June 26, 2023

Cancer Weight Gain and Loss


My tiny little ass is getting fatter. And I wrote a comment about it today on a New York Times Well Blog post about cellulite:

“I have been stick thin for years from cancer treatments and only in the past few months have I seen cellulite on my body for the first time ever. It is kind of unattractive, but a vast improvement to looking like a victim from the camps. It might take some time to get used to, but I’m welcoming my cellulite.”

I don’t talk about my body much because in the world of women it is easy to be hated for being skinny - even scary skinny like me. I’ve always been svelte. My body was great for ballet, but freakish by other standards. ‘Toothpick legs’ was the name kids called me at summer camp. Not a confidence booster.

Before cancer I was a healthy 134 pounds. Since my hormone therapy I’m now 112 despite my efforts to gain weight. I feel like my bones are going to impale my partner, like I might be easily carried away in a storm. I catch people looking at me with tempered disgust. So yes, the ripples of fat that just showed up on my ass in the last few months are not attractive but are okay with me.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes by now thinking “whatever you skinny bitch.” I know that being underweight is a hell of a lot easier than being overweight in this culture. But my body is my body and I want to write about it.

It is weird to work so hard to keep this body alive and then to focus on something as seemingly shallow as looks. But how we look can often impact how we feel about ourselves, and that is something worth writing about.

Has your body changed shape or size from surgery, treatments, hormones, steroids, lack of activity? How have you adjusted to this change? Do you feel like other people notice or comment on your size? How often do you think about your appearance?

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  1. Duncan Cross Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 7:15 AM

    I feel your pain. After being heroin-chic most of my adult life, I’m finally starting to gain a little pudge around the middle. It makes me self-conscious, and I find myself pinching and squeezing it when I’m undressed - as if I could somehow determine the appropriate amount of pudge is, and only at that point lay off the pudge-inducing food.

    I think part of the problem is that I internalized a lot of the
    “You’re so skinny!” remarks (mostly from women, expressing their envy). That always annoyed me a bit, but I was secretly pleased that at least something about my life was enviable, when the rest was a disaster. The consequence was that I based my self-image on my sick self; getting accustomed to the healthy me turns out to be a challenge.

  2. anonymous Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 7:27 AM

    I have the opposite problem… I had always weighed in the 130′s and was very athletic. I had 3 children and was working off my last 15 lbs when thyroid cancer came into my life (my son was a little over 1). I had a total thyroidectomy and that was it…I gained 50lbs in 12 weeks waiting to do RAI. It took me months to feel ‘okay’ and I started to work out. I have slowly added on 25 lbs over the course of 2 years despite exercise and various diets. I threw up my hands with it all and don’t diet or exercise and I haven’t changed. Docs say that’s just what happens get used to it… Its so hard going from a 6 to 16… I didn’t used to be vain…now I’m just disgusted.

  3. Rhonda Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 8:29 AM

    Let’s just say I have never been thin, skinny, svelte, or normal sized. Since I was very young I have been overweight-and not by a little. Then cancer arrived, leukemia to be exact. People actually SAID “hey now you will lose a ton of weight as a party bonus.”

    A party? A cancer bonus? Come on, please. But still I thought ‘well maybe.’

    The opposite happened. My TKI chemotherapy actually increases weight because we have so much swelling from the fluid ‘leaking’ from the small vessels. So, I have puffy eyes (really bad some times), swollen fingers, major ankles, and now… after years of being fat, I have a belly. I was always fat, but not so much the ‘apple shape’ with the belly. NOW, as the story goes… everything changes, and I have the fluid in the chest belly area.

    I am uncomfortable, and even being a vegetarian and sometimes raw foodist, does not seem to be taking the fluid away. THe only thing that helps is no dairy. Wierd. Leaving off diary and sodas I can see a measurable difference in the swelling.

    So, my ‘two cents’ is that even for a fat person, Cancer changes everything.

  4. Daria Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    In August I started chemo that included steroids. I couldn’t fill the gap … ate and ate and ate. I gained 20 some pounds. In April they cut my dosage down and I started experiencing nausea. I started loosing weight. As much as I may regret saying this … I’m glad to be losing those pounds. It is hard to be overweight at the best of times … never mind when on chemo.

    Either way, it’s just never easy and we do the best we can.

    All the best to you,

  5. Shannon Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 9:14 PM

    Being in the military, and in a leadership position my image and fitness level are paramount. My first concern when diagnosed with thyroid cancer was how it was going to affect how I look. As if it wasnt hard enough before, now I find myself obsessing over every calorie or every gained pound. I never stopped exercising even when I felt like I could barely stay awake….so far 7 weeks after the thyroidectomy I have gained 5 lbs. Sometimes it I wonder if it is worth all the pressure I put on myself. I mean after all I had cancer! The funny thing is that my hips never met a dessert they didn’t like and now…..well, lets just say no matter how much I run, spin and lift weights, I simply had to give up the cake, pie and ice cream….(but not the beer…yet)

  6. Alli Says:
    June 28th, 2009 at 12:24 PM

    My first chemo I lost 8 pounds in a week, they fed me steroids for nausea I gained an extra 2 pounds plus the 8 I lost. I’m with Daria I hate the steroids I am telling my Dr. no more they have to find something else for nausea… I did steroids once before gained so much weight I could barely stand myself. After losing working hard, not a second time…
    My self image is OK, I still see myself as the blonde chic with no hair…
    Alli xx

  7. Genevieve Thul Says:
    June 28th, 2009 at 6:02 PM

    I have always been on the large side, but maintained a fairly healthy weight ever since college. After my total thyroidectomy/nodectomy, I didn’t GAIN any weight, but I also couldn’t lose any, no matter how hard I tried (I had just given birth to my 4th child and couldn’t ditch the baby weight). A year later, I am still trying to lose the baby weight, and can’t budge it by even a pound. I’ve tried more exercise, which honestly I’m probably too tired to do; I’ve tried cutting calories, but that doesn’t seem to help at all. Ick! I am loathe to try any REAL diets, as I’ve never had to use them in the past. But I may have to try or just become comfortable at my new, cancer weight. Add to the extra weight the changes to my body composition since going hypo for treatments and scans…let’s just say I’m glad my husband loves me alREADY.

    Thanks for posting this! It is encouraging to know I’m not alone.

  8. Marielle Says:
    June 29th, 2009 at 8:50 PM

    I’ve been thinking about this so much lately. Not only did I get cancer last year, I now have gastritis and espophagitis from stress, and I weigh 102 lbs. I haven’t weighed this much since I was 17. I hate it! I feel so skinny and frail. I wish I could gain more weight. It really affects my self-esteem, but I try not to let it.

  9. Cathy Bueti Says:
    June 30th, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    After my cancer surgery which involved a mastectomy, free tummy tuck and TRAM flap reconstruction using said belly fat to make a new boob, my body image took quite a hit to say the least. I always carried around an extra 15 lbs especially when I was a kid and always worried about my weight. I hated my body, never thought my boobs were big enough, and always thought I was fat. I ended up with a super flat stomach after surgery and lost a few pounds during treatment. I actually liked the fact that I lost weight. I would have people stop me and tell me how lucky I was because I had such a flat tummy! IT made me want to scream at them! Man..if they only knew how I got it! But as my treatments ended and my appetite came back I started putting on weight and rather than looking at it as a good thing I fell right back into the same ol worrying about my weight again. Pretty crazy! I told my friends that I was the only person who had fat surgically removed and moved that still thought her stomach was too big! 8 years later I still struggle with self image issue, not just with weight but all of my boob and stomach scars….
    THanks for posting this Kairol! Yet another great topic!

  10. Marianne Says:
    July 1st, 2009 at 2:46 AM

    I have always been thin. Not skinny, just thin. I work as a tour guide so usually do a lot of walking, and bike almost everywhere I go. With chemo I stopped working and biking, and have been eating pretty much everything I feel like eating, because not being nauseous is wonderful and I feel I should take full advantage of those days when I’m actually hungry. I am aware that I’m not as firm as I was before, and now it’s really starting to annoy me. I don’t want to stop eating because of weight issues. Everyone says it’s ok if I put on a few pounds, I could use the extra meat, etc., but I don’t want to! It sucks to obsess about your self-image when you’re supposed to be concentrating on getting better.

  11. Mary Says:
    August 20th, 2009 at 3:07 PM

    I just googled thyroid cancer and I happened to come across this page. Anonymous from June 26— I too went from a size 6 to a size 16 after my thyroid cancer and subsequent thyroidectomy. I never ever appreciated how thin and beautiful I was when I was a size 6. Back then, I always wanted to be a size 4 or 2… it was never good enough. Now I feel like I’m getting paid back for being so vain.

    I’ve gained 50-60 pounds within the page 2 years (despite not much of a change in diet - just a change in exercise). I have giant stretch marks all over my hips, thighs, and breasts. I feel like my body does not even belong to me anymore. It’s horrible. People will tell me that thyroid cancer is the “best” type of cancer to have because you don’t need chemo or traditional radiation (I was blessed enough to not even need RAI, they caught my tumor THAT early).

    However, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. My TSH is now in the normal/low range, so the endo says my weight cannot cannot be attributed to my lack of a thyroid. It’s so frustrating. No matter what I eat, no matter how much I exercise, I just keep getting bigger and bigger. I’m sure I’ll be a size 18 soon enough. I’ve even been considering possible lab-band surgery, as it seems there will be no end to this hell. I try to remember how lucky I am that they caught it so early, and that I won’t need extensive treatments, but it seems like I traded one problem for another. Obesity might not kill right away… but it’s not good.

  12. soniam Says:
    October 15th, 2009 at 10:20 AM

    Hello all!

    Like two other ladies who have posted on here, l came across this page looking for yet MORE thyroid cancer ANSWERS! I am 43 years old, and since the age of 17, 18 l have always weighed between 8 and a half and 8 and three quarter stone. 18 months ago ago l had part of my breast and lymph nodes removed, then in January of this year l had a total thyroid removal due to cancer. I understand exactly where you poor people are coming from. In the last year l have gone from a size 6 to now a size 18, and it just makes me want to cry all the time. I eat less and exercise more than l ever have done in my life, but to no avail. I feel our so called specialists in the uk have a bloody lot to answer for, they are quite happy to remove our body parts, telling us that they are saving our lives, but in the long run they are in fact killing us because they are just not giving us the proper medication to replace our missing bits and pieces with! All l get told now is l am depressed, need to go on a diet and get on with it, but hey, how the hell am l supposed to when i’ve got no control on the thing that actually controls my body, when its actually been removed! I totally agree with Mary, we’re just left to get on with it, and thats just not good enough! I really do sometimes wish l had just been left alone and tried alternative therapies before l was opened up and messed about with. I feel for all of you, and one day someone will listen to us! xx

  13. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    October 15th, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    Soniam, I’m really sorry to hear about the challenges you are facing with your body right now. I cannot image how hard it is to have a new body over night - one that you’d rather not have. I know how hard it is to deal with endocrinologists who don’t take seriously our side effects and think we should just be grateful that we are not dead. The part that stood out to me most about what you wrote was “they are not giving us the proper meds to replace our missing body parts.” It made me wonder if in fact they are mis-dosing your thyroid medication. As I am sure you know, with thyroid cancer, post-thyroidectomy, the goal is not for us to have balanced hormone levels, but to be hyperthyroid to prevent further cancer growth. Our TSH levels should be abnormally high. I am wondering where your TSH level is and is your doc is giving you the proper dosage. Also, I began seeing a registered dietitian at my cancer center recently. I am wondering if you have such services available to you. She is great because she sees so many other patients who have similar food, eating, weight circumstances as me. She is able to give me tips and validation that I would never get from a doctor. A lot of what she talks about is not the quantity of food, what specific foods I am eating. I wonder if a smart sounding board of that type would be helpful to you. My heart goes out to you!

  14. Genevieve Thul Says:
    October 19th, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    I had to pop in to reply to Soniam. Over a year ago, I posted about my inability to lose weight since thyroid cancer. Well, I still have positive tumor markers and am still “active” cancer patient now 2 1/2 years after diagnosis. I decided to heed the advice of my traditional Western oncologist, who put me on a strict no sugar/no starch/low glycemic index/no alcohol/ no over the counter meds or supplements diet. The diet was supposed to slow cancer growth and I have been very motivated to follow it. I do continue to eat meat in moderation. My cancer numbers immediately started improving on the diet. AND I have effortlessly lost weight for the first time since getting cancer. The doctor attributes this to rebalance in other hormones plus just the general healthy combination this diet is for most people. I have been on the diet since April (6 months now) and have lost 45 pounds without ever trying. The only thing I have to do is control my urge to eat desserts, sweets, and carbohydrates.

    Just thought I’d pop in and say - maybe you should inquire about it with your own health care team??

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