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A Bariatric Success Story: Cristy Perseveres through Cancer, Focuses on Small Victories and Self-Kindness

May 17, 2021

It’s been about a year since I’ve had bariatric surgery, and I’m the lowest weight I’ve been since I was 21-years-old — at 123 pounds!

I've surpassed my initial goal weight, which was 143, because it means “I love you” (from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood). Throughout this whole journey, my ultimate goal has been to be kind to myself.

Before surgery, I struggled to lose the same 10 pounds; I’d go back and forth. Having had a hysterectomy a few years ago, it became increasingly difficult to lose weight, regardless of what I did. I ate a whole-foods, vegan diet and was incredibly active. Nothing helped. Eventually, I began to struggle with asthma and sleep apnea.

As the wellness program coordinator for the bariatric surgery department at Jefferson Health – New Jersey, I’ve seen countless times how surgery has improved peoples’ lives, but I wasn’t sure that I’d be a candidate. Because of my health history, Dr. Marc Neff ensured me I was, and we started the process right away.

Before surgery, I worked with Cheri Leahy on how to follow the “bariatric power plate” — or bariatric-specific portion sizes — to prepare and shrink my stomach ahead of time and aid in recovery.

I was confident about how I would progress, but, unfortunately, I was hit with a different health battle — a recurrence of a rare cancer, leiomyosarcoma, for which I had to start an extensive course of chemotherapy. I knew it was going to be hard to stay on track, but I wasn’t going to give up.

There were many times I couldn’t exercise (or move, for that matter) and couldn’t eat — two things pertinent to your bariatric journey. I turned to Dr. Neff and Cheri for support, and they helped me find unique ways to still hit my nutrition goals.

When I did have an appetite, prepping food was a challenge, especially as a single mom and a vegan; but I’ve gotten used to it! I try to use as many colors of the rainbow as I can in my dishes to ensure a wide variety of nutrients. I also save food that I can’t finish for later in the day — when I know I’m going to be hungry again — that way I’m not wasting (food or money). This is where measuring your food really comes in handy.

Even after what I’ve been through, life after bariatric surgery has been vibrant! I feel like I’ve gotten a reset; I’ve gotten to taste my favorite foods for the first time again. I have so much more stamina. Working out is more enjoyable. I fit into clothes I haven’t fit into in years. My sleep apnea and asthma are nearly non-existent. Plus, I'm working on my certification to become a personal trainer.

My workout routine started out lighter than most because of the cancer, but I’m gradually working my way up. Several months ago, I could only walk 300 steps a day. Then, I progressed to seated, or floor, yoga. After successfully running one mile, my next milestone is to participate in a 5k! 

A lot of milestones after surgery can and should be small. There are plenty of small victories worth celebrating. I love to go for drives and sit and watch the sunset from my car. Recently, I sat cross-legged for the first time in a long time, and I was so happy I almost cried. When I reach these milestones, I never reward myself with food, but with new clothes or new experiences.

While you may be able to do this on your own, a support system is truly important to relieve some — if not a lot — of stress. It’s okay to ask for help and need someone to lean on. If your friends and family don’t support your decision, don’t let it hinder your success. Take advantage of your care team and the support groups that are offered.

Your journey isn’t going to be a straight line, but each part of it is something to be enjoyed. All of the challenges serve a purpose. When you start to have doubt, try to remember why you started and where you’re headed. It’s YOUR journey. Be kind to yourself.

To read more stories like Cristy's and to learn more about Bariatric Surgery at Jefferson Health - New Jersey, click HERE