Man in oversized clothes looking in the mirror

Cancer & Clothes

Clothes. No one thinks much about them, especially when you are told you have cancer. Why would you? The first thing that pops into your mind when a doctor says “it’s lymphoma” isn’t “I wonder where he got those super cool pants.” Clothes, though, are a huge part of the cancer experience as I’m now finding out. Weight changes and body shape transformations have made all the clothes I owned before utterly useless.

Weight going up, down, and sideways

As soon as you hear that word, cancer, your brain instantly leaps into overdrive. You rehash every movie, medical TV show, friend and relative, and book you’ve read that even mentioned cancer peripherally, and you mush them into an amalgam of the worst case-scenario possible. What you wear on your body doesn’t even make the “also ran” list of concerns, which in hindsight is insane because almost all cancers involve body weight fluctuation. Whether your weight goes up (gain weight), down (lose weight), or sideways (your guess is as good as mine), or even a combination of the three, you are almost guaranteed to need some new clothes. For me it was weight loss, and I had absolutely no idea how out of shape I was until cancer came knocking.

When you are going through chemo and hiding from most of the world, no one really cares what you are wearing, least of all you. Sweats and an old hoodie, pajama bottoms and a ripped t-shirt, argyle socks and a hefty bag – it just isn’t a concern. You aren’t really getting any visitors anyway, except for that one annoying friend who insists on coming over and can’t take a freakin’ hint. “No, Jim, I don’t want you to bring me a broccoli smoothie. I’d rather have cancer.” It’s that lack of concern that results in you not realizing your previous wardrobe may not exactly fit like a glove anymore. More like a giraffe wearing a parachute.

Realizing how cancer changes your body

When I finally got the time and felt up to diving into my closet, I began to try on some of the clothes I had worn before. Nothing makes you realize how much cancer changes your body more than trying on old stuff from before you got sick. I used to wear a medium and large size, and they fit pretty well, now they were like the smocks you used to ruin in middle school art class.  God, they were so big. I went and looked in the mirror and realized I looked like a shipwreck survivor. My ribs were showing like I had swallowed the xylophone from the Starlight lounge, and it was still playable. It was awful. It was at that moment that I realized just how much weight I lost.

I shuffled back to my closet, dejected, and digested the fact that I was now a size small. I was already always the shortest guy in the room, now I was going to be the smallest as well? Any time I went out with my tall friends I felt like Gulliver in the land of the giants. I went home with a crick in my neck from constantly looking up. I can’t tell you how many times people say “what’s up little man,” and now I was even smaller? I knew I was going to have to buy an entirely new wardrobe if I ever wanted to go out again, and that takes money. On top of the cancer bills and missed work, I now have to buy enough clothes to not look like that guy at your office who only owns one suit. I never considered how far the tentacles of cancer can reach.

New clothes, new me

I was pretty upset, and while I was moving most of my clothes over to the “no longer fit to wear” side of my closet, I realized that maybe, just maybe, there was a silver lining. I lost muscle, but I also lost fat…. Hmmm… maybe this can be used to my advantage…  got it! So then and there I made a promise to myself to try to put on muscle and weight in a healthy way.  After all, I was given a gift with the cancer in that it basically reset my body to zero, so I could make it into anything I wanted.

So here I am now, halfway to my goal, and spending more money on clothes than I ever thought possible.  It’s expensive to buy an entirely new wardrobe. You’d think that with the internet and Amazon you could buy clothes cheap but it adds up. Even underwear these days cost like five dollars a pair at least, so unless you’re going to turn them inside out and wear them twice, you have to fork over some cash. I know eventually it will be worth it, but it’s just another area of your life that cancer invades that you never in a million years thought of when you were diagnosed.

Cancer and clothes, I know, not a pair that you’d think would ever go together, but they do. Even if it’s deciding what to wear to cover your thinning hair, what to use to cover chemo rashes, or what shoes to get to fit your swollen feet, cancer and clothes do go pretty much hand in hand. Now if I could just find cheaper underwear…  Talk soon.

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