Jenny Craig would be proud! Mom's weight loss seems effortless, the pounds are just slipping off. Only one problem Jenny, it's cancer weight loss! I don't think you want to make mom your new poster child. This kind of weight loss is not something you want to market!
Cancer weight loss is a real problem for pancreatic cancer patients. It's often one of the first symptoms people notice. It would be nice to just start losing weight without trying, but really? That just doesn't happen. Losing weight too easily raises suspicion, and that concern is justly warranted.
The weight loss happens both because of the cancer and also because of the treatment. It's a double whammy.
The best explanation for the cancer weight loss came from mom's doctor. He explained that the pancreas is a part of the digestive system and is responsible for secreting digestive enzymes. These enzymes ultimately help you digest and then absorb your food. If the tumor interferes with this process, and most pancreatic tumors do, then your digestion goes haywire, resulting in loss of appetite, less absorption of the foods you can eat, and ultimately, you will have significant weight loss. Another possible reason for the cancer weight loss was suggested in one of our internet searches. So far, we haven't been able to verify it, but it does make sense. Researchers suspect that the pancreatic tumors release chemicals that interfere with appetite and thus affect the weight loss. Either way, the tumors do cause weight loss.
And then there's the chemo and radiation therapy side effects. Both are notorious for causing nausea and loss of appetite. Hard to gain weight when you're not eating. And mom has spent a good part of her pancreatic cancer journey not eating.
So, the weight loss really is no surprise. It would be a better surprise if mom was like 100lbs overweight to begin with. Unfortunately not. Mom has always been slender and in good shape. When she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she weighed 132lbs. 6 months into her journey, she weighed in at 115lbs. 9 months in her weight had dropped to 99lbs. And that's with all her efforts poured into keeping the weight on. Cancer weight loss is a constant battle.
Here's what has worked for her:
Eat frequent small meals during the day - often just snacks, not whole meals. But small servings did were more palatable and also easier to face. These were not always entire balanced meals. We aimed for making every calorie count, so sometimes her small meal would be an Ensure milkshake (we added ensure to real, honest-to-goodness, ice cream milkshakes) and apple slices (fiber is an absolute necessity to avoid the constipation that comes with pain meds). Or it might be half a tuna sandwich and some thick hearty potato soup (made with cream, not milk). We also limited fluid intake during the meals. Don't want to fill up on liquids when food was needed. We encouraged her fluids between meals and she was always sipping on something, lemonade, water, sprite.
Talk to your doctor about medications for nausea and appetite loss- There are several very good medications out there that help prevent and/or control the nausea and vomiting. Mom has tried several. Zofran was the most effective for her nausea. As far as appetite stimulant, the doctor first tried a medication called Megace. It seemed to work for a week or two than went flat. As a last resort, he prescribed Marinol , which is medical marijuana. This has been the best appetite stimulant she has used to date. But talk with your doctor. Find something that works for you. If one medication doesn't seem to help, ask about switching to something different. Pancreatic cancer is hard enough without suffering thru nausea and appetite loss when there are meds available to help
A little exercise is a good appetite stimulant - even on mom's most exhausting, fatigue-plagued days, she tried to at least get up and walk around the house. Light exercise often helps work up an appetite. And we're not talking a marathon. Just a little movement can do the trick. And the plus side is that it makes the patient feel more normal and less invalid-bed-bound.
Cancer weight loss is an ongoing battle for mom and for most pancreatic cancer patients. As the cancer advances, many patients simply lose too much weight. And become weak because of it. If there's one thing we've learned from this fight, it's that battling pancreatic cancer requires a strong body and spirit. Weight loss can be debilitating on both the body and spirit.
So, take the fight seriously. Make every calorie count. Use your support system and get them baking, cooking, and fast-fooding their way to your house. When the next person asks if there's anything they can do to help, say yes, and send them to Dairy Queen or Braums, or Chili's and have them bring you a delicious, sinfully rich, high-calorie snack.
A word of caution: Fattening mom up has been heck on my waistline! I've gained every pound she's lost. So, caregivers, be forewarned. The journey is a minefield!
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