Published: Feb. 18, 2008
Updated: July 26, 2010
"I'm bold, I'm bodacious, I'm vivacious."
Sharon says her experience with weight loss surgery has been nothing short of a total transformation. “Going into the surgery I was joyful, I couldn’t wait until I could start my new life. I was really so obnoxious in my enthusiasm. It was like I was getting a second chance.”
But this mother, grandmother, artist, community actress, and -- most recently -- returning college student also points out the surgery is not the cure -- it’s the start. “I believe that attitude is 85 percent of health. You’ve got to want it,” she says. “The psychologists at Duke always told us that if you were unhappy and depressed before the surgery, you’re going to be unhappy and depressed after the surgery. If you loved life and were happy before the surgery, that’s how you’ll feel after the surgery, too.
“Choosing gastric bypass surgery is like buying a purse,” she says. “It’s a very personal choice, and you don’t want anybody else picking out your purse. But after hearing some of the stories of people who’ve had bad experiences with gastric bypass surgery, I want to share what I know.” Fifteen months and 94 pounds after her weight loss surgery at Duke, Sharon visited with us at the Cracker Barrel, where she sampled a kids-sized chicken-and-dumplings plate and talked about getting to rediscover her life.
Once [in junior high] my sister and her friend and I all drove to see a doctor in South Carolina and had pregnant women’s urine injected into us. I actually lost 50 pounds.
But I would always take weight off and gain it back. I yo-yoed with every diet I went on, and I tried them all. When I quit smoking I gained 40 pounds. You know they say you are what you eat? Well, my husband was so proud of me [for quitting smoking] that every day he would bring me a Chunky Bar.
My back hurt every day of my life -- I was popping five Motrin at a time and it wouldn’t even touch the pain. My knees hurt, my ankles hurt -- I would have to sit at the edge of my bed for about a minute or so every morning rotating my ankles so I could get them to move, just so I could get up and go to the bathroom. That was every single morning of my life.
But more than anything, I got tired of watching my family enjoy life. I felt like I was 80 years old. I felt like everybody else was enjoying my children, everybody else was enjoying the company of my husband -- except me. And I hated it. I wanted to live again, and I knew I couldn’t continue to live in this body. So I had to make a choice.
In the fall of 2005 a friend had gastric bypass surgery at Duke. I’ve known her since 1980 and I value her opinion. She answered a lot of my questions about it. When I found out that she’d had it done, a light went on inside me. I thought if she could do it, I could do it.
Yes, I was scared. Surgery is scary. But I didn’t want to go on living the way I was living. I had prayed about it, and I had such confidence in Duke. They’ve always treated me like I was the only patient they had. They made me feel comfortable, like I was part of their family. I was scared but I also felt so peaceful, so secure. I knew that I had to do this.
I didn’t look at it as a magic wand or a magic pill. I looked at it as, this is my moment, this is when I take care of me. I think I have a new form of respect for me. Gastric bypass forces you to look differently at your relationship with food. I didn’t look at food as my [coping] mechanism.
I never thought I was an emotional eater until after the surgery, and then I realized that I was. I had to learn to deal with my feelings instead of feeding them. Now I can’t hide behind an Oreo cookie or a piece of pound cake. I had to rediscover about myself. I found out that there were things about myself that I didn’t like -- and things that I loved. I got to get to know Sharon.
Now I eat to live instead of live to eat. I’ve learned to listen to my body. I’ve learned to listen when my body says, “I don’t want anymore,” or when it’s saying, “bring it on!”
Since the surgery I’ve bought the first cocktail dress I’ve ever bought in my life….The first day I went shopping after I could no longer wear size-X clothing, I thought I needed a passport! It felt like a new country to me…it was almost like I was in the Twilight Zone.
It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let that fear control you, and don’t let that fear drive you to your grave.
I started my own support group to help other people in my area who are going through this process, and I encourage anyone who has gone through it or is considering the surgery to join one. Everyone in the group learns so much from it, even people who’ve had the surgery. If you don’t have a support group in your area, start one.
I’m very active now. We own a lake house, and we bought some bikes to ride [there]. I have a four-year-old granddaughter that I can get down on the floor and play with -- and actually get back up. The best thing is when she says, “Mamaw, you look pretty.” I’m also really looking forward to getting back on roller skates. I haven’t been on them in years, and so my granddaughter and I are going to go roller skating.
My husband bought a 1969 Pontiac Firebird -- just like we dated in back in high-school -- and restored it. On our 31st anniversary he drove into the driveway with it. We went riding like we did back in 1973. He said, “Honey, I don’t know if they’re staring at the car, or they’re staring at you!” I said, “Honey, you know they’re staring at me.”