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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-08-27 06:17
Subject: [cancer|food] Pathologies and attitudes
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, family, food, health, personal
Last week I almost got into an argument with my Dad. That pretty much never happens. We get along well, and on the occasions where we disagree, we're quite civil in resolving those disagreements. But he said something about the food I've been eating lately which touched off a wholly unwarranted defensive reaction in me.

What Dad was actually talking about was dietary fiber and my eternal GI struggles. But what I heard was, "You're eating badly too often." Note these things are not mutually exclusive.

I've always had issues around food. At one point in my life, I was in therapy to try to manage that. Food is pleasure and comfort to me both, and my sense of satiety (mouth hunger, if you will) isn't very well correlated with sense of fullness (stomach hunger).

For some years, I hovered at around 300 pounds of body weight. I was a very large, very uncomfortable person. Eventually through a combination of diet and exercise I got my weight down into the range of 240. There have been periods when I've been able to keep it as low as the mid-220s. These days I bounce around closer to 250, though my weight can vary considerably depending my cancer treatments.

Weight has always been an issue. I've always been sensitive about it. My doctor described me years ago as an "easy keeper", meaning I put on weight at every opportunity but have to struggle considerably to shed it again. My metabolism wants to be fat for some reason. This is born out by family photos. A photo of my grandfather and his brothers standing in a row looked like a collection of aging linebackers.

In addition to all this, I am very clear on the relationship between both the quality and quantity of my food and my health and weight. It's a difficult, triggery topic for me at best.

So, cancer…

Over the past five years, I've had over 1,600 hours of intravenous chemotherapy. I have spent over eighteen aggregate months of those years either in chemotherapy or waiting between sessions, and perhaps another aggregate twelve months going through the arduous recovery process. One of the most fundamental experiences of chemotherapy is an almost immediate shift in taste buds, characterized by metallic tastes and dulling of intensity, followed by increasingly strong and challenging food intolerances, as well as loss of appetite and chronic upper GI disruption.

In other words, food slips away from me, and once gone it stays away for a long time.

I've spent as much or more of the past five years being alienated from one of life's greatest pleasures by my cancer and its discontents. It won't be too terribly long, some months to come, before I lose my relationship with food for the last time.

So now, while I can, I eat what I want. It's not like we're worried about diabetes or heart disease at this point. I won't live long enough for those to matter. I am not being an idiot, and I am not eating pure garbage, but I'm enjoying a lot of things in a bit less than moderation.

Because I am saying good-bye.

So when Dad said something I interpreted to be critical of my diet, I bristled. Wrongly as it happens. But I had not realized how sensitive I was on this topic.

It's weird. I'm supposed to take care of myself, but every moment of denial is a moment I will see little or no reward for later. And frankly, being plump is part of why I'm still alive. Chemo has to take a lot away from me before I grow dangerously thin. Likewise, weight will actually somewhat slow the effects of my coming terminal decline.

But, yeah, food. That's one part of my life I will never make my peace with. Cancer has been both a great poisoner and a great enabler for me there.

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User: mevennen
Date: 2013-08-27 13:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's a highly ironic issue. Trevor has always been a large man (he's currently 19 stone an 6 ft 2) but if he hadn't been, his cancer treatment would have made him seriously ill through weight loss - we know someone else who had throat cancer and she lost half her body weight, down to 7 stone.
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Debbie N.
User: wild_irises
Date: 2013-08-27 14:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"beng plump is part of why I'm still alive."

One of the strange things about our cultural obsession with fat is that as a group we flatly refuse to look at the health benefits of weight, of which there are many. I'm not going to use your journal as Hyde Park, but you have named one, and your first commenter confirmed it.

I hope you can cut yourself slack for being bristly.
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Tamara Kaye Sellman
User: Tamara Kaye Sellman
Date: 2013-08-27 15:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
so true! elderly people are actually better off being about 10-20 pounds overweight.

our culture blames or credits food for everything. it's a mistake. it's what's in our environment, what's in our genes, it's the perfect storm of dysfunctional nature and nurture. yes, there are some illnesses for which diet can contribute or give cause, but there are many many others for which food has no real say, such as cancer, neurological conditions like MS, etc.

I get all bristly about it, too. I hear about it all the time. All the miracle cures for MS, all the foods I'm eating which are "probably giving me MS." It really pisses me off.

I'm drinking a blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, kefir and flaxseed shake for breakfast. I think I'll go fry me up some eggs. For solidarity. ;)
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2013-08-27 17:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I nodded at every part of this, I think, from the explanation of the contentious issues of your past to your behavior now and its beneficial effects.
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User: kshandra
Date: 2013-08-27 19:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Balanced Diet
Food is pleasure and comfort to me both, and my sense of satiety (mouth hunger, if you will) isn't very well correlated with sense of fullness (stomach hunger).

This was one of the greatest challenges I had this year when I was in eating-disorder therapy. I've said enough on that topic elsewhere, but I wanted you to know that I hear and understand.
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User: klwilliams
Date: 2013-08-27 22:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was amazed how, when I visited my mother in Rwanda, all of her Rwandan friends commented on how beautiful I was. Because I was fat. Which meant I was healthy, and would survive diseases. I wasn't even that fat, maybe twenty-five pounds over my ideal weight, but for an African, that meant I was very healthy and would live a long life.
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