I stepped on the scale at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. The digital numbers rose from 130, 140, 150, stopping finally at 160.
“There is no way! That can’t be possible. I’m in trouble,” I said to the nurse.
After an awkward smile, she asked, “How tall are you?” I am 5’4. My height-to-weight ratio is from 114 to 152 pounds. My ideal weight is 125 pounds.
I’m not sure why I was surprised. During treatment for breast cancer, my cardiovascular activity has been limited. I have been experiencing fatigue, and I have been abusing comfort foods.
“Some women gain weight when they are treated with chemotherapy, steroids and hormonal therapy, especially if they go into menopause,” the nurse said. I haven’t gone into menopause.
I wondered why I chose to eat pastries and desserts instead of vegetables and fruits. Simple carbohydrates such as croissants, pastries, cookies, pasta spike your blood sugar, giving you a temporary high.
These foods have become a crutch for me. A University of Sussex 2007 study showed chocolate caused a more intense and longer lasting “buzz” than kissing. I love chocolate mousse, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate anything. The idea of not being able to get a quick fix on it scares me. My brain craves it.
My friend Michael Maryanoff sent me a text message saying that he was on his way to keep me company. As soon as he walked in, I told him about how bummed I was about my weight.
“I have gained at least 30 pounds through this entire process,” I said. He frowned. “Andrea, you are alive! What are you complaining about?”
Maryanoff , 26, who has been undergoing treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I talked while we waited for my oncologist, Dr. Marc E. Lippman, chairman of the medicine department at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami.
“I can’t drink beer. I love beer. I really, really, love beer. But if I drink it, it will fry my liver,” Maryanoff said.
The door suddenly opened. It was Lippman. I felt a rush of joy. As a pioneering University of Michigan breast cancer researcher, former chief of the division of Hematology/Oncology at Georgetown, and now chairing UM’s medicine department, he is the voice of reason in my life.
I finished chemotherapy in October and radiation therapy in January. I’m now on a chemo-prevention drug called Tamoxifen. Lippman said the drug causes some women to gain weight. He said that to lose weight I simply needed to consume fewer calories and increase my cardiovascular activity. He suggested 900 calories a day.
“You heard him. Eat less and exercise more,” Maryanoff said.
I know losing weight is an important mission. Earlier this month, I read about a National Cancer Institute study that reported women who exercised 10 to 19 hours a week experienced about a 30 percent lower risk of breast cancer.
The tumors found in my left breast fed on estrogen. Studies have shown that exercise lowers estrogen levels in the blood. And fat can release hormones that may increase cancer risk.
My best friend, Natasha Hackshaw, 31, had already talked to me about the dangers of gaining weight.
“I know comfort foods make you feel better. I know that you deserve a break, but it has been six months since you finished the toughest part of your treatment. It’s time that you get back into shape,” Hackshaw said. “You need to make sacrifices. It will pay off in the long run.”
After a trip to Los Angeles for her birthday, Hackshaw was excited about juicing vegetables and fruits.
“All these aspiring actresses are big on it, because the nutrients are easy to digest, they make your skin look beautiful and it helps you lose weight in a healthy way,” Hackshaw said.
Several nutritionists have said there is no sound scientific evidence to support that juicing helps with the body’s detoxification system. And some of the juices may have high sugar content, and they must be consumed fresh, because they can develop harmful bacteria.
Hackshaw arranged for me to work with raw food chef Nicole Fox, who makes regular appearances on a Spanish morning television show called Levantate on Telemundo. Fox said she gets “great satisfaction as a health coach” to help others change their lifestyles.
“Consider this an intervention. I know you need help, and I want you to accept it. Nicole is amazing. She is determined to show you the way,” Hackshaw said. “We want you healthy.”