Sometimes, it’s difficult to take your own advice and apply it, even when it could help improve your life.
For Cheryl, a professor and associate dean of a College of Health Sciences at a local university, the consequences of obesity were well known. Her struggle with weight had been a decades-long battle, starting in the sixth grade. "I started to gain weight, and that was the battle that continued from that point into adulthood."
Although she tried many times to incorporate improved nutrition and increased movement into her life, she was never able to lose the weight for good. "I was successful in losing weight sometimes, but I never permanently lost it. I always seemed to regain it, and regain a little bit more every time."
It wasn’t until a milestone anniversary of her father’s death that Cheryl began to reflect on her own health choices. "My father did not take the best care of himself," she said. "Had he not died of a sudden heart attack when he did, I have no doubt he would have developed some very serious medical conditions later on in life."
Cheryl thought about how she would respond if her father had come to her for health advice. "I would have said, ‘There are very talented people who have a lot of compassion and competence and stand ready to support you, and you should seek out their services," she said. "Access to health care allows us to have a second chance, and it’s a blessing to have a second chance to be the best we can be."
This reflection made her realize that she should take her own advice, giving her the motivation she needed to make a change once and for all.
Once and for All
Cheryl took the first leap on her weight-loss surgery journey and met with her family doctor. "He recommended that I at least have a consultation with the bariatric surgery team at Penn, so that I would have the information I needed to make that final decision."
She attended a free information session to meet members of the bariatric surgery team and learn more about her options. After the session, she knew surgery was the right move for her. "I said [to myself], ‘Absolutely, I think I would like to pursue this option, just because I think this might be what makes the difference once and for all.'"
After months of preparation, including meetings with the surgical team, sessions for medical weight management, interactions with support groups, and appointments for nutrition counseling with the Bariatric Surgery program’s registered dietitians, Cheryl was ready for surgery. She found every activity leading up to her surgery to be informational and inspirational, describing the process as "one moment of joy after another."
Kristoffel R. Dumon, MD, performed Cheryl’s vertical sleeve gastrectomy in December 2016, a time that strategically aligned with her schedule as a university professor and department chairperson.
After spending her university’s winter break recovering from surgery and working from home, she returned to campus. Cheryl didn’t expect anyone to notice differences in her appearance — it had been only a few weeks since her procedure. But when the semester began, everybody began acknowledging her weight loss and asking her how she’d done it.
Cheryl hadn’t told many people she was having bariatric surgery, and wasn’t expecting to look so different so soon. "I knew that after the surgery I would be healthy, and I knew that I would see a real difference in my lab results and my blood pressure and other vitals, but it never really dawned on me that I would look all that different."
An Amazing Realization
Cheryl doesn’t just look different — she’s noticed changes in how she feels, too. She loves to see the world, having visited all 50 states and more than two dozen other countries. She also lived in Malta for a year.
"I’ve noticed that when my husband and I have been traveling I can walk all day and see the sights and not feel it. And I have just as much energy at the end of the day as I do at the start of the day."
Despite feeling physically healthier, there was one moment in particular in which Cheryl felt overwhelmed by the effects of her surgery. Over Christmas 2018, she traveled to California to visit family. "I had this suitcase that was enormous. All the way from the car to the terminal at the airport I was complaining, 'I can’t believe how much I’m hauling out there,' and, 'this is ridiculous, I can’t push this suitcase one inch further.'"
"And when I reached the check-in at the airline and put the suitcase on the scale, I took a look at it. And if you start with the top weight that I had ever been, and you compare that with how much I’ve lost, I have lost two suitcases, plus a small carry-on."
This fact put things in perspective for Cheryl. "I said, 'Oh my goodness. I was actually carrying around two suitcases every day.' And I was amazed. After we checked in, I just sat there on the concourse and I just cried very happy tears."
Blue Ribbon Lifestyle
Cheryl enjoys the same hobbies now that she has for years, just with some modifications that better fit her healthier lifestyle. Cheryl often creates and enters her candies and cookies in regional and state fairs, and she’s won hundreds of ribbons for her confections, with many blue and "best in show" ribbons in her collection. You can find one of Cheryl’s award-winning, bariatric friendly recipes at the bottom of this page.
"I started adapting some of my recipes to make them bariatric-friendly," she said. "Some of these recipes have started taking blue ribbons in traditional divisions, so I’ve been very excited about that."
While she’s winning prizes for healthier recipes and feeling more energized, Cheryl says the biggest change that’s occurred since the surgery is how she feels mentally and emotionally.
"I just think that I have a real sense of peace. I had always felt there was a real serious disconnect from being a professor in a health sciences field and not being as healthy as I could be or should be. And now that I’m healthy, I just feel like I’m not a contradictory person anymore."
The Penn Difference
Cheryl credits this feeling and all her weight loss successes to her bariatric surgery team at Penn.
“I have tremendous admiration for their competence, and tremendous appreciation for their compassion,” she said. “They have been so wonderful through this entire process, and I really don’t know that I can ever sufficiently thank them for the profound difference that they have made.”
"Those who equip others to sever the world well have served the world very well themselves. I can serve the world better than ever before because of the gifts that my team has given me — a second chance and the tools and the motivation to make the most of that second chance. My success is their success!"
Cheryl’s Bariatric-Friendly Oat Balls
Each variation of the recipe below has won first place and a blue ribbon in fair competition in either the candies division or the cookies division.
- 3 c. quick oats
- 1 scoop chocolate whey protein powder
- 2 c. sugar substitute (choose version suitable for baking)
- 1/2 c. non-fat milk
- 1/2 c. light vegetable oil spread (no more than 4 g fat per serving)
- 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
Place oats into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir protein power into the oats. In a medium-sized saucepan, place sugar substitute, milk, vegetable oil spread, and cocoa powder. Cook mixture over medium low heat until items are completely blended. Stir continuously. Raise temperature level to medium. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir cooked mixture into the oats. Form mixture into small balls. Place balls on waxed paper to cool. Store balls in airtight container in the refrigerator. (These balls also freeze well and thaw at room temperature). Makes 24 balls.
Serving Size: 3 balls. Calories: 134. Grams Sugar: 2. Grams Fiber: 3. Grams Fat: 5. Grams Protein: 7.5.
Variations of the Recipe (Note: Nutrition information will change slightly for each variety.)
- Cinnamon: Replace chocolate protein powder with vanilla protein powder. Replace cocoa powder with 1/8 c. ground cinnamon.
- Maple: Replace chocolate protein powder with vanilla protein powder. Eliminate cocoa powder. To cooked mixture, add 1/4 c. sugar-free maple-flavored pancake syrup and 1 tsp. maple flavor.
- Peanut Butter: Eliminate protein powder. Eliminate cocoa powder. To uncooked mixture, add 1/2 c. reduced fat peanut butter.
- Nut: Replace chocolate protein powder with vanilla protein powder. To uncooked mixture, add 1/2 c. finely chopped nuts. To cooked mixture, add 1/2 tsp. nut flavor.
- Berry: Replace chocolate protein powder with strawberry protein powder. To uncooked mixture, add 1/2 c. finely chopped dried fruit or 1/4 c. sugar-free jam. To cooked mixture, add 1/2 tsp. fruit flavor.