Article by Megan G
I’m going to start this off by going back, way back, to 1992 where this all started. While I sat on my couch in my home surrounded by many people I didn’t know, I turned to my Auntie sitting next to me and asked in my little six-year-old voice “I miss Mommy, when will she be home?” She turned to me and looked pained; while handing me a cookie she said, “here, this will make you feel better.” We were sitting at the after luncheon of my mother’s Funeral, hence my Aunts reaction. That moment, that innocent moment right there, changed my life and relationship with food. I learned that food was an easy and super accessible comfort when my emotions took hold. This of course, ended up with me having a weight problem for the bulk of my life. As a “chubby” child, it only got worse over the years, until I stepped on the scale and the numbers 297 flashed on the screen, a few months before my 30th birthday. Therefore, I am sharing my story; so anyone who had that moment, no matter what that number was, knows they aren’t alone.
On January 16th of 2017 a few months before my 31st birthday, I went under the knife and had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy. Yes, this is weight loss surgery. Before you roll your eyes and skip the rest of this story, let me tell you why your opinion should change about it. I sure did have a piss poor opinion of it many years ago when I heard about celebs getting it done. That opinion quickly changed when I gained around 60lbs in only a few months and couldn’t live my life without pain and exhaustion, with no real medical explanation as to why.
It started in October of 2015 when, out of the blue, my health took a turn for the worse. As someone who was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was 13, I am HYPER aware about my feminine health. I started bleeding on October 12th of 2015, and I didn’t stop till October 14th of 2016. I was terrified, frustrated and in mass amount of pain and no doctor I saw over that year has ever been able to explain why. I eventually took to joking about it, to mask the fear I was gripped with. I would say things like, “I now live in the bathtub,” or, “I’ve used more pad this past year that I have in 16 years.” However, it was my reality and it was not an exaggeration. I met with my family doctor, an Endocrinologist, a Gynecologist and had more invasive tests than I care to admit. It was during the first appointment with my Endo that I was informed about weight loss surgery for myself. The topic came up during the discussion about things that could help my PCOS, that also included lifestyle changes and possibly even pills. I love my Endo and credit her with helping to save my life. I’m glad she brought it up, even with me scoffing at the suggestion that first day. I think I was scared to admit that I had let myself go that far. I NEVER thought I would ever be less than 5lbs away from 300lbs. I was 200 by the time I hit middle school, and spent the bulk of my 20’s around 240 (with a few brief moments around 219), all the while dealing with my PCOS, and not to mention three miscarriages over the years. Safe to say, my hormones were out of whack. Even with all this, I felt surgery was “cheating” or taking the easy way out; words I’m confident most people have uttered or thought before. After that meeting, I left feeling defeated, but with a plan for a future appointment to go over test results.
Over the next few months, my health was only getting worse. My father suggested a get together to talk over some life happenings. This was the first time I spoke about surgery with someone other than my partner. My dad is the one that gave me the biggest kick in the ass. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Megan, you have struggled your whole life with your weight. Now someone is offering to get you help that’s proven to be successful and you’re afraid of what others may think?!” Don’t you just hate when they are right? So, with a confident shove from my partner and my dad, I went to my Endo for my third appointment and asked for help.
My journey to the surgery was not easy; it was filled with SO many appointments and classes. I think it’s a common misconception that you can walk in and have the surgery a week later. This is SO not the case! Most people actually must wait more than a year before they even qualify. With a BMI of 49, dealing with PCOS, asthma, and mysterious bleeding; my case was triaged a bit faster than normal. My referral was sent in June, and I spent June and July completing the required classes and researching my ass off as to what type of surgery I preferred. I had my intake with my nurse in August with the goal of a sleeve at the end of this. I was told to expect a year, and I said that was fine. I was in this for long term success and improved health. I stopped caring about the number on the scale, or the size on my clothes. I knew I needed to get to a weight I could easily maintain; they call it “your best weight” in the clinic. We made the required appointments with a nutritionist, a psychologist, and an internist. These four people were the gateway to getting surgery, so I knew I had to open and honest, and boy was I. It may seem like a lot, but I knew they were investing in a very expensive surgery, and they want to see me succeed. So, they worked a lot on my mental struggles, as well as the weight loss aspect. I started by diving head first into a routine before I even met with the nurse. I started by cutting out pop, drinking more water/tea, and tracking my foods. I think this helped greatly with things progressing so quickly in the end. For the first time in my life, I was ready to not just “go on a diet,” but change my lifestyle completely.
I had been on a lot of fad diets before; from weight watchers to the awful HCG. This severely damaged my relationship with food and my metabolism; so the required classes and appointments really proved how much I needed to work on that. I was a meal skipper, especially when I was working. I wouldn’t eat anything until dinner time, and then it would be poor choices and straight to bed, just to do it again the next day. I also ate my food SO fast, which really was horrible. I’d always been a fast eater; being the youngest of 5, if you didn’t eat fast, you didn’t get seconds and you always cleared the plate! It’s amazing how much you realize these thing you think are trivial really affect you as an adult. I believe these classes really helped. If anyone is considering the bariatric clinic here in Calgary, take them and really pay attention to the classes; they help the most post-op. Once I completed them over the course of four months, I met with my surgeon on December 2nd, 2016 . It was a good meeting, and heartburn issues aside, he agreed with my goal of a sleeve; especially since I still want a baby one day, and a bypass can cause some issues with nutritional malabsorption. Obviously, this can pose a risk with growing a baby, so we agreed on the sleeve. A week later, sitting in the required surgery prep class, I noticed I had a message from a number I didn’t recognize. It was my surgeon’s office with the date of my barium swallow test, or so I thought. I swear the poor girl on the end of the line probably thought I was mental when I asked for a fourth time for the date again.
What date? My actual surgery date! I cried in my car for five minutes before I could collect myself to call my partner and tell him my good news. Of course, like my usual, I bawled again. I couldn’t believe it, only six months all in, and I would have my new stomach. The weeks prior were fast and furious with tests, and the dreaded liquid diet. You see, the liver can cause quite a few issues during surgery due to its placement, so a liquid diet is ordered to shrink it down to a manageable size. Mine was 3 weeks, starting on December 27th. We already had a family trip booked for new year’s; and when I say that was hell, I mean it. I was going through sugar withdrawal and the headaches were brutal; not to mention the mood swings! I spent “food” times in my room with my shake and a book to try to keep my mind off the delicious smells from what they were cooking. I’m talking beef tenderloin and full on breakfasts with all my favorite foods. There were also a lot of snacks too, but I held strong. In case you’re wondering, even the sight or smell of those shakes makes me gag now.
January 16th came quick, and my nerves kicked in HUGE. This was my first major surgery and I had no idea what to expect. It’s really unnerving to have so many people fussing over you when you’re stressed and anxious. Thankfully, over the three days I was there, I had some amazing nurses. One even let my partner stay with me in the surgical wait room, which really helped me stay calm. When I woke up in recovery, I don’t remember much. I was super sleepy and still pretty drugged up. According to one of my nurses, I was awake enough to embarrassingly ask my surgeon if he saw me naked. The nurses all laughed about that one! I do too, now, of course. Navigating eating was quite eye opening, as I could only manage a few teaspoons at a time. I was also not hungry at all, so you can imagine how big of a change that was. Once you’re home, you have four weeks of a progression diet to contend with. It’s a very frustrating time and I cursed everything I could MANY times during those weeks. I bawled my eyes out to my partner asking why I had mutilated my body so badly. How desperately I wanted to just be able to eat and drink the same as I used to. They don’t prepare you for that, at all.
Once I was back to a relatively “normal” diet, my body changed rapidly. I lost 20lbs in the first month alone, and the sizes dropped just as quickly. These changes, although expected, are still super hard for me to deal with. All the clothes I had were no longer fitting, and while others on a similar journey were super happy about this, it triggered a deep depression in me. I was a clothes hoarder, and most of those clothes I had for many, many years and held on so tight to, were falling off me. To have to say goodbye was painful, and it felt like I was losing the identity I had known for all my life. Shopping has been overwhelming for so many reasons; not just because I feel I have ZERO style, but also, I have no concept of normal sizes or how to dress myself. As a “plus” sized woman, you just know what sizes fit in the four stores you can shop in, but that is no longer the case. Heck even my shoe size changed. It’s confusing and really jarring. I’d always been the “big” daughter, sister, and friend; and very quickly that was changing. My skin is sagging in areas I never expected and is now loose all over. What I saw, and still do see in the mirror from time to time, is a monster. I knew what body dysmorphia was prior to surgery, but you never expect it will happen to you, and I now struggle with this daily. After speaking with my psychologist, her and I have worked hard with managing it. I know that plastic surgery will be in my future, and I have accepted that inevitability as the skin causes an array of other health issues. The only way to prevent those issues, is too remove it. I see nothing wrong with it, and you shouldn’t either. It’s just another part of MY journey and what someone decides to do with their body should never be judged. I’m sure you’re thinking, what about the scars?! I’ve thought about it, and I will embrace them as the badge of honor they rightfully are. They are just a part of my history, just like the sleeve scars and the scar I have on my knee from a crimping iron (thanks sis).
Another huge thing you need post-op is support. I have been lucky that most of my family and friends have been so extremely supportive during this. I chose to not be a “secret sleever” because I knew there would be struggles, and I knew I couldn’t deal with the inevitable “finding out” that would happen. I don’t blame anyone for not telling the world since I have experienced some ignorant opinions or advice. I know with some people, it is legitimately just coming from a lack of understanding, but you do get those who mean you harm and malice. Relationships change a lot as well when you prefer social interactions to not revolve around food. Due to my depression and the hormone surges that happen during fat loss, my poor partner James has dealt with so many changing moods. He has been a steady cheerleader for me, and I love and appreciate him so much; more than I could ever show him. Friendships have changed as well, and that’s been the hardest to accept.
I have a core group of friends, and to see how much that dynamic shifted, is shocking. I would see most of my friends regularly prior to everything, even through my year of hell from 2015-2016. Some I’ve seen maybe a handful of times in the year, others are there even more. I used to check in with them regularly during their rough times, and now that I could use a check in, it barely comes from some. During this time I was also lucky enough to meet someone who had gone through surgery before me, and we have now gotten very close. I consider her a part of my core group and couldn’t be happier to have her in my life. I think it’s important to reevaluate relationships regularly, especially with such a big life change, so I am thankful that some ending relationships kind of took care of themselves, but others have made me very sad and withdrawn.
I know the last few points have been kind of downers, but they are the reality for some after having weight loss surgery. I have had many successes with the surgery, and I can’t ignore those. I currently weigh 173lbs, a weight I NEVER thought I would ever be, and wear between an 8-10 depending on the store. Unfortunately, I had become obsessed with the number, so this is the first time I have publicly said my weight since July. They say comparison is the thief of joy, and boy were they right. I have hit MANY stalls in this journey, and I am currently in one now, but I have faith in myself; a first in my life! The post op journey hasn’t been without a new minor health issue either. I am working with many doctors due to dizzy spells and fainting I have experienced since March, but I will motor through. In saying all these “negative” things, I would do this again in a heartbeat. As a matter of fact I wish I had gotten my tool many years ago, but I know I wouldn’t have used it properly if I had. I also wouldn’t have the support I do now, and that suits me just fine. Oh, and yes, this surgery is a TOOL for weight loss. It is no different than a gym membership really. If you don’t use it, you WILL gain the weight back. It is not a cure and it is something you will be dealing with for the rest of your life. If you aren’t prepared for the mandatory life changes, do not even consider it. That’s my opinion anyways.
I hope I have opened some eyes to the reality of why the judgement towards those who took the same route as me, needs to end. It’s just as hard as the traditional weight loss route, if not more so since we have to deal with food issues and major surgery. So instead of judgement, try dropping some encouragement their way. They are working their ass off, literally.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Stefanie for asking me to write about my journey through surgery so far. I never thought anyone would want to hear about it, let alone add it to their amazing platform like Stefanie has. I found it difficult to come up with what to say, and I hope someone ultimately learns something from it. Stefanie has been, and will continue to be, a huge inspiration to me, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Keep rocking my witchy sister!