Jennifer’s Story: The Triumph of Feelings Over Dogma

I was morbidly obese from the time I was a small child, weighing 200 lbs by the time I was 10. Every year I exceeded the allotted sick days allowed by my school. I was an unhealthy child, continually on antibiotics, steroids or some other medication. As an adult, I maxed out at 310 lbs on a 5-foot frame. All of my attempts to lose weight were unsuccessful following a calories-in-calories-out model. I worked out endlessly without results. I had chronic pain all over, bowel problems, skin problems, a binge eating disorder, extreme anxiety, and depression. My hair was falling out and overall I felt unwell. But honestly, I had felt that way since childhood, constantly feeling trapped inside my own body. It was just what I was used to, and I accepted it because I didn’t know that there was another way. In 2010, I left a stressful job as a bookkeeper to focus on weight loss so my husband and I could start a family.

In 2012, I went to my gynecologist to talk about fertility testing. She ran a thyroid panel that raised some concerns and sent me to an endocrinologist who diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s disease. The doctor was about to send me on my way, telling me there is no treatment for Hashimoto’s. Because of my size, I felt like I was being dismissed as just someone with a weight problem. But I knew something was wrong inside my body, and it needed to be addressed. I trusted my feelings more than her dogma. I had done my research before the appointment, and I pushed for her to do an examination of my neck. She said it was unnecessary but complied. As soon as she touched my neck, I knew she had found something concerning. From this day forward, I promised myself that I would always advocate for my own health. An ultrasound showed a tumor, and we had it biopsied. A week later, I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. A large (4.5 cm) tumor was removed and was followed by a high dose of radioactive iodine a few months later because it had spread to my lymph nodes. I was 28 at the time, and my surgeon believed that my tumor had been growing for approximately 10 years undetected. During annual check-ups over these years, my family doctor checked my thyroid levels because of my weight but never actually examined my neck nor ran tests that would have shown Hashimoto’s.

After being diagnosed with cancer, I felt powerless. Because of the size of my tumor, I felt pessimistic and feared reoccurrence. Once I started to do my own research on nutrition, I felt I had been lied to by the voices of the medical system. I became a convert to nutrition and regained my power. I learned that sugar feeds cancer, and I immediately gave up refined sugar -- as well as processed foods. At the time I was running my own decorative cake and candy business. Testing new products or recipes was interesting -- as I wouldn’t even swallow a small amount of sugar. I would taste, spit, and rinse on a regular basis. I started to look at sugar as a drug, comparing myself to an alcoholic. I eventually ended that business because it made me feel as if I was a drug dealer -- attracting unhealthy addicted people weekly for their “fix,” often telling me that “they just can’t stop.” I could no longer continue my own healing journey while listening to others struggle with addictive reactions to the candy I created.

Fast forward to 2016: I had lost about 80 lbs but once again was stuck. I believed that it was a problem with my thyroid levels but my endocrinologist said it wasn’t possible and suggested gastric bypass. At the time, I was working out in the gym two hours five days a week -- training similarly to a power lifter. I ate mostly paleo but did still include dairy and occasionally gluten. My overall health had improved, but I still struggled with joint pain, hair loss, anxiety, depression and infertility including a miscarriage at six weeks. My endocrinologist said I had caused the miscarriage because I did not contact her immediately to adjust my thyroid medicine. Sobbing uncontrollably in my car, I couldn’t leave the parking lot. I am strong enough to handle almost anything, but this kick to the gut crushed me when I was at my weakest. I already felt broken. I was barely holding it together. My husband had me call our fertility specialist. Our specialist was so outraged that he sent my endocrinologist a letter on my behalf, telling her that she was incorrect and out of line. He had been monitoring my thyroid levels the entire time. He assured me that it was not my fault, saying how incredibly common miscarriages were at 6 weeks -- that most women aren’t even aware that they are pregnant this early. I carried this around in my heart for a very long time, making the pain of loss that much deeper. I turned back to food, gaining 30 pounds over the course of 3 months. When the fog cleared, I was angry for allowing her to influence me. I found kindness for myself in my heart, and started to move forward again making healthy choices. But I believe that this is where my deep distrust of the medical industry started to really take shape.

In August of 2017, the joint pain in my shoulder was at its peak. I felt like it was limiting my movement as I worked towards getting a Zumba and personal trainer’s certification. I was following a ketogenic diet that was heavy in cheese and nightshades at the time. I went to my family doctor who believed that I had rheumatoid arthritis. I immediately began to research nutrition options. In my mind, there was no way I was going to let a doctor treat this with medication. I began the autoimmune protocol -- a very strict Paleo-style diet -- immediately. A month later, I met with a rheumatologist. I asked her if she had heard of the autoimmune protocol. She thought that it was “cute” that I thought nutrition had any effect on my joint pain. She ended that appointment asking what my weight was, for her files. When I replied “230 pounds,” she laughed and said ‘”awww.” It sounded like pity. I felt blood rush to my face; I was filled with rage. For years I had been begging for help from medical professionals to help me manage my weight. Everything that I accomplished at that point was because I believed that I could and put the work in. I felt as if she was mocking a weight that I was proud of. 230 lbs was the lightest I had been -- ever! My weight loss and health journey had become who I was. I was inspiring others by openly sharing my struggles and strengths through my Instagram. On a regular basis people would reach out to me for fitness or nutrition advice -- telling me how much my journey had inspired them. Didn’t she know I was a weight loss warrior who also beat cancer?! I was shocked and outraged that this doctor would pity me when I had put so much of myself into improving my own health. I knew at this point that I needed a different kind of teammate to continue my health journey. This was my last appointment with any rheumatologist.

After having such a negative experience with both my endocrinologist and my rheumatologist, I knew that I needed to find someone who supported my belief that food is healing. I turned to the autoimmune protocol Facebook support group that I had joined for insight. Someone suggested I try a functional medicine doctor, and gave me a link to a database so I could search locally. After my first appointment, I cried with joy. I knew that together we were going to change my life. This was the first time that I felt like a medical professional truly listened to how I was feeling. A little over a year later, I truly have had a complete health transformation. My doctor is everything I’ve dreamed of -- my partner and biggest cheerleader. At 35 years old, I honestly feel like I am now getting to know myself for the very first time in my life.

But it wasn’t easy. I had been following the very restrictive diet for a few months. I struggled over the loss of community around food. It was nearly impossible to eat out, and if I did need to go somewhere, I had to bring food with me. I felt uncomfortable and out of place in most social situations. At that time, a new health coach joined my physician’s office. During our first appointment together, she gave me a task: “Go to a Suppers meeting.” I was hesitant at first. The closest meeting was an hour away from my home, and I was intimidated that I wouldn’t know anyone. But when I looked at the Suppers meeting list, I felt like fate was calling my name. It was meant to be; the Cancer Sisters Suppers group was meeting that Wednesday. Now, almost a year later, the friendship, support and understanding I’ve found with these women is like nothing I receive elsewhere.

The greatest impact that Suppers has had is giving me a sense of community. I struggled so much early on, feeling judged, like the outcast in my own life’s story. At Suppers I felt accepted. Suppers is unique because they have found a way to make everyone feel accepted. I embraced the principle that Suppers was founded on one of my core values -- How you feel is data! This principle alone changed my life. Hadn’t I already learned the importance of trusting my feelings? At the Cancer Sisters Suppers group I attend, I’m connecting with women who focus not only on the food that nourishes our bodies but on overall wellness. Last month, our facilitator guided us in a meditation where we met a future vision of ourselves. I cried, again with tears of joy. I carry this vision around with me -- posting the drawing that I created in the center of my vision board. The women in this group have helped me to learn self-acceptance. They have had a deep and profound impact on my life, and I’m truly grateful to have found them. Now, there is no shame in my game! I feel comfortable arriving to any social setting with a lunchbox on my hip or a can of sardines in my purse. With confidence, I’ve even arrived at a wedding with my own container of food! Through the acceptance of Suppers, I feel I have learned that nothing comes before my own nutritional needs for food that I can enjoy safely.

I’ve even met a woman in the Suppers community who is healing her rheumatoid arthritis on the autoimmune protocol. Can you imagine my excitement? We had each found an informed listener. I’m living my logical miracle -- the natural result of getting my needs met for nourishment and support in a safe and non-judgmental setting. Our journey is quite rare. Suppers has united us -- so that we can walk together in support of one another, instead of facing the road ahead alone.

I am incredibly passionate about learning as much as I can about nutrition, wellness, and the mind/body connection. Weight loss and optimal health have been my dream for such a long time. But now, I believe that my purpose is bigger than my dream. Today, I am grateful for all of the struggles in my life because I believe they’ve led me to my purpose. I dream of fulfilling that purpose by helping to guide and inspire others in realizing that they can improve their own health and wellness. I am grateful to have a mind clear enough to share my journey with you. I am grateful to have a healthy relationship with food. I couldn’t be more proud to say that I’ve gone from a size 26 to a size 8. I’m grateful to be living free from the effects of illness and pain. I’m even grateful for all of the hair on top of my head. But most of all, I am grateful to the woman I was when I believed in myself enough to follow this path. Now that I have reached a place of optimal health, I am ready to take my journey one step further. All of my beliefs resonate deeply with the core values of Suppers. I’ve found acceptance, kindness and support from like-mined individuals within Suppers. It is part of my purpose to spread that to others by facilitating my own meetings.

I waived the offer to use a pseudonym for my Suppers story. My name is Jennifer. And mine is the triumph of feelings over dogma.