That Other “F” Word

There is that certain “f” word we all know about. There are one or two others as well. In Cancerland, another “f” word is fatigue because cancer is exhausting in oh-so-many ways not only for the patient, but for the caregiver(s) too. But I’m not talking about either of those words. I’m talking about yet another “f” word many of us are familiar with. Do you know which one I’m talking about?

Yep, I’m talking about that itty, bitty word some of us are quite familiar with, fat. And I am fat. (For the record, yes, I do try to eat healthy most days and yes, I do exercise regularly. I will keep plugging away at both).

There I said it and yes, it was hard to type those words.

Why is fat such a horrible word, or rather why is it such a horrible word when it’s attached to you?

Why does it matter so much?

This post was another one of those difficult to publish posts. And the reason is simple, yet complex. In some ways talking about weight, rather my weight, is harder than talking about cancer stuff. How twisted is that? And when I go to my oncology appointments, one of the parts I hate most is the discussion about, you guessed it, my weight. That is totally fucked up (sorry, but this is an “f” word post after all). I know full well I am lucky to fret about something as trivial as my weight. Still…

Since my cancer diagnosis, I have put on 20+ pounds, so I have to ask, is this yet one more “gift” cancer has given me, one more piece of collateral damage? After all, weight gain is listed as one of the  many  side effects of aromatase inhibitors, or as I prefer to call them, the drugs we love to hate. Some would say yes. Some would say no. I will say, probably…

But again, back to that why question.

Why does it sting so much to be labeled fat?

When I was in elementary school, I was called chubby for a while, which of course, is just another kinder (but not that much kinder) label for fat. There were even a few years when my mom and my grandma took me shopping for school clothes in the chubby department of stores, an experience that let me tell you, still stings when I think back about it.

Somewhere in fifth grade or so, I hit puberty and lo and behold, I was suddenly skinny. No more pressure about losing weight. But to this day, I’ve never forgotten my chubby years and the chubby comments and how they made me feel.

This is way too big a topic for one blog post. So rest assured, I will likely be writing more about this in due time. But don’t ever expect to learn what my actual weight is. That is a “national-security-type-tightly-guarded-by-me” kind of secret. Let’s just say my driver’s license is not correct. (Is yours?)

But, trying to stay focused…

The purpose of this post is merely to come out and say it. I am fat. And again, this was hard to do. It’s not so bad to tell yourself you’ve got a few pounds to lose, that you’re overweight, or even that you’re too fat (for some reason too fat sounds more gentle than just fat), but to come out and say I’m fat; well, that’s hard.

The second purpose of this post is to reach out to you, my dear readers. Cancer or no cancer, I have a feeling there are others out there (I’m actually kind of hoping there are anyway) who for whatever reason are, okay, let me just say it, fat. As always, truth telling begins first with being honest with oneself. In this “weighty” matter, no one is alone either. Sorry about the really bad pun.

The third reason for this post is to reiterate that being fat matters. And then again it doesn’t. Of course, it matters for all those health-related reasons we all know about. But you are not worth more as a human being because you are skinny, fat or anywhere in between. You are worthy just for being you, as you are right now, this day, this minute. Your value is not based on what your scale says or does not say. It never was and it never will be.  So no matter what you weigh, be kind to yourself. I will try to remember these things too.

That other "f" word

So there you have it, no New Year’s resolutions for me, but instead a confession of sorts.

Maybe admitting it wasn’t so bad after all…The sky didn’t fall. My family didn’t disown me. You, my dear readers, are still out there.

I might even feel better now.

But I’m still fat.

Thank you to my friend, Beth L. Gainer – Calling the Shots, for giving me that little push of confidence to publish this post.

Do you have weight issues (of any kind)?

Have you ever felt judged based on your weight?

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That Other "f" Word
Image via “Little Pink Book of (Mostly) Cancer Cartoons” by Kate Matthews. Click on image for more info. Used with permission.


39 thoughts to “That Other “F” Word”

  1. Nancy, I appreciate this post because that is one of the things not discussed when side effects for prescribed drugs are explained by the doctor prescribing them. Most women are sensitive to anything that might increase their weight so doctors avoid stating it up front, until the weight gain happens. Like the cartoon… My question is, what would help most? I am looking for ways to help people combat this problem in a way that enhances their health and their outcomes from medical treatment, but also in a way that is not a financial burden. If women who were going on these drugs had a source of support and encouragement in making progress against the dreaded weight gain, would they be willing to seek a little extra coaching on the side, especially if it was extremely affordable, but in addition to seeing the doctor? Just wondering what you think of that. As a health coach, I constantly hear the same complaints about these drugs. What would actually be most helpful to people who are dealing with this same issue? There are dietary modifications and exercise habits that can easily increase the amount of fat that is burned, but there is little time for this in a doctor’s appointment and there is information overload on the Internet. It’s trial and error, and people get frustrated. Do you think they’d be better served by a little personal guidance, individualized for them? Or are there other underlying issues that could be better addressed?

    1. Alene, Thank you for your well thought out questions and for caring about this issue. I don’t know what the answers are. I do think there is a tendency to attribute some of these side effects to aging, or worse, imply that they are in our head for lack of better wording. Regardless, there should be discussion, meaning at every appointment a patient should be asked what her side effects are and then validation, help and advice should be offered regarding how to manage them. We hear over and over again how weight matters in lowering risk for recurrence, but yet help isn’t really there and some women cannot afford extra financial burden to seek out assistance. Survivorship plans are needed, but so far they aren’t happening at all or are way too generalized. Thank you for all you do to help patients and thank you for commenting.

    2. i personally want and deserve an appetite suppressant. my dr refused. i’m going to have to give up everything i love to eat, even if i don’t eat that much of it, workign out will barely keep me the same weight even with a strict miserable diet, the only antidepressant you can take with the AI’s is Effexor which makes you what? Fat. I’ll be sweaty, balding, my knees already turned to chalk from just 53 days on tamoxifen. Give me a list of things to take or that can be prescribed to keep my bones from dissolving further if I take AI’s. Giv e me an appetite suppressant so I don’t resort to laxatives or bulemia; I have fought hard to stop drinking, go through surgery, chemo, herceptin, tamoxifen, constipation, hopelessness, depression-all on my own without support from my spouse and no family and few friends around in my world in a physical helpful way. I do not deserve to be carrying around a death sentence, to never drink again, to never eat what i want ever again to work out like a bastard on knees that can’t even make it up and down stairs and eat 1200 calories a day just to stay the same fat…for what? so i can continue to be alone at home and have no support and work from home and merely exist?

  2. Man. You hit the nail on the head here! What an amazing post and one I wish I had written! I have been thinking this same thing as of late. I have always struggled with my weight, off and on for years. Then, since getting diagnosed with the brain tumors and Cowden Syndrome, it’s gotten worse. I have been working out, blah blah blah. I have no uterus or ovaries, blah blah blah. It just is a rotten thing, you know? I have been thinking also as of late, “Could some of the meds be making it so bloody hard for me to lose weight?” Oh, no. I’m a post-menopausal mid 40 year old woman. NO WONDER.

    Anyway. I just get it. I really get it and wish I knew how to make it better for “US”. Or, maybe I should say better for “ME”, not to try to answer for everyone else. 🙂

    1. Heather, Thank you for getting it. Knowing we aren’t alone here, too, helps. I hope you do write your post. Thanks for reading mine and for commenting too.

  3. Oh, Nancy, thank you for your candor and courage in posting this. This post will help many people who are grappling with the same issues — including me. Medication has resulted in weight gain for me, but I can’t stop taking the medication, so I have to live with my body the way it is. Collateral damage, indeed.

    You are right: someone’s value does not depend on his/her weight, although our culture seems to favor thinness, doesn’t it? I’m sorry that shopping in that “chubby” section of the store has caused so much emotional damage. How can it not?

    You are brave to have pushed the Publish button. So brave. This post will resonate with many. You are certainly not alone. My driver’s license weight is off by more than a few pounds.

    I can’t get over your courage in writing this deep confession. Thank you for attributing me for giving you that slight “nudge.” But you had the courage to do this all along, deep down inside. And now you are giving me the courage to write the post I thought I’d never write. I was planning to write it for later in the year, but I think the time is right sooner than later. Thank you for giving me courage, too, my friend.

    1. Beth, Thanks so much for you support. It was hard for me to publish this post, but after I hit the publish button, it was sort of freeing too. Body image and self image are so tied into our personal appearance, even though it shouldn’t be that way. I wanted to write about this issue because I know there are others out there struggling with this too. I am really looking forward to your post now. I hope you write it when you’re ready. Thanks again for all your ongoing support, Beth.

  4. I hate being fat.

    I spent my first 42 years of life as a fat human. I had gastric bypass in 2003, was skinny by 2005, got breast cancer in 2011 and am now fat again. Not as fat as I was in 2003, but too fat to be happy. I take Arimidex to keep the cancer away. Does it make me more hungry? I don’t know if I’m to blame the drug or my situation. All I know is that I’ve gained weight every year since getting breast cancer. I put myself on calorie restriction, and the pounds don’t come off. Is that the drug? Should I ask my oncologist to put me on a different AI? I’ve got the joint pain and can live with it. I can’t live with being this fat…I don’t even know what size I am, because once I hit a 16, I started to only go to styles that came in XL.

    Can I get the Obesity Pill to go with my AI? They should approve that cocktail…

    1. Kim, I understand your frustration. Do talk with your oncologist (or other doctors) about your weight concerns. I know how hard it is to do that, heck, I’m talking with mine today and I am not looking forward to it. Maybe yours can direct you to some resources to help you. At least know you are not alone in this either. Keep doing the best you can. Thank you for sharing. And yes, I’d take that extra pill too…

  5. I found it interesting when I was diagnosed that my weight issues went from being “overweight” to being in “excellent health” … as they oncologists much prefer that you have a little extra fat before going into chemo … and of course, it gave my plastic surgeon that little bit extra to work with when reconstructing my wonderful new breasts …

    But now, I look at the scale every morning and pray that it goes down just a little … mind you, the last time I had a sudden spirt of weight loss coincided directly with my diagnosis … so part of me also wonders, is that a healthy lowering of the numbers or not … there is no win in this …

    My view now is to strive for cardiovascular health and the physical ability to do the things I want to do … watching my weight is only done because it might be a useful gage in the future … who knows …

    1. Rebecca, My goal now is not about appearance so much (but is still matters a lot), but rather I want to be as healthy as I can be. We keep hearing about weight management being important in reducing risk for recurrence and other health issues and yet, there isn’t always a lot of support. I do think the AIs do something to our metabolism. It’s frustrating to say the least. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Bravo for hitting publish! It is a subject that is hard to talk about when it concerns your own body. I have no hormone/antihormone drugs to blame. I can blame chemo for early menopause and BRCA1 for my lack of ovaries but that isn’t the full picture. I do still eat junk and don’t exercise as much as I should. I was thin until my 40’s but packed on the pounds when I quit smoking and had jelly bellies to curb the cravings. In my mind, I am still thin but my mirror and every different picture taken tells a different story. While I intellectually understand that fat doesn’t have to equal shame, I am always taken aback when I unexpectedly see myself and yes, I feel ashamed of “letting myself go”. It is a societal thing – our culture idolized young and thin and I am neither. Thanks for bringing this last taboo out into the light of day where we can all think about it and discuss it.

    1. Sharon, Most of us understand intellectually that fat doesn’t have to equal shame, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t feel that shame seeping in. I didn’t really experience the difficulty losing a few pounds until the AIs. I was menopausal for years before my diagnosis (the big change came early for me). Regardless of the reason for the weight gain so many women grapple with, many need help with dealing with it. And without that shame. There should be no shame in seeking help with weight issues either. Thank you for sharing about this too often taboo subject.

  7. I certainly gained more weight after cancer–I was average, slightly under-weight even, at time of diagnosis. Yep, it is getting older, treatment–all that–but something more. I eat so many things now that I did not want during chemo. I almost feel like I must gobble wonderful things, like cheesecake, because chemo made me hate nearly all foods. So, when the chemo stopped interfering with my tastes–I went crazy. It was just so wonderful to enjoy food again. I vowed never to deny myself anything ever again. And yes, the result has been some weight gain.

    1. CC, There are a lot of different factors involved for each of us as to the whys of weight gain. It’s interesting that you made that vow to yourself. It doesn’t sound like you have put on a whole lot of weight, so you’re probably fine. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I gained weight after breast cancer because I finally just thought, What in the world have I been dieting for all my life? Holy shit, if I die without eating the cake, eating the cookies, candy, ice cream that I’ve always loved, the breads and the butter, how stupid will that be and how foolish will I feel on my deathbed? So, I eat bread, instead of pushing the basket away at restaurants as I always did before, and I always order dessert. Life is too short. Food is one of my biggest pleasures in life and if I continue to gain weight, so be it. I’m sorry you feel that you’re fat. I think you look beautiful and perfect. Thank you for your honesty and bravery, so many will relate to this post. xo

    1. Claudia, I think it’s marvelous you order dessert and eat that bread because yes, life is short and food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Thank you for your very kind words.

    2. I feel a lot of this too. if the cancer comes back and kills me, it will have been an enormous waste of time to worry about every calorie and decline all the wonderful food and wines in life! But I am giving it one more shot to lose this weight – have joined an awesome gym with personal trainers, to get healthier and let’s see what happens.

      1. Kim, I’m working hard on getting some pounds off too, but it is painstakingly slow. Regardless, exercise is good for us, so I plan to keep at it. Of course, it’s not like I didn’t exercise and try to watch my diet and weight before cancer too. Good for you for joining that gym. Do your best and keep us posted on how things are going.

  9. I am f-a-t too, there I said it! I wrote it /announced it. I have lost 30 pounds since my surgery in August 2014, but I still am overweight/fat. As the professionals would probably like to tell Me. I had the infusion of Herceptin this morning and right about now I am getting very tired. I know I need to take a nap, but I also get anxiety. My Driver’s license says that I am 20 pounds lighter! Any way thank you very much for writing about this subject and All your subjects, they really help Me out!
    Much Love, Janet Juarez

    1. Janet, It’s kind of freeing to write it down don’t you think? Yay for you for losing that 30 pounds! That is a very big deal and you should feel proud of your accomplishment. I hope you got that nap in. Thank you so much for reading and for saying my posts are helpful. That means so much.

  10. I really appreciate this post and your honesty and courage Nancy. I’m with Claudia S.–life is short, have dessert. Your words that resonate most deeply–“You are worthy just for being you, as you are right now, this day, this minute. Your value is not based on what your scale says or does not say. It never was and it never will be. So no matter what you weigh, be kind to yourself. I will try to remember these things too.” Amen! Thanks for this heartfelt post Nancy!

  11. Those of us who have had breast cancer and those of us who love and care about us as survivors know we had cancer or have cancer but we are not our cancer. We have cells and body parts who have been affected by cancer. Those of us who have extra weight or have extra fat again have more cells that have been filled with fat the same way that some of our cells have been filled with cancer. We have been battling to remove cancer the same way that we are battling to remove the fat. In some ways we are at war with the fat. I know I was at war with my cancer. I thought I was going to lose my life to cancer. I still might…. who knows what the future holds. Maybe someday I will lose my life to fat. My vital organs are weakened by the fat and the pressure from the extra weight. But my reconstruction was improved by the extra fat that was around my mid section and I had a diep flap reconstruction and now my new breasts are filled with the fat that was in my stomach. Is the tummy tuck and the boob job worth it? physically? emotionally? Sometimes yes…. Sometimes no….. I know that cancer taught me that I am the only one who can help myself treat my health as a priority. I need to eat nutritionally. I need to have daily physical activity. I need to face my role in improving myself. I have to accept responsibility for myself. I also have to be gentle with myself. Healing and improving takes time. When I first got breast cancer I wanted to know the cause. I wanted to blame myself. I even wanted to beat myself up. What did I eat, breathe, do that caused my cells to be filled with cancer? My extra fat might have contributed to the estrogen in my body and my cancer might have been fed by the estrogen. So was I to blame for my cells getting cancer…. maybe. Am I to blame that I have many cells filled with fat?…. yup. Does it do me any good to blame myself?…. nope Can I make different choices tomorrow as to what I will eat and how I will exercise? If I make better choices will I lose some of my fat……probably. For today I am not as strong or as honest as some of you are….. I can not say it…… I am ***. I have cells filled with ***. Just like I had cells that had cancer in them and I am continually trying to help my body fight off the cancer cells with healthier blood…. food….. nutrients….. air….. I am willing to join with a new consciousness to try to eliminate more of the ***. This is not a new years resolution. Just another woman blogging trying to be honest…. truthful…. and responsible for the decisions she makes for herself, her husband and her children. We are definitely more than our ***. I like *** dot dot dot rather than the f word. I hope our bodies will stay or become cancer free. I hope our bodies will become less and less fat. Thanks for letting me process this topic in writing. Thanks for listening.

  12. After being dx with wide spread mets, I lost 20 pounds. I was about right weight when dx with bc mets last summer. Now I am seriously underweight and I am having a difficult time gaining weight so I am a little jealous of those who are fat. Cancer medicine makes me sick so it is difficult for me to keep food down. Now that I dropped a few meds I am able to pick up a few pounds. Its best to be able to eat and be healthy.

    1. Evie, You are so very right and I fully realize that I am lucky to be worrying about something like weighing too much. I know there are many like you who struggle with much bigger issues and I know there are some who are trying to put on pounds. It’s all hard. Eat for good health, or for the best health possible. That should be everyone’s goal. Thank you for putting things into perspective.

  13. Thank you for addressing this topic. I guess I am lucky, my oncologist never says anything about my weight and my GP no longer mentions it either.
    Before cancer, my weight had stayed fairly stable since I had started treatment for hypothyroidism. It is true, low thyroid makes you gain weight. I think it is a myth that you lose it once you are being treated – you just stop gaining. But, even so, I was only in the low end of overweight, not obese.
    Chemo made me lose weight. AIs put the weight back on and then some. Started a new treatment in December. So far, I seem to be losing weight on it; but it causes mouth sores and loss of appetite, so that may be why.
    We should continue to try to eat healthy, and nothing is wrong with a few treats in moderation. But, I have come to the conclusion, that for most of us in cancer treatments, our weight is no longer in our control. Our bodies, our metabolisms, just do not function normally in these treatments.

    1. Elizabeth, You’re right of course, no matter what our situation, we should continue to try to eat healthy. You just might be right, too, about cancer treatments (inlcuding AIs) messing with metabolisms. And just for the record, my oncologist didn’t seem overly concerned about my weight at my most recent appointment either, which I find surprising and yet not.

  14. Another provocative post, Nancy. Your questions are spot on, but for me they are as much about our culture as our cancer. I would no longer call myself fat (though others might), but I also could stand to lose another 10 pounds. OK, maybe 12 after last night’s dinner. I am in a constant tug-of-war in my effort to figure out if its what I see in the mirror, what society tells me I should look like, or some official BMI index that should be the determining factor. But what I see in the mirror, or at least how I see it, can’t be separated from what society tells me. So if, like you, my doctor doesn’t seem concerned with my weight, why do I get on the scale every single morning – first thing – and allow that number to influence my day?

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lori, Society puts pressure on us for sure, but I don’t care much about that these days; I just want to be as healthy as I can be. Having said that, I still cringe when I look in the mirror sometimes or when I see photos… I have my work cut out for me, but the pounds don’t seem to want to come off very easily while on these darn drugs. Is that an excuse? I don’t think so. Too many others concur. Thank you for reading and adding to this discussion, Lori.

  15. Nancy thanks as always for your honesty in writing about a topic that many of us identify with. I have to say I was surprised to see you write that you are fat — that is most definitely not something that I ever thought looking at pictures of you here on the blog!

    For me, chemo was so awful and I was so sick that I lost a ton of weight and I kept that weight off for a few years. But in the last few years my weight has been creeping up slowly and I have been in denial. Last year when I saw the photographs of myself on stage at Stanford MedX, I tried to convince myself that it was a bad camera angle. But I can no longer deny the truth when I go to buy clothes and the sizes I have to buy are getting bigger. So your honesty has helped me to face up to my own reality and now I need to choose what to do about it!

    1. Marie, Let’s just say I’m very careful about how I stand/pose. ha. As you said, many of us struggle with weight issues and some of us, of course, also struggle with weight loss. Body image is such a delicate area and cancer, especially breast cancer, can do a real number on us. Good health is what matters most of course. We are all working on being at our healthiest. I know this, Marie, you are beautiful inside and out. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  16. I have been gaining weight, too, almost at an alarming rate. At first it was a good thing to gain, especially after the divorce and my stage IV status, leaving me with little appetite. But now that my appetite has returned (I guess I adjusted to the continuous chemo), I can’t fit into clothes that were so easy to wear before. I exercise as well as I can, and try to eat right, but I just keep gaining. People will still say I am thin, but I know in my heart I am not. Thanks for your courage to share this personal tidbit. I never would have known this about you, You are very sweet and dear to us all. xxx

    1. Hi Jan, Chemo can do a number on a person’s metabolism, so your body is probably just reacting to that. You look lovely, so no need to worry about it anyway. The main thing for all of us is to try to make the healthiest choices we can. Some days we’ll do better than others. Thank you for reading and you, Jan, are the one who is sweet and dear to so many. xx

  17. I hear you and feel your pain. I also have gained about 30lb since my cancer was diagnosed. I also suffer with lymphedema as well and the weight gain does not help with the swelling. I also was a “chubby” kid and know all the snide remarks and jokes. After my kids were born I lost a lot of weight to be a healthy me and kept it off for years. Now back to the fat farm. I was relgious with excercise and eating for 6 months between appointments and I gained 2 lbs. The doctors tried to tell me that muscle weighs more than fat. Really!!
    I am glad to hear someone complaining about this side effect as well. I feel your pain , sister!!

  18. I’m glad I finally read this! (I’ve seen the illustration of the “Best Breast Cancer Pins” board on Pinterest for a couple of months now.)
    I’m fat, too.
    I wasn’t BC. In fact, I had worked pretty hard and lost about 30 lbs not long before my diagnosis, and I looked pretty awesome.
    Then Zoladex and Arimidex and Fosamax came along, and every pound of it was back, practically overnight.
    Now I think of myself as a fat person. My clothes don’t fit. Fortunately, my oncologist says nothing. I have everyone in the office trained to weigh me without saying anything out loud nor writing anything down where I can see it. I stand on the scales with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears (mature, I know).
    And probably very few people have noticed the weight gain. Other people, as I tell my 16 year old daughter, are more concerned about themselves than they are about whether or not I gained weight. My husband has kindly never said a word.
    Still not okay with it.

    1. Dyanne, I’m glad you made your way to this post too. It was a hard one to publish. I just love that cartoon. I completely relate to everything you said. My oncologist never seems overly concerned about my weight either. It’s hard sometimes, but we just have to keep plugging along. Thank you for reading and taking to comment too.

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