True Story: I Had Weight Loss Surgery

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things.  This is the story of my friend Sheena and her decision to get weight loss surgery.


Tell us a bit about yourself! 

My name is Sheena May, I’m 30, short, rather feisty and obsessed with Star Wars. I hail from the frozen tundra of the Midwest and spent the first 11 years of my life moving around Minneapolis and its suburbs, until my family settled in the small quaint town of, Aitkin.
Currently, I live in Southeastern Virginia with my son and boyfriend. I spend the little bit of free-time I have crocheting, perfecting other DIY projects, longboarding, listening to hip-hop, getting tattooed, aimlessly wandering around Target and digging for treasures at Thrift Shops.
Growing up, what/how was your relationship with your body and health?
Honestly, I don’t really remember focusing too much on how my body looked as a kid. I was more focused on making my hair look like D.J. Tanner or having the coolest slap-bracelets you could find.
I will say that unhealthy eating habits were definitely introduced by my larger than life family. Some of my earliest memories at the dinner table were being told one of two things: “you’re not getting up until you clean your plate” and the ever popular: “there are starving children in Africa that are dying, you had better clean your plate!”
When did you become really actively unhappy with your body?
My body began changing towards the end of 2nd grade and by the time 3rd grade had started, I was officially the “fat kid”.
This is also about the time I can honestly say I started turning to food for comfort. My family life had begun its journey on a downward spiral, we had just moved to Plymouth and I was the new kid in school again, for the third time. The teasing began almost immediately and I cried everyday for years to come.
Having dealt with the teasing for years, it sort of subsided around 11th grade. After graduation, I moved back to Minneapolis and eventually to the East coast. When I was 21, I became pregnant with my son and the real battle with my weight began. During my pregnancy, I packed on 100lbs and the day I delivered my son, I weighed in at a whopping 264lbs. The next couple of years were a whirlwind and I did manage to lose the weight that I gained. I worked out, I portion controlled, I breastfed and within a year, I was back at fighting weight. But just like that, it all came back and then some within the following two years after losing both my grandparents and the final blow, my mother.
My mother’s death has been something I am still struggling with 7 years later. My weight ballooned to an all time high of 270lbs by 2010 and I knew something HAD to be done.
What other venues did you pursue before you got the surgery? 
I tried everything within my reach to lose the weight on my own. I was convinced that since I had done it once, I could surely do it again.
I tried Weight Watchers and was semi-successful. I mean, I lost 20lbs, but gained it right back. WW does work, if you have the time to commit to a program such as that. I found that for me, it just wasn’t convenient. I spent more time obsessing over counting points and keeping track of everything, i would just lose motivation to do anything else.
Let’s see, what else did I try? South Beach Diet, the Zone, Atkins, the cabbage soup diet (omg WHY!?), liquid diets, vegetarianism, veganism, that really weird one with vinegar…I mean, the list could go on and on. If there was a diet out there and working for others, I was right there trying it as well.
All of these diets WORKED, yes, they did work. For a short period of time and the minute I stopped, the weight just came back on.
Tell us about the process of getting approved for this surgery.
It was not until 2011 when I got to my breaking point. I could not walk more than a couple of feet without having to stop because there was such extreme pain in my legs. My boyfriend would have to check on me several times through the night because I would stop breathing in my sleep. My legs would randomly go numb and then finally learning that my cholesterol was climbing to dangerously high digits at my yearly physical, I knew something had to be done.
At around the same time, I had opened up about my struggle with my weight to a few people I knew that had undergone WLS (weight-loss surgery). All three individuals gave me some really great advice and even pointed me in the direction I needed to go for further information.
In April 2011 I contacted my Benefits department at work to find out if WLS was even covered by our insurance. I was referred to a local hospital that was making great strides in combating obesity and helping people reclaim their lives. Through the hospital website, I was able to sign up for a free seminar to learn more about obesity, WLS and my options.
During the seminar we were given a packet that included everything we would need to know. From all the different procedures to insurance specific guidelines. The seminar lasted about two hours and covered a vast amount of information. They thoroughly discussed our three options for surgery: the lapband, gastric bypass and vertical sleeve gastrectomy (slightly newer operation). From the start, I knew I wanted to pursue VSG or “the sleeve” as some of us WLS hipsters call it. It just sounded like a far more safe option, for me.
The seminar was followed by a visit to the surgeon a few weeks later, to talk more about any questions I had following the seminar and to discuss having surgery. During this meeting the doctor looked over my medical history, asked specific questions relating to my eating habits, weight loss and gain. He discussed his accomplishments, his goals and his goals for my weight loss success. He agreed that “the sleeve” would be the best choice for me. I was approved for surgery almost immediately due to my high BMI (I believe I was a 41) and didn’t have to do too much hoop jumping. My insurance required a psychological exam and signing up for 6 post-op physical therapy workout classes. From start to finish, this process only took me a couple of months and I had my surgery on August 24th, 2011.
How did the people in your life react to your decision to have this surgery?
For the most part, almost everyone was 100% supportive in my decision. I have/had an awesome support team and I was really thankful for that.
However, there were and are a lot of people that scoff at WLS and those of us that have gone that route.
How long did it take you to recover and start to see results? 
The surgery itself only lasted maybe a few hours, I was up and walking around about 8 hours post-op and spent one evening in the hospital. Altogether, I was out of work for 2 weeks. Internally, I would say I was fully healed at around a year.
The more weight that came off, the more energy I had! It was like a whole new world for me. I began walking long distances and eventually turned that walk into a jog, that turned into being able to run a mile in under 10 minutes.
I began to see results almost immediately. By the 6 month mark, I was down 50+lbs and by a year, I had already lost more than 100lbs. And now well over 2 years down the road, I’m down 140lbs total. None of the issues I was facing pre-surgery are even a factor now. There is no pain from walking/running, I’m sleeping peacefully through the night and I finally have a healthy relationship with food.
I went from a size 22/24 to a size 4/6. Even my feet shrank! Only slightly though, which is kind of a bummer – size 7’s are far cuter than size 9’s 😉
How has this weight loss changed you? 
WLS changes EVERYTHING about you. Its not just physical changes, there will be emotional/mental changes as well. My likes/dislikes changed, my style changed, I became far more independent and carefree. It was like I did a complete 180.
My eating habits have definitely changed long term. I can’t eat French fries and too much melted cheese makes me gag.
What advice would you give to others who are considering a weight loss surgery? 
Research! Talk to doctors in your area and check out support a group for WLS patients or even, over-eaters anonymous is a great resource. I really cannot stress enough that this is not something to take lightly. This is not only a huge decision, but a huge step in a healthy future for you and your family!
Be prepared, because once you have committed it’s a rollercoaster of a ride and everything will change. Not just physically, there are major mental and emotional challenges you will face.
Stay grounded, have an awesome support system, stay active and enjoy your new life!Thanks so much for sharing your story, Sheena!  Do you guys have any questions for her?  Have any of your had dramatic weight losses?  How’d you do it?

P.S. Writing to cultivate self-love and True Story: I’m a lady body builder

8 Comments

Brittney

Sheena, I have 3 questions for you:
Do you have any advice if it's not covered by insurance? (My insurance told me I needed a referral and that it's considered 'cosmetic', so they will only kick in after my deductible)
Do you have any issues with loose skin because of the weight loss? I have heard some people say there will be alot of excess skin, and others say no.
When you say your tastes change, do you mean in what you eat or everything over all in your life? I have a hard time imagining life w/o some food, but if I started disliking it, it might be for the best.

Thanks for the interview, its nice to hear about WLS from someone who's not a doctor or someone pushing weight loss.

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Hannah J

I joined Slimming World back in August and by Christmas I had lost 20 pounds, I've put about half of that back on again since being pregnant but am determined that when baby arrives it's going again.

Just by losing those 20 pounds I definitely noticed a difference especially when we went to Tarn Hows in the Lake District. The first time I went we had to stop like 5 or 6 times on the way round for me to rest or catch my breathe, when we went last summer (I'd lost maybe 7 – 10 pounds) I was ahead of the boys and had to keep stopping for them to catch up with me!

I guess you have to do what is right for you – SW worked for me and in your case WLS was your route. Well done on losing the weight 🙂

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Viv

This was a really interesting story!
I'd like to ask Sheena (or anyone else with similar experience), at what point do you conclude that losing the weight on your own is no longer an option, and turn to doctors for external intervention?

I have been overweight through my teenage years and now that I am 21 it seems less fluctuating, amore constant state that I want to change. Lately I've been reading a lot on nutrition, while making changes towards a more mindful, healthy lifestyle. While I am more aware of the process, actual physical progress is hindered by some mental issues (exercising is nearly impossible, and my perseverance is screwed by an unhealthy relationship with food, among other things).

But even so, I don't know whether or not considering help from outside is a copout that I don't need, considering I am not technically obese and my overall physical health seems to be okay?
I'm sorry this turned into a novel, it would just be really interesting to read what someone who's been through this has to say.

-Viv

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Ashley

I have wanted WLS for the majority of my adult life (I'm only 27 though), but my insurance never covers it. My company changed providers this year and I excitedly called them to see if WLS was cover – surprise, it wasn't. I'm ready to fight for this, but am not sure what to do. I've asked my HR benefits department if anyone in the company (it's actually county government) has ever had WLS and what they did. I'm going to my doctor next to see if she can help me declare it a medical necessity. I've dieted since I was in college with no success. I know the risks of the surgery and they're worth it to me, but there's no way I could afford it on my own. 🙁

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Jenny O

Thanks for this interview! I have a very similar backstory; the part about losing weight during breastfeeding only to gain it back and more, partly due to dealing with deaths in the family, hit very close to home. I'm also at the point where exercising more and eating better aren't having much effect, and I don't want to start a cycle of yo-yo dieting like Sheena describes. I'm so glad to hear – both for you, Sheena, and for others who have or are considering this process – that it worked so well for you. I'm going to get in touch with my insurance agency to see if this is covered, as I wouldn't be able to afford it otherwise.

One question I do have, which may differ according to individual insurance plans and doctors, is what factors besides your BMI made you a good candidate for the surgery, and this particular one ("the sleeve") specifically? Mental/emotional health, physical health issues or benchmarks, having tried other weight loss methods, etc?

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