Several years after her bariatric surgery, Heather Hasz is on a life mission to stay healthy. This mission aligns well with her goal to help find a cure for cancer. Heather recently embarked on the Pan-Mass Challenge reimagined bike ride to raise money for cancer research and honor her first husband and her mother, both of whom she lost to cancer. Heather’s former obesity is intrinsically linked to losing those she loved to cancer.
In Heather’s Words
I married my first husband, Rick, when I was 21. When I was five months pregnant and we were expecting our daughter Abbey, Rick died of colon cancer. I was suddenly a very young widow who was expecting a baby all alone. My mom passed away when I was just 16. Food was my outlet for the emotional distress and depression I experienced. I cared for Abbey and ate to comfort myself. I was 250 pounds at just 5 feet tall.
I fell in love with my second husband, Earl, when our daughters were best friends in preschool. He was recently divorced. Like a Greek tragedy — from sadness comes joy. We have been married for 14 years and I often think of him as the president of my fan club.
When we married, we committed to live a healthier lifestyle for ourselves and our family. I took up running, Earl took up cycling. I ran some local 5Ks, lost some weight, but was still very heavy. I tried dieting but had some bad weeks where the scale didn’t move. As a marketing executive, I traveled often for work. Flying on planes and eating on the road are very difficult when you are obese. One night I came home from a business trip and decided that I could not continue my uphill battle with weight anymore, and I was ready to ask for help.
Shortly after making this decision, I signed up for an online info session with Emerson’s Center for Weight Loss. Participating in the session online was a safe way to listen to the information without it being “real” until I was ready for it to be real. I spoke with Earl and he fully supported the surgery, as long as I was happy.
On July 5, 2017, when I was 45, I had gastric sleeve surgery with Dr. David Lautz. He is a straight shooter, which I appreciate. Everyone on the team is wonderful. I had perfect pre-op care, testing, surgery, and recovery. The staff made me feel like weight-loss surgery is not a stigma — they knew how hard I worked to try to lose weight. They were behind me every step of the way.
Nearly six weeks after surgery, once cleared by Dr. Lautz, I got back to running. In October 2018, I was sitting with Earl in an airport and we challenged each other — he signed up to do a 100-mile bike ride and I registered to do the Shipyard Maine Scenic Coast Full Marathon in May 2019.
As a bariatric patient, my training included not only the running, but also the nutritional balance that was critical to success. Dr. Lautz’s team was great and answered all my questions throughout my training.
When I crossed the finish line, there was not a dry eye in sight. It was a lifetime achievement. Since then, I have completed four half marathons (including the Shipyard Maine Scenic Coast Half Marathon in May 2020) and many other 5 and 10Ks. I am living a life I did not know I was missing before surgery. I feel like the universe is rewarding me for life’s challenges.
Conquering a New Goal
Our family has supported the Pan-Mass Challenge for the last 12 years. This is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart and needless to say, quite personal. My husband has biked the event for 12 years and I volunteered for the last six years.
This year, I decided to conquer a new goal and help beat cancer by participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge as a biker. Even though the event was reimagined due to the pandemic, I biked the 50 miles on August 1.
Running and biking during the pandemic were essential for my mental and physical health. Having these fitness goals and events kept me accountable during the long months spent at home this spring. I am the healthiest I have ever been as an adult and down nearly 100 pounds since my surgery!
Heather’s Tips If You Are Considering Bariatric Surgery
- Have support in place. Whether it is family, friends, or professional support, it is important to have someone you trust when you need to talk.
- Be honest in your preoperative journey. If you journal what you eat, write everything down. If you are honest from the start, the recovery and success will be better.
- Know your goals for the surgery. Think about what you want to accomplish. Perhaps it is to sit on a plane comfortably, train for a 5K, gain confidence in your professional and personal life, etc.
Fast Facts on the Emerson Center for Weight Loss
- Emerson’s Center for Weight Loss is the second largest program in the state in terms of bariatric surgery cases. The steady growth is due to the surgeons’ expertise in performing several different procedures, including revisions.
- People come from all over to have weight-loss surgery at Emerson. The program has earned a reputation for supporting each patient holistically — as a whole person — and not turning patients away.
- We are proud to provide a state-of-the-art patient care experience. This includes patients meeting with a navigator and a mental health coordinator. The front desk staff welcomes patients and looks forward to seeing them at their regular appointments. The Center for Weight Loss follows strict protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for optimal health and safety.
According to Dr. Lautz: Exercise is an essential part of keeping weight off and continuing to do well years after bariatric surgery. Heather’s experience doing a variety of aerobic exercises, including running and biking, is a great way to stay motivated and keep exercise fun. Setting a significant physical goal, such as doing the Pan-Mass Challenge, keeps patients committed to exercise and feeling great when they accomplish their goals.
Health Works Here Podcast: Quality of Life After Bariatric Surgery
David Lautz, MD, FACS, FASMBS, discusses the quality of life after bariatric surgery. Subscribe to the Health Works Here Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and wherever podcasts can be heard.