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Eating Disorders During Chemotherapy

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Sometimes life throws a curve which solicits laughter, even if the curve is named cancer.  The laughter may be delayed, but rest assured, it is inside you waiting for release. My laughter and release followed my oncologist’s admonition to eat properly and not lose weight. Most of my life I have tried to lose weight but was largely unsuccessful.
When on chemotherapy, appetite is merely a word to most people.  Food and drink become unnecessary, or so it seems.  Ironically food is probably more important at this time than at any time since you were a child. 
Not only is it difficult and sometimes impossible to maintain your energy level, but your immune system is so weakened that you become susceptible to every germ, virus or bug currently residing in or visiting your county.  Losing weight compounds your lack of resistance and may lead to a fatal illness, such as pneumonia. It appears that this may be an example of the cure being worse than the ailment.
Chemotherapy may present side effects, but when eating troubles arise, new difficulties sometimes enhance those which existed prior to treatment. Whether a loss of appetite or the need for a protein rich diet ensues with treatment, it is essential for the patient to work with the doctor, nurse, caregiver and anyone else involved in the treatment schedule.
The National Cancer Institute recognizes many problems which occur during cancer treatment in their article: “Chemotherapy Side Effects Fact Sheet.” Some problems include: constipation, changes in taste and smell, fatigue, poor appetite, dry mouth, diarrhea, nausea, difficulty in swallowing, unwanted weight gain or loss and sore or irritated mouth or throat. Their site includes suggested questions to ask your doctor, as well as information regarding possible side effects and control methods.
For those of us who live alone, fixing meals and eating properly becomes a bigger challenge than we can sometimes handle if we are undergoing chemotherapy. For this reason, I stocked up on frozen entrees which required heating only to prepare a meal.  Despite these precautions, I lost weight. 

Determined to give myself every break possible, I bought and consumed an entire bag of donuts.  The next time I visited the oncologist, she congratulated me on not losing any more weight but laughed when I told her how I managed to maintain it. We agreed that being on any form of cancer treatment may be the only time when some of us can eat those delectable extra calories and not worry about our dimensions. 
Although I lost my appetite after several chemo episodes, I found that because I was not nauseated, I could treat myself to lunch at a favorite restaurant.  Perhaps I was a bit smug about this because no one knew I was a cancer patient and I delighted in maintaining this secret.  This lunch not only provided me with the proper nourishment but it helped me retain my positive attitude.
All cancer patients, as well as those working in the oncology field, agree that a positive attitude is the best friend you have at a time like this.  In retrospect, it is the best friend we have in all of life’s situations, good and bad. 
Now that my chemotherapy has ended, the punch line to my lack of appetite and attempts to avoid weight loss has brought me full cycle to the place where I began.  I am now learning new eating habits and have learned I do not need to eat very much to feel satisfied.  Because of this I have lost some weight. Probably I will never be thin again but I am adjusting to this situation as I had to adjust to the chemotherapy and so . . . life goes on.


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