A Note from Fatty: This is the latest post in my effort to tell the story of Susan’s fight with cancer. Eventually, this will be part of my next book, Fight Like Susan.
If you were to visit my house, you’d notice one artist’s work dominates the whole place: Lori Nelson. Exactly twenty of her paintings can be found on our walls (I just counted).
The biggest part of that has to do with the fact that I genuinely love her work.
Part of it is that she’s my sister.
And part of it is that she’s helped my family get through some times I wouldn’t have thought we could get through.
When the twins were born, Lori’s gift was a painting she made for the occasion: Entwined.
This painting now hangs in the twins’ bedroom, and is one of the things I would grab for if the house were on fire. The other identifying feature in the twins’ room is a wall mural (about eight feet wide) Lori painted for them:
Those of you who have kids that love My Neighbor Totoro as much as my twins do will have a pretty good idea of how awesome this mural is.
But I’m drifting away from the story I need to tell.
First House of Three
While Kenny and I drove to Washington — saving us the money it would have cost to transport the cars, which meant Microsoft gave us that badly-needed money, instead of the car transporting company — Susan and Lori flew the family to our new home state. I met them at the gate (this was back when you could meet people at their gate), and was astonished that everyone seemed to be in a good mood.
I then drove us to the apartment we’d be living in for the next two weeks, while we waited for the larger rental home we’d been promised to open up.
And we set about doing our new jobs. I went to my first day of work at Microsoft. Susan met with her new oncologist — Tena (my friend and manager’s wife) — had done all the research to find us a fantastic oncologist, so all we had to do was transfer Susan’s records and show up.
And Lori took care of us for a week. She bought and made food, entertained the kids, and in general helped us feel a lot better about the temporary apartment we’d be living in while we waited for the temporary house we’d be living in while we looked for a house to buy.
And when Lori wasn’t taking care of us, she painted. But she didn’t show us what she was working on.
The night after Susan’s first visit with the oncologist, Lori told Susan and me to take the night off. Go out on the town. Explore Issaquah. So Susan and I went to see a community theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird.
While we waited for the play to start, Susan told me about the visit, and about the plan. Susan would start chemo very soon — as soon as she had recovered enough from the mastectomy to handle it. Just a couple of weeks. She’d feel sick sometimes, but mostly just tired. They had good drugs for combatting nausea now, and since we had superpremium health insurance (I felt a surge of pride), we could get whatever we needed, whenever we needed it. The cost of meds was no object.
Even so, Susan told me, cancer treatment was a game of odds.
If she had done nothing — no surgery, no chemo — the odds of surviving breast cancer were very low. Negligible.
With surgery by itself, the survival rate went up, but not to a very good number. I think about my grandmother — my dad’s mom, who I never met.
With surgery and chemo, the survival rate went up well into the 80-percent range. With surgery and chemo and radiation, the number budged a tiny bit more.
I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I remember being struck by both how good and simultaneously bad eighty-something percent sounded.
That would be a “B” if it were a grade, I thought. Not an “A.”
“Everything will be fine,” I told her. And me.
The next night, Lori got out a DVD she had brought with her — something she had gotten on NetFlix (yes, NetFlix was around back then): American Splendor, a semi-autobiographical movie about Harvey Pekar.
What none of us knew going into the film was that Pekar had gone through cancer, and this film went into a gritty, darkly-realistic depiction of his treatment.
With Susan’s chemo about to start in a couple weeks, the timing for this kind of thing couldn’t have been worse. Susan cried and went into the bedroom, where she sobbed for the rest of the night. I followed and comforted her as best as I could, wishing I knew enough to be able to say, “It won’t be that bad.”
And then, even though I was still thinking about the percentages Susan had told me about, I told her, “We’ll get through this. You’ll be fine, and then we’ll forget about cancer forever.”
Meanwhile, back in the living room in our apartment, Lori was mortified.
I told her later that night that it was OK; she couldn’t have known. We’d have to get used to hearing about cancer. I didn’t realize at the time how sensitive I’d eventually become to the word “cancer” in the following months and years.
Susan’s mom was coming to help out the following week, so Lori got ready to go back home. I think if I could have found a way, I would have kept Lori with us permanently, though. There was something incredibly reassuring about having my sister with us. Smart, funny, practical, and — above all — kind: that’s Lori.
The day she left, Lori gave Susan the painting Lori had been working on while she was with us:
It’s a small painting: about 10″ x 8″. I don’t think it has a title.
But it expressed, perfectly, what we all wanted.
A Note from Fatty: This is the latest post in my effort to tell the story of Susan’s fight with cancer. Eventually, this will be part of my next book, Fight Like Susan.
When Susan came home from the hospital, she needed rest. The problem was, our home was not exactly a restful place. We had four children: 10 and 8 year-old boys, twin two-year-old girls. I had an old job I was wrapping up, along with a new job to get ready for.
We needed to get the house ready to sell. We needed to start looking for a new home. We needed to find an oncologist in Washington, so Susan could start chemo pretty much as soon as we got there.
Luckily for us, we had good neighbors — people who were ready, willing, and able to jump in and help.
Unluckily for these good neighbors, I was an unappreciative jerk.
There were always friends of Susan at our house. One would be taking care of Susan. One would be helping with the twins. One would be making or bringing food over.
I would avoid them all, hiding in my office. Pretending that I had other stuff to do. Pretending I was working, even after I had pretty much transferred my duties over to the guy who’d be taking over for me.
Not meeting people’s eyes when I saw them in the house.
And not thanking people for taking the time to come over and help.
What Is My Problem?
I knew our family needed help; we had too much going on for me to take care of alone — and Susan couldn’t / shouldn’t do much. But I felt so many negative things about the people who were there, helping.
I felt ashamed for making Susan move away from friends and family, when she clearly needed that help and support.
I felt embarrassed for the state of the house: it wasn’t just messy; it was dirty. I remember one person chasing dust bunnies across the floor as she tried to get the floor in order, and how humiliated I felt that there was cleaning up of this magnitude to do. Having neighbors clean up after my family’s mess felt like an indictment of my parenting and partnering skills.
I felt intruded upon; with neighbors constantly in the house and around Susan, I felt like I hardly ever had time to talk with her in private.
And I was scared. Scared to move. Scared that I wasn’t ready or good enough for the responsibility I was taking at a new company.
And to be honest, I was so wrapped up in my own anxiety and selfishness and embarrassment, I didn’t even wonder how Susan was feeling about this time.
Like most people, I don’t see usually see myself as the villain in my own personal story. But on the day the moving van arrived and the professional movers broke down, packaged, and loaded everything we owned over an afternoon, I felt like I was the bad guy, pure and simple. Susan sick and weak and about to embark on a difficult course of treatment. The boys both crying, about to leave the only house they had any memory of.
And me, the cause of it all, not able or willing to express gratitude to the people who were helping us.
I was miserable. Perfectly.
Then I left them all. In order to save money, I drove one of the cars out to Washington, with my friend Kenny driving the other. Susan and the kids would fly over the next day, with my sister Lori helping.
I remember climbing into the car to start the long drive, leaving Susan and the kids to themselves for their last day at home.
I remember feeling so relieved to know that I would have a whole day to myself. Just driving, alone with my thoughts.
I remember feeling ashamed to be grateful for this time alone.
I look back now to how I felt then, and my now-self feels sorry for my then-self. I was a young (early thirties!) guy in a ridiculously difficult situation. I’m actually pretty impressed that I held up at all, under the circumstances.
Eventually, I would learn to accept kindness and help whenever it was offered, by whomever offered it. Eventually, I would even learn to ask for help.
But not yet.
A Note from Fatty: This week, Gaz, who blogs as ” The FORMER Super Morbidly Obese Cyclist” will be taking over my blog. He’ll be describing his journey from fat to fit, as well as answering your questions about how it’s possible to lose a lot of weight (in Gaz’s case, hundreds of pounds) by riding.
Welcome to my final installment! I just wanted to start by giving HUGE thanks to Fatty for giving me this forum to reach out to you guys, Hopefully it will have helped a few of you on the road to recovery.
- I USED to suffer from a TOTAL lack of confidence
- I USED to suffer from a TOTAL lack of self-worth
- I USED to suffer from a TOTAL lack of self-belief
The thing is, and this may sound CRAZY, I didn’t know I “Suffered” from the above at the time.
However, looking back, I cant help but get excited at how I have changed, I have been promoted at work, I walk round with an assuming air of confidence, going as far as to give a motivational talk on weight loss, to adults who needed it.
I said to myself at the start that I could, if I worked REALLY hard, lose 200 pounds, but I’d still be obese if I did, but it was better than not losing anything.
I didn’t have the confidence at that stage to say “I can and will do this.”
A question I get a lot is “what’s your diet?” My answer is that I don’t have a diet, diet is an EVIL word, people in my situation don’t need a diet, diets don’t work!
What we need(ed) is a change of lifestyle, you need to look at what you are putting into your body and then what is leaving your body via exercise.
What If I go over one day?
It’s REALLY not an issue, if one day you want cupcake, muffin, or any other treat. It’s FINE to do so, don’t ever restrict yourself. It will just make the cravings and ensuing binge even worse. All you need to do, is have your treat but make sure that after it you work it off!
A few more tips on food/weight loss I can give are:
Smarter Shopping: The golden rule here is to NEVER EVER go food shopping hungry. You make the decision to eat biscuits and crap food’s when you buy them in the shops, not when you take them from the cupboard. Don’t buy them in the first place.
Make a Goal list: – write down achievable goals.
And by far and away, the simplest tip ever is: “Eat less and move more” – Common sense I know but it’s what every single weight loss plan is based on, trust me!
Where am I now, mentally?
- I am currently filming for a national TV show in the UK relating to my weight loss and issues around my skin. A few years ago, I wouldn’t even have spoken on the radio, never mind get on a prime-time TV show.
- I have hit over 220,000 hits on my blog, wherein I go into as much detail about weight loss as my readers ask me to.
- I have done motivational speaking and am putting myself out there to do even more.
- I have given interviews to many UK newspapers and cycling magazines, again, in the hope that I can inspire just one person, who was like me, to save their life.
- I now know if I say I will do something then I WILL DO IT and will be successful at it.
- I also understand the importance of saying to myself “WELL DONE”, it took me a while, to stop, review what I had done and then acknowledge that what I had
And something that people might not get , cycling related, is that when I am sat on someone’s wheel, if I say that I will drop them, either on a climb or in a sprint, then 90% of the time I will do it, that or die trying.
But then, there is nothing wrong with giving your best, not quite making it and then going back and having another go.
Ok, enough of my ramblings. Questions from the floor.
Q. Hey Gaz, thanks for being an inspiration. At 360 pounds last year I rode my old bike until I lost enough weight to get my current bike. Although I have more gears now (21 instead of 7), I still have difficulty breathing. My question is did you have asthma or difficulty breathing and how did you handle it?
A: No, I never suffered in that way, I’d suggest that you seek medical advice, that way, if your body needs any help then it will get the help it needs.
Q. I just want to say I’m inspired, in a general way, by how you overcame your fear and shame, and fulfilled your duty to your children. Well done, sir.
A: I know its not a question, but you make a great point about fear and shame, the only thing people should be ashamed of is not even trying in the first place.
Q. Gaz you are a true inspiration and I have lots of respect for you. My question is: How did you “get up” the courage to do that first ride? I’m sure it was hard, but I’m positive you are happy you decided to take it.
A: That first ride was hard and it was around 4 weeks after I got the bike, it had gotten to the stage where if was now or never, so I hooked up my MP3 player, to drown out any abuse , got on it and off I went, I couldn’t be any more happy in the choice I made that day J
Q. Fantastic job Gaz. You are an inspiration to all of us. What was your diet during the weight loss? Did you fuel for riding?
A: Thanks dude, my post covers the “Diet” but as for fuel for riding, no I did what is called “Bonk Training” — riding on nothing but liquid caffeine in the morning.
Q. You are such an inspiration. I wish more people would make the decision to lose weight with diet and exercise and not surgery. You are living proof that it can be done! I also like that you did it for your kids. I think that is so important! You are setting a great example for your children in so many ways.
A: Thanks, that’s the reason why I made my story public and do all I can to publish it, not for personal gratification, but to show other people just what can be done.
Q. Brilliant Gaz, you are such an inspiration, I have 50Lbs to go. What was up with the dogma?
A: Sadly, it was fake, I got “Done Over” on it.
Thanks again to Fatty for allowing me this chance, with Fatty’s permission, I’d like to say, if there are any further questions, ask them here and maybe Fatty will allow me to come back in a few months to answer any remaining questions?
Good luck everyone and LIVESTRONG!
A Note from Fatty: This week, Gaz, who blogs as “The FORMER Super Morbidly Obese Cyclist” will be taking over my blog. He’ll be describing his journey from fat to fit, as well as answering your questions about how it’s possible to lose a lot of weight (in Gaz’s case, hundreds of pounds) by riding.
Sorry folks, I should have been here yesterday but got called away on business at the last moment yesterday. You do, however, have my full attention again today.
I’d like to touch base on the physical side of the journey I have been through, before dealing with some more of your questions.
I started my journey at 560 pounds (Give or take)
- I had Type 2 Diabetes
- I had Sleep Apnea
- I had Super High Bloody pressure
My Doctor told me that if I chose to exercise, it might well kill me, but if I chose NOT to then I’d be dead pretty darn quick. That was harsh to hear but not a total shock, to be honest.
I had 2 very young kids at the time and I knew what I was doing to myself wasn’t fair on them. Through no fault of their own, if I didn’t fix myself then the children that I had decided to bring into this world would know a future without a father, there would be no role model, no “My Daddy was a fighter.” Just “My Daddy was too fat to live.”
When I sat down and thought about that for the first time, I knew I couldn’t fail.
Where do you start though, when even walking to the bathroom hurts? Running was out, I found swimming was so very difficult at that size, and walking bored me.
As a kid I used to cycle and was pretty good at it for someone that wasn’t passionate about it (Oh how times change), but finding a bike store, let alone a bike, that would take me seriously at that weight was a REAL challenge.
I didn’t give up and a few months later my MTB was ready and waiting, it took me a few months to muster up the courage to go out in public and show the world what I had become.
I was REAL lucky physically with injuries during my weight loss journey, despire all the strain on my body, I only suffered one “injury” — a hamstring pull — and even that wasn’t enough to keep me off the bike, it just slowed me down, a LOT.
However, when it came to accidents, my luck wasn’t in, once slipping on a icy road and once being hit at high speed by a van.
But amazingly, that accident didn’t cause me any major , long lasting injuries. Sure, I still suffer with my back now, some 18 months later, but I was doing over 20 mph and the van driver over 30 mph and I landed on my HEAD, backwards. On any other given day, I wouldn’t have survived!
But I did and I feel its because I have someone watching me, I wear a LiveSTRONG band and have done from day one, never taking it off. It fits pretty big these days from being stretched though, but — and I know this might sound crazy — I feel that it saved my life.
That accident spooked me, but I will talk about the mental effects of it and my weight loss tomorrow.
So, now, after being obese , where am I ? Well, I NO LONGER have
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Sleep Apnea
- Super High Bloody pressure
I can hold an average speed on my Single Speed road bike of over 20 Mph all day long (unless we are talking serious hills of course)
I can round around playing with my kids, they are proud to have there daddy take them to school and want to show him off, unlike 3 years ago.
And along my journey I have raised around $6000 for Cancer Charity’s by just riding my bike, everyone is a winner,
It’s not all good tho, with around 14 pounds of excess skin, I have been told I need a full body reconstruction, something that I would never be able to afford or justify but I’d much rather have the skin than being dead!
Tomorrow I will cover the same areas but from a mental perspective!
Ok, questions from the floor please……..
Q. Hey Gaz – nice to see you on here. I’m based in the UK and came across your story last year and was inspired then (as now) by it. I saw you’ve got a Madone now – cool, cool choice!
A: Hey Al, good to hear from you, my Madone is of course the coolest because it’s the 7 TdF champion edition J
Q. How far is your daily commute by bike?
A. The “normal” route is a 13 mile round trip, but in the summer, most days, I’ll ride 20 miles each way.
Q. I have a close friend who weighs close to 400lbs and I want to help him loose a lot of that weight by embracing cycling like you did. He has expressed interest in it and I want to get him started by buying him a bike and helping him with his training.
My question is, what kind of bike did you start riding at your heaviest? It seems like one would need something specialized for such a high weight, as well as someting easy to handle with the limited mobility of someone that size. Any tips on an entry-bike for someone trying to do this for the first time at 300-400lbs?
A: I rode a TOTALLY Standard Giant Yukon 2007 MTB. Best tip I can give, is to avoid pot holes and don’t jump off the kerb.
Q. Gaz, great job. I was wondering what your first ride was like when you decided enough was enough. If you can remember what were your thoughts from when you took the bike out and put your leg over it to when you brought it home from the first ride. And, if you had to do it all over again would you have done anything differently? Thank you.
A: It was HARD, shameful, painful, exhausting and enlightening at all the same time, there is nothing at all I would have done differently , apart from not gain the weight in the first place.
Q. What a brilliant blog!! Great story that has been told in great style – inspirational!! Thanks Gaz – I really enjoyed reading through some of your blog posts.
My only question is this – did you ever “fall off the wagon” or regress to old habits? If you did, how did you kick yourself back into regular riding again?
A: Thanks! I fell off the wagon just once, and that was after the accident. I felt REALLY low and couldn’t walk for a few weeks. As soon as I got back on the bike, it was all fixed though.
Q. Did you ever figure out why you gained all the weight in the first place? What made it stick with the trade of the bike instead of the food?
A: I sure did and its something I will deal with in tomorrows post.
Q. First off, congratulations on the loss and maintenance! The questions I have are regarding the temptations and “falling off the wagon”. What was your biggest temptation? How did you fight it? IF you did go overboard, what got you back on track?
Also, this is for the wider audience as well. I’d love to bike to work, but its 12+ miles and some climbing which means I wouldn’t exactly be “fresh” when I got to work, if you know what I mean. I work in an office with no shower facilities. Any suggestions or strategies that would allow me to bike and to be presentable at work?
Keep up the great work!
A: Thanks for the question, the bike always kept and keeps me on the straight and narrow.
12 miles isn’t as far as you think, I have 2 climbs both ways and both are not easy , I did them from the start almost though and it makes you a better rider, having no shower at work too myself, I can say, take a towel, change of clothes and LOTS of deodorant
A Note from Fatty: This week, Gaz, who blogs as “The FORMER Super Morbidly Obese Cyclist” will be taking over my blog, answering your questions about how it’s possible to lose a lot of weight (in Gaz’s case, hundreds of pounds) by riding.
Good Morning America (and the wider world)!
Fatty, first off, thanks for warm welcome, speaking of warm, it seems the chair you have given me is quite warm too.
And finally, before I start, I was told Lance & Johan would be here, waiting for me …..thats a lie, but worth a try.
So, I am Gary Brennan, I used to weigh a MAMMOTH 560 pounds! Until one day, something mentally “snapped” and I set out on a journey of a (saving my) Life(Time) that was 3 years ago, today I weigh in at under 200 pounds and for someone the height of George Hincapie (and with around 10-14 pounds of excess skin) that’s none too shabby.
It took me 2 years to lose the weight and I have had 1 year at “maintaining” my current weight.
Well it was actually pretty simple, I rode my bike to and from work each day, and did 2 x 100km charity rides per year and along with cutting down from 12,000 calories to 2000: that’s about it.
I was lucky because I knew within the first half mile just how much I was going to enjoy cycling. Sure that first half mile, that first year and a half was a dark, difficult, painful place to be in but I knew, that it would all be worth it, every ride got quicker and more enjoyable and after 10 years of being “Super Super Morbidly Obese” it took be less than 18 months to no longer be classed as obese, an investment that was more than worth it.
Over the last 3 years I have thrown myself headlong into cycling. I have all the kit (Radioshack, Livestrong, the old Astana stuff, Discovery Channel, USPS, HTC).
I make no bones about the fact I feel that Lance Armstrong was the inspiration that started all this and more than that, when I was suffering on the bike, in the frozen UK winters with howling wind, snow and ice, the thought of being able to pull on the same jerseyss as Lance kept me going.
With that inspiration I managed to do it, too:
So, that’s me done for now, let’s take some questions from the floor.
The Flyin’ Ute
Q. Can you post about your level of energy now vs. before as well as confidence now vs. then. Has your self view changed? or do you still “see” yourself as the big guy in the skinny body? Also, how do you view other fit people? other large people? What do you think of the marketing hype to be fit?
A. Energy and confidence used to be through the floor , now they are through the ROOF.
I do still have self-image issues, but that’s mainly down to the fact that I have so much excess skin, something I am in negotiations regarding.
I view other people, large or small, as people, with individual needs.
Hype shouldn’t inspire people to get fit but sometimes people need that push, so if it works for them then it’s cool by me, if I can be part of that, then so much the better.
Next up we have:
Q. OK Gaz, I am down about 40 lbs from my top, but I yoyo around 205 – 215. My ideal weight would be 188 lbs. (I got there once when I re-started riding in 2003). How do you lose that last 15-20 lbs? You obviously have – great job BTW.
A: Well, the theory behind it is simple, eat less and move more, be it cycling, running, walking, swimming. Good luck , the theory is easy, the practical aspect isn’t as easy.
Q. What is a “stone” in American measurement?
A: 14 Pounds.
Q. Yes, I agree! Keeping your motivation up and also prioritizing your self-care? Need strategies for both. have lost 125+ pounds and working on the next 15, then 15 more.
A: That’s a good point, keep your goals SMALL, with other goals on the bigger picture.
Ok that’s all I can get to right now. I am here all week and would love to answer more of your weight loss / cycling questions so feel free to add them to comments section here & I will get through as many as I can.
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