When losing weight really isn’t a good thing. At all.

My best friend has leukemia.  She was diagnosed on New Year’s Day and started treatment a week later.  She is a big woman – not just fat, but tall and very big-boned.  Even if she were thin, she’d still be a big woman.  She’s very similar in size and shape to this actress – although just a bit shorter (every time I watch The Boondock Saints, I can’t help thinking how much they seem alike to me).

At first, treatment seemed to be going well.  She wasn’t even having any adverse effects from the chemo.  She felt fine enough that she didn’t even give up her weekly clubbing ritual.  But in the last few months, things seem to have taken a downward spiral.

In late March/early April (can’t remember exactly), she was told that she only had 3 months to live.  (And she keeps talking about having internal cancer – of course it’s internal.  It’s not skin cancer!  But I think she might be confusing the words ‘terminal’ with ‘internal.’  As much as I love her, I have to admit that this woman’s vocabulary isn’t much farther than a 5th-grade level.)  I don’t think that’s quite accurate, as that would mean she’s supposed to be at death’s door right now (and she most definitely is not), but I can see that the cancer is definitely taking its toll on her.

She’s lost hair (and shaved the rest of it off), she’s weak, she’s been put on steroids, has been bleeding from places you normally don’t bleed from (and we’re not talking anything like her Aunt Flo – that’s all I’m saying), and now she’s been diagnosed with diabetes, which she told me the doctors said is likely caused by the steroids.

And she’s wasting away.  Now, being a large woman already, she’s nowhere near skeletal, but as her doctors pointed out, they don’t want her losing any weight at all right now.  It means her system is getting weaker and making it just that much harder to fight the disease.

And yet she seems to be almost happy about losing that weight.  Which strikes me as odd, because in the 5 years I’ve known her, she never seemed to be the kind of person with the internal fat hatred that a lot of us fatties do have.  Almost every time I see her, she tells me that she’s lost even more weight – and it’s not so much what she says as how she says it.  Kind of an “I might be dying but at least I’ll die thin” tone of voice.

And it makes me uncomfortable.  I think I would be uncomfortable with it even if I’d never heard of FA or any of the ideas surrounding it.  But having been immersed in it for quite a few months and reading pretty much anything I could find, it makes me uber-uncomfortable.  Because I know what she doesn’t: losing the weight in this way is so far from a good thing they’re not even in the same universe.

When she says something like that to me, instead of congratulating her (which I might have done, pre-FA), I ask how she feels.  How she’s feeling physically, and how she’s feeling emotionally.  Because while she might have a big family (4 kids and 4 grandchildren of her own as well as 5 or 6 sisters [I can’t remember exactly how many right now] and her parents), none of them seem all that concerned about how she’s feeling.  They care that she’s got cancer and they want her to get better, but they seem to forget that she’s a whole human being, not just a body that’s riddled with cancer cells.  And I won’t even start on how her kids treat her.  I’ll be typing all fucking night.

But it puts me in a precarious position.  She’s my best friend – hell, my only friend right now (at least in my day-to-day life, that is; I still have friends back home with whom I’m still in contact, but it’s not the same).  She’s quite likely dying, and yet she seems happy that she’s ‘finally’ going to lose weight.  Funny, that word.  Final.  Because it will be final.  As in The. End.

And part of me wants to slap her upside the head and tell her to Wake. The. Fuck. Up!!  But on the other hand, a part of me wants to hug her and reassure her that everything’s going to be okay.  But I try to take what I see as the middle ground.  Not commenting on the weight loss itself, but the effects of that loss.  On her as a whole person, a whole human being.  And I hope I’m making the right decision.  If she does die on us, I don’t want to be sitting there kicking myself for saying the wrong thing or not saying something I should have.

But it’s hard.  It’s really fucking hard.  I never know if I’m making the right decision.  I guess the only consolation I have is that I’m trying to be the best friend I possibly can be, regardless of whether I’m doing it right or not.  I’m trying.

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7 Responses

  1. It’s all you can do. Try to be the best friend you can be, and be there for her when she needs you. You don’t have to congratulate her on her weight loss (that’s caused by her body drawing on those reserves because that’s what it needs right now, maybe she isn’t getting enough nutrition from what she’s eating, or the meds are messing with her absorption of the nutrients in her food), just keep asking her how she feels, physically and emotionally, and support her as best you can. You’re doing the best you can in a difficult, painful situation. My heart goes out to both of you.

  2. Thank you.

    I think the weight loss is a combination of things. She’s not been eating very well, because of the medication. She says even looking at food makes her feel nauseous. But I’d be willing to bet that when she does eat something, the meds are probably messing around with her absorption, too. She’s on so many meds right now it’s not even funny. And yesterday she got her first supply of insulin, so now she’s got to deal with that on top of all the meds and chemo.

    I just wish I had a magic wand, ya know? I’d wave that baby and heal her completely. Not that it could ever happen, but… I can wish, right?

  3. As far as I can remember, the fact that she started out with plenty of reserves may increase her likelihood of survival. Chemo is damned hard on the body, and when I see a loved one going through it, it looks a lot like a race between the drugs getting the cancer killed and the person’s reserves running out before that happens.

  4. Last week I lost the closest thing to a sister I’ll ever have…
    Metastatic lung cancer took her beautiful black wavy hair & wasted her curvaceous figure away into a concentration-camp caricature, but she fought like hell right until the bitter end.
    [If she’d been a size 6 when the battle commenced, I doubt she’d have lasted half as long]

  5. I’m so sorry, Val. ::HUGS::

  6. […] Year??s Day and started treatment a week later.? She is a big woman – not just fat, but tall and vehttps://theuniverseandhumanstupidity.wordpress.com/2008/06/01/when-losing-weight-really-isnt-a-good-t…The only Englishman at Euro 2008… and he doesn’t think much of the game he left behind Daily […]

  7. my friend was just diagnosed with leukemia, too. I’m really feeling the pain of it and am having trouble with dealing with it. She’s lost a lot of weight, and she’s being a real fighter… that’s my sis- brina, and im proud of her…

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