“Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me” : What the Last Year Has Done to the Scale in Apartment 6C

Like so many others, during the first few months of pandemic lockdown I revisited homemaking muscles that I had allowed to atrophy. I scoured the Internet for instant yeast and organic bread flour and baked loaf after loaf. I acquired the pasta making attachments for my KitchenAid mixer and made linguine, lasagna noodles, even ravioli. l made my own yogurt in my InstantPot. I made batch after batch of freezer meals to minimize my grocery store forays. So you might think that both Dan and I have put on the proverbial “quarantine fifteen.” You would only be partially correct.

I stepped on the scale this week for the first time in a year. I prefer to tell how my nutrition is going by judging how my workouts are faring, and by feeling how my clothes fit. I’ve been lean for most of my life, except for a chunky patch in high school when my metabolism shifted after I started menstruating. When I am stressed out, I struggle to eat; I was “skinny fat” for a time in my fifties when I was divorcing an unfaithful husband and fighting to regain my confidence and my financial equilibrium, but was too overwhelmed to exercise consistently. Through a combination of lucky genes, an active lifestyle and a mostly vegetarian diet, I’ve never really had to count calories. This week, weighing myself at home rather than during my monthly body scans with my trainer at my gym, the scale told me that I was three or four pounds heavier than I was a year ago. Big deal. Given everything that’s happened in the last year, I could care less.

crop kid weighing on scale
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Next it was Dan’s turn on the scale. We were prepared, kind of, for the bad news. And no it wasn’t the dreaded plus fifteen. It was exactly the opposite. My lithe, athletic spouse, the guy with a dancer’s calves and broad shoulders, had in the past year– past few months, really– turned into a bony, frail ghost of his former self. Cancer can do that to a person. He was down thirty pounds from his heaviest lifetime weight, seventeen pounds since 2019 and the resurgence of his cancer. Until this fall, Dan was enjoying my quarantine-generated commitment to amusing myself in the kitchen. And then, eating stopped being fun and became WORK.

Now, instead of baking bread and testing out new recipes, I have been studying how to make a pureed diet appetizing, highly caloric, protein packed. With the help of oncology approved supplements and my trusty fifty year old Cuisinart robot coupe (the very first model!!) I turn baked salmon, mac and cheese, lentil stew and steamed vegetables into entrees with the required nectar consistency. As much as possible, I try to feed him the same food that I make for myself — just emulsified.

You see, Dan has two stents in his esophagus to keep the pathway to his stomach open. Each one was inserted after a trip to the emergency room due to complete blockages and the risk of dehydration and malnutrition. Each hospitalization resulted in weight loss, the most recent one catastrophic. His difficulty swallowing is the result of his 2018 radiation treatments for oral cancer (which has now metastasized to other places like his esophagus). Apparently, the radiation is continuing to attack his throat muscles, stiffening them.

This weekend I laid in extra meals for him because I am getting my second COVID vaccine shot this afternoon. I may not have much of a reaction; I just had minor arm pain and fatigue after the first one. But just in case, I’m planning ahead.

I’m so grateful to be receiving the vaccine. As soon as I was eligible I jumped on my laptop to score an appointment. No vaccine hesitancy here! I wrote a post a few years ago about measles anti-vaxxers making me crazy; I’m old enough to remember the scourge of so many of the diseases that children are now vaccinated against, including polio, which I myself contracted as a very young child.

And how I wish that the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, had been available to my generation! Had Dan been vaccinated against this common sexually transmitted virus, he would not be too frail to wait in a long line to receive the COVID vaccine now. No one knew those many decades ago that this virus could many years later result in a deadly cancer diagnosis for men. Will COVID be the same?

I understand that disinformation has  poisoned so many Americans’ judgment that vaccine hesitancy is its own epidemic, including not just the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines but those against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, chicken pox, shingles and HPV, (which has a special taint because it is associated with sexual activity). Any parent of a pre-teenager who wishes to deny their child this last life saving vaccine should see my husband now. Unless you are a heartless fundamentalist who believes that any sex outside of marriage is sin, and therefore any cancer that results from it is earned, his condition would break your heart.

I’m working as hard as I can to help him to regain the quarantine fifteen that he lost, and then some. And now that I will soon be fully vaccinated, I’ll check one worry off my list as I trawl the farmers’ markets that will soon be back to fuel my culinary imagination. Spring and herd immunity can’t come soon enough!

24 thoughts on ““Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me” : What the Last Year Has Done to the Scale in Apartment 6C”

  1. Love, medicine, miracles … and food. 

    Food is always there isn’t it ? For the joy, the sadness, the impossibly hard. Even the once in a century pandemic. It’s the one thing we always turn to and can always count on. Perhaps the measure should be what it gives us in comfort and not in pounds. Wishing you that very richness.

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  2. I’m 100% with you on the vaccine. I was pretty calm and patient about the whole thing until yesterday morning when, for some reason, I woke up frustrated and filled with ennui, thinking, “I want the damned shot. This has gone on long enough.”

    You’ve had a major struggle through this whole time, struggle enough on its own but the virus has certainly added a strange dimension. I hope the arrival of spring and immunity returns you and Dan to something more like a normal, happy life.

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    1. Thanks Martha. In some ways the pandemic has made things much harder: Dan needing constant COVID tests before treatment; minot being allowed at this appointments; no visitors at home. In other ways, the fact that no one else is traveling, eating out, going to the theatre, etc. etc. means that our restricted lifestyle isn’t an outlier. Irony!

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  3. I was afraid I might gain a few pounds just reading the opening description of breads and pasta. But better that than the cruel weight losses disease can bring. I wish you and Dan all the best.

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  4. Keeping you and Dan in my heart- Food- the necessity- the used to be taken for granted pleasure- the do I live to eat or do I eat to live question- the comfort, the struggle, the necessity- all of it in question when the body is compromised. My husband was on steroids a lot and that made him ravenous though after chemo he tasted little and enjoyed, as you know, most only ice cream… may each morsel nourish body and soul.

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    1. We are lucky to be able to come by the various accomodations and supplements that are helping. So often Think of those poor should who have neither the means nor the time to do as I am doing. COVID has exposed for all the world to see the health inequities that we became so aware of because of Dan’s cancer. So many people have so few resources and endure so much more hardship than we are. Andyes, ice cream is still a pleasure, though not mint chocolate chip because of the chips, alas.

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  5. This is heartbreaking. And beautifully brave. Thank you for sharing your story. My second shot was canceled for today, due to weather related delays in the shipment. And I’m afraid to get on the scale. Whatever, the leggings still fit, so it’s all good. Best to you and Dan. May the needle / digits on the scale climb. 💜

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  6. Perspective. Your post makes the importance of that life lens abundantly clear. My minor whines pale in comparison to what you and Dan are living though every day. My heart-felt best wishes to you both.

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  7. The selfishness of anti-vaxxers makes me sick. Years ago, when our kids were little, a friend told me that she opted her son out of vaccines. She was too unsure of the risks. It made me wonder why she viewed everyone else’s kids as expendable so that hers got through life risk free. I hope Dan starts improving soon. And my father got his second shot last week. Nothing but a sore arm. He said the post-second-shot-syndrome hits primarily those under sixty. Hope he’s right for you… hope he’s wrong for me.

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    1. Well, I guess I’m an outlier. Today I felt like someone had snuck in overnight and beaten me with a field hockey stick. No fever but terrible aching and malaise. Hoping tomorrow will be better! Maybe I’m younger than I think 😉

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  8. This breaks my heart – thinking of your husband and what he is going through – and what you are as well caring for him. It is so hard. In my previous life I was a RD and sometimes worked with people who were dealing with feeding issues and gastric tubes, etc. It is an uphill battle to keep the weight on. So much more is available now than there used to be (as you say), but the challenge remains.
    On another note, it appears you’ve had your second shot with side effects this time. Same thing happened to me. I had the second shot last Wednesday and still don’t feel right. Hang in there. (maybe I’m younger than I think too!!)

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    1. Thanks for the note. Dan texted from treatment this afternoon that he has gained four pounds in two weeks!!!! And yes, my second shot was AWFUL the next day, but today I seem to be back to normal (physically anyway LOL).

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  9. Thanks for sharing. I knew cancer was hard, but these details give me a lot more insight. From past experience I learned that one of the best types of foods to purée is Chinese or Indian food with rice. It keeps the same taste and mouthfeel and is pretty easy to digest.

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      1. Forgot to say… really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I was trying to think of a word that describes your style. They are not really essays or stories… they really are more than that. It’s the way you connect your experience to the rest of the world and working through what’s important in life. Always interesting and I always learn something or see something fresh.

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