Chapter Fifteen: Shedding my Skin

Sometime in my freshman or sophomore year of high school and about a good two or three years after my second kidney transplant, I remember my Father and Stepmom hauled a huge and bulky cardboard box into the living room that contained pieces that made up a stationary bicycle when put together. I watched curiously and cautiously as my Stepmom read the directions, screwed, unscrewed, pushed, pulled, and prodded the many pieces together. The finished masterpiece was a stationary bicycle with handles that moved back and forth methodically like a world champion skier. When my Stepmom was done with the finishing touches, the three of us eyed the machine in awe. It seemed to gleam in front of the Sony television set that sat in the corner of the living room. My Father was the first one to sit on it. He grinned as he began to cycle away and push the handles with vigor and enthusiasm, but after a good couple minutes, he said breathlessly: “Well, I guess that is enough for now.” With his hands on his hips, he panted and then said in between choking breaths: “Mary, you try.”

I shook my head and muttered: “No, way. What if that thing hurts my hip?” I looked down at the floor.

My Stepmom shrugged and said carelessly: “You won’t know until you try.”

I tentatively climbed on to the bicycle as my heavyset body plopped on to the small seat pad. I pushed on the pedals. My legs were stiff and heavy as I began to cycle. My chest began to hurt and ache all over, but I heard my Dad and Stepmom in the background as the wheels whizzed: “Look, Mary, you are doing it!”

After only about a few minutes on the bicycle, beads of sweat began to form on my neck and then trickle down. I was sure that I was going to pass out. I stopped in mid-cycle and nearly collapsed as I got off the bicycle. “That is enough for me!” I wheezed. I sat on the couch trying to find oxygen again.

My Stepmom suggested gently and quietly to me: “You can ride the bicycle while you watch TV. Start off small. Two minutes, then five minutes, then eight minutes, and so on. You can do it.”

As my breathing became regular again, the stationary bicycle seemed to smile at me. I felt a flutter of pride that I could actually ride a stationary bicycle without any sharpness in my hip and unlike before my second kidney transplant when I was overly sick and weak to even muster the energy to walk up and down the stairs. My Stepmom’s words echoed in my ears later on into the night. That is when the light bulb switched on in my head. Could I really lose the massive amount of weight and fat that I had gained post-kidney transplant, mainly because of bipolar Prednisone? Could I really show my family, friends, but, most of all, myself what I was capable of if I really put my mind to losing weight? My heart pounded with the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I could really shed my skin and find the real me beneath the surface.

So, I began to bicycle. Every. Single. Day. Like clockwork and specifically at 4PM, I was found on the bicycle, pounding on the pedals, and thrusting the handles back and forth as I watched a pre-programmed, taped episode of “Days of Our Lives.” The cycling began with 5 minutes. I could barely breathe and would nearly stumble off the bicycle. A couple weeks later: 8 minutes. My breathing was still irregular, and my body still achy and sore the following days. Next, 10 minutes. Then, 15 minutes. About a month or more later, 20 minutes—without feeling as though I was going to fall off the bicycle or that I was having a heart attack. It reached a point that if I missed or skipped a day of bicycling, I felt guilty and my body began to gnaw away at me in a way that screamed: “Why aren’t you exercising??!!” It began to feel as though I was not doing exercise to purposefully lose weight, but I was merely just catching up on the drama and love affairs of my soap opera that I just had to watch religiously.

Several countless months later, my plus size clothing were hanging on me. I looked in the mirror and my triple chin seemed to be shrinking to a double chin and the chin was actually starting to stand out and form into a sharp angle. I dared myself to step on the scale. I took a deep breath, shut my eyes, and said: “There is nothing to be afraid of. Go ahead. Weigh yourself.”

I opened one eye and then both eyes. I was in the 170’s. I could not believe it. I was REALLY LOSING WEIGHT!!!! It was happening!! This was the jolt I needed to step up to losing even more weight and getting even healthier. A huge and wide grin took over my face, I nearly tripped over the scale as I got off of it, and I screamed at the top of my lungs: “DAD!!!!”

I raced out from the bathroom and he shouted back: “What?! What’s wrong?”

“I’m losing weight! I’m really losing weight!!” Maybe the side effects from Prednisone were not going to take over my life and kill me slowly after all. Maybe I was going to teach Prednisone who was boss.

But, I spoke and thought too soon.

I quickly found out that losing weight was half the battle. Keeping the weight off was an ongoing and massive war because of my friend and foe: FOOD. I still craved, loved, and would just about inhale chocolate bars, silky and sinful Coffee ice cream, crispy golden potato chips, and my Father’s sultry and tantalizing homemade dishes that he whipped up on whim from his experience as a part-time chef when he was in his 20’s. I already achieved actually moving my ass with bicycling on a daily basis, but resisting the fatty foods that I loved or trying to find that balance of eating the food I loved, yet not overeating was a force to be reckoned with.

That is when my Auntie Audrey stepped in with my war with a portioned plate. My Auntie Audrey had returned back to Hong Kong upon the recovery and success of my second kidney transplant. She heard about my bicycling and she thought the portioned plate would take me to the next level to live in harmony with food rather than love or hate it. She also knew that I was such the avid writer with my more than thirty journals and so she suggested that I also keep a food diary with writing what I ate at every single meal and to count calories as well.

My meals soon became strict, set, and monotonous. I brought my lunch every single day to school: a turkey sandwich with a little bit of mayonnaise and five saltine crackers. Dinner varied from night to night, but each food fit snugly in each little section of the plate. There were only three sections and were normally filled with a small plateau of rice, one piece of lean meat, and vegetables. I began to rely almost fanatically on my portioned plate. It was like a security blanket that I clung on to when other sugary, sweet desserts and delicious and glazed over foods doused in savory and sour sauces emerged from my Father’s chef hands to the kitchen table. It often took every ounce of willpower to resist eating more or sneaking just a bit more on to each portion of the plate. I often whimpered when I saw other people eat. To release the feeling of being tortured by food, I turned to my food diary and wrote down every single morsel or crumb that went into my mouth.

“Dad?” I asked.

“Yeah?” He mumbled while he read the newspaper.

My diary was wide open with scrawled caloric numbers matched to what I ate at each meal. “How many calories do you think a piece of fruit is?”

“Mmmm…I don’t know. Maybe 50 calories.”

I jotted away and said: “Oh, that is okay, then.”

My Stepmom piped in: “Losing weight is common sense. Eat less fatty foods. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Exercise more. It is just really hard for humans to DO common sense.”

I sighed. “Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t things just be easy? Why did this stupid medication have to cause all this?!”

Both my Dad and Stepmom lectured: “Easy does not mean better. The victory will be even sweeter and the process will mean even more to you once you achieve what you want.”

I rolled my eyes. They were such walking human fortune cookies.

So far, I had my weapons lined up in a row in this war to lose weight: Bicycling, walking, and stretching every single day—Check. Portioned plate—Right on. Food Diary—You got it. Weight Chart. Yes, that was my next weapon. I weighed myself every single morning as soon as I was out of bed and even before brushing my teeth, washing my face, or scrambling to get breakfast on the table and in my mouth. The chart was simple with the date, time, and weight. I was disciplined. I was determined. Nothing was going to stop me from losing more weight. Not now when I was already shedding my skin.

The 185 pounds I weighed at 14-years-old decreased to roughly 160 pounds by the time I was sweet 16-years-old and four successful years after my second kidney transplant. I glowed with pride and happiness from inside to outside when my family and friends commented on how much weight I had lost and how pretty I was all this time but that the lards had hid that beauty. I was lighter on my feet and able to walk up and down the stairs without hearing and feeling my breath released from my body. With the folds of fat falling off, my hip/leg and lower back pains diminished and I could walk straight and only with a slight noticeable limp. I did a happy dance when I threw away my elastic pants and slid on blue jeans for the very first time in my life. I practically shouted out to the world: “LOOK!!! LOOK AT ME!! I CAN FINALLY WEAR JEANS!!!” I pranced around proudly in denim that squeezed my legs and hips in the right places.

185 pounds, 14-Years-Old, and 2 years after my second kidney transplant

Roughly in late 160 pounds to early 170 pounds,
16-Years-Old, and 4 years after my second kidney transplant

I often placed my hands on my jaw line, newfound knuckles, and collarbone to make sure that all of this was a real and not just figments of my imagination. It was true. My neck was emerging. My face shape with a pointed chin was showing. My round, chipmunk cheeks were deflating. My belly was slowly shrinking. My thighs were losing their friction. I now did not have to go to the plus size department and could opt for large or extra large. I now liked to exercise. I was falling in love with vegetables and fruit. I was finding the fine balance of still loving food, but not at the mercy of fattening foods. Best of all, my mortal enemy, yet everlasting friend Prednisone that had triggered the fat beast in me decreased in significant dosage down to 3mg per day by the time I was at the end of high school, rather than the whopping 20+ mg that I had began with post-second kidney transplant. The dosage decrease was the major fuel to the wild fire in me that I could now lose even more weight. Call it a placebo effect, but I felt that my moodswings were much more monitored and that I was losing even more weight once I started to take less Prednisone. As I began to shrink in size and lead a normal life thanks to my second kidney transplant, my past full of anger, bitterness, fear, and sadness at all my health experiences were dissipating into ghosts.

Everyday, I looked in the mirror. Not out of vanity, but out of complete shock at the reflection that stared back at me. I barely remembered who I once was with all those layers and barely recognized who I now without the layers. The monster that I turned into after my second kidney transplant was disappearing and the replacement was the real me that was breaking free and blossoming before my very eyes and faster than I could ever dream or imagine. It was scary. It was frightening. It was exciting. I was coming to terms with the real me and not the me who was had been defined by medications, surgeries, and chronic illnesses that had ravaged my entire family and me. Yet, as proud and flustered as I was whenever my family and friends showered me with praises at my drastic weight loss or whenever I slipped into a pair of jeans or whenever I looked in the mirror to check on my cheekbones and chin, I still was not completely satisfied. I knew that I still had it in me to lose even more weight. 160 pounds at 4’11” was not enough. There was a constant, ringing voice that hissed defiantly: “Mary, all the weight you lost is not enough. You have to push yourself to lose even more weight. You know what you have it in you. You know that you have it in you.”

I journeyed forward with my weight-loss weapons, but their ammunition was falling apart. Just at the same time, my school life slammed me over the head with the reality that I was going to graduate from high school and had to apply for colleges and leave my comfort zone of family, friends, and the life of health challenges that I had known since I was a little girl. I hit a standstill weight of in the in the late 150 to early 160 pounds by the time I was ready to leave high school along with struggling with my SAT scores, completing college applications, and hurling myself even harder with self-pressure that I had to keep up with everyday high school life of balancing good grades with extracurricular activities.

My High School Senior Picture at
still around 160 pounds, 17-years-old, and
5 years after my second kidney transplant

I now lived my life and did these everyday “normal” tasks all because of my monumental successful kidney transplants. However, I was paralyzed with fear with this normalcy and societal and family expectation to graduate from high school and leave behind everything and everyone that I had known. I grew up very protected and sheltered from my Father and because of my health that had defined me. Now it was time for me to define myself to the world, but especially to myself without allowing my past and health to stop me.


Jennifer said...

Hey Mare, I remember you watching Days while riding your bicycle. Do you still have that thing? I know that Days of Our Lives is history LOL!

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Anonymous said...

I'm feeling you on the prednisone battle..had my transplant 8 months ago and I'm already battling with the 20 pounds I gained so far...I was like"oh hellll no!!!" Im glad you are doing well!! Stay strong-Michelle������������

Anonymous said...

Prednisone should be BANNED by the FDA. Any doctor who prescribes this stuff for longer than 7 days is a QUACK. I urge anyone who needs a Transplant to refuse to take this stuff. Most of the better kidney transplant centers quit using this drug at least a decade ago. If your doctor still insists that you take it find another doctor.

I had always been skinny and after my kidney transplant this drug caused me to gain 35 lbs, sent my blood presure, cholesterol and triglycerides, through the roof. I finally found a good doctor who took me off of this garbage I lost the weight, feel 100% better and was able to stop the blood pressure and cholesterol meds they had to put me on because I was taking this drug.

Oh yeah the kidney is still doing just fine with NO PREDNISONE!

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