(Here are Part 1 & Part 2 of Karen’s story)

By Karen Secord

The new me is just the old me unwrapped.

A gift to cherish. Wrapped in the genes of my ancestors -– “big” folks as far back as memory serves. Padded by convenience and the cycle of sedentary lifestyles, because wielding weight is never easy yet easily becomes a habit.

Gastric bypass surgery has given me an opportunity to discover something, to share that discovery and revel in the challenge. That’s not to say that the future doesn’t scare me. As with all challenges there are risks. And the risk of failure looms large. Some Roux-en-Y survivors slide back into old habits over time. Tempting fate. Stretching out their stapled “pouch”, allowing past behaviours to resurface -– snacking on copious amounts of carbs sugar and fats, denying exercise.

“This procedure is only a tool”, are words I have heard over and over at the Ottawa Hospital’s Weight Management Clinic. The nutritionists, nurses, doctors, behaviourist and psychologist have all delivered the same message.

If I were looking for a magic potion to fix all that ails me, this wouldn’t be it. Having my innards reconfigured isn’t going to prolong my life unless I become an active participant. I can create my own game plan but I need to get into the game!

It is clear to me now that the secret to good health is really no secret at all. Our bodies need good quality food and daily physical activity to maintain optimal health. Sadly, for those of us accustomed (if that is at all possible) to being labelled “morbidly obese” the hushed tones and muted whispers surrounding our girth have only served to further immobilize us.

It is not surprising that there are people who are obese. What is surprising is that more people are not obese -– given a lifestyle where junk food is a beacon on nearly every corner, we no longer get up to answer the phone or change the channel, fast and easy determine our better and best choices in almost everything we do. This thought came to me from Dr. Dent, one of Canada’s preeminent authorities on obesity and head of Ottawa’s new bariatric surgical program, via CBC journalist Steve Fischer.

I-couldn’t-gain-an-ounce-if-my-life-depended-on-it Steve shocked me with his compassion and willingness to truly hear my story. It may have been a story he found hard to relate to, but still he felt it. I knew this by the tears in his eyes when the wobble in my voice indicated the physical onslaught of my own inner pain.

I am now three months post-surgery. I have lost 64lbs and gone from a dress size 24/26 to a 16/18. I have given almost all of my pre-surgery duds away. Some formerly fat folks keep a garment or two to remind them of the journey. I don’t ever want to stand in front of myself or others with the past stretched out before me. There won’t be any photos of me holding a big pair of slacks. It’s not a badge of honour for me. I did this for my health.

I feel success because when I stabbed my finger this morning my blood sugar was 4.6. I feel success because I am walking around my Westboro neighbourhood an average of two hours every day. It is a slow meandering walk with lots of window shopping. But I am doing it. Some days I even look forward to it. On others my mind tries to trick me into wanting to stop but I am learning to tackle those negative thoughts with gusto; wrestle them to the ground; never let them win the battle.  I start Aquafit classes next week. I have reactivated my membership at Curves.

I feel success because I am alive and embracing physical activity.

Still, something about all this rubs me the wrong way. It appals me that some might assume that because I am smaller on the outside that I am fuller or richer on the inside. It’s not true. I am the same person. I may be physically deflating and struggling towards emotional inflation; leaving loose grandmotherish skin and a reflection in the mirror that makes me squint my eyes.  But I am still Karen.

Does losing weight –- quickly, as the result of modifying your body through surgery –- change how you think and who you are? Does having a smaller, more socially acceptable body make you smarter or happier or easier to get along with? Will people like me better, share more of their time with me, give greater credence to the quality of my words?

To the “average” person these may seem like silly questions based on implausible assumptions. But to those of us who have faced the repercussions of a life lived on the sidelines they are the basis of a discussion that has to happen, both with others and within ourselves.

As my journey steps up, I will continue to see a behaviourist at the Weight Management Clinic. And once a month I will attend a bariatric support group to learn from the stories of some incredibly strong people.

Watch and listen for more of the story on CBC -– both radio and television -– in the coming week (June 28-July 3).

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