Pennie

Food to me means love. But how you use food means whether you're going to be healthy or not healthy. I'd been overweight all my adult life. I tried Weight Watchers and multiple diet programs. I had short-term success, but nothing where the weight stayed off.

I had sleep apnea and was falling asleep in meetings. I started using a CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] machine at night. I took a pill for high blood pressure and was pre-diabetic, with elevated blood sugar.

Pennie

When my husband and I were rehabbing our house, I noticed there were things I liked to do that I could no longer do, like dry walling and flooring. Fatigue was the hardest thing about being overweight. My endurance was zilch.

In 2007, I was working at Vanderbilt as a research nurse. I decided to learn about Vanderbilt's weight loss surgery. I wanted to go to experts who do this all the time, and I knew the doctors at Vanderbilt did a lot of weight loss surgeries.

I wanted to get off the CPAP machine, have more energy and be healthier.

It took me three attempts before I actually followed through with the surgery. What made me back out the first two times was a fear of failure. I knew this was the last resort. I was afraid to move forward.

After my first failed attempt, I tried the next year to start the process. But a family issue made me change my mind again. It wasn't the right time.

Another year passed. Then, I knew my worst fear was already realized: I was failing to lose weight. So, I made a third attempt, thinking, it's time to make me healthy.

This time, I was ready to succeed. I went through the surgical weight loss seminar again. I had a whole team around me, which I knew was the best approach. The doctor and nurse practitioner made me feel comfortable, not rushed. A psychologist met with me. The dietitian was helpful. Going to see her made me feel accountable.

My advice to others is to walk the walk before surgery. Do the eating plan and the exercise. Whatever you can tolerate. No carbonated beverages, no sugared drinks. Do some walking.

I did the 10 percent weight loss required by my insurance before surgery. Then, I scheduled my surgery two weeks later.

It was the second-best surgery of my life. The best was a hysterectomy for uterine fibroid tumors my doctors hadn't felt because of my fat. I had that three months after my gastric bypass surgery.

Having gastric bypass surgery isn't a cure. It's a good tool to lose weight, a means to an end.

I did this surgery when I was ready to be healthy. I've given up alcohol, sweet beverages and deep fried foods, but I don't look at it as a sacrifice. It's a commitment to be as healthy as possible. It's a trade-off trading away blood pressure medicine, the risk of being diabetic and a CPAP machine.

I'll always have to be aware of my weight. I can't do just diet or just exercise. Both pieces have to be there. I recently ran a half marathon, and I'm proud of it. I see training for 10Ks in my future.

I still like going to support group meetings sharing with people who are pre-op and post-op.

Life is good where I am right now. I look good and I feel good.

I tell people who ask me, "You've got the experts at Vanderbilt right in front of you. Let them help you be more healthy."