celebrating independence after wls

Celebrating My Independence With WLS

July 3, 2017

Even as a kid, I looked forward to the Independence holiday. I grew up with a very patriotic flag-loving mother, so we celebrated it in a big way. Our festivities had food (lots of it), fun, and fireworks. Little did I know that my love of Independence Day would grow deeper as a result of my later-in-life independence with WLS.

Inside the house, she put up red, white and blue decorations, candles, and two flags. On the outside of our house, we had a big American flag that she put out too. Shortly after I turned three-years-old, I could recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Growing up with such a strong sense of patriotism, I still feel that same loyalty and appreciation of the United States, our troops, and veterans. Since having RNY in 2001, Independence Day has taken on an additional personal meaning to me.

Before surgery, I was hardly independent nor free. Morbid obesity and the size of my body prevented me from so many things, in a sense obesity stripped me of much of my independence and freedom.

I could give you so many examples of that, but I'm going to share one that always comes to my mind on how very trapped I was inside my own body.

Barely Independent, Definitely Not Free

On the 4th of July in 1994, my loving husband surprised me with a gift of a romantic hot air balloon ride over the picturesque coastline of Southern California. I was beyond thrilled as I love anything to do with flying and of course my husband!

When we arrived, my excitement turned quickly to humiliation when I attempted to climb into the balloon basket. They had a short little ladder, but I weighed so much that I didn't have the strength or muscle power to lift myself up enough into the basket. It took two strong men to push me from behind into the basket, I felt instant humiliation!

It was exhilarating flying over beautiful scenery, but I had a tough time freely enjoying it as I was worried and preoccupied with thoughts of how was I going to get out of the basket. We were in the air for 20 minutes before there was a hair-raising malfunction and the balloon operator had to land us at the side of a steep slope in a residential area. The other four people and my husband were able to climb out of the basket easily, but once again I struggled and needed assistance. I didn’t think it could get any worse than that but it did.

We then had to climb the steep slope and find a house with an open backyard or a fence low enough for us to climb over. The steep slope was a struggle for me, but we eventually found a fence to climb over or so I thought. Due to the weight my body carried and the fatigue I felt, I was physically not capable of climbing over the fence with everyone else.

My husband and I walked further than the group to find an opening that I could walk through since climbing the fence was not an option for me. By the time we got there, everyone else from our group had been picked up and returned safely to the balloon airport, except us. It was a truly humiliating experience that showed me just how greatly carrying excess weight was impacting my independence and freedom to participate in the life that I wanted to live.

Celebrating My Independence With WLS

It has been a long time since that 4th of July, as well as a long time since I had bariatric surgery 16 years ago. So much in my life has transformed since WLS.

A few of my favorite NSVs (non-scale victories) have been:

  • Completing flight school and the FAA testing to become a licensed private pilot
  • Walking (and finishing!) in a 60 mile, 3-day Susan G. Koman Cancer Event
  • Hiking and backpacking trips
  • Re-discovered my childhood passion for photography now that I'm not conscientious about my body

Not only have I lost weight, I’ve also regained my freedom and independence. Happy Independence Day as you celebrate your independence!

cathy wilson


Cathy Wilson, PCC, BCC, had RNY surgery in 2001 and lost 147 pounds. Cathy is a regular contributor to the OH Blog and authored the "Mind Matters" column in ObesityHelp Magazine. Cathy is a licensed pilot and loves flying. She is a member of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC).

Read more articles by Cathy!