Having Cancer Makes You Chubby

With the advent of another month of Cancer Awareness, not to mention the premiere of the movie 50/50, I thought I should set a couple of things straight for the sake of me and my cancer peeps. First on the list: breaking a stereotype. Welp, here it goes: cancer patients can be chubby.

Yes, let it be known that modern day chemotherapy often causes patients to gain weight, not lose weight—especially if you’re on the younger side of the life spectrum, like myself. Turns out that the steroids/various meds that help prevent violent projectile vomiting also cause fatty tissues to duplicate like double stuffed Oreos, while simultaneously increasing your appetite when you feel good. As a cancer patient, had I known this earlier, would I have taken the projectile vomiting route over the double stuffed Oreo route? Would I have chosen a life of sleeping by the toilet bowl to prevent some harmless weight gain? Well, that’s just ridiculous. I’m a 23 year old female with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The most important thing is to feel better and get better. But to answer your question– yeah probably.

Just kidding. That was just a plug to get you all to think I’m the mastermind behind @whitegrlproblem… or was it?

Anyway, hearing the news that cancer patients can get chubby was naturally a shock to me, probably one of the biggest shocks I’d experienced since The Santa Claus Incident, one of the darker periods of my childhood. Second place on the shock-o-meter would have to go to the time I discovered that cancer, unlike Santa, was indeed real. Because the doctors told me I had it, and all… But I digress.

Upon realizing my pending weight gain, I rode the shock wave for a little while until it plopped me in Bum City, USA. Shorty was bummin’. Mainly because I had already told many of my friends to make way for the gaunt and skinny Katie 2.0—a new, hot, older version of my 17 year old, 120 pound—albeit cancerous—self. Cancer sucks, but at least I’ll lose my college weight, right?! Wrong. Luckily, my shock and dismay only served to further ignite a call to action from deep within. In other words, I am officially joining, dare I say spear-heading, the rebel forces that hope to one day crush the often stereotypical, sometimes mythical Hollywood creature that is The Cancer Patient.

You know who they are. They are the elegantly gaunt, milky skinned, perfectly bald actors and actresses who have helped to maintain this ultra-skinny cancer persona for years. Susan Sarandon in Step Mom, that girl in My Sister’s Keeper, even Mandy Moore in A Walk to Remember. The list continues. I mean, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the main character in 50/50, already has the whole frail Cancer Patient thing going for him, so you can bet your bottom dollar he will only serve to add fuel to the fire. And while it is true that, yes, this persona used to be the norm for all cancer patients, things change. That’s right, Mr. Spielberg, times they are a-changin’. Times are a-changin and medicine is a-changin. Cancer patients can get chubby.

So how am I going to break this widespread notion that all Cancer Patients are tiny and rail thin even in the present era? I’m glad you asked. Actually, I’ve already been traveling along the Selfless Road to Weight Gain to End Cancer Patient Stereotypes for a few months. The funny thing is, though, I didn’t even know I was on the road until now. Physical roads have never been my strong point, thank you Google Maps. Metaphoric roads, however, are totes my thing. Life is a highway, and ya better believe I’m gonna ride it. So it was weird that I didn’t actually realize how selfless a road I had embarked on until the first pit stop. Being selflessly selfless is what we call that, my friends.

Before I continue, I should probably inform you that the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, sometimes referred to as “Spa de la Chemo,” is also a built-in Weight Watchers. Every time you go in, they take an accurate account of your weight and record it in your very own excel spreadsheet. So, after about 4 months of doing chemo/weight watchers, I decided it was time to see if my weight had fluctuated from June to September. Partly because I was curious, and partly because this spreadsheet was 3 months and 29 days longer than any previous attempt I’d made at recording my weight. So, there I was in the middle of saying “I mean, even the muffin top I feel right now is probably just in my head, right? Crazy meds” when the nurse chimed in with, “Wow, you’ve gained over 10 pounds already….but no worries!” Yeah. No worries!! Only 3 more months to go!! You can still eat sushi with your girls if the sushi is vegetarian and covered in brown rice!!! Kisses!

But seriously, I was not actually worried. Even when my doctor explained the whole dealio, predicting that we were probably lookin’ at a total 20 pound weight gain, I took it all in stride. Yes, I now know what I have to do. Now, when people tell me “You look good!” when they really mean “You’re balding, but at least you’re plump! I thought you’d be frail! Awesome!” I must maintain my heroic stance, smile, and say “Yes, I do look good. Thank you.” This is my mission now, my destiny: To shatter an age old image fueled by Hollywood and, um, real life. I choose to embrace this weight gain—not for myself—but for all the lymphoma patients out there who also feel like inflated poop. Pass me that hamburger. I’m ready to become a martyr for the cause. Can’t say the same for cancer itself though, kinda want to beat that. TC mark

image – 50/50

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  • Cameo

    Love this post. Such an important thing to point out!

  • Anonymous

    This was such a refreshing read.

    • Katie

      Thank you for reading!

  • http://twitter.com/HopelessMuffins BK

    Ecstasy (which keeps you thin) may cure cancer. Problem solved! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14572284

  • Caitlin

    Weight gain schmeight gain. Kick some cancer ass. And have a cupcake. 

  • Caitlin

    It’s rare to find an article about cancer (or a cancer-related topic) that’s so straightforward. Thanks for sharing your story – and being incredibly entertaining as well.

    • Katie

      Thank you for reading!!

  • Ribeyekate

    Chemo patients should stay away from Walmart then.

    Plenty of self important people with cameras would love to get a picture of your enfeebled obese body operating a scooter so they can put it on their blog dedicated to exposing American culture.

  • Beka

    Chubby is the new skinny. Somebody get this girl on Ellen!

  • Lughna

    Great article, not to mention informative! Keep up the good eating. :) 

  • http://twitter.com/keehillman Keeley Hillman

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for writing this. I, like you, was 22 when I was diagnosed with lymphoma (mine was non-hodgkins). When I first found out I was in a complete state of shock, as can be imagined, and as friends came to visit me bedside in the hospital, we would each brave face and joke about how I was going to be in “better shape than any of us bitches!!!” come 6 months down the line. Uh yeah, no, WRONG.

    I was truly angered at the misrepresentation that had existed for years on my television screen. To make matters worse, Kitty (Calista Flockhart) was flaunting around grandma Nora’s kitchen on Brothers & Sisters weighing 90 pounds and throwing back beers while she was undergoing her treatment in her story arc during my personal battle. I was half way through my six month sentence of chemo watching these scenes jaw dropped in misery wondering why I had to be the one to gain 25 pounds and not even with the satisfaction of knowing that I had a round of beers to blame (no Kitty, beer is not “good” for you during chemo). My only blame was an empty bottle of prednisone that had cost me 5 pounds that week and was on its way to be refilled for my next treatment.

    I applaud you for standing up and putting this stereotype on blast. It’s been a year and a half since I was dubbed “in remission” and I’m still fighting off the last 10 pounds but guess what, I’d rather be a little bit of a chubby cancer survivor than well you know, the alternative.

    I wish you the very, very best in your battle. You will be a better person at the end of the road!!!

    Oh, and I won’t be seeing 50/50. I love you Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but just, no.

    • Katie

      Keeley – we are soul sisters. Thank you for writing this comment, it made my day. Your Brothers and Sisters reference was spot on. So glad to hear you beat Non-hodgkins, all 25++ pounds of you. Thank you for reading!!

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    Well, there’s one thing to cross off my list of “ways I could feasibly get really skinny without having to starve myself or work out”. Good to know!

  • Julie Cochran

    You are amazing. 

  • sarah

    You are an extraordinary and very talented human being. But you certainly don’t need me to tell you that. I always appreciate a good read from a good writer and I have found just that. Keep doin’ yo thang, girl. :)

    This is Sohaski’s girlfriend by the way.

  • Ditto

    omg, I am so glad that I’m not the only cancer patient who incorrectly thought that the best (secondary, of course) benefit of chemo was as an amazing weight loss solution!  I was diagnosed at 18, so in combination with my freshman 15, the reality of chemo weight was quite unwelcome.  I thought they would balance out, but unfortunately it all went one way, straight to my hips!  I thank God for the drugs’ effectiveness in killing my cancer, but I really wish they could’ve helped my dress size as well.  

    • Katie

      You are DEFINITELY not alone my friend. Thank you for reading and HELL YES to you for being a cancer survivor!  Wear those hips with pride – best of luck!

  • Ditto

    omg, I am so glad that I’m not the only cancer patient who incorrectly thought that the best (secondary, of course) benefit of chemo was as an amazing weight loss solution!  I was diagnosed at 18, so in combination with my freshman 15, the reality of chemo weight was quite unwelcome.  I thought they would balance out, but unfortunately it all went one way, straight to my hips!  I thank God for the drugs’ effectiveness in killing my cancer, but I really wish they could’ve helped my dress size as well.  

  • SusanDerkins

    People with cancer also write things that are really fun to read, apparently. :) 

  • Andrea

    My cousin kicks some comedic butt. The rest of us in the family aren’t nearly as funny. Bummer. She got the brains, good looks, and funny gene! 

  • Andrea

    My cousin kicks some comedic butt. The rest of us in the family aren’t nearly as funny. Bummer. She got the brains, good looks, and funny gene! 

  • Sara

    Couldn’t agree with you more! I too was diagnosed with lymphoma (non hodgkins) about a year ago. Lets just say that the benefits of chemo and steroids definitely was NOT weight loss. Damn stereotypes. Thanks for the article. I no longer feel like a weirdo!

    • Katie

      Thank you for commenting! I also no longer feel like a weirdo, so thank YOU. I hope you’re doing well now!!!

  • Amy

    Girl, so true. When I had cancer as a small child (3–6) the steroids made my appetite INSANE and I could eat a whole medium pizza by myself! I had the chubbiest cheeks. I looked puffy. But, I was cured so it was beyond worth it.

    • Katie

      Absolutely worth it, just weird that most people don’t associate cancer with chubby cheeks when apparently they should. So glad to hear your mini self beat cancer! Thank you for reading

      • Amy

        Thank you for writing & keep kicking ass.

      • Amy

        Thank you for writing & keep kicking ass.

    • anonymous

      The cheeks thing could have been a reaction to the steroids themselves, not just weight gain. Corticosteroids can cause patients to get a  ‘moon face’ (yeah, they actually call it that).

      • Amy

        Could be! Though my whole body was puffy. Like a little marshmallow. Because the “off chemo, on steroids” weeks were essentially periods of uncontrolled binge eating. “Moon face” is apt.

      • Amy

        Could be! Though my whole body was puffy. Like a little marshmallow. Because the “off chemo, on steroids” weeks were essentially periods of uncontrolled binge eating. “Moon face” is apt.

  • JJ

    I just finished treatment for non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, I lost about ten pounds.  I think the cancer was eating away at my body or something.  But anyways, losing weight is just as normal as gaining.  Hodgkin’s treatment is known to cause weight gain…

    • Katie

      Of course! I wasn’t trying to make one resolute statement about it, just trying to expose people the other side of chemo, I guess– the chubbier side.  Glad to hear you’re done – I hope you’re doing well and feeling good!

  • Kittyallison

    This was delightfully light for an article on such an important issue. Great writing, found myself chuckling a couple of times there.

  • guestface killah

    yo for real tho, if you have cancer, cut all the sugar out of your life… cancer cells are anaerobic, so sugar spikes help them reproduce

  • Ellen

    I think the happiness that will show on your face when you know that you’ve beaten cancer will make you look 10 times better than being skinny ever could :) Nothing like a personal victory to give you confidence! Also maybe treat this like pregnancy? “I can eat this second scoop of ice cream because I’m eating for two” becomes “I can eat this nutella straight out of the jar because I’m fighting fucking CANCER mawfucka”.

  • Angela

    I really enjoyed this post! I wonder if I ever bumped into you  (or possibly roomies at some point) at Sloan Hilton aka Spa de la Chemo. I was diagnosed with HL too and just finished all my treatments 2 months ago. More power to you girl!!! p.s. I gained 30 pounds. Hah.

    • Katie

      Thanks for commenting and congrats on being done with treatment!! Good luck!!

  • Guest

    Kick that cancer’s ass katie!!!

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