Weight Loss Success: Life is precious. Appreciate it!

Weight Loss | Patient Stories | February 13, 2018
Joe's tragic run pushed him to a life-changing decision

When Joe K. lost family and close friends to cancer, it was easy to seek comfort in food. Here's the story -- in his own words -- of how he overcame the challenges to turn his life around:

A very bad run
On August 22, 2016, I lost my 17-year-old son Will to cancer. Less than two weeks later, I lost my nephew Chris, also to cancer. Six weeks later, my dear friend Kelly died. Cancer. After just six more weeks, cancer intruded again, as my sister-in-law Carol was diagnosed with lung cancer. And 2016's horrible run of bad news wasn't over. Over the Christmas holiday, my niece Stacy died. Again, taken by cancer.

As you might expect, our family was reeling. In 2016, as Will fought for his life, my wife and I had searched for ways to support him. We decided that any time he wanted to eat -- and any thing he wanted to eat -- the kitchen was open. 24/7. When he ate, we ate. Unfortunately, our efforts to support and bond with Will resulted in a rapid, shocking weight gain. 

After Will's passing, life became very difficult. Every time I turned around, cancer was striking another friend or loved one. I learned that my close friend Fred had developed brain cancer, with a 12-18 month prognosis. Everything around me felt out of control. When I looked in the mirror, the person looking back at me was unfamiliar. In addition to the emotional weight of dealing with so many cases of cancer, I now also had to deal with the very real physical weight gain that my overeating had created. I wasn't sure where to start. I just knew I had to start somewhere.

Weight Loss for Life
As that dark, terrible winter turned to spring, I joined PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center's HMR Weight Loss for Life program. The date was April 17, 2017. I was committed to getting my life back on track -- to get back into physical and mental fitness. When he was alive, Will and I often ran together for exercise and fun, including teaming up when he was 13 for the Hood-to-Coast Relay race. I decided to honor Will's life -- and the lives of all my other family and friends touched by cancer -- by becoming the best runner, coach, and friend I could be. It has been one of the best decisions of my life.

HMR Weight Loss for LifeHMR Weight Loss for Life
Quality of life 
The HMR Weight Loss for Life program has been a godsend helping me work through my grief. My stress levels have falled considerably, I feel more relaxed, and I'm able to concentrate more.  I have learned to turn grief into inspiration.  In 2017, I decided to run to raise cancer awareness, and raised $18,000 for a variety of cancer-related causes. The program has helped me become more extroverted, more willing to take chances, and to smile and laugh more.
Significant health benefits
I have a benign tumor on my right tibia called an osteochondroma. When I was 57 pounds heavier, the tumor caused a lot of pain the day after a run. The pain was so bad that it would take 30 minutes for me just to to get out of bed and walk. Today, after my weight loss, my pain is minimal and I can get up and move right away in the morning. Although the pain is much reduced, it does serve to remind me of my son. The osteosarcoma that claimed Will's life was in the exact same spot on his tibea as my osteochondroma.
Better quality sleep
Through the HMR Weight Loss for Life program, my vital signs improved from the edge of unhealthy to excellent/optimal. My body composition went from 35 percent body fat (79 pounds of fat - yikes!), which is high risk for men, down to 11 percent body fat today, which is excellent.HMR Weight Loss for Life

Phase 2
After just six months in the HMR Weight Loss for Life program, I hit my target weight and graduated to Phase 2 (maintenance). This is the key time in the weight loss journey when many people fall back into their old habits and patterns, and the weight returns. I was determined not to go backwards.

Strategies, tips, and advice

  • Make time for your health. It is so important to make time for your health. No one simply "has time" for this. You have to create it. I have made health management part of my daily routine. It is no different than anything else I do on a daily basis.  The old phrase "when I have the time" really means it's not a priority and will not get done.
  • Plan and track. I plan and track everything using the HMR app on my cell phone, and a more detailed spreadsheet on my laptop to plan out food for everyday. As the day progresses I write down what I eat. I weigh myself at least once a week and record it.  The HMR app has a weight graph for viewing your progress - it keeps me focused.  I also keep track on my spreadsheet. I have an exercise diary where I record every exercise/run/walk/stretch per day.  I carry the diary around with me at the gym.  I even write in when I feel sick or when I feel pain, which helps if you need to see a physician since you can accurately tell when the condition first occurred.
  • Mix it up. Mix up physical activity often to be more well rounded.  The body and mind adapt to a routine within a month. This makes physical activity less effective.  By performing new routines or intensifying existing routines and changing the times challenges your body and mind to improve.
  • Keep on learning. Details, details, details! Read articles, books, and look online for ideas on food, exercise, motivation, etc. The more you learn, the more motivated and less afraid you become. There's a world of cool stuff out there just waiting for you to discover!
  • Play! Experiment with food - play with recipes to reduce calories. Be prepared to have failures along the way, but share successes with everyone.
  • Habits. It can take years to develop bad eating and health habits, and they become deeply entrenched. Developing new healthy habits and having them stick for the rest of your life will require a long time of daily practice, support, and coaching. There is no quick fix or short-term plan that will do that. The HMR Weight Loss for Life program is about changing your brain. 
  • Go for it! Life is precious and fragile. Why waste it? Appreciate it every day, give more to others and go for it!

For more information about Weight Loss for Life visit www.peacehealth.org/southwest/services/weight-management/wlfl

All photos provided courtesy of Joe K.