cancer, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

As I Disappear: My Battle With Anorexia During Cancer Treatment.

May 15, 2014

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By Kathleen Emmets.

“She’s so thin,” I say to myself as the familiar sense of envy creeps in. I notice her jeans billowing around her legs and am filled with self loathing. “How did I allow myself to gain the weight back?” In the past year, I have gained 25lbs and hate the sight of myself in a mirror. These thoughts would be somewhat normal for any woman to think, I guess. Most women I know have issues with their body. Except I know it is beyond fucked up for me. See, I’m sitting in Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital for my two month check up, and that woman I’m staring at, well, she’s undergoing chemotherapy; just like I’ve been for the past three years.

Somewhere in my mind I know these thoughts are wrong. That’s a lie, actually. These thoughts are completely normal to me. I just know they would be perceived as wrong by others, so I say nothing. When I was first diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in 2011 and the doctors were running a battery of tests on me, I saw on my chart that I fell within the normal weight range for my height. I always have. But charts be damned. In my mind, I’ve always been fat. “Well”, I said to my sister as I was about to begin chemo, “I’ll finally lose those stubborn ten pounds I’ve been struggling with for years.” “That’s looking at the bright side,” she replied. Clearly we not only share genes but also a morose sense of humor.

As the months passed, my weight slowly began to drop. It wasn’t too drastic initially though. I would hear other patients complain how they couldn’t keep weight on and, like in the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ I half jokingly think, “I’ll have what she’s having” But, there is nothing funny about this, I know. I was fighting for my life and yet…and yet…I secretly loved to feel my bones protruding. In bed alone, I would run my hands across my jutting hip bones with a sense of relief. I stood in the mirror looking at myself naked and thought, “I’m finally skinny.”

When I was prepping for a surgery where a pump the size of a hockey puck would be placed under my skin to delivery chemotherapy directly to my liver, I asked the doctor if it would be very noticeable. He said because I was so thin it would definitely show but wouldn’t be too bad. After he left the room I turned to my husband and said, “Did you hear that? He said I was thin.” My husband just stared at me as I gave him a half smile.

I began to shop often. It was a thrill to get a size XXS, to see my clavicle deep and hollow. I embraced this thinness. Even as I was losing my hair. Even as I was throwing up and paralyzed by the chemo induced neuropathy. I found my hands sliding over those jagged hip bones again, following the curve on my concave stomach. It was the one bonus I found in cancer treatment.

Two years in, my medication was switched up. This new pill regime didn’t make me sick, didn’t cause me to lose my appetite. Slowly, my weight crept back up. My breasts became full again, my stomach a little more rounded. “Fuck”, I thought, “I can’t get fat again.” My size 2 jeans became a size 6. The weight came back at a steady pace. Once again, I could pinch my hips and feel skin. I began my food deprivation technique again. An egg for breakfast, lettuce for lunch, fruit for dinner. 2lbs gone…5lbs gone…8lbs gone. Yes. It’s working. I’m back in control. Except, I’m not in control at all. And this time, people are taking notice. At dinner my husband asked me why I wasn’t having bread, or meat, or much of anything really. “You’re spiraling again,” he said. I went home and dropped to my knees on my bathroom floor in a fit of tears. How can I continue to hate this body? The body that successfully fought off cancer. The body that brought my wonderful son into this world. The body that has been caressed and made love to. How is it that I am still here in this place of self loathing?

I have dug deeply over the past three years. I’ve gone on spiritual journeys, meditated with shaman, prayed to saints. I’ve done the work to deal with the cancer, but not with the real issue, which is why do I continue to hate myself? How is it that someone who fought so hard to live, still just exists in a body that she despises? What was this all for if the internal struggle continues to be unbearable? I am living while so many of my friends have died from this disease. I am cancer free while so many still fight. And yet…and yet…my mind still whispers toxic thoughts. “Be small,” it says. Small is safe. Small means I’m in control. And after three years of having limited control over my body, it’s nice to be in the driver’s seat; even if I don’t know where I’m headed.

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Kathleen Emmets is an avid music lover and yoga enthusiast. She believes in seeking out the good in all things and being her most authentic self. Her articles have appeared in MindBodyGreen, Do You Yoga, themanifeststation.net and Elephant Journal. She writes about her experience with cancer in her blog, cancerismyguru.blogspot.com. Kathleen lives in East Norwich, NY with her husband and son.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat Sep 17-24, 2016. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com.

 

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20 Comments

  • Reply Maggie May Ethridge May 15, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I am honored to read such a brazenly honest rendering of your experience. I am so sorry that you feel that way, reading this, I remembered the times I have felt this way in my life and the shades of it that still exist in my life. I hope so deeply that my daughters never feel this way. I hope so much that you find your way through and love yourself as your husband son do.

  • Reply Kathleen May 16, 2014 at 3:14 am

    I think it is our duty as women, especially as mothers, to fight back against the destructive and unrealistic beauty standards that have been pushed on us and we have bought into. I say this knowing full well when I look in the mirror later I will, most likely, only focus on what needs to be ‘fixed’. I’m learning that what truly needs to be fixed is my own self image. Thank you for taking the time to read this .

  • Reply encounterillumination May 16, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Kathleen, I continue to thank my lucky stars that we walk beside one another on this journey and hope we actually cross physical paths again some day. I am blessed by your honesty here…so much to contemplate. Thank you for sharing your beautiful mind, body and soul here…xo

  • Reply Mary Griffin May 22, 2014 at 9:36 am

    That you Kathleen for your honest sharing. I was borderline “anorexic” when I was 16 and now at 58 I’m almost there again. I wanted to lose about 5 lbs.-the winter roll around my waist during Lent. I didn’t weigh myself until after Easter and I’ve lost about 20 lbs. and don’t really want to stop even though my clothes are way too big and my ribs, etc. stick out. With me once I get on a roll I want to keep it up as starting a weight loss journey is the hardest part. I never think skinny in itself is attractive. What is attractive about being skinny to me is when I see someone skinny I think “Now that woman can eat a whole pizza — no problem”. I’m more about making room for future feasts and a string of feasts to come. I like the feeling of feasting knowing I can afford to gain some weight–no guilt or regrets. But now I’m realizing this isn’t so healthy of an attitude/lifestyle.

  • Reply sassypants June 17, 2014 at 10:58 am

    I have found that as much as I love my spiritual therapies, sometimes it is necessary to dig deeper with a licensed psychotherapist. As you pointed out, your psyche telling you that you want to be small, frail, weak. Why not powerful, healthy, robust, strong? Can you take actions to actively love your body, rather than just telling yourself you’re not supposed to hate it? I’m 5’5 and size 8 on a good day – though fluctuate from size 6 to 10. I’ve had two kids and my stomach has stretch marks but I have made a point not to even hate the stretch marks. It’s amazing how much we can change our thinking when we focus on the underlying feelings and emotions, which is sounds like you are well on the way to doing.
    I also agree that it is imperative that we, as women, and especially as mothers “fight back against the destructive and unrealistic beauty standards that have been pushed on us.” (Thanks, Kathleen.) It is amazing to feel sexy when we are substantial and voluptuous and strong and eating cheese and chocolate and drinking wine and breaking bread — with people we care about. Frankly, if you ask me, *skinny* is way out of style. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

  • Reply somechick June 17, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    This so struck a cord in me. I am not anorexic but I have struggled with body image all my life. I started to gain weight a few years back after turning 40. Last year (45) I was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. After chemo and radiation, I have gotten the 6 month clear. I have beat cancer but all I care about is losing that weight and keeping it off. How effed up is that.

  • Reply annemarie January 23, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Thankful and grateful you lived to share your story. Some day in the near future, I will have a foundation that helps girls, women love themselves and their bodies and live happy and healthy. It is a journey but I will get there. Hugs to you.

  • Reply Well: When Cancer Triggers (or Hides) an Eating Disorder - Democratsnewz July 27, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    […] up your body to your doctor,” said Ms. Emmets, who wrote about her experiences on the website The Manifest-Station. “You are willing to do it because you want to live. Food restriction is the one thing that […]

  • Reply » Well: When Cancer Triggers (or Hides) an Eating Disorder July 27, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    […] up your body to your doctor,” said Ms. Emmets, who wrote about her experiences on the website The Manifest-Station. “You are willing to do it because you want to live. Food restriction is the one thing that you […]

  • Reply Well: When Cancer Triggers (or Hides) an Eating Disorder | Infos Press July 27, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    […] up your body to your doctor,” said Ms. Emmets, who wrote about her experiences on the website The Manifest-Station. “You are willing to do it because you want to live. Food restriction is the one thing that you […]

  • Reply Well | When Cancer Triggers (or Hides) an Eating Disorder – New York Times (blog) | Make Life Healthy July 27, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    […] up your body to your doctor,” said Ms. Emmets, who wrote about her experiences on the website The Manifest-Station. “You are willing to do it because you want to live. Food restriction is the one thing that you […]

  • Reply Well | When Cancer Triggers (or Hides) an Eating Disorder – New York Times (blog) July 27, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    […] up your body to your doctor,” said Ms. Emmets, who wrote about her experiences on the website The Manifest-Station. “You are willing to do it because you want to live. Food restriction is the one thing that you […]

  • Reply Alexis July 28, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for writing this. It was like I wrote this. With you writing it it allowed me to share it on my Facebook and tell my own story. Thank you

  • Reply Expressivus: news | articles | life – Well: When Cancer Triggers (or Hides) an Eating Disorder July 29, 2015 at 3:38 am

    […] up your body to your doctor,” said Ms. Emmets, who wrote about her experiences on the website The Manifest-Station. “You are willing to do it because you want to live. Food restriction is the one thing that […]

  • Reply Julie July 30, 2015 at 6:04 am

    Thank you for writing this. I have always felt alone in my secret pride in becoming skinny during cancer treatment. I’d struggled with weight and eating for most of my adult life but had come down to a normal weight for over 15 years before cancer. I’d never been anorexic. Feeling crappy with chemo and the desire to eat and exercise in a healthy way gave me the ability to eat next to nothing. 10 years later, I’ve gained back most of what I’ve lost and have come to more peace and recognition of what I was doing. But I can’t help wanting to feel hunger as nausea again, to feel like that control over eating (which was the only control I had over my body at the time) was more accessible to me again. Thank you for assuring me that I’m not the only one….

    • Reply Jacqueline December 11, 2015 at 10:16 am

      Hi Julie,

      I’m writing an article about this subject and would love to touch base with you if you’re interested. No pressure whatsoever – I’d just love to tell you what I’m doing to see if you’d be open to talking. Thanks!

      Jacqueline (jacqueline@wordsfoodart.com).

      • Reply Jennifer Pastiloff December 11, 2015 at 2:36 pm

        who is Julie?

        • Reply Jacqueline December 11, 2015 at 3:10 pm

          The commentor whose comment I replied to that I’d like to get in touch with! See above.

  • Reply New York Times: When Cancer Triggers or Hides an Eating Disorder | Sherri Fillipo July 30, 2015 at 6:21 am

    […] up your body to your doctor,” said Ms. Emmets, who wrote about her experiences on the website The Manifest-Station. “You are willing to do it because you want to live. Food restriction is the one thing that you […]

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