When I was first diagnosed a friend of mine jokingly blurted out, ‘ah sure now you’ll have the figure you always wanted’. While yeah it was a bit of a shocking statement, the stereotypical image of a cancer patient is bald and emaciated and I had always been obsessed with my weight. Overweight for most of my life, ‘sure aren’t you a fine girl’, people always said I was big boned, I was tall enough to carry it, it was hereditary. When I look at photos of my lanky 3 year old self, and more recent ones post diagnosis and over 2 stone lighter, I realise it didn’t have to be that way. Sadly it took a terminal illness for me to finally get my act together. In my case with hormone positive breast cancer there is a strong possibility that my weight may have been a contributing factor in my diagnosis, and may now affect my survival.
In school my friends came in all shapes and sizes, we weren’t the most confident or popular and were a bit left of field. In hindsight I now realise that kindness and wit were among our strongest common denominators.I am very lucky that many of these wonderful people still remain in my life today, they have always loved and accepted me regardless of my size, something that I haven’t always found easy to accept. They are my tribe, and without them I couldn’t cope with any of this. Their weight isn’t something I pay much attention too, unless there is significant change and then because of what I now know, only in terms of their health. In school though, I secretly preferred to be seen with the slim girls, I wanted to belong to that tribe, but though literally the elephant in the room around them I either felt invisible or endured the humiliation of sniggering bullies by sticking out like a sore thumb.
Constant put downs from an early age, being conditioned to believe overweight people were somehow ugly or stupid or weak or less, made me reject myself and those like me. For this I am truly sorry.
Having said that a recent discussion on The late late show, with some young women defending their right to be overweight/fat without being discriminated against, their absolute declaration of acceptance and happiness despite one of them being bullied so badly she attempted suicide several times, and especially their denial or ignorance in relation to obesity and health drove me crazy. Can you be truly happy obese???? Maybe, but I certainly couldn’t, weight has determined most of my life decisions or lack of.
I know that obesity is often the result of mental health issues and vice versa, but if something makes you truly unhappy, inhibits your life and crushes your potential and it’s within your power to change that, wouldn’t you want to.
You might argue that it is up to society to change, and while I absolutely agree in theory, as far as I’m concerned this isn’t really about body shaming, it’s about health. One of the girls a very healthy looking size 12 (which I don’t consider plus sized), argued that larger people can be healthy, healthier even than some slim people. And while yes I agree there is some truth in this, we probably all know somebody slim with a cholesterol problem or diabetes and many slim people with unhealthy diets and lifestyles still accumulate invisible but hugely dangerous internal fat. Mountains of research has concluded that while there is no doubt that being slim doesn’t make you immune to disease, being overweight most likely increases your risk. These girls were young and as us auld ones know from hangover hell to achy joints etc. our bodies coped with stress a lot better in our youth.
Most of us have no idea what we are genetically predisposed to until unfortunately it’s too late, fat or thin as far as I’m concerned it’s a game of Russian roulette, why take the risk.
I once attended a talk by a nutritionist at a cancer support group. When I discussed how I had changed my diet and lifestyle and mentioned the link between sugar and cancer I was shot down angrily. One infuriated obese lady expressed her annoyance at how people always blamed diet and weight for health issues, she said post diagnosis her doctor told her there was no need to change her existing diet. She also made reference to her diabetes and diverticulitis, both conditions that research suggests are triggered or exasperated by obesity. I had to bite my tongue and sit in silence for the duration of the talk. It was clear that these women didn’t want to even consider change or take any responsibility for their health. Fair enough I guess it can be a very difficult thing to accept that maybe you may have contributed to your illness, (isn’t this one of the main problems with our health system), but being the control freak, masochist, that I am I find it empowering to think that maybe, just maybe there is still something I can do to help myself.
When I changed my diet and lifestyle and lost almost 20 kg, despite the cancer I felt and looked better than I had in years. I now exercised too, I felt strong, ironically I felt healthy. Doctors and nurses couldn’t get over my boundless energy. I said yes to everything, was constantly out and about and was always posting photos of myself on social media. I’ve packed more living into the last 5 years than I had in the previous 40. I thought this was because cancer had led to some sort of spiritual enlightenment ( which it still kinda had), some new self acceptance. I didn’t have the time to waste on trivia, I was determined to make the most of every second and give fear the finger. But in truth for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed looking at myself, for the first time ever I didn’t have a weight problem. Weight didn’t hold me back, it didn’t consume my time and wreck my self-esteem in fact for almost 3 years I hardly even thought about it . That was until I had to change my meds, pain prevented me from exercising and I was put on steroids. There it was again, the posting stopped, the desire to go gallivanting stopped, the motivation and positivity disappeared. I realised that sadly I still valued myself on how I looked, I could sense it in others too, how they reacted and looked at me, how the compliments stopped.
The thing is I know there are people out there that due to Illness and various medical conditions are overweight and can do little about it, shit I’m heading that way myself. But the media and society and small minded people like me have contaminated how we value people. I’m so disappointed that my so called cancer awakening wasn’t what I thought , I am still a shallow dope, still fatist despite knowing the hell cancer patients go through to stay alive. Now on top having to face terminal cancer and the suffering it may bring, I also have to learn to value myself beyond my appearance and deal with the other small minded idiots who don’t. Somehow I need to learn to be kinder to myself and others, to change a lifetime of conditioning, before it’s too late, with moon face (this is an actual medical term by the way!) from steroids looming and death possibly the only other option. On the other hand depending on how it goes I could end up skin and bones, now wouldn’t that be ironic.