Weight-loss surgery helps cancer survivor live her best life

Jay FitzOur Town Health, Sevier

Nicole Jenkins is a businesswoman, wife and mother who lost 145 pounds following weight-loss surgery at Parkwest Medical Center. The Sevierville woman, now a resident of Orlando, Florida, says she couldn’t be happier with her new lifestyle.

Jenkins says, “I was always curvy. I have had four children and over time, I steadily put on weight.” Two years after weight-loss surgery, the almost-50-year-old says she feels 20 again. Several years before seeking bariatric surgery, Jenkins received devastating news. In 2015, she was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of breast cancer. While living in Tennessee, she underwent chemotherapy, radiation and a partial mastectomy. It was tough, but she was tougher.

Flipping the Switch

“After beating cancer, we went to Dollywood. I was embarrassed when they had to stop the line to get me a seatbelt extension. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life, because I was holding up the ride.” In that moment, like flipping a switch, Jenkins resolved to do something about her weight and how she felt about her body. “I fought too hard to live just to die because of being over- weight,” she says. At her heaviest, Jenkins weighed about 270 pounds, which strained her small 5-foot-3-inch frame. She was hesitant about bariatric surgery, but many of her fears subsided after she met the doctor who would be performing her procedure.

At Parkwest

Robert Williams MD, bariatric surgeon at Parkwest Medical Center, performed laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypassin May 2020. “We selected this operation because of her pre-op history of reflux,” says Dr. Williams.

“Roux- en-Y gastric bypass surgery is often a good treatment for reflux as well as obesity. The recovery is approximately the same as a patient undergoing the gastric sleeve.” Roux-en-Y gastric by- pass is the most common method of gastric bypass surgery. It helps reduce the amount of food a person eats by decreasing hunger and overall calorie absorption from fat. Done laparoscopically, small incisions are made in the abdomen that reduce the size of the upper stomach to a small pouch.

At the time of surgery, Jenkins had a BMI hovering between 40 and 45 and suffered from severe reflux and a history of fatty liver disease. Dr. Williams says the only way to fix fatty liver is through weight loss. If left untreated, the condition can lead to irreversible damage to the liver. He reports, “Ms. Jenkins is no longer at risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure or fatty liver. She has had no complications and lost about half of her total body weight. She did great.”

“Dr. Williams was wonderful,” Jenkins says. “His bedside manner was great. He made sure the entire team cared for me and knew all my needs.” She adds, “Parkwest was absolutely amazing. It was a beautiful, clean hospital and the staff was just phenomenal. I firmly believe that it is because of God, the Parkwest team and my own attitude that got me through.”

Positive Mindset

Jenkins describes the difficult moments in the weeks following her operation seeing her family enjoying pizza, her favorite food. “I knew I’d get sick if I ate it,” she recalls. Now that some time has passed, she can take a few bites or eat some of the toppings and feel satisfied. “It’s all about the mindset,” she says.

“You can keep eating, but you aren’t really hungry. You just think you are because you’re used to eating a large amount. But it’s mind over matter. I don’t focus on it as a loss, like what I can’t eat – I look at it as a gain. I can now walk distances without getting out of breath. I’m able to get in and out of a kayak, and I can eat at a restaurant without being self-conscious.” Having a positive attitude has carried her throughout this experience. “There is nothing I can’t do,” she says.

Accepting Support

“Our goal is to make people healthier in general, in any way we can,” says Dr. Williams. “The lifestyle changes required to keep the weight off are not easy. It’s rather challenging, but it
does get easier with time. We try to prepare our patients the best way we can by offering support groups, nutrition classes and many ongoing resources.” Jenkins still attends the virtual support groups when she can. “I am still getting help from the team. My family has given me the best support. If I want something, I can have a bite. But I don’t overdo it because I want to be alive for my family. I want to enjoy life with my husband and my kids, and I want to have grandkids one day.”

Before surgery

Reflection

Jenkins says a lot of people won’t understand the small victories unless they’ve lived through something similar. Her “wins” have included sitting comfortably in an airplane seat, crossing her legs and taking a walk without having to stop from being winded. She completed a 5K and has set her sights on hiking Mount LeConte. “What sets someone up for success is their attitude. I look at old pictures of myself and think, who is that?”

After surgery

Bariatric Seminars at Parkwest

Interested in learning more about weight-loss surgery? We invite you to attend one of our free informational seminars to learn more about the bariatric surgery process. The bariatric seminars are designed to discuss benefits, options and risks, and help people make their own decisions about weight-loss surgery. The bariatric support groups are for those who have had surgery, but those who are considering surgery are also welcome. To learn more, visit TreatedWell.com/bariatrics or call 865-374-PARK.

Information from the marketing department of Covenant Health.

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