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  • Renee Juckem

Consistency Is the Key to Change

As a new year begins, we reflect on where we have been and where we would like to go both physically and emotionally. We remember the past, and what we needed to do to change and become better people.

After spending a lifetime being overweight and suffering from many comorbidities – (high blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose levels on the rise, and SEVERE acid reflux) I had been thinking of the path I was headed. Most of these symptoms my parents had suffered from as well, especially my mom, who had been my absolute ‘rock’ in my life. She was the peanut butter and I was the jelly, so to speak. She had been overweight most of her adult life as well and struggled with many of these same health issues. I was following closely in her footsteps. I knew I needed to do something to change where I was headed, but I just did not know the right avenue or path to take.

When Chaos Rules

The year 2012 was a life-altering year for me. I lost my Dad in March, and the next month my 16-year-old son Trevor got severely sick. After almost two weeks of nonstop doctor and ER visits, he was diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma. Immediately he had surgery and started with intense chemotherapy. In August of that same year, we lost our family dog (St. Bernard, Chester) – who was a HUGE part of our family, especially having him since he was a puppy. After he passed, my older son Nathan (19 years old and headed to UW Milwaukee College the following month), got severely sick and had gone through a battle full of tests. I was facing the fact that we might be dealing with similar issues with my older son as I did with my younger son, and my stress level was maxed out. The stress level increased my acid reflux symptoms. My acid reflux affected my voice. The acid would sit on my vocal cords nightly. Some days, I barely had a voice and most often, I would have a sore throat.

Fortunately, Nathan was suffering from anxiety, with all that went on that year in our family, and facing the fact he was leaving home and headed to college. He was treated and started college the following month. However, for me, my acid reflux was getting worse as the days went on. I knew I needed to search for help. My ENT Specialist told me flat out – “Renee’ something needs to be done soon. You are on the strongest dose of medicine, and if this keeps worsening, you most likely will head down the avenue of cancer of the throat or larynx.” Being turned down by surgeons for an acid reflux surgery, as my symptoms were too severe for their procedure and the fact that acid reflux surgery only helps mild to moderate symptoms, I knew my time was ticking.

The gastric bypass (RNY) procedure was suggested to me to help improve my acid reflux. Immediately, my first thought was – there is no way I would have that surgery as that is for the morbidly obese. That’s definitely not for me, even though I was tipping the scale greater than 275#. What would people think if they knew I had gastric bypass? They would not know I did it for acid reflux, they would think I took the “easy way out” for weight loss.

Two months later, on October 11 – I lost my absolute right hip – my Mom. On her deathbed, I promised her I would start taking charge of my health, as I always seemed to put everything and everyone else first. Following her death, I remembered the conversation with my ENT and the good chance of developing cancer of the throat if I continued on this same path. Two months after I lost my Mom, I attended my first informational seminar on bariatric surgery – specifically focusing on the RNY procedure, where I discovered that surgery could not only improve but also eliminate my acid reflux.

WLS as a Catalyst for Change

In September of 2013, I had gastric bypass (RNY) surgery. Two days after surgery, I walked out of the hospital and left my acid reflux medication behind. I no longer had acid reflux. One month after surgery, I was taken off my blood pressure medication and my overall health has been on an upswing ever since.

Having lost the weight, and been freed from chronic acid reflux, high blood pressure, and the many comorbidities I had been suffering, makes me feel much younger. Younger than I ever remember feeling. I can honestly say, I felt better in my forties than I did in my twenties or thirties. My energy level has greatly INTENSIFIED. That being said, eight months after surgery I went back to school (besides working full-time). Four years later, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration/emphasis Management from Lakeland University. I know for a fact that without having surgery, I wouldn’t have had the ambition to accomplish this, nor the health to succeed.

Consistency in Choices

Consistency is the key – The difference between Weight Loss Surgery, and how I have dieted in the past, is consistency. I have learned so much these past six years - but having the tool helps me consistently make the right choices. I have finally figured out my limits and what to do when I slip and fall, a fact that is certain in everyone’s life. This surgery is not a “cure-all” – once a person loses the bulk of their excess weight – it’s back to reality and the realization that we are like everyone else that is trying to lose/maintain weight. The tool we are given helps us to bounce back from those falls IF we stay “in tune” with our body and use the tool the right way.

Consistently going to support groups and keeping in mind where I have come from makes a huge impact on the success I am feeling. For someone that used to HATE the thought of exercising – today, I look forward to my daily power walks during my lunch hour, besides my four days of working out on the elliptical/Nordic track/weight machine and floor exercises. I now truly understand when they talk about the “feel good” endorphins that are released with exercise. I can feel a difference when I skip a workout. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d ever be saying that. I have read many articles about this type of change in people’s lives and never believed it could be like this, until now, when I am living it myself. My weight loss surgery has truly made an astounding impact on my life in so many ways. Not only my weight, my health, my energy, my attitude in life, and most importantly my outlook and how differently I feel about the future now compared to when I was not feeling good all the time.

Consistency Leads to a Sustained Lifestyle

Five and a half years after my surgery, I am happy to say I have maintained my 134-pound weight loss, doing great without my acid reflux, and have become more and more involved in my local chapter of the bariatric support group. I have guided and coached many people in this decision and really enjoy being there for anyone that reaches out. This decision has truly changed my life both physically and emotionally.

In addition, my sons are doing great – Trevor (who had cancer) graduated from college and works for a Health Care Facility. He is now six and a half years out from chemo and has a 98% chance he won’t have any more issues. My older son, Nathan also graduated from college and works for Sargento. We have been through a lot as a family, but the strength we have gained both internally and from all the wonderful bariatric folks has truly helped us along the way. As far as my Mom, my absolute rock, she may not be physical with me, and miss her dearly, but I know how very proud she is of the path I have taken.

The biggest thing I suggest for anyone contemplating bariatric surgery – is to stay consistent. Consistent in thinking about where you’ve been, where you want to be, where you are going, and stick with it. Keep thinking and replaying in your head what is right for you and how you want to go about achieving it. The first year can be challenging – with many follow-up appointments and figuring out your new body (both physically and emotionally changing constantly) – but that is part of the journey. The journey to success.

Stay involved with your local chapters and the bariatric world all around us. Talking with and seeing fellow members that have been in your same shoes is so important to success. Consistently focusing on what you eat and how much you exercise is also key, not just in the first year, but a lifetime. After all these years, I have finally figured it out – staying consistent in all aspects of my life is what is making me who I am today!

About the Author – Renee Juckem

Renee Juckem was born and raised in Wisconsin. She currently lives in Kiel, WI with her husband and two sons. She is a five-and-half-year post-RNY patient. May of 2013 she weighed in at 278# - that is when she began her weight loss surgery journey. She had struggled all her life with obesity. Nevertheless, after going through a very “dark” year in her life, she attended her first informational seminar on weight loss surgery.

Suffering from high blood pressure, cholesterol creeping up and SEVERE acid reflux for 15+ years, and discovering that the RNY surgery would take care of her acid reflux became a real “eye-opening” experience for Renee. Since her surgery, she acquired her BA in Business Administration/emphasis Management from Lakeland University, in May of 2018. She works at Kohler Co in Payroll and HR roles for many years. With a passion for a healthy, better person, she would someday love to transition her career to helping others of this same nature. Besides attending several WLSFA (Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America) seminars, she has become involved in her local chapter support group as a Patient Champion and speaks at informational seminar meetings (those contemplating bariatric surgery), and also speaks at the local support groups for those that are preparing for or just postop sharing her journey.

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