror at what, only 48 hours earlier, had been my relatively shapely legs. Two wobbly sticks with enormous knobs for knees lay side by side. The negative space in between them had grown considerably – neither thigh came even close to the other. It was terrifying. Gone were the hard-earned calf-muscles (all those stairs climbed in 5-inch heels wasted!). No more smooth fleshy thighs to speak of. Just two sad-looking stilts for legs.
The transplant will take off at least 10% of my body weight, and at 5’9” and 118lbs, that puts me in a precarious position. I know from last time around that as soon as I lose more than 10lbs, things start to become very, very difficult. Between the nausea and the loss of appetite, finding something I could tolerate eating was surprisingly challenging. The less I was able to eat, the weaker I got, and the weaker I got, the more difficult the treatment became. Each chemo was more brutal than the last, each side effect more debilitating. Had it not been for the marijuana pill my doctor prescribed to re-train me to eat on my own (that’s a story for another time), I would have ended up on a feeding tube – a thought so horrific, I will do anything to avoid it this time around.
With all of this in mind, I’ve taken on a new approach to eating while undergoing treatment. I eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. I don’t wait until I am hungry. I take advantage of every day I have a good appetite (which luckily for me, has been most days!) and perhaps most importantly, I have made a conscious effort to increase my calorie intake significantly to counter-act the effects of the chemo.
I’ve also come to terms with the fact that it is simply not enough to eat my vegetables and grains and all the healthy “cancer-fighting” foods I read about fanatically – although it is very important to keep those foods as a part of my (and your!) diet. I really need to increase my daily calorie intake in whatever ways I can (some more shameful than others), because I know it’s the only way not only to hold onto my current weight, but to have the chance to gain a few pounds before the transplant. So, for the last few weeks, I have been adding butter to anything even remotely butter-able, I have slurped down milkshakes at 10am, I’ve eaten all the foods I normally consider indulgences (cheesy paninis and gratin dauphinois) with reckless abandon.
And it is working! I’ve gained a promising 4lbs. At this rate, I should be 10lbs heavier and ready to go for the transplant, which is very exciting news. On the down side, after any of my sisters comes to visit, I inevitably get an angry email once they’ve landed in New York about the sympathy weight they gained while adjusting (even temporarily) to my diet. “It’s fine for you to eat like Michael Phelps, Phoebs, but it is just not acceptable for me!’ they shout across cyber space.
I can handle a little sisterly agitation. My goal is crystal clear. And with this kind of victory to look forward to, how long can they stay angry with me?
For more information on how to fatten up, visit the Health & Nutrition section of the website!