Breast Cancer and Weight Gain
It comes as an unpleasant surprise to many of us that adjuvant chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy for breast cancer are often associated with weight gain. The general belief in the world is that people with cancer lose weight (often way too much weight), so this piece of information can be shocking. We're not talking about gaining fifty pounds, blessedly, but most women gain between five and fifteen pounds over the course of their treatment. Women who have managed not to gain weight during chemotherapy usually find that the pounds pile on with the initiation of tamoxifen or one of the AIs.
There are a number of possible explanations for this. Chemotherapy slows metabolism, and many of us exercise less, burning fewer calories, during active treatment. Also, many of us find that keeping something in our stomachs reduces the nausea, so we nibble all day. I have explained this to people by saying: "You don't necessarily feel better with a full stomach, but you feel worse with an empty one." We also are likely to find that comfort foods and carbs taste best during chemo. There is a joke about the ideal chemotherapy meal including mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.
Both adjuvant chemotherapy and hormonal therapy frequently throw women into sudden menopause. Older women who have been taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) have to immediately stop it. This loss of estrogen has a number of unwelcome consequences, but one is certainly "middle-aged spread"--that pear shape or roll around the middle that is so much easier to avoid when you are younger.
In talking with newly diagnosed women, this topic often comes up. Their reaction is likely to be something along the lines of: "What a deal! I have been told that I have a life-threatening disease, need surgery and may lose a breast(s), will have chemotherapy and lose my hair, and now you tell me I am going to gain weight, too!" How unfair is that!
There have been several studies recently reported that suggest that regular mild to moderate exercise and holding down one's weight may reduce the risk of recurrence (and this seems to be true for all cancers, not just breast cancer). This information both puts the pressure on (big time) and can be a very strong motivator.
I was thinking about all of this at the gym this morning as I went through my (almost) daily routine. I have discovered that regular exercise is the only thing that enables me to hold my weight steady and where I want it to be. Even though I have been a marathon runner in my younger days, I have never loved exercise and have always done it with a sense of duty and obligation. Now, I have added the possibility that all this time on the Elliptical Machine may actually help keep me alive. That is enough to get me out of bed in the dark early mornings. Your thoughts?
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