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Published on March 22, 2017

melissa fox and julie reiland, md

Cancer Survivor Takes Control with Weight Loss

Melissa Fox admits it: she had a little “road rage” going after a follow-up appointment with her cancer surgeon.

The Spencer, Iowa mom of two had faced breast cancer, worked through the chemotherapy and surgery and was doing well. She knew she needed to lose some weight and began changing up her workout approaches. Fox enjoyed exercise, but she also enjoyed food. She was using free exercise apps on her phone, tuning into Youtube exercise videos and made progress.

When she returned to the office of Julie Reiland, MD, at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, she got a warning.

“Dr. Reiland said that in the next two years, I would have a recurrence of the cancer, heart disease or diabetes unless I lost some weight,” Fox said. “My breast cancer was driven by hormones, and she said the weight could make the return of cancer more likely.”

She said her reaction, face-to-face, was fine, but her emotions changed when she was driving home.

“I had a little road rage, yes, and I was angry,” she said. “That news made me upset, and it took a little while, but once I got my mind wrapped around what she said, I realized she was right. I had lost 20 pounds before that meeting, but I knew I needed to do more.”

Fox said the stern warning led her to action. She thrives on proving folks wrong, she said, and she kept working out, adding long walks and weight training. She drank much more water, every day.

“I was going to be ready for the next meeting with her,” she said. “When I was facing cancer, one of the things I hated was the control it took from me, and so as I was exercising more and changing my diet, I was in control again, and that felt really good.”

The small changes worked and as Fox said, she “didn’t spend a dime” on programs for losing weight. It wasn’t exactly easy, but she dropped another 40 pounds after her talk with Reiland, who admitted the change was dramatic.

“When she did come back, I didn’t recognize her,” she said. “I was thrilled. I just hate having to tell people they need to lose weight. But there’s a higher risk for breast cancer when you’re heavier, so I’m really proud of what Melissa accomplished.”

Reiland said her pride as a physician comes from knowing the difficult, daily work needed to get lighter.

“Sometimes it takes a crisis to get under way, but no one can be healthy for you or lose the weight for you,” said Reiland. “I got goose bumps when I realized she had turned the corner. There are breast cancers that feed off estrogen and additional body fat can lead to additional fuel for those cancers. So she did what she needed to do to reduce that risk.”

Fox said she’s happy about her new look, her higher levels of energy and the example she’s setting for her son and daughter. It’s been a year and she’s still 60 pounds lighter than she was.

“It takes counting calories and really focusing on it every day, with lots of long walks with the dog and lots of water – I probably drink 10 to 16 glasses a day,” Fox said. “It felt good to prove Dr. Reiland wrong, not in a mean way, but in a healthy way. I’m glad she confronted me because it was what I needed to get going.”

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