The Hardest Part? Making the Decision
After years of yo-yo dieting and weight fluctuations, Erika Durham, was feeling the physical and emotional effects of her weight. She felt as though she had given up on herself. And physically, she was experiencing painful legs and feet, as well as, difficulty walking.
After attending a bariatric surgery information session at Penn Medicine, Erika decided that surgery might be the right path for her.
Surgery, the Right Tool for Her
Armed with the knowledge presented to her at the bariatric surgery information session, Erika went into her surgery with the understanding that it would not be a quick fix, but instead a tool to help her on her weight-loss journey.
She recalls, "It was presented as "Have surgery but that's just one component of it. It's still up to you to do what you need to do. They made it very clear that it's only one tool. There's other components that you have to be responsible for, but they would do their part and they would help you with your part to make sure everything was successful."
After meeting with Gary Korus, MD, FACS, Erika began a three-month pre-operative process which included the challenge of not gaining weight during the pre-op time frame. She also had a series of other tests and evaluations to help prepare her both before and after the procedure.
Although some patients find the pre-op examinations to be tedious, Erika appreciated them.
"I'd rather they know everything before me getting to surgery and finding out there's a problem," she says.
Learning to Be Healthy, in Body and Mind
After surgery Erika had to learn some new eating habits to adapt to her new, healthier lifestyle.
In the beginning, she was restricted to eating only liquids which were given to her in a tiny cup, the same size as a medicine cup or shot glass.
"You're just literally taking it's just so small a sip and letting that go down and waiting and taking another sip because the opening into your stomach has been made smaller, and you need to stretch it slowly by eating," she explains.
After a couple weeks of a small, liquid-based diet, Erika was permitted to pureed foods before moving on to solid foods.
She found that eating was really only one small challenge for her to overcome. Exercise was a whole different part of the equation. Although Erika was never a fan of exercise in the past, she learned to embrace it after surgery out of necessity.
"You have to start walking when you get out of surgery for exercise and to prevent blood clots," she explains.
All of the walking that she was required to do post-op paid off for her in the long run. Now, Erika has learned to not only enjoy walking and exercise, but she embraces it. In fact, she recently completed her first 5K, an achievement she was eager to share with her weight loss support team.
"I told them, ‘Thank you guys. I couldn't have done this without you. You're my team.' "I look to them for keeping me accountable when I need help."
As she started working out and feeling better, Erika stopped thinking and worrying about other people and how they might see her. She learned to feel comfortable in her own shoes – in this case, running shoes.
Life Change Doesn't Happen Alone
Before surgery, Erika underwent evaluation and treatment with a Penn Medicine therapist. She found it so helpful that she continued following her surgery. She also attended support groups and continues to attend those as well.
"You want to be 100% ready for this surgery because once you get through surgery, then the work begins afterwards. If you're not ready to do the work beforehand, you're really not going to be ready to do it after." Even now, she finds the meetings helpful, saying, "I find them good to just keep myself in check and just the regular monthly meetings to try and keep me in check because I backslide now. I'll still occasionally eat or whatever and then I just get right back on track."
Erika always felt connected to and supported by her surgery practice at Penn Medicine: "Between the nurse practitioner and my nutritionist, I always got within hours a response to any question I ever had…they were always, always available for me."
Even after graduating to the post-operative phase of her journey, she still relies on the Bariatric Surgery Team at Penn Medicine to support her and keep her accountable.
Erika is now able to support others through their weight loss and bariatric surgery journey. When attending bariatric surgery support groups, she talks to those who are in the pre-operative phase, telling them: "Don't listen to what everyone tells you. They're not telling you that their bad experiences are because of what they did themselves."
If you'd like to learn more about the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery program at Penn Medicine, sign up for a free information session.