One of the things that surprises Camille Perry most after having weight- loss surgery is that people think she’s become a whole different person.
“People perceive you differently, but ultimately you have the same strengths and weaknesses as before. I look different, sure, but I’m the same person. I’m still me,” she says.
Camille, a senior computer specialist with UW Medicine IT, says it’s just another misconception or judgement people have about obesity and weight loss.
“It’s hard when people make fun of overweight people in front of me because they don’t know I used to be that way. Fat jokes are not funny or socially acceptable anymore, and they can promote stereotypes that are simply not true,” she says. “I think being overweight can become part of your personality. When you’re overweight, people expect you to act and be a certain way and they treat you differently. And sometimes that gets ingrained into your everyday interactions.”
Camille’s decision to have weight loss surgery didn’t happen overnight. “It took a long time for me to think I needed it,” she says. “I was happy and mostly healthy otherwise. Why would I want to have a surgery that would disrupt my routine?”
It was a lecture by Dr. Theodore Bushnell at the Harborview Sleep Center that changed her mind. “Dr. Bushnell studied outcomes of people that had weight-loss surgery and found that, although there is always a risk with the surgery, there was twice the risk of death over a ten-year period for those who didn’t have it,” she says. “Before that, I thought it was mostly a cosmetic choice, but it’s really a health decision. It’s about wanting to be healthy and live longer.”
ARNP Pamela Williams was instrumental in helping Camille start the process at the Weight Loss Management Center at UW Medical Center-Roosevelt.
The Weight Loss Management Center tailors treatment plans to each individual, based on their unique needs. “We have patients who are interested in surgery, not interested in surgery, or who have no idea of which approach is right for them,” says clinic manager Cricket McCleary. “Our team includes physicians, dieticians, social workers, and nurse navigators who helps patients through their weight-loss journey and coordinate care with other providers.”
The center also provides resources that allow patients to engage at all different levels, including online resources, informational seminars and support groups for every stage of the process. “We follow our patients for life,” McCleary says.
General surgeon Dr. Patch Dellinger (now retired) performed Camille’s gastric bypass surgery in 2010. She had an excellent outcome, steadily making her way from 335 pounds to 190.
Still, there have been a few bumps in the road. Besides regaining some weight around the birth and breastfeeding of her son, Camille developed severe gastrointestinal symptoms in March, 2017, seven years after her surgery. Doctors struggled to diagnose the problem and finally discovered Camille had developed a rare complication called Petersen’s Hernia, which involves a constriction of the small intestine. Her case was particularly complex, requiring a 6-hour surgery by surgeon Dr. Saurabh Khandelwal and a week-long hospital stay.
Today, Camille says she feels fantastic. She checks in frequently with ARNP Patricia Hardman at the Weight Loss Management Center, who follows her to make sure she’s getting the right nutrition and sticking to an exercise routine.
“People at a healthy weight don’t realize that you can’t just stop overeating and start exercising for 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week right off the bat and be successful in sustaining it,” says Camille. “Many people are overweight because they were traumatized by the gym or a bad PE teacher growing up, so the gym might not be the best place to relearn how to exercise. You have to turn those feelings of insecurty around and find a way to enjoy exercise. I enjoy solo activities like walking, kayaking and snowshoeing. I can do them at my own pace and without feeling like I’m being judged.”
“I even love to go clamming for exercise,” she laughs. “And my son loves it too.”
Besides exercise, there have been important lessons about food along the way, too.
“Surgery is just the beginning,” says Camille. “The hard part was changing the way I approached food in general – not always seeing it as a treat, but instead recognizing it as something I needed to have to survive. ”
“For me, it wasn’t about eating unhealthy food, but more about eating large amounts. You don’t realize how small a portion and how few calories you really need.” Camille says she is constantly reminding herself to reevaluate deep-rooted attitudes and socialization around food and alcohol, and not allowing others – especially wait staff at restaurants – to pressure her into eating and drinking more.
“You have to make everything that goes into your mouth a conscious decision. It gets tiring sometimes,” she admits. “It’s a process. Nobody’s perfect. You go up and down and everyone deals with that.”
Of her weight-loss journey, Camille says, “I don’t call it a journey, I call it my life. My story is that you have to find the beauty in life and what you want to live for. For me, it’s my son, my family, travel and the arts.”
“Gastric bypass is major surgery, so I’d say don’t do it if you can have success with other options,” she advises. “But if I had known the quality of life I could have had for that many years before, I would have had the surgery so much earlier.”