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Weight gain: a side effect I didn't expect

Providence Cancer Survivorship Blog Guest BloggerBy Mary Kay Jurovcik, guest blogger

Cancer has caused me a problem. Okay, I can blame lots of problems on cancer, but this is one I didn’t expect. Since starting treatment about two years ago, I have gained 20 pounds.

In the movie version of breast cancer, probably the cancer that we imagined before we ever had cancer, lithe and pale skinned women smile their way through treatment and then return to their “normal” life and size when they are proclaimed “well.” The concern is weight loss during treatment, not weight gain. I went into treatment at an average but petite size and almost immediately started putting on weight. Two years later, I am still struggling to take that weight off.

A common issue for breast cancer survivors

I presented the question of weight gain to my group of my cancer friends, and this seems to be a universal issue, at least for breast cancer survivors. We have lots of theories as to why this might be the case. It might be the stress we feel. It might be some of the drugs we are treated with, or the steroids we might take during treatment. It might be the early-onset of menopause that occurs for some of us.  Or, it might be that cancer wages war on our bodies and this is just one of the ways that some of our bodies react.

I gained 20 pounds during treatment. I have a small frame, and 20 pounds is a lot of weight for me. I can see it in my face and my waist. I can feel it in the way my clothing fits. I can tell by how it feels to walk up a flight of stairs. 

It’s not that I don’t understand how to lose weight. The basic equation of weight loss is pretty simple – consume less, move more. But, just because something is simple doesn’t mean that it is easy. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that post cancer weight loss was going to take a significant level of effort.

Taking action for change

So, what am I doing? First, I got help. I joined the YMCA and got advice from a personal trainer. My trainer set up a workout plan that fits my needs and schedule, and I have committed to exercising five days per week. If you are able to participate in the Y’s LIVESTRONG program, which is free to cancer survivors, you can get a no-cost family membership for up to 4 months (for a family membership, that’s a nearly $400 value). LIVESTRONG is open to anyone who’s ever had a cancer diagnosis. So whether you were treated last year or 20 years ago, you can participate.

More than just exercise

Second, I realized that getting into the shape I want to be is going to take more than just exercise. I started learning about preparing healthier foods. I created a Pinterest board of healthier recipes and I’ve added vegetables to every meal – even breakfast. The Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in Everett offers ongoing nutrition classes as a way to learn new, healthful recipes. I’m taking advantage of the resources available to me.

Cutting back, not cutting out

Third, I’m making small changes that will add up to big differences. I’ve cut out soda and limited my alcohol intake. I consider dessert a food group. Instead of cutting it out completely, I only have it on the weekends. If I need something sweet on weekdays, I choose fruit. I’m training my palette to crave different tastes than I was craving before. 

Spreading the word for accountability

Fourth, I’m telling others about committing to these changes. Like here, right now. I’m telling all of you that I want to make this happen. I’ve kept up with friends who’ve decided to make similar changes. I have forged accountability relationships, where we check in with each other and motivate each other to keep going. This way, I’m not just working to move the needle on the scale – I’m working because I don’t want to let anyone down, especially myself!

Be realistic

Finally, I’m being fair and realistic with myself. I’m not doing a crash diet or expecting to lose 20 pounds overnight. I want to make the lifestyle changes that don’t just get me into my skinny pants, but keep me there. Getting to a healthy weight is about way more than a number – I want to remain healthy for a long, long time. While I have a goal in mind, I also understand that my body is different now, and I might not get to be exactly like I was before. But I think with effort and support, I can get pretty close.

For more information

Check with your care team or your local chapter of the American Cancer Society to learn more about nutrition counseling and exercise programs in your area.

Mary Kay Jurovcik, breast cancer survivorMary Kay Jurovcik is a wife, mother, writer and cancer survivor. At the age of 33, she was diagnosed with stage 2B, HER2+ breast cancer. With no family history or prior experience with cancer, Mary Kay took to documenting her journey through treatment, both for catharsis and communication.

She is currently working on turning her online journal, sticky notes and bar napkins into a book with the hope to help others facing similar and dissimilar adventures.

Mary Kay lives in Lake Stevens, Washington, with her husband, two young daughters and an old Rat Terrier named Squints.

Learn more about Mary Kay on her personal website: Bold Survivor. And, watch her on New Day Northwest, talking about her participation in the clinical trial program at Providence Regional Cancer Partnership.


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