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Monday, November 05, 2007

Happy Trails


The Livermore Walk From Obesity was Oct. 6 at LifeStyleRx in Livermore. The walk was a fundraiser for the American Society of Bariatric Surgery Foundation and Obesity Action Coalition. The ASBS Foundation raises money for the study and treatment of morbid obesity. OAC is an activism group dedicated to fighting discrimination against the obese and encouraging insurance companies to cover medical treatments for the disease.

I won't deny that I was a bit disappointed by the walk's turnout. I had lofty goals when I signed on as a team leader for the walk. I thought I could amass a Tracy team of at least 20 people who would raise $5,000. After all, I know how much this town raises in the American Cancer Society's annual Relay For Life. So I knew it could be done. But it just didn't happen for us.

Instead of 20 people, my team -- One Step at a Time -- had four members who raised less than $1,000. But as walk organizer Julie Rooney of LifeStyleRx said, "every little bit counts." And other walkers raised similar amounts of money, which added up to a decent sum of money for the charities involved.

Personally, I want to thank my generous sponsors: Dagny of Sassy Ladies of WLS; Kenny Luiz (my uncle); Lorraine Cardoza (my aunt); and Ben van der Meer (former colleague). Their support has meant more to me than words could ever articulate.

Those who didn't participate missed out on a fun day and a leisurely three-mile stroll down the Arroyo Mocho Trail. Walkers enjoyed a goodie bag and free breakfast, courtesy of ValleyCare Health Systems, and AchievOne protein lattes (a personal fave).

More than one person questioned why there wasn't more participation. Each of us talked about how we had difficulty getting people to join our team and the challenge of fundraising. The conversation reminded me of a friend of mine, Heather Maes. Heather is a 30-year-old single mom battling colon cancer. She's documented her fight on MySpace, in a blog she calls My Cancer Chronicles. The Tracy Press occasionally prints entries from her blog, which is how we first met.

Heather is a calendar model. Well, to be precise, she's actually Miss December on this year's Colondar. The Colondar is a fundraiser for the Colon Club, which is an organization that raises awareness of colon cancer among those younger than the stereotypical over-50 crowd. In September, Heather blogged about online encounters with people who did not agree with Colondar concept. Some called it disgusting; others lamented what they considered preferential treatment of cancer patients. One person even said that the limelight on cancer made others suffering from chronic illness feel "left out of the fun." I'm sure Heather can tell you all about the fun she's having as she undergoes her second round of aggressive chemotherapy.

But I digress. My reason for mentioning Heather and her Colondar (BTW: they are on sale for $15; you should buy one) is that I found myself walking three miles on an early October morning wondering why thousands of people get so passionate each year about fundraisers benefiting cancer societies, Special Olympics, and even the American Heart Association, but it was like pulling teeth to drum up any interest in a Walk From Obesity. I don't want to sound like the ignorant idiots who told Heather and other cancer patients that they didn't deserve to raise money for their causes. At the same time, I'm curious at why obesity doesn't get the same attention as other diseases.

Cancer, special needs and heart disease are relatively random afflictions caused by a combination of family history, lifestyle and luck -- or more correctly, a lack thereof. Obesity, on the other hand, affects a majority of our society. About 60 percent of our nation suffers from obesity (BMI of 35 or more); morbid obesity (BMI of 40 or more) affects about 35 percent of all Americans. Obesity is preventable, treatable and deadly. We all know how the disease comes about; and assuming you subscribe to the "calories in vs. calories out" theory of nutrition, we all know how to overcome it.

So why is it so hard to get support for a Walk From Obesity? I think because obesity is preventable and curable, people don't view it as a disease. And that includes those who suffer from it. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an obese or morbidly obese person say, "I know what I need to do; I just have to do it," I'd be a very rich woman. If the obese don't realize they are diseased, why should anyone else?

When I participate in Relay For Life each year, I am surrounded by those who are fighting cancer, have beaten cancer, have loved ones who fit into the previous categories or have been touched by cancer in other ways. At the Livermore Walk From Obesity, I was surrounded by bariatric medical professionals, post-ops and their loved ones. I even tried to drum up interest among my non-op friends, regardless of size. To me, this walk was about silencing a killer (just like any other fundraiser walk); nothing else.

But I realized that it's impossible to silence a killer when its victims refuse to come forward and defend themselves. I haven't given up, though. I hope the Dr. Mary Estakhri, the bariatric surgeon who has sponsored the Livermore Walk From Obesity for the past two years, will continue to support this event; and I also hope that, in time, the walk will gain steam as more and more people realize the how tight of a grip obesity has on this nation.

3 comments:

Melting Mama said...

I was also very let down with the turnout at our local walk. I wrote about it...

Anonymous said...

Tonya, I would love to participate in this next year. I just had my lap rny this past Tuesday (11/6) and am looking forward to the way I will feel next year. My surgeon was Dr. Estakrhi's partner, Dr. Lee. I would also like to say that I followed your journey in the Tracy Press since day 1 and you have been a major influence in my decision to go ahead with the surgery; it was very informational to read about the experiences of someone who had already gone through it. I had considered WLS but was not sure what it really meant. Allowing readers follow your journey was a brave thing to do. Thank you for that. I'm on BE as Patti0707, if our paths should ever cross there.

Tonya said...

Mama -- I'll have to check it out.

Patti -- Thank you for your kind words. It's always good to know that I wasn't writing to myself all those years ;-) I will keep you in mind for next year. Congratulations on embarking on the journey of a lifetime!