Sunday, December 14, 2014
Five Years Ago Today….I sat in my car in the doctor’s parking lot, sobbing at my steering wheel, not sure what to do next. He had just told me that my EKG seemed to show I’d already had a heart attack. I was 58 years old, over 300 pounds, and completely out of shape. The reason I went to the doctor that day was because any movement at all got my heart racing. I would walk 10 steps to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and upon returning to the recliner where I slept most of the night, my heart would be racing. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. I had gotten to the point where I tried to avoid walking at all. Even going out to eat (a favorite activity of mine), had to be limited to places where parking lots allowed you to park right outside the door. Any other activities that I had enjoyed in the past, had become prohibitive because my mobility was so limited.
Subsequent cardiac tests showed that I had NOT had a heart attack (YET!) and no damage had been done (YET!) I knew, however, it was just a matter of time. My maternal grandmother had a stroke at the young age of 62, and died. My sweet Mom who had changed her lifestyle, quitting smoking and losing weight, and began an exercise program late in life, died at the age of 65 of a sudden heart attack. I was less than a month away from turning 59, little more than a year from 60 and I had compromised my health seriously by over-eating. Constant over-eating coupled with very little movement does not lead to a good result. My life revolved around food. I never allowed myself to get hungry, because I was constantly stuffing some snack in my mouth. I realize now I wasn’t even really enjoying food all that much, because I never allowed myself to have an appetite. I was always satiated and stuffed. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I experienced that “stuffed” feeling. And I don’t miss it a bit.
That day, in my car, I resolved that I was never going to go through this again, this feeling of complete humiliation, because all of my health problems were a direct result of my lack of self-control when it came to eating. I had only myself to blame. And that felt awful. I hated going to the doctor, where I begged the nurse NOT to weigh me. Sometimes she would skip the scale but usually she made me stop and stand on that mean, unforgiving machine that seemed to be the measure of how out of control my life was. The last time I had been to see the doctor was in July of 2009. A year or so later (well into my weight loss), I had my doctor check his records to see how much I weighed that day….328 pounds. I believe that was my all-time high weight. I didn’t own a scale, besides few scales go past 300 pounds anyway, and I sure had no interest in knowing how much I actually weighed. By the time I made my way back to his office in December of 2009 to get my racing heart symptom checked, I had dropped to 305 pounds, a result of giving up sugared soda after the summer appointment. I drank a lot of Pepsi! I had made no other changes in my eating or lifestyle, so it was just that POP that led to my initial 23-pound loss.
But on Dec. 14, 2009, I changed completely. I started slowly, but I ended up making choices that would lead to a total weight loss of 178 pounds! Five years later, I am a result of that change. My heart no longer races after minimal activity, in fact I can walk for miles. My blood pressure is normal without any meds (I used to be on five scrips, none of which controlled my BP very well), my blood sugar no longer is in the “danger” pre-diabetic area, and I can still walk. As badly as my knees hurt today even at 150 lbs., I often wonder if I would still be able to walk at all if I had not lost weight. I still need knee replacement surgery, but now that I am at a normal weight, it can wait a few years. I have heard from others who sought similar surgery, doctors are not willing to perform elective surgery like that on morbidly obese patients anyway, so I probably would be in a wheelchair if I was still over 300 pounds.
I am no longer digging my own grave with my spoon (as my father so elegantly described an aunt of his who had died many years ago). Dad was never critical of my weight, even though he himself had gotten healthy after he retired at the age of 60. He knew, as I do, there is nothing another person can say or do to motivate someone else to change their lifestyle, to lose weight, to get healthy, other than to lead by example. Everyone has to come to that decision on their own. But sometimes a health scare will lead us in that direction, as it did for me.
My world has changed. I go places and do things that I had completely shut myself off from for so many years. I attend concerts, shows, games, and participate fully in my grandchildren’s lives. We went to an amusement park with them two summers in a row, and I was able to walk all day and ride every ride with them. I can babysit for them, and although it exhausts me, we all have fun and the next time I am asked, I am ready to do it again. Sometimes I even volunteer to have the kids spend the night. I host holiday dinners, doing most of the preparing, cleaning and cooking, as well as the clean-up. I substitute teach. I enjoy life. I have regained my self-confidence and no longer am self-loathing. I enjoy shopping at all the malls, buying pretty new clothes. My joyfulness at being a normal weight is ever present. That is because I will never forget where I have come from. I will never forgot those 30 plus years of morbid obesity, where I hated myself and was embarrassed by what I had allowed myself to become. Even today, more than three years since I hit my goal weight, when I pass a mirror I enjoy seeing my reflection. I never looked in a mirror before. I hated what I saw. I like myself now. I am proud of what I did and I think that shows more than in just my changed body. My spirit and personality are different now too.
I was 60 years old when I hit my goal weight back in April of 2011. I am here to tell you, it’s never too late to change your life. I am living finally! Really living! Yes, it’s hard work, as evidenced by my 32-pound regain earlier this year. But I reversed that trend, lost the weight and am happily back in the 150’s, below my 160-pound goal weight, and it’s where I intend to stay. I won’t tell you it doesn’t require constant vigilance and effort. You have to stay determined, but just do it a day at a time. You can do anything for ONE day! And I have been practicing this new lifestyle for 1,826 days now and I have no intention of ever giving up!
Friday, December 12, 2014
Wednesday, my friend Ann, who lost her husband in February of 2013 (the week Duane got his Stage 4 Cancer diagnosis--so his death really hit us hard), from lung cancer, messaged me on Facebook, asking if I waned to go to lunch Thursday. "Sure!" I quickly responded.
We met at 11:30 at HuHot, a Mongolian Buffet/Grill. I was thrilled to see they had little business cards on the table with different food and sauce combinations, and there were about eight different cards that had recipes that were 400 calories or less. I had done some research on Mongolian Grill-type restaurants in the past and knew if you don't get too many noodles, concentrate on the veggies, and avoid the OILy sauces, you can do okay. So that is what I've always done, although I haven't been there in a very long time. I managed just fine eating-wise yesterday, and Ann and I had a nice talk.
The first thing she told me when we sat down was that it was Darrell's (her late husband's) birthday. She said, "I'm using you to help me get through this day." I grabbed her hand and apologized, I didn't even realize it was his birthday yesterday. I know she is still hurting badly, and I don't know that it's getting any better. I have read so much on grieving and how everybody grieves in their own way, no one can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve. Whatever you experience and go through is okay, and you don't have to apologize to anyone. I just try to be there for her. But it turns out, she is also there for me!
What a good friend! She listened to me and I listened to her and we cried and commiserated about loving our husbands and talked about how hard it is to lose them. It's like they are part of you. You can't imagine life without them, and she is living that reality. A hundred times a day I think of doing something with Duane, and realize how much Ann wishes she could still be with her Darrell. When I don't want to get out of bed with Duane in the morning before he goes to work, I think about how much Ann wishes she could see Darrell off to work every day. That gets me going! Ann guides me, whether she knows it or not. I know I will use her as a sounding board and a resource to guide me on the path of widowhood when I am facing that reality.
It also scared me a little to hear how much she is still hurting, 22 months after he passed away. She didn't get much time to get used to the idea of losing Darrell. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer in late October and four months later he was gone. Even then, it was a shock, because he had the tumor removed after chemo and radiation, and the cancer was gone, at least temporarily. They thought they had bought some more time. But he was so weakened from the treatment, he never recovered after the surgery. And if you think this was a guy who abused his health, let me tell you, yes, he smoked. But he had quit smoking over 35 years earlier when Ann was pregnant with their daughter. He wasn't heavy, he bowled regularly and took good care of himself. He was also a wonderful guy. I remember at one of their kid's wedding dances years ago, I of course weighed over 300 pounds. I was never asked to dance by anyone other than Du, and believe me, we didn't dance much. But Darrell didn't care about my weight and he asked me to dance. That's the kind of guy he was. He didn't judge people by their outside appearances, and I will always remember that about him.
Ann told me she had already been to Darrell's gravesite twice yesterday before we met for lunch at 11:30. TWICE! She is obviously still in great pain and that scares me. She told me she visits him there often, he is buried very close to where she lives. To think that 22 months later I'm still going to be hurting so much, but I know I will be. And probably for much longer than that. How do you ever get used to losing your other half? I have read much on grieving, and something that stuck with me is this, "You might 'get over it,' but you are never again the same." Ann's kids are good to her, but she still is alone a great deal. She continues to work three days a week just to fill her hours. I don't want my life to become just something where I'm trying to make the time pass. I want to be happy. She told me she is not UNhappy, but she isn't happy either.
I emailed my oldest son yesterday about a variety of things, including our family plans for Christmas this year. I talked to him about how important Christmas Eve is to me. Since I was a child, it's just been a magical day to me. I know it's not really the holiday, but I asked my son to make sure that I am never alone on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I know you shouldn't have to ask, but with boys you never know how thoughtful they will be about their old lonely mother.
Ann was planning on meeting several of her children and their spouses last night at her and Darrell's favorite Mexican restaurant, where they were going to have a Margarita and toast dear Darrell and wish him Happy Birthday. Let me add my wishes to theirs, Darrell. Happy Birthday in Heaven Old Friend!
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
Sunday night I hosted my brother and his extended family, as well as my own family, for a holiday dinner. It was a full house, there was 18 of us. It's amazing to think about how it all started with just my brother and I! It is a tradition my niece started five years ago. We took turns hosting it for the first four years, then last year, we just stopped. Nobody stepped up to offer to host the dinner, and I was disappointed. So even though it wasn't really my turn, I decided since I had gotten the house all decorated for Christmas early this year and was done with that MESS, I could host the dinner.
I spent last week trying to do some deep cleaning, making lists, shopping at the grocery store, and thawing ham and turkey, while Du spent too much time outside decorating. I hate to see him climbing ladders, and up on roofs, as a fall would be awful anytime, but with the cancer in his bones, it would be a real disaster for him. But he was careful and the house looks beautiful. Five-year-old granddaughter Amber proclaimed as she drove up in the car with her family and saw all the outside Christmas lights and decorations, "This house is spectacular!"
Others brought dessert: a pudding cake, homemade cookies and an apple pie. (I had requested they bring dessert, so I wouldn't have to deal with those leftovers.) I had one cookie, and a small piece of cake and half a slice of pie. None of it was that great and later I thought to myself, "Why did I waste calories on dessert?" I guess I've lost my taste for that kind of thing. I did have small portions of two sweet fruit salads and some sweet potatoes, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
My brother is about three years older than I am, has two grown daughters and one adored granddaughter, who will turn 6 next week. Brother had some problems with alcohol in his youth, but stopped drinking entirely almost 30 years ago. He smoked, but quit that at least 25 years ago. His weight fluctuated over the years, and after quitting his other vices, he got heavier than he wanted to be (never as heavy as I was), and changed his lifestyle over 20 years ago. He eats right, works out, rides a bike long distances and walks his beloved Gordy every single day. A few months ago I was checking out at the local grocery store and a little old man behind me said, "Well Hello Pam!" It was my brother. I didn't even recognize him for a minute. He really is a little guy, never very tall but also quite thin, which to me is a compliment. I tell my brother's history to point out that even though he wasn't always perfect in his lifestyle choices, he figured it out, and is self-disciplined enough to stick to his choices every single day of his life. As all weight-loss maintainers know, sticking by those good choices over the long run is the real challenge.
A few pictures of my decorated house and the festivities.
It was a lovely evening with family. I know my parents would appreciate my brother and I and our families celebrating Christmas together with a nice dinner every year. I only have one sibling, and my brother lives fairly close to me. But I seldom see him during the year. I have no excuse for that, we were just never very close, but I'm glad we see each other at Christmastime. And if Du was up for it in years to come, I would be glad to host this family dinner every year. If Du felt good enough, I would do just about anything. Now I'm trying to make bargains with higher powers. There isn't much I wouldn't do or give up if it would mean Du could keep feeling okay. It scares me to see it slipping away. I spent yesterday calling and contacting Du's doctors, trying to find out how to proceed as his PSA levels continue to rise. At CTCA (Cancer Centers of America), they took care of him, they had a plan. Now we are on our own, trying to navigate these strange and scary waters and sometimes I feel like we don't even have a paddle. His Oncologist is not aggressive and always wants to wait. He doesn't want to see Duane any oftener than every six months, which when you have terminal cancer doesn't seem like it's very observant care. We are the ones who noticed this latest PSA showed a continued upward trend, and had to suggest to both his Urologist and Oncologist that perhaps it was time to consider adding some other drugs. It's scary to think that we are the ones making these decisions, or at least having to push for the doctors to consider these choices. What do we know? There's no Dr. Welby's out there anymore, that's for sure. I'm waiting for a return call today from the Oncologist's office, after his nurse consults with him about the possible addition of these new terribly expensive drugs. Wish us luck!
Thursday, December 04, 2014
Look at my son, Chris, a few short years ago!
I remember this picture. My daughter-in-law took it as we waited with her when she was in the hospital (in labor) before giving birth to my grandson in 2006.
Here's another picture of the two of us, I'm sure it's some big holiday dinner I'm preparing, but not sure when.
Fast forward a few years, and here's son and I on another bench, after I had hit my goal weight. Chris had lost some weight but he weighs more here than he does today.
Chris has been up and down through the years, like many of us. He and I often commiserate about how much we love food, and how we would like to eat this or that. We are addicts. Chris has many of his Grandfather's (my Dad's) qualities. My Dad fought his weight his whole life. He was pretty heavy, although never as heavy as me, but after he retired from the railroad in 1984, he and my mom (who was only a few pounds overweight), changed their lifestyle. They quit smoking, which that led to a weight gain, so that was the next thing they worked on. They started eating better, and my Dad worked out on his bike, both stationary and taking long rides cross-country on his regular bike, his rowing machine. Mom walked every day, and rode the stationary bike too, along with a three-wheeled bike Dad bought for her since she had never learned to ride a regular bike when she was a kid. In fact the day she died of a heart attack, she had been on a bike ride around town. Several people told me later they had seen her that day. Sometimes I worry about my own genetics. Both my mom and my maternal grandmother died in their 60's of sudden heart events. My grandmother died of a stroke at 62, my mother had a sudden heart attack and died at 65. I will be 64 in January. Neither of them was ever very heavy, but they had both dieted down to a healthier weight just before they died. They both were also life-long smokers. I have never smoked. I guess you just flip the dice in genetics and hope for the best. On my Dad's side, everyone has lived into their 80's. I'm hoping I take after that side of the family.
As I started to talk about, (before I digressed) Chris is a lot like my Dad, who was highly self-disciplined. He dieted repeatedly throughout his life, getting skinny, then gaining weight again. He loved an occasional beer, but quit drinking entirely when he and Mom decided to "get healthy." Even after Mom's sudden passing devastated Dad, he stayed true to his lifestyle change and remained thin until his death from prostate cancer 20 years later. Chris is capable, I believe of maintaining his latest loss. He is still young, 28, and for some reason I think it's even harder to maintain a weight loss when you're younger. You don't have that fear of health problems like you do when you're older, that fear of dying a young death from obesity, like I had when I finally changed at almost 60. That is a motivator for me, although it's definitely not a "sure thing." I still have to work hard at staying in control, and remain very vigilant of every mouthful of food I take, as evidenced by my 32-pound regain in the last year. I am hopeful that I have some of my Dad's self-disciplined personality in me as well, as I managed to lose most of that 32 pounds (still working on the last couple of pounds--trying to get down to that elusive and happy weight of 150 lbs., right now).
Here is Chris in March, when he joined NutriSystem.
He stayed pretty true to eating the food NutriSystem provided for that first month. Since then, although he has still gotten their food most months, he eats it when he's on the road, but when he's home he eats what I fix. I try to keep it healthy, but sometimes it's not as good as it could be. I am usually capable of taking only a small portion of the food that's not particularly low-cal, but it's harder for Chris. He has a bigger appetite, and it takes more to fill him up. I do know that the muscles he has burn a lot more calories than the fat that mostly inhabits my bodily make-up. He is the strongest guy I know, much like his Dad. The time he spent working for a local moving company that specialized in piano-moving didn't hurt in building up his muscles, along with the weight set he utilizes regularly in his quest to lose weight. He also runs a lot. He says the running is the best exercise for helping him lose weight. His job is now very sedentary, as he sits on an engine for 12 hours at a time. When he was a conductor, at least he occasionally had to get outside and walk the length of the train. But now he is an engineer and they SIT. And SIT. And SIT. Kinda like my job used to be.
As you can tell from the pictures, Chris weighed less in March of this year than in the older pictures, but not as low as he is now. This picture below is from yesterday.
He is currently weighing in around 190 lbs. That stomach is GONE! This is smaller than he's been since middle school. He probably weighed 200 pounds when he was 12 years old. He bought a pair of size 34" waist Levis yesterday and they FIT! WOW! He had worn 40's for years, before moving down more recently to 38's and then 36's. I am so proud of my son, because I know how difficult changing your lifestyle can be. With his erratic schedule as a Railroad Engineer, he doesn't sleep or eat at regular times most days. So that makes it doubly difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But he does it. When he gets to the other end of the road on his trips, he takes advantage of the weight room at the hotels where the Railroad puts them up. He takes his running shoes along and sometimes even manages to get out for a run. Now he has met a girl. I'm hoping this all works out for him and develops into something permanent, even though it's very early in their relationship. He dated a girl for three years when he was in high school and into college, and then she suddenly broke up with him. In the seven years since then, he never really healed from that broken heart, so I'm hoping Ashley can make him happy. If nothing else, having a girlfriend should help with his motivation to keep the weight off.
We currently are both participating in yet another Dietbet. Chris got into my last one with me, and we both won. The newest one is being run by Jan-Marie from here at Spark. http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage.asp?id=B
She lost around 100 lbs., and just got married last month. Her Dietbet began on Thanksgiving and runs through Christmas Eve. I knew I struggled last year during this time (it's basically when my weight gain started) and was hopeful this Dietbet would keep me motivated to at least NOT gain. So far it's working pretty well. I am planning a big family dinner with my brother and his family for this Sunday, and hopefully I can manage to get through it without too much over-eating. Everyone is contributing food, I am making NO dessert, so all who bring dessert will be taking it back home with them. That works best for me.
I am very proud of what Chris has been able to accomplish in getting his weight under control. Won't you join me in congratulating him?
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
i had been lulled into a false sense of security, we had gone so long with good scans, good test results, NO sign of the cancer spreading, I was shocked when Du's latest PSA test in October showed a significant rise. His Urologist (actually his Physician Assistant, I can count on one hand the number of times we've actually seen the urologist in the almost two years since Du's diagnosis, and his monthly (and sometimes more often) visits to his office for treatment) suggested we go off the ONE cancer drug that he takes. She says sometime the cancer responds to the withdrawl of the medication and the PSA will go down. His testosterone level was still low, so at least that is good. That was in October, and I felt good that they had the problem taken care of by withdrawing the Casodex. So on Nov. 25, Du went and saw the Oncologist, who actually didn't want to see Duane until January (six months after his last appt. in July). But I decided I wanted to see him before that, so I set an appt. for November. The results from his PSA there showed another rise. NOT GOOD.
Knowing the Oncologist would probably not be in contact with the Urologist, I got on the Patient Portal and sent a note to the PA at the Urologist's office, telling her of the test results. She told me that we need to contact our Oncologist and ask if it's time to start the next treatment, either Zytiga, Xtandi, or Provenge. These are new and good drugs, although the side effects are numerous and awful. Hopefully those are rare. These are also extremely expensive drugs, around $12,000/month. That cost is prohibitive without the prescription drug plan which is part of our health insurance, so once again I worry how we can afford it when we lose that insurance (when Du can't work anymore). The Oncologist did tell us the Pharmaceutical Companies have plans to help people who can't afford their drugs.
At one of our rare appointments with Du's Urologist a few months ago, he mentioned that he had a patient who had been taking JUST the shots (the ones Du has been getting for 21 months--they are the FIRST treatment given to men whose prostate cancer has spread) for 10 years. Our eyes lit up when he said that, and we felt some HOPE! Of course then he tempered that statement, and brought us both back down to earth when he added, "But with your aggressive cancer, that outcome is unlikely." Still I hoped the shots alone would work for quite some time. The average time they are effective is 18-24 months. We are in that time frame. Du's PSA is still (deceivingly) low, but it has gone up from .23 in April, to .46 in October, to .57 in November. We can't depend on the test to be a true indicator of his cancer, because his PSA was always low before, the cancer spread to his bones (Stage Four--treatable, but not curable and inevitably terminal) before being diagnosed. I have to keep reminding all the doctors of that. I want them NOT to be so damned dependent upon that score, because in Du's case it is NOT reliable. You really are in charge of your own medical care. You can't depend on doctors to take care of you!
It just scares me that we are now moving on to the next stage of treatment. I wanted those shots to work for years. I HOPED they would. I am grateful they have found new treatments that are not too harsh, and extend lives. These options were not available when my Dad was fighting Prostate Cancer back in the early 2000s.
I am also scared to death once again. How long will these pills work? Will the side effects be so horrendous Du won't be able to work, and we lose our health insurance? Once there is a cancer diagnosis, nothing in your life is the same. Even if it is a curable cancer, there is always that onus hanging over your head, you can never be truly secure again. My friend who had breast cancer, just had some suspicious spots checked, fearful of a recurrence. But they turned out to be nothing. Still, you always have that concern, that worry, that very real FEAR in your life. It's like you can never take a good deep breath and just feel good about EVERYTHING.
This is what so many people are living through. I guess I thought it wouldn't happen to me. But then I always knew, nobody gets out of here alive. I was just hoping for more time. I WORKED hard to lose weight so I would have more time. But in Du's case, there was nothing we could do to change his diagnosis. I guess we should have insisted on a biopsy from the beginning when he had what they mistakenly diagnosed as Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy. His PSA was low, so they assured us it was not cancer. I'm sure he had cancer from the very first time he sought treatment for prostate problems, several years before the diagnosis. Perhaps if we had insisted on a biopsy at that time, we might have caught before it spread, when it was curable. But we didn't know. We trusted the PSA. His doctor trusted the PSA. It is reliable in the vast percentage of men, there is only a very small group, like 1-2%, where it doesn't reflect reality. DAMN! All our lives we have been in the majority, just average, run-of-the-mill, people. The ONE time when it was bad to be in the small percentage, THAT'S the one we hit. If we had bought a lottery ticket, we would never have been in the small percentage that won!
My best friend from my working days is almost the same age as I am. She finally got to retire in June this year. Her husband turned 80 earlier this year, he is 17 years older than she is. She had hoped to retire and have some quality years left to spend with him. But his health is failing so fast. He has a balance problem, and keeps falling, previously only resulting in minor injuries. They have seen a neurologist, and he has some dementia (not bad--yet), and basically they attributed his balance problem to his advancing age. He fell again last night, and this time he broke his hip. He will be in the hospital until after the first of the year, probably after a total hip replacement. I feel so badly for my friend (as well as her husband). She didn't have much quality time to spend with him, after she retired. It reminds me of my own situation where I retired after 35 years of working, and ONE month after I retired, Du was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was not in the plan. There went our financial security, and our dreams of a long retirement, filled with days of doing whatever we wanted, travel, spending time with kids and grandkids. Now Du is forced to work as long as he can for the insurance (at least until he hits 65, almost 3 more years), and I spend most of my time just worrying about the future. This wasn't how it was supposed to be.
I have no idea how I will go on without Du by my side. NO IDEA. And it is so so so scary. I keep wondering what I did to deserve this.
So in the midst of this unsettling time, Chris (youngest son) has met a girl. Yesterday they both changed their Facebook status to reflect that they are "in a relationship." He spends all his off-work time with her and I am so happy for him. At the same time, I am worried that at a time when we could have used his support, he now has other things in his life. I worry a lot about being all alone. As much as I enjoy my days at home, I live for 4:30 when Du walks through the door. My day revolves around planning dinner for him, and anticipating his arrival home after work. What will I do when I don't have that at the end of my day? And if Chris moves out, I won't have his company either. But I'm still so so so happy for my youngest son, and I hope he has found someone who can make him very happy, like I did when I found my Du.
Here's a selfie of the two of them at a hockey game last weekend. Aren't they cute?
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