Kakhexia: Greek for bad condition and an episode of ER and Breaking Bad

Arriving at the Hoag cancer center, we were greeted by an ambulance, several paramedics, and a fire truck. This could not be good. Jim and I walked into the waiting room. I scanned the faces that looked fearful on the verge of tears. The daughter of one patient explained to me that the center called 911 and it took 7 minutes to get here. I feared it was someone I knew. This daughter told me it was an Asian person who they knew had a DNR. Once I scanned the faces again, I began my comedy nervosa and started this very awkward routine of cancer comedy to try to make the horrified faces laugh. I succeeded, but have no idea of what I was saying. Jim wanted to avoid the car wreck of the patient on the gurney, so he left and encouraged me to do the same. I refused as I didn’t want to leave my fellow patients alone. Instead, we all had to see the “car wreck” and the ancient man who had already left his body, but the paramedics were continuing CPR. Jim timed his return horribly and ran right into the gurney. It was like being in an episode of ER except this was real. I was already in a fragile state when I went to my room. Then, I received a text from another cancer patient friend who told me the fight was over. I have to respect the decisions of other patients to have their own journey, but it isn’t easy when I believe the opposite. This text coupled by the real ER visit was too much; I shed a few tears and moved on.

Of course, this episode wasn’t over and then a new real episode of Breaking Bad began. This day couldn’t have gotten stranger. Homeless cancer patient with a “former” crack addict pregnant daughter with a possible crack baby began their story. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but I had to talk to my nurses about new chemo they were administering and about cachexia.

My nurse explained the delicate balance of winning with cachexia. As she said, there is a lot to throw at cachexia, but a patient has to be strong both in mind and body. Often, the body has had too much. I hate seeing cachexia. I hate the skeleton face and body. This is a look I was familiar with before I had cancer. Seeing a relative with cachexia, I didn’t want to know the severity of his condition or face of reality of what was to come for him. So, recently when faced with seeing cachexia again, I visit a place that I don’t want to be that is pure fear. I always said that living with cancer is walking the tightrope of life. Mistakes can happen and when consumed with pain, you are unable to see what is really going on. This is why I am so grateful for my rock star husband, family, friends, doctors, nurses, and strangers who go the extra mile to ensure I remain on the tightrope.

I think cachexia is worth a mention since this is the reason for most cancer patients looking like a skeleton. I was on the verge of this several times. I recall several conversations with acquaintances who commented about how great I looked. Our society is very warped as I was at my thinnest below 100 lbs. What I do remember is that a meeting with a doctor encouraged me to take digestive enzymes so my body could absorb the nutrients I was attempting to eat. He also encouraged me told me about the power of the mind and power of being positive to give me strength.This doctor is not an oncologist, but a doctor who admitted that cancer was not his expertise, but he could help me with what he knew and what he didn’t, he would ask others. I also remember my husband and neighbors bringing me 1500 calorie smoothies. There was the owner of the smoothie shop who called other franchises located near hospitals to see if this concoction was the best one for weight gain with the right nutrients. I couldn’t eat a lot, but I ate often. I ate tablespoons of food, closed my eyes to eat, and slowly drank the caloric smoothie. I avoided the percentage of those who fall to cachexia. It takes a village to help someone living with cancer.

I know I am a pain in the butt. I know I say, “no” when I mean “yes.” I often refuse because the pain has consumed me. I often have my vision clouded by wanting to avoid the reality. I often am slapped in the face with the reality when I go to the cancer center. I am the only cancer patient who would prefer infusions anywhere but a cancer center. Being treated at a cancer center, I am reminded of the delicate balance, the harsh reality of the disease, and how things can change in a moment’s notice. This is why I do what I do when I can do it. I was told that my tumor marker is in a holding pattern. This doesn’t mean we are in a holding pattern. We will be going to City of Hope to see if I qualify for a vaccine trial, but I need to have a certain antigen for this to work. So, I will see what happens. The race continues. The reality TV show has ended for now.


50% of cancer patients suffer from cachexia

22 to 40% die of cachexia



(Medicine / Pathology) a generally weakened condition of body or mind resulting from any debilitating chronic disease

[from Late Latin from Greek kakhexia, from kakos bad + hexis condition, habit]

cachectic  [kəˈkɛktɪk] adj



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