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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Dan122
    6 days ago

    Before diagnosis I had such a huge belly in a thin body. One day my son saw it and said you go again to a doctor. And bingo, it was FL. Now I see the pants “growing” when I’m losing weight. They tell me that after SCT I will recover. I will. So I keep the clothes to that day.

  • Mike Padjen
    6 days ago

    Daniel, I will apologize to you and everyone else who doesn’t see some humor in this, but I laughed when I read the article.
    Me before Cancer included 190 lbs and 5’11” of height. I did a lot of weight work in the gym so I would have to buy XL in shirts for them to fit my chest, but they always hung just a little long on my frame. I was also so proud of the custom suit collection I had. My many travels to Asia offered me the opportunity to have shirts and suits made for 20% of the price I could get an off-the-rack in the US. Post cancer I was 155 lbs, now up to 170, and my height is 5’7″ due to 10 collapsed vertebrae. My arms and legs are the same length, but my torso is 4″ shorter. As you can imagine, everything i had for my upper body looks like a tent on me and I have to be careful not to drag my knuckles on the ground. I seriously had shirts hanging down to mid thigh. Even large shirts are too long now. As for my suits. Most went to the Salvation Army with my shirts and some of my pants. I don’t know why I find this humorous, but I laugh at unusual things these days. Fortunately, my underwear still fits pretty good.

  • Carolyn B
    6 days ago

    I had “B” symptoms which for me included weight loss prior to one of my cancer dx’s. Then the chemo and more weight loss. I had to buy suits (I had to work full time through chemo – no choice). OMG suits!!! And they can’t count as a tax deductible expense for medical expenses. Whatever Einstein decided that doesn’t realize the financial toxicity of cancer doesn’t stop with treatment and treatment related expenses. You/I wouldn’t have needed new clothes were it not for cancer.

    When I had drains (different cancers) that is a different clothing issue. I spent money on a shirt with internal drain pockets (way better than wearing a bag with the drain stuffed in it). As I was stuck with drains for a month I should have bought more than one shirt. And then we have the ruined clothes where incisions leaked and the stains didn’t completely come out.

    Right now I have gained the weight back. Sort of wishing for B symptoms again – but just long enough to lose some of the weight while still eating ice cream and chocolate. LOL

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    6 days ago

    Yep, our bodies most definitely change a tad. It’s expensive to get a new wardrobe but if we’re not fitting old clothes like we once did… well we have to do it. I’ve been holding on my size 2 and 4 clothes determined to fit back into them… well the dream is gone and time to move forward in this new life. 🙂

  • Ann Harper moderator
    6 days ago

    Size 2 or 4 – wow! I saw that when I was a baby! Lol

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    23 hours ago

    @annharper -I know LOLOLOL

  • Ann Harper moderator
    1 week ago

    Your posts are so easy to read and so true. I too lost a lot of weight – new clothes. Then I gained a bit of it back – more new clothes. Now I’m talking myself into doing workouts – more new clothes?!? You’re absolutely correct in that we don’t usually think about our wardrobe when we get a cancer diagnosis, but it does become a concern as we travel the cancer journey.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    6 days ago

    @annharper Thank you for the wonderful compliment. Yup, you are experiencing exactly what I did – the constant clothes rebuying. It’s partially fun but then it gets annoying. Especially when you try to put something on that fit a few months before and now it looks like a smock. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Ann Harper moderator
    6 days ago

    Keep on keepin’ on is what we do best!

  • bluchs
    1 week ago

    Daniel Hi!
    I have a similar problem, I have lost over 45 lbs. since getting cancer, actually at one point 75 lbs.
    But I find, that I actually, just don’t care about cloths, not any more.
    I used to, I gave away all of my designer cloths.
    I never wear shorts, or short sleeved shirts.
    I always wear a hat.
    But I also now wear a mask, when ever I go out, so what difference can cloths make??
    I used to look in the mirror, and I saw a thinner version of my father.
    Now, I see a skeleton of a man, not me.
    I do not know the man who looks back at me in the mirror.
    New, cloth, NO WAY!
    I actually bought new PJ’s, and that is what I wear, most of the time.
    I have no energy to go out.
    When I do visit a friend, or go to a doctors appointment, I just don’t care any more, what I have on, although, I do iron, my cloths and try to look presentable, at all times.
    I don’t need new cloths.
    And this is from a guy, who once paid over $600.00 for a pair of boots, etc.
    Right now, I just want more time to spend with family.
    Clothing, is just no longer important to me??
    Go Figure.
    What I am wearing, will not change the way I look?
    But I can feel you, my paints, actually fall off, now.
    Thank God for belts.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    6 days ago

    @bluchs Bluchs! Good to hear from you. I also enjoy wearing designed clothes, I always have and I was certainly upset that cancer interfered with that. Thank God for belts, indeed, I have bought a whole new slew of those new “click” belts that ratchet closed. They are a godsend since cancer. Thanks for reading as always Bluchs, keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • bluchs
    6 days ago

    Daniel
    It is always nice to hear from you.
    I too have purchased a few new belts.
    No new cloths, I am trying to gain back some weight?
    So I do not look like a skeleton.
    But it just does not seem to work??
    But then, right now, I have no where to go, and don’t feel well enough to just go out?
    So for now, No New Cloths.
    You may find this to be a bit humorous?
    About 2 years ago, I visited my old office, to see some of my old co workers.
    One of the Corporate ladies, actually said,
    “I wish I knew your secrete to loosing weight”? Nothing works for me!
    WOW!
    I was so taken back, I just did not reply, but the looks on all of my other friends, that were their, Well, their faces were priceless, Ha! Ha!
    You take care of yourself, my new found friend.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    1 week ago

    Being comfortable is definitely a plus, but sometimes dressing up a bit makes you feel good. I’m sorry you are going through so much. I will continue to send prayers.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    6 days ago

    @annharper I have to agree with you. I go to appointments dressed in a jolly mood. Whether I throw on sneakers, heels or pumps. I want to put forth that positive energy to those I see in the waiting room, as it’s clear not everyone is in the mood.

  • Racheli Alkobey moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Such an interesting perspective on this topic and really the hybrid of these two things- cancer and clothes. I’ve also been affected by the thought of these two things but in the aspect that I’ve had a weird visceral reaction to clothes that I wore when I was diagnosed/went through treatment.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    6 days ago

    @radiant-racheli I was thinking the other day just how much cancer affects this huge thing that we take for granted – clothing – and I figured I’d put some thoughts to paper. Glad you found it interesting, thanks for reading Racheli. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Ann Harper moderator
    1 week ago

    Just wondering, if you don’t mind sharing – what kind of reaction? My daughter gets rashes and can only wear cotton clothing. She didn’t have cancer or treatments.

  • Racheli Alkobey moderator
    5 days ago

    Hi Ann! I meant more of an emotional reaction. There are just so many memories and trauma associated with specific items of clothing that I owned while going through treatment!

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