Becky is a 45 year-old women who raised her 21 year-old son as a single parent. While weight was a problem from an early age it didn’t prevent her from doing what the other kids did. She talks dramatically about growing up in a tough environment, having lost her older brother to gang violence. It wasn’t until she was beaten by the father of her son and became a single parent that her weight ballooned to the point that she was 375 pounds. With the support of her son she had gastric bypass surgery and has lost over 150 pounds with the commitment, defying doctors bets, to lose more. She explains how having surgery is “not the easy way out” and how important it is to “manage the noise ” during the weight loss journey.
My name is Rebecca. I work for a hospital in the OBGYN department with high-risk patients.
I have a 21-year-old son. I met my husband back in junior high. We kind of went our separate ways. Got back together about three years ago.
Weight never really was the problem for me. It really didn't hinder any of what I did. I still went roller-skating. I still went swimming. I still dated. It wasn't until high school that it really started getting to me because you keep hearing from the doctors, oh, you need to lose weight. You kept hearing from your parents, oh, you need to lose weight.
I've had a hard life. My brother was murdered when he was 22; I was 10. I picked up the phone. I gave the news to my mother at 10 years old. How the hell does a 10-year-old tell her mother that her oldest son has just been murdered. A year later I open the door and they told me that my brother had been stabbed, my other brother. Guess who broke the news to my mother? You felt guilt, but when you were feeling guilty that ice cream sure made you feel better.
From day one I was a single parent. I absolutely refused to be a punching bag for anybody so the first time my son's father hit me I left. I was not going to be his punching bag. I wasn't going to allow a man to hit me. But that's when I started gaining even more weight.
Food is an addiction. I was addicted. I don't think it was more of I need it now. It was more of I feel crappy; let me go to the refrigerator. I feel sad; let me go to the refrigerator. I'm having a hard time dealing with this; let me go to the refrigerator. I'm happy; let's go to the refrigerator. I never had fullness from it so I would eat more and more and more. Not necessarily the fried stuff that you think I would be eating. It was more of a bread-pasta kind of a deal.
Fat is not an ugly word until you allow it to be ugly. It really isn't. My son in school, they told him your mom is fat, and he came home crying. Mom, they said you were fat. Did they lie? No. Am I skinny? No. So what's the problem? And then he understood. As far as my son is concerned I think it affected him a little bit more than I thought it did. We would go to restaurants. I couldn't fit in the booth. I couldn't get on the rides at Disneyland with him. I was a single mother. You know, I drove my kid to school. I drove him to all his events. But I took a picture of me at one of his events and I thought, holy mother of god, I'm fat. Obese is actually what came to me.
My ah-hah moment was when they showed me a picture of my son and I at one of his finishing races, and I looked down at the picture and I thought, oh my god, I'm obese. That's when it hit me. By then I was already 375. And I just remembered thinking what the hell did I do to myself? But when I saw this picture I just really thought you really are obese. Now I saw what people were seeing that I wasn't. And then I said, okay; time to do something about it.
I really wanted to work at this hospital, and I thought they're not going to hire me. They're not going to hire a big huge person. And then I got laid off from the doctor where I was working so then I had no choice but to go on a job interview, and I was hired. I was hired, and I thrived, and I did well, and I got promoted. And then the CEO of our company met my son, and he asked my son, I hear your mom is great; what do you want from your mom? He was mentoring my son. And so my son told him, I just want my mom to be healthy; she's big; she's not healthy. So our CEO came to me and he says, “do you want to lose some weight, do you want to have the surgery done, I will cut through all the red tape and I'll get it done for you.” I had already been pre-op twice. I had already gone through the whole process twice.
And then I got really sick and I ended up in the hospital. I had a cyst on my stomach. I needed to be in the hospital for five days, on antibiotics. And the packing of the wound was just so horrible, and I thought, oh my god, if this is what I'm going through right now, I hate to see what my son is going to have to go through if I come down with a heart condition down the road. And I just couldn't imagine my son having to deal with a very sick mother. I just couldn't imagine not being able to enjoy my son or my grandkids from then on. So that's really started pushing for the surgery. That's when I really started fighting for it. And when you're going through the pre-op, they ask you, what diets have you tried? Sweetheart, at 375 you better believe I've already tried every damn diet out there. I do not need you to tell me to try another one. At 375 you're too far out; you're too far-gone.
I'd lose 20 pounds here, 40 pounds there. Gain 50 pounds gain 60 pounds. Lose them again. I must have lost a total of a thousand pounds, going up and down, up and down. I wasn't able to keep the weight off, though.
I started my process by actually meeting the surgeon and we went over different options. The sleeve, the gastric bypass, the lap band. Because I needed to lose so much weight, for me, the gastric bypass was the appropriate one. I had to go through behavior modification classes. You know, how are you going to do things differently. And it taught me a lot about myself; it really did. I had to really deal with some issues that I didn't want to deal with.
As I'm sitting waiting outside in the waiting room, my mother looks at me and she says, you've already lost enough weight; are you sure you want to do this? I said, mother, I still have almost 200 pounds to lose, no. And then I went into surgery and I just remember thinking, As of today you're going to change your life.
Waking up from surgery. You're on pain meds; you don't feel pain. I started walking around the hospital and then I had a major setback. I felt a little odd, and I asked the nurse, you know, can I go back to my room? She says, Rebecca, but you're doing well. I said, let me go back to my room. I was afraid to go home. I didn't know how I was going to be dealing with the food. I said could I just go home tomorrow? And she said, yeah, that's fine; Well, I laid down and I start licking at the icy next to me. They give you an icy, sugar free icy, and I started eating it and then I started spitting up what I thought was the icy, and I thought, oh, my stomach didn't like it. As I started wiping my mouth, I started seeing red, and I looked down at the icy, and I'm like, this is white, this is red, okay, I'm bleeding. Right as one of my doctor friends was coming in to see me, he walked in through the door and I just grabbed my gown and throwing up blood. What's happening to me? Oh my god, I'm dying. This is not what I signed up for. Before you knew it, I had my surgical team around me. They take me back into the OR and I hear them whispering, and it's like, okay, what's wrong? Well, you're not doing very well. You've lost a lot of blood. Okay, so what do you think it is? Well, we don't know where it's coming from. Okay, so what are we going to do about it? Well, let's take you in and see first where it's coming from.
We go into the OR. We come back out. I remember just waking up and thinking, boy, the anesthesiologist is really cute, and he comes over to me and he says, Becky, are you okay? And I said, I am now. And the doctor comes over to me and I said, okay, doc, how bad is it? He said, I don't know where it's coming from but you have a hole in your stomach, and I'm going to call it a miracle and just tell you that it healed on its own. I ended up in ICU for four or five days. They were monitoring me. I thought, well, how in the hell are you going to finish this journey; you can't even get out of the hospital. They wanted me to drink the protein drinks, oh this is horrible; this is too sweet; and I thought, wait a minute, when have I ever thought anything was too sweet? I started with the ice chips. Then I started with another type of protein that I was able to stomach. My birthday was the next day. This was my birthday present. So I had to struggle with the drinking of the water and taking the sips and taking my medications but I made it out; I made it right on time.
It's not an easy surgery. You hear that you're taking the easy way out, and I'm thinking easy way out? They're going to cut me up. They're going to re-route my intestines. I've never been secretive about my surgery. On the contrary, I posted it all over Facebook. How else is a 375-pound person going to go from being this big to being slightly smaller? But in telling people that I had surgery comes a lot of questions. It comes with a lot of opinions, and one of them was, you took the easy way out.
The only difference between being on a diet and having the surgery is that I can't get off of this diet. It's impossible to get off of this diet in the beginning. You want the piece of cake; you eat the piece of cake. What happens? You start dumping. I still wanted and craved all the stuff I wasn't supposed to have and on a couple of occasions I did do it. I did eat it and I got really sick for it. I paid dearly for it. And that's the club over your head that I needed. That's what worked for me.
After I had the surgery you need to learn how to eat again. Before I thought, high protein, what do you mean? No bread? How are you going to get full? Now it's, you have your Ding Dong; you have your piece of chicken. Your Ding Dong is going to make you feel like crap. The piece of chicken is going to give you energy. Which one are you going to choose? It's still my choice. I can still choose the Ding Dong if I really wanted it, but realty is, I choose a Ding Dong; I get sick to my stomach. I toss it back up. I start shaking. I go to sleep for about an hour and then I wake up.
Four weeks after surgery, you're adjusting; you're barely adjusting; you're eating so little that now your energy starts to drain. I remember thinking to myself I couldn't even get out of the shower, that's how weak I was feeling. At six weeks you're supposed to be on more of a semi-solid diet. I couldn't it. I could not eat it. And now your family is now adjusting to you and it's, you're eating too much; you're not eating enough; what are you eating? And everything starts revolving around your weight again.
You have to really block off the chatter. It's like everybody's chattering at once. You're eating too fast; you're eating too slow; you're not eating enough; you're eating too much; you look too skinny; you've had surgery and you've only lost that much weight? And then your behavior starts to change because you can no longer sit down and eat and eat and then you start realizing that that's their issue, not mine, and you start thinking, you know, I'm feeling great.
Of the side effects of the surgery the dumping is the biggest thing. You eat a little bit of sugar and you start feeling horrible. You start getting the shakes. You start the cold sweats. You start getting really sleepy. Almost being like being drunk off of chocolate.
I started seeing my hair in the sink more and more, and I thought, ah oh, this is not good. My hair had always looked good. I always had a lot of hair. And now all of a sudden I start seeing scalp and I'm like, why is my scalp showing on here? And then I had to readjust and hide my hair. I carry Velcro rollers in my car to this day. I stick them on so they won't go flat. I stick the rollers and, you know, put them in there. You learn to adjust.
The skin issue? There's a lot of skin. It hangs. But you learn how to deal with it. You put on binders so it doesn't jiggle and wiggle. You buy the flexies. I wear them all the time under your clothes. Eventually I will be having the skin removal surgery. I don't know if I'm really prepared for it just yet. It's a big surgery. But the skin issue really does play a mind game with you; because of all the loose skin, you don't see the sculptured body; you don't see your abs; you don't see how much weight you've really lost. The skin kind of gets in the way of that. It blurs your weight loss. It doesn't hinder it. You know, you work around it. But if the worst thing that came out of this is loose skin, I can deal with that. I can surely deal with that.
By this time I'm dating my now husband and he tells me, you really need to start buying other clothes and, okay, well, let's go buy some. And he hands me this much smaller size. I was a size 32. So now he hands me something that looks this tiny, and I thought, you're not funny. I said, that's not going to fit me; hand me the other. And so he gives me the next size down and it was too big. He gives me the next size down and it was too big. Finally he gives me the one he had shown me; it was still too big. I never realized I was losing my weight so quickly. You know, your brain doesn't adjust to it right away.
To remind me, keeping one pair of the size 32 pants does two things. It reminds me how big I used to be and where I could go. Just because you have the surgery doesn't mean that you can't regain the weight. You can regain the weight and a lot of people have. Keeping the old size pants reminds me where I can go, how far out I can get, how big out I can get. I've been there. And it also reminds me how far I have come.
Support groups, it's a real big thing. You hear other people's stories and what you thought you were the only one going through, now all of a sudden these people are going through the same thing, and you're thinking, oh, okay, I'm normal. I did a lot of online support groups. The support group definitely helps you filter out all that negativity. It helps you to appreciate what you're now feeling. They keep you sane.
You know, my son left to college soon after I had surgery he came back with his mom being almost half her size, and he saw me, and he just started to cry. Mom, mom, you're gorgeous. Mom, when are we going to Disneyland? Let's go. And we got on the ride, and guess what? I latched in. I heard those clicks, click, click, and click, let me try one more, click. I did it. And that's how the surgery really is; it really is a huge rollercoaster ride. There's days when you feel wonderful and, oh my god, this is the best surgery I've ever had. In the beginning you start feeling like, oh my god, what the hell did I do to myself.
I'm very proud. I get to go shopping. I went horseback riding. I went and got on my bicycle again. I tried the roller-skate thing and that didn't really work out as well as I thought it was going to be. I'm not 21 anymore. Now we go to restaurants; I don't even have to give it a second thought if I'm going to take a booth or a table. I can tie my shoe. I can bend down. I didn't realize how handicapped I was.
I'm 45 years old. I decided to have gastric bypass at 42. I went from 376 pounds to 210 pounds in a little less than three years.
My goal weight is 170. My surgeon said I couldn't go below 232, yeah, I really surpassed them. I have accomplished a lot and I've got a hell of a lot more to accomplish.
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