The Life-Saving Power of Everyday Actions
When Weight Watchers member Chris Pierson joined Dr Oz’s Transformation Nation: Million Dollar You, she was hoping to win the $1 million prize – and maybe get extra motivation to lose weight. She never imagined that fulfilling the criteria to win would save her life.
Chris Pierson had been a Weight Watchers meetings member for about six months when her Leader urged members to sign up for Dr. Oz’s Transformation Nation: Million Dollar You. For this busy working mom, the possibility of losing weight and winning a million bucks was an inspiring combination. The other health benefits were just an added perk.
“Other than the occasional flu or head cold, I thought I was already a healthy person,” Chris says. “I really thought that my biggest health issue was my weight.”
Chris wasn’t very familiar with Dr. Oz, so she set her DVR to record a few episodes of his show – and became a fan. “I really got a feeling for what his philosophy is on health and what he’s all about,” she says. “I liked what I heard.”
She immediately started tackling the tasks she needed to complete to be eligible to win. When she got to the third one, “Connect with Your Doctor,” she had to stop and think: When was the last time she’d been for a checkup? Two years ago? She couldn’t quite remember. She made an appointment for the following week, and didn’t think more about it.
Once at her appointment, Chris was surprised to learn she hadn’t had a checkup in more than three years. But she was happy to hear that her blood pressure and cholesterol were normal – especially gratifying since she’d already lost more than 30 pounds* on Weight Watchers. And when the iron levels in her blood turned out to be low, it explained some minor health complaints she’d had recently. “I’d been a little tired and out of breath at times,” she says. “I just attributed it to still being overweight – but it was the iron.” Her physician suggested she begin taking iron supplements, and also reminded her to set up a routine mammogram for the following week.
Click to see Chris’s progress
“At that point everything was good,” Chris said. “I had peace of mind that I was in good health and my doctor was so excited that I was on the Weight Watchers program.” Chris promised herself she’d get a checkup every year from that point on.
Chris had her mammogram as planned, and felt good about taking care of another health exam. But the next day, she received a call from the radiologist. Her results were inconclusive, and she’d need to come back for a more thorough, diagnostic mammogram.
Chris told her husband the news that evening. She was worried, but not panicked—at least not yet. “I’d had a result like that in the past and it turned out to be nothing, so I told him he didn’t need to come with me to the follow-up appointment.”
But once again, the results were inconclusive – and now the doctor wanted to biopsy Chris’s breast. “That’s when it got scary,” she remembers. Chris didn’t return to work that day; instead she went straight home to commiserate with her husband. “But we’re both very practical. We’re not going to get upset until we know there’s something to be upset about,” she explains.
Four long days after her biopsy, Chris was told that she had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, a breast cancer confined to the milk duct. Her doctor told her she had two choices: a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, or a “better-safe-than-sorry” full mastectomy. Luckily, the cancer was still in stage 0.
“I was scared and in shock,” she says. As she sat next to her husband in the doctor’s office she asked what he’d recommend if it were his wife or daughter sitting in that chair. “He said because I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer and because it was so small, that he’d suggest the lumpectomy,” she recalls. “I was so relieved.”
Everyone kept assuring Chris that the cancer was small and that she was so lucky that she’d come in when she had. She knew that, but she also wanted the cancer gone. “I was expecting everything to move quickly – I wanted this thing out of me,” she says. “You always imagine there being this huge sense of urgency to remove a cancer,” but the lumpectomy wasn’t scheduled for another week.
Chris attended her Weight Watchers meeting two days before her surgery in late November. “The topic was stress around the holidays. My Leader asked everyone to write down one way we’d deal with stress in the next month. I broke down into tears and had to leave the meeting,” she says.
In all, more than a month passed between Chris’s initial mammogram and her lumpectomy. Fortunately, the procedure was a success, as was the MRI, which showed that cancer hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes.
“My oncologist recommended 33 radiation treatments, which lasts about six weeks, but no chemotherapy or hormone therapy— it was the best news I could have expected!” Chris said.
Today, continuing with her treatments, Chris tells friends (and “anyone who will listen”) how fortunate and thankful she feels. Her Weight Watchers Leader has also shared Chris’s story with members of her other meetings, many of whom were inspired to sign up for Transformation Nation themselves. “It feels wonderful to hear that my story might help others to get healthy," she says.
“I thank God every day that I joined Weight Watchers when I did. If it hadn’t been for the show, I probably wouldn’t have gone in for a checkup until I noticed a lump,” she says, shuddering to think of the consequences of such a delayed diagnosis. “By that time I probably would have had a completely different diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan. This may well have saved my life.”
*People following the Weight Watchers plan can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week.