LOSS: What Nancy Gained

Meet Nancy Hopper, a woman for whom “loss” defines the most recent years of her life. Her story is made up of a purpose, a plan, and a “to be continued.” If this were an article written by a journalist, there would be some rules to follow. Rules like: stick to facts, remain independent, don’t make it personal. Journalists are trained to not write in the first person because it makes the story appear too personal. But I’m not a journalist—I’m a celebrator of people and a lover of success stories. I don’t know how else to best celebrate except to make it personal. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to celebrate the friend I almost didn’t make.

Nancy has been at Pondera Medical Center since February 11th, 2020. A prime example of her sincerity in life is her reason for becoming an aid in PMC’s Long Term Care facility. “I started out as an aide because I had been taken care of in the hospital, and I wanted to be a great aide that made a difference and helped change someone’s day just by helping them! My favorite part of taking care of the residents is that I get the privilege to brighten their day and cheer them up! I love that I get to care for people… what CNA's do is so special!” She is correct that a CNA is one of, if not the, most special job in healthcare. We like to call them “heroes in scrubs” or “the most important people to a family’s peace of mind.” Especially in a year like 2020, thank goodness for people like Nancy and her colleagues in our nursing home. They go above and beyond every single hour of every single day for the overall safety, wellness, and wellbeing of our residents. Take my word for it, “special” is an understatement.

It was just November, four short months ago, when Nancy Hopper was going through a dark time in her life. She was taking blood pressure medicine for high blood pressure and insulin for her diabetes, ringing up to about $900 per month and working only part-time, because she physically could not handle full-time work. She had just lost one of her very best friends to diabetes, unexpectedly. All while still trying to cope with and recover from the loss of her son, Jasper. The holidays were fast approaching—a time of high stress when seasonal depression takes its toll, often accentuated by the rollercoaster of emotions the holiday season brings. Oh, and there was that other thing … the global pandemic.

She wanted better. And believed it was possible.

Nancy hits her heaviest in 2018 at 350 lbs

Nancy hit her heaviest in November of 2018 when she was close to 350 pounds. Seven months before that, Nancy lost her son. Amidst her grief, she would attempt a few changes and shed some weight here and there, but it wasn’t until over two years later, when one of her best friends passed away unexpectedly from a disease they shared, that she fully invested physically, mentally and emotionally into improving her health. Nancy made the decision to get healthy and to be there for her family and friends, for good. She set goals and worked with her mother-in-law to find a program that worked for her and aligned with her goals. Nancy credits her mother-in-law for inspiring change and supporting her. Billy, Nancy's husband has also been very supportive and worked with Nancy to make her changes sustainable within their home. For example, Nancy knows cheese is one of her weaknesses! When Bill asked her to pick up some cheese at the store, they had a conversation about how it may trigger her and impede her goals. After a discussion, they decided Nancy would get pepper jack for her husband because that's a kind she doesn't enjoy. Great compromise and good teamwork!

She jumped in with two feet and never looked back. Nancy started to learn about food and nutrition and learned to read food labels. She became a sponge for information and educated herself on chemicals and how addictive sugar can be. She recognized her own physical symptoms from a diet high in processed food and sugar. She learned and learned and learned. Her hard work paid off and felt a change almost immediately and felt good for the first time in her life.

Nancy found the mindset that worked for her. She gets plenty of sleep, drinks a gallon of water every day, and has cut out sugar and processed food. It's really that simple! She’s on a Facebook group with like-minded people who offer support and encouragement and recipes and tips. She cried when she hit 60 lbs lost. YES, I just said 60 lbs. And I’m sure it’ll be closer to 70 by the time you’re reading this. Have you ever been so happy in a moment that you spontaneously cry? When was the last time? Was it your kids' first day of school? A friend’s wedding? A big promotion? Was it when you subconsciously knew you could be saving your own life?

It’s not just weight-loss for Nancy. It’s the chance to be a mom someday. It’s the chance to do the important job she does and loves and to do it well, for longer. It’s a chance to smile up at the clouds and let her friend know that her death wasn’t in vain. “I went from 277.6 to 217.4 As of today I have lost 60.2 pounds! I feel the best I have felt in my whole life! I have more energy, I sleep better at night, I fit in smaller clothes, I can move better, my joints don't hurt, I'm off all medicine for my diabetes and my blood pressure, I don't suffer from joint pain as much… My insulin, just out of pocket, saves me so much! Add that to not having to go to all the endocrinologist appointments and being able to work more… yes, I'm much better off. I'm an all-around much happier and healthier ME!”

Nancy's progress during her health journey

I want to pause here and ask you to reflect on what 4 months actually look like. That’s roughly 120 days of focus, motivation, and discipline. This incredible person has worked 120+ days to completely turn her life around, with no signs of stopping. It makes me wonder, “What could I accomplish if I was all in for 120 days?” And I think that is entirely the point of sharing this journey- to inspire. Nancy says it more eloquently when she shares: “Pick your hard. It's hard to be unhealthy and it’s hard to lose weight; but I would say with all the benefits of getting healthy, that's the hard but best way to go! I notice people always say ‘Tomorrow I will eat better' or ‘I will start next week…’ But, I say start NOW! Nothing matters more than your health and being able to be healthy and happy for your kids, husband, wife, family, and friends--tomorrow could be today.”

Sharing Nancy’s story was a lot more difficult for me than I thought it was going to be. Getting it “right” and making sure it was meaningful for her is the only thing I care about. A person who spends every day caring for others deserves to be celebrated appropriately, especially when they do something this incredible. If I haven’t done just that—I’m sorry—again, I’m not a journalist, just a big fan of success stories. Nancy and I met one day by visiting casually in a PMC hallway. She mentioned her weight loss in passing so I asked about it when I saw her a week later. When she told me just how much weight, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe someone could stick to such a lifestyle change during one of the hardest years we’ve seen in our lifetime. During this pandemic, my newsfeed has been filled with memes about gaining weight and sitting on the couch and the “quarantine 15.” Nancy’s circumstance was a stark contrast to those memes and posts about people unhappy with what the pandemic had done to her mental and physical health. Then I learned that Nancy had lived through times more troubling than the pandemic is for her. She had already suffered enough heartache and had found something that could bring her some solace in the aftermath of tragic loss. She could remedy more loss. What strikes me the most is that Nancy didn’t realize someone could be so moved and inspired by her investment in health. She is incredibly humble.

When you look at Nancy, you wouldn’t think she was ever severely overweight. The day we became acquainted, I thought “she’s tall and nice, and likes the color red.” For the record, I have no idea if she likes the color red but the other two remain accurate and how I would describe her. I wonder if 5 months ago Nancy would’ve had the energy or desire to have a conversation with a coworker she’d only passed in the hall occasionally? Would she, in her grief and physical unwellness, keep her head down and say the bare minimum and roll her eyes at the annoyingly marketing girl? I don’t know. None of us know. I’m glad we don’t. I’m glad she’s given herself the chance to be someone who chats and shares her story and has developed this characteristic that is so rare and so glorious and vital to a full meaningful life that we often overlook... pride. There’s no purpose without pride. I’m so glad she’s proud of herself.

I’m also proud of you Nancy. And I’m glad to be a friend you otherwise might not have met, and to hear the story we might not have heard.

So, what’s the ultimate goal? “My ultimate goal is to get to 175 pounds, be a healthy and happy me, and for my husband and I to have a healthy pregnancy, I plan on being to my goal by May 31st, 2021 and I also plan to stay there!” Nancy says.

Nancy shared in an email if she could help just one person, it was worth it to her to be raw and real and vulnerable. I’m that one person. But I know there will be others. And I know on May 31st, I’ll check in with her and she will tell me she reached her goal. And then, because she is so kind-hearted and humble, she will ask how I’m doing with my own goals. And then she will go to work and make someone’s day, and she won’t ask for attention and she won’t realize the magnitude of her accomplishment. She will just say "hi" quietly and carry on about her day. Because that’s the kind of person she is. A hero, just for being a good person who pursued a little happiness, and finally got what she deserved. Thanks for sharing your story, Nancy. We are all cheering for you!

Nancy poses at PMC, where she works full-time in the long-term care facility