August 19, 2009

Changing Body Shape – Old Before Our Time?


You’ve asked for it so here it is: for the next two posts we’ll be dishing on early menopause.  I still get monthly visits from Flo, so I asked Emily Beck to write about this subject and moderate conversation.  Emily is a 30-something diagnosed with ovarian cancer in summer of ’07 and finished treatment a little over a year ago.  Take it away Emily:

Somewhere in Cyber-space, a fellow inductee into the world of early menopause said, “Menopause does not mean you suddenly develop an irresistible impulse to start shopping at Chico’s.”  When I first heard this witticism, I had yet to be gripped by one of the most feared dimensions of The Change:  WEIGHT GAIN.  I had lost about 15 lbs. thanks to surgery and chemo, so it wasn’t until quite a few months after treatment ended that I started to feel myself…well, expanding.

Before cancer, my weight had always been stable (save for a bacchanalian year spent living in New Orleans), so the menopause-induced shape-shifting which befell me was a bit hard to accept.  Most of the weight seems to have settled in my boobs, hips and thighs, so with careful sartorial planning, I can still show-off my slim arms and calves without drawing too much attention to what I think of as my middle-aged midsection.    Nevertheless, when I catch myself in the mirror at the gym or – heaven forefend – in a dressing room, I think to myself, “I am now officially middle-aged; I am shaped like a pear.”

I am working steadily on making my peace with my new body.  So gone are the days of trying to stuff my boobs into pre-cancer bras (I’ve gone up a cup size) and cinch an old pair of jeans (also up a size) around my lumpy belly.  When I was unpleasantly thin after surgery and during chemo, I hated the fact that I could feel my pelvic bones so prominently.  Now, those same bones are nicely padded, thanks to menopausal weight gain.

At 36, most of us probably aren’t thinking about menopause.  Middle age and the inevitable over-turning of the hormonal apple cart might be out there on the horizon, but before my unexpected introduction to this traditionally mid-life extravaganza, I still thought of myself as pretty young.  Now, though, I have to wonder if cancer hasn’t made me old before my time.

Do you ever look in the mirror and think, “Who is that?”  Can you tell if changes in your shape are from hormones, treatment, or just being a young adult who is naturally starting to age?  Have you experienced early menopause?

For practical resources on coping with young adult cancer and body image check out Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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  1. tara Says:
    August 19th, 2009 at 2:24 PM

    if it makes anyone feel better, i’ve always been a pear, at least since college, before the cancer. i joke with my friends about opening a clothing store called “Bartlett”, that’d have trendy clothes for disproportionate people:-) i dont weigh that much and dress to hide it, so most people dont realize it. but even when i was like 105 with the cancer, i still was a pear, my thighs/bottom never slimmed down. although early menopause must bring it on earlier for some, i think some people are just more genetically prone, i never thought of it as an aging thing, since i was like that in my teens. ha, though now i’m questioning the hormonal role, cause I’ve always had gyno issues.

  2. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    August 19th, 2009 at 2:42 PM

    Tara – Interesting point about dressing to hide parts of your body. I provided some great resources in my book for cancer and clothing organizations that teach people how to dress differently to accommodate changes in their body, whether it is disfigurement or a new figure. I am curious to know if others dress differently since cancer or as their bodies change?


  3. Anonymous Says:
    August 19th, 2009 at 7:51 PM

    Aside from the thyroid cancer I was also diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome a few years ago, my body went into pre-menopause about 4 years ago…I also have been pear shaped all my life, no matter what I do, I apparently will be blessed with what my husband affectionatly refers to as badonkadonk (really big booty ;)Honestly until recently, I never wore shorts, ever. I wore alot of black, baggier clothes, ect…. Then I just decided to quit hiding it. Dont get me worng I am not stutting around in booty shorts but I am flaunting the parts of my body I love. (I wear alot of tank tops to ahow off my arms and back)

    But at the end of the day, it is about being healthy and really accepting yourself (in my case dimples and all) I am a size 12/14…which by many standards is overweight. Yet I run 10 miles a week, do spin classes and still wear a bikini!!! Dont get me wrong sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder what the hell happened, and then I shrug and walk into the kitchen to get myself a big glass of milk and cookie….life is too short!

    and by the way, I turn 36 next week….whoever said the 30s is the new 20s was an idoiot….

  4. Shannon Says:
    August 19th, 2009 at 7:54 PM

    I forgot to leave my name, the comment above was mine!

  5. Emily Beck Says:
    August 20th, 2009 at 11:41 AM

    I think the end result of all the shape-shifting that can come from cancer really is abour embracing who you have grown into, and also FEELING WELL. Honestly, I feel healthier and stronger now, over-all, than I did before I was diagnosed. I try not to get too worked up about what shows up on the scale when I visit my onc every three months. I am running and biking and feeling fit, and that goes a long, long way to boosting my self-image. It also keeps me from feeling like cancer got the best of me.

  6. menopause weight gain Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 6:35 AM

    Thank you very much for this very useful information! Great post! Keep it up!

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