Recovering Cancer Patient Takes Control of Health and Weight

November 15, 2013

Verna Prehn, before and after

My Story of Getting Healthy

By Verna Prehn

Three years ago I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At the time of my diagnosis, I was a very large woman (weighing more than 300 lbs) with a very high “at-rest” heart rate and (we would find out later) severely malnourished.

I went through tough but successful treatment, including two surgeries, chemotherapy, artificial feedings with a nasogastric tube, and blood transfusions, under the care of Dr. Sarah Temkin at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.

Chemo had many side effects, including bone pain, hair loss and weight loss (97 pounds), but it has successfully freed me from cancer for now, and Dr. Temkin keeps a close watch on my health, vigilant for a recurrence that would require additional treatment. Dr. Temkin told me that keeping the weight off that I had lost with chemotherapy treatments would be healthy for me and increase my survivorship.

After treatment was complete, I began to put on weight, but Dr. Temkin said not to worry too much because everyone puts on a bit of weight after they have completed treatment. But my little bit of weight became a lot more weight until I had put on all 97 pounds I had lost.

I went to Dr. Tais Baig in UM Family Medicine as my primary care physician to have her regulate medication for my high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. She ran tests and found that my blood glucose was high enough to suspect diabetes. Dr. Baig talked with me for a while, getting to know me and asked how she could best help me with my health.

I told her that I wanted to get the weight off because I wanted to increase my survivorship and I knew that being so heavy is a threat to my health. I told her that I didn’t know how to do it. I don’t know what good nutrition is, what’s good or bad to eat, and how to come up with a plan to lose weight. She told me about the University of Maryland Medical Weight Management Program through the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Baig helped me through getting an appointment to begin.

I met Dr. Verlyn Warrington at my first appointment. She explained the program, gave me lots of information and set me up for the group meetings with a licensed clinical social worker and behavior therapist, Harriet Mandell. I was taking medication for high blood pressure and rapid heart rate, thyroid medication for an under active thyroid, an inhaler for asthma, and Dr. Warrington wanted to put me on medication for diabetes.

My first meeting with the support and accountability group was overwhelming. We talked about protein, protein, protein. We talked about portion size. We talked about eating several times a day and not skipping meals. Harriet told us that if we followed the plan we would lose 10 percent of our body weight in three months. It took me about a week-and-a-half before I gave the plan a try because I was afraid and overwhelmed. In three months, I did indeed lose 10 percent of my body weight. In fact, I lost 35 pounds that first three months.

Additionally, Dr. Warrington explained that I needed to increase my activity level. I had some restrictions on what I could do because of my knees and asthma. I began walking. I started walking around the perimeter of my neighborhood, which measures out to just over a mile. At first, I couldn’t walk and talk at the same time and I had to stop frequently to rest and catch my breath. As I have lost more weight and have increased my cardiovascular endurance, I have started exercising to on-line walking videos

I have learned so much from Harriet, Dr. Warrington, Dr. Vivienne Rose and the people in our support and accountability group. I know how to think and make good choices about eating. HALT is a good motto to follow because my emotions drive my eating habits. So I think: HALT – am I HUNGRY? Or am I ANGRY? or am I LONELY? or am I TIRED? Actually, I add an “S” to it (HALTS) – am I STRESSED?

I read the labels on food and check them for calories, fat and sugar content. I measure my food so that I keep healthy portion sizes. (Portion size was a huge surprise to me. I had an unrealistic concept of what an individual serving was and what was actually food for two or three people.)

I keep track of my food in a food journal through MyFitnessPal.com. It also keeps track of my exercise and activity level. Dr. Warrington told me about this tool to use because I had gone about two months and had only lost one pound. Dr. Warrington and the food journal help me to realize that I was eating too few calories – I wasn’t eating enough food.

Dr. Vivienne Rose and Harriet Mandel present Mrs. Verna Prehn with a congratulatory plaque marking her 100 pound weight loss Dr. Vivienne Rose and Harriet Mandel present Mrs. Verna Prehn with a congratulatory plaque marking her 100 pound weight loss

 

It has been 14 months since Dr. Warrington, Dr. Rose and Harriet helped me make a lifestyle change that is healthier for me and increases my rate of survivorship. At my last appointment and weigh-in, I had lost 100 pounds. It took 13 months. I am no longer on medication for my heart or blood pressure or thyroid. My blood glucose is no longer in the diabetic or pre-diabetic range. I have walked two 8k walks. I walk to videos or outdoors five times a week. I do strength training exercises with weights and bands. I am starting a faith and fitness class with a trainer and will begin a gym membership soon. I can walk my entire neighborhood in 20 minutes without stopping and while carrying on a conversation at the same time.

I still have a considerable amount of weight to lose to get to a healthy weight that I am comfortable with. I feel so much better already. I take the steps instead of the elevator and it doesn’t hurt my knees! I know so much more about what is a healthy food choice and portion size. The University of Maryland Medical Weight Management program, Dr. Warrington, Dr. Rose and Harriet have helped me claim a new healthier way of living.

Verna Prehn

Elkridge, Md.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron Conaway November 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm

This is my cousin and I am so very proud of her and what she has completed and taught me about perseverance!

2 Sue Bealmear November 18, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I have watched Verna fight the battle against cancer and now her weight. If anyone says I can’t,
I just tell them about my friend and what you can do if you truly and ardently try. Verna is one of the most loving and charitable persons I know and she is an inspiration to me. A devout Christian and the most wonderful Daughter, Wife, Mother and friend you will ever find. Her fight to spread awareness for OV is outstanding. We live far apart now but she’s always in my heart.

Verna you are the bomb. Don’t ever change and never give up the fight. See you on the FB. Love, Sue

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