BY CHERIE RINEKER Be careful what you wish for. Thirty-three years ago I wished I could eat all I wanted without ever having to worry about gaining weight. Four years ago that wish came true. When I was in my teens, like most girls, I wanted to be thin and had been so most my life. All that changed the year I started my period. Like many women, I ate more than my body needed and I started gaining weight. I became anorexic for only a short time, thankfully because my love of food was stronger than my desire to be thin. Bulimia was next. Realizing I could eat whatever I wanted, as long as I took laxatives, seemed like an easy alternative. Two decades later, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an often still terminal, yet treatable cancer. Thankfully I had overcome my bulimia through a super clean and alkalizing diet. When life seemed good in most ways, I started to physically feel worse and worse. Months before my official diagnosis, I had already started losing weight. I did not know why, but I wasn’t complaining. My appetite had slowly gotten worse, due to a constant low grade fever and slight nausea. After my diagnosis I had to start radiation right away to burn away a tumor that was eating away T4 and threatening to paralyze me. After my 6th round I was unable to eat anything! Because my throat was so burned I could barely swallow my own spit. The weight loss continued. I did not complain. One month after the radiation I started chemo. The nausea and vomiting became unrelenting. I was on three different anti-nausea pills, yet nothing seemed to work. I lost weight so fast that the doctor became concerned and I could no longer look at myself in the mirror. What I saw staring back at me was horrifying because I looked like one of the pictures I had seen of concentration camp prisoners. For the first time I was too skinny! I was losing weight too fast, yet all the protein shakes or food suggested to me made me feel so bad I simply could not eat it. I remember having to keep a food diary. Some days I was unable to put more than 150 calories in my body. Needless to say I felt absolutely miserable. I am now 4 plus years into this journey. Thankfully I almost gained the weight I initially lost back. I have had people tell me I am too skinny. Duhhhh, I have cancer! People can be so insensitive. A friend got upset because she told a lady my story and asked “Doesn’t Cherie look good," to which the woman replied “Well, I think she is too skinny.” It used to really upset me. Now I laugh it off and tell them “ I am on the chemo diet, you should try it. Just take some chemotherapy and you will feel so nauseous you won’t have an appetite and the weight will fly right off”. Some people tell me they think I look great, most women would dream to be a size 2 without having to diet. To these women I give the same answer:
You see, I do not like to eat at all anymore! Eating feels like a punishment. I have no appetite, ever! And when I get sick, really sick, which has happened plenty in the past four years, I don’t care about eating or drinking! Water, something I used to love to guzzle, now tastes bad, as does everything else. I force to finish my small evening meals. My husband has to do the cooking, because if I cook, I have lost my appetite by the time I put the food on the table. He also does most the shopping, because I never know what to get.
A couple of my friends have told me they wish they had my problem. No you don’t! The last time I got really sick, with some kind of virus only babies tend to get, I could barely eat for three weeks. For the first time in my life it dawned on me that our desire to eat is an absolutely important survival mechanism! Wanting to eat and drink keeps us alive! It keeps us from withering away. I know we often eat too much in this country. Still, be glad you like to eat. Be glad for your few extra pounds, because I would certainly like some extra myself. I am one flu or pneumonia away from being so skinny that my chances of survival are less than my chubbier fellow cancer patients. Remember, fat equals energy, of which I have none. So the next time you are upset for eating that extra piece of pie because you couldn’t help yourself, be grateful you have an appetite! I would LOVE to be able to eat and enjoy that piece of pie! Today I can eat anything I want (but I hardly want anything) and I am thinner than I have ever been. In the world of cancer and treatments, this is not a bonus, it lowers my chance of survival. Our society obsesses too much about weight, so just be grateful you are healthy, and appreciate your body as it is. Cherie Rineker is author of "A Pilgrimage Without End: How Cancer Healed My Broken Heart." Purchase her book here.
about the author
Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can help accelerate a cure by weighing in and participating in clinical research. Founder of HealthTree Foundation (formerly Myeloma Crowd).