I learned a new word this year. Cachexia. Kuh-KEK-si-a, though I invariably say Kuh-CHECK-see-ya, the thing you say to people as you’re leaving and they’ve given you money: K, got your check, see ya! Where are all MY checks? I should have a whole stack of them by now. But nope. Instead of checks I have cachexia.
Cachexia is when you have cancer and your body eats itself.
I am 14. My weight hovers between 112 and 113. The lavender skirt my mom got me from Sears, the one with pockets on the side seams and buttons that go all the way up, it’s a size 5. But my friends wear a size zero. Zero! How can I compete with that? I am 5’7″. Tall and thin, always have been. But compared to my friends I’m a horse, a gigantic cow of a girl, so I suck my stomach in when I wear the purple skirt. I still wear the padded bra my mom was sure I’d want, even though within two years I’ll give them up when I become convinced they’re false advertising and I’ll be ridiculed by the next boy who figures it out.
I am 10. Every day I open the brown paper bag that contains my lunch, hoping for something different. Sandwich of “pressed turkey” (WTF?). Four browning apple quarters. Baggie of Laura Scudder’s wavy potato chips. Can of black cherry cola. But my stomach hurts, so I nibble a couple of the chips and throw the apples away. My stomach hurts every day. It hurts when I sit on the floor under the big table at the back of the room and work on my report on Vermont. It hurts when we pretend we are writing checks to one another so we can learn how to handle money. It hurts when I am excused from class to plan the fundraising project I cooked up for my 5th grade class to buy a tree for the school. It hurts at night when I lie in bed not sleeping, worrying about the horrors of the world. It hurts every day and I don’t know why.
I am 8. School is over but I have to wait for my mom, who is a teacher at my school. I sit on the floor in one of the empty classrooms and eat a pack of Corn Nuts from the machine. I walk down the hall to go to the bathroom — it’s too scary to go when school is in session — and see my reflection in the long windows that overlook the atrium. I see my stomach, relaxed and soft. It should be straight, my body should be straight up and down. I pull in my stomach. That’s better.
I am 25. This is what I eat, every day. A handful of Rolos. They were frozen so I let them soften in the warmth of my mouth. A handful of Tostitos, a kind they don’t make anymore because I’ve never seen them since. That’s it. Rolos and Tostitos. When It feels like I need real food I warm up a frozen meal of pasta or chicken and then throw it up again. I weigh 93 pounds. None of my clothes fit. Three months ago I weighed 130. My teal dress felt tight, a sausage packed into a green dress with wide black faux leather belt. Now I get my maintenance crew to make extra holes in that belt, holes to cinch it smaller and tighter into the emptiness where 40 pounds used to be. I drink black coffee during the day. At night I can feel my hip bones boring holes into my mattress.
I am 49. I weigh 99 pounds. My skinny jeans fall right off, fully buttoned. Some days I can barely make it up the stairs. Photos of me are a shock. Who IS that woman?
So my intellectual brain (IB) says Dude THIS IS NOT GOOD. And my anorexic brain (AB) says WHEEEEEE THE NUMBERS ARE GOING DOWWWWN AND SKINNY IS BEEYOOTEEFULL!
I feel a perverse and horrifying glee every time the number drops. And it scares me. Is it my anorexic past catching up with me? I know it means we still don’t have a handle on winning cancer. But the number keeps dropping. Am I making this happen? I eat all day long. Eating more is not the issue. My body is eating itself. Cancer makes metabolism go crazy. It makes everything crazy. Know what? Cancer doesn’t kill people, not usually. What kills is cachexia. Eventually the muscles that help you do things like eat and breathe get so weak they don’t work anymore.
Image: babydark at DeviantArt