This is not your typical weight loss program
"I just didn't felt like myself. It truly knocked me off my feet in more ways than one."
For Karen Such, her breast cancer diagnosis was a game changer. In addition to her lumpectomy, four chemo treatments and 19 radiation treatments, which put a major strain on her everyday life, Karen had started to put on weight.
And while 10-15 pounds may not seem like a big deal when you compare it to some of the other side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, for Karen, it really affected how she felt physically and mentally.
"Weight gain is an often overlooked side effect of cancer treatment," says Dr. Sigrun Hallmeyer, an oncologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
"It can really affect a women's self-image. Cancer patients have to deal with so many other symptoms, including hair loss, exhaustion, pain and nausea, to name a few. The weight gain can often be the last straw for many patients who just want to feel like themselves again."
"I remember initially stepping on the scale and noticing I was up a pound, and then two pounds, and then three pounds. It got to the point where it was a pound a day, and before I knew it, I was 10 pounds heavier," says Such. "I felt like a stuffed olive in my pants. I was simply not comfortable with my body anymore."
In addition to her weight gain, Such had also been struggling with elevated liver enzymes. In 2007, she had a bad case of bacterial pneumonia which required hospitalization, and ever since that hospital stay, she had a "fatty liver." So 10 pounds heavier with elevated liver enzymes, Such knew she had to take action to finally get healthy again.
And that's where the Weight Loss for Wellness program came in. The program, at the Cancer Survivorship Center, is a partnership between Lutheran General Hospital and the Cancer Wellness Center and offers support for cancer patients who have completed treatment and are struggling to get healthy again.
"When I hit the two-year mark, Dr. Hallmeyer mentioned the program to me, and I knew I had to take action," she explains. "I called and signed up the next day."
So Such joined the 20-week program that met once a week, offering a chance for fellow cancer survivors to get together and offer each other support. In addition to the comradery of meeting other cancer survivors dealing with similar weight gain issues, each week, participants were educated by dietitians, counselors and physicians on a variety of topics to help them live healthier lives.
One week, an oncology dietitian came in for a presentation. Another week, the group took a class on exercising with cancer. They were introduced to mindful eating skills and an app that supported their weight loss journey. One week, they even went grocery shopping and were taught how to properly read food labels.
"The class truly transformed the way I looked at food and introduced me to tools I didn't know existed," says Such. "Even when I hit a plateau midway through my journey, they helped get me through it. They offered support and helped me get past that plateau. And I did."
By the end of the program, Such was almost 15 pounds lighter and finally feeling like herself again.
"I remember walking into Dr. Hallmeyer's office after I had finished the program, and she said 'Karen, you're glowing. I'm so proud of you; not only did you succeed with the weight loss program, but your liver enzymes are in the healthy range. You're finally healthy again!'" she recalls.
"I remember I almost cried when I heard that news. 10 years after my pneumonia, and I was finally healthy again."
"Karen's results are truly indicative of the power of this program," says Dr. Hallmeyer.
"Another participant lost 30 pounds over the course of five months, and yet another one became independent of her wheelchair. I'm so thankful we are able to offer this option to our patients as part of our Cancer Survivorship program. Weight gain and its effect on quality of life is so often not taken seriously by health care providers, but can deeply affect a patient's success in complete recovery. Concentrating on this truly makes a difference."
And what a difference it made for Such, who just celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband.
"Who knows how I would have felt on our anniversary trip had I not been through this program. It was such a blessing for me. I was getting really down on myself after my treatment, and now I finally feel good again. I can honestly say I think it prolonged my lifespan."