Health Check: The Journey to Self-Care

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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) – ”I missed out on moments with my kids because of my size. I missed out on activities, things that we could have done together that we should have done together. And I didn’t ever want to do that again,” said Jo Hendershot, Clinical Nurse Manager for Medical Oncology at WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center.

She said as a child she was obese. The last time she was under 200 pounds she was in seventh grade.

“And we did not have healthy eating habits when I was a kid,” Hendershot said. “And I didn’t know that I was a kid, I ate what, what was on the table. And it was always clean your plate, there are starving children, you know. So we probably over ate, everything was processed, everything was packaged and frozen. We were very self-sufficient kids, I had a single working mom. So we cooked a lot of our own meals when we cooked. And just that, that led to just a lifestyle, or a lifetime, almost of living that way.”

The change started four years ago during a trip to Kings Island. Jo tried to ride a rollercoaster with her boys and was asked to sit in the tester seat outside of the ride in front of everyone.

“And I didn’t I didn’t fit and I had to walk back and leave my kids there to ride the roller coaster without me,” Hendershot said. “And I remember in that moment, thinking that’s not me. I don’t leave my kids for one thing and I don’t want to not have control over what I do. It wasn’t the fact that I was too big. It was that that dictated what I did.”

It was at that moment that Jo knew she wanted to make a change in her life for herself and for her family. Hendershot knew it wasn’t just about making a quick fix it was about changing her entire lifestyle physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.

“I think like, everybody, it wasn’t the first time I tried,” Hendershot said. “I had stopped and started, I had done every diet. I had bought every workout video, tried every crash and fad. And, you know, things would work for 10 pounds, 15 pounds. But then when I wasn’t doing that anymore, it didn’t work anymore. So like everybody, I had started and stopped 100 times this was not a one-and-done thing. I know from there, I never looked back. So I talked to my doctor, talked to my primary care doctor. We had actually talked about weight loss surgery. We had talked about different medications that you could take, there was a new, a new injection that we talked about. Those were certainly options and nothing that I would ever knock somebody for trying because I think everybody finds their own way. But for me, I asked him, let me try this first. What would you tell me to do? And he explained to me that just like everything else, these would be a short-term fix. Even if I got the weight loss surgery, I would still have to change my lifestyle. I would still have to eat differently, I would still have to move my body more. So I started very slowly. The first thing I did was quit drinking pop. And sugary beverages like that. Not eating late at night, not getting up, and snacking. Listening to my body when I wasn’t hungry anymore. I was a really big over-eater. So that was a big thing for me just portion control. I researched what actual portions were and understanding a serving of chicken is not half a chicken. It is like the palm of my hand. So I learned serving sizes. Early on, I did more journaling everything that I ate so that I could keep track and stay accountable of what I was taking in. I don’t have to do that now just because it’s so routine at this point. But that was that’s the first step just start making better choices.”

“I think it is important to understand that we need to be able to take care of ourselves holistically and that’s all really what self-care healthcare is. It’s about balance. It’s about engagement, wellness, and about resiliency,” said Dr. Walter Kerschl, Chief Medical Officer for WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center.

When talking about a lifestyle change it goes back way deeper to when you were a child and talking about health literacy. It is a topic the needs to be promoted more according to Dr. Kerschl.

“And we find that in certain areas, health literacy is not as strong as it should be,” Dr. Kerschl said. “So we got to take opportunities to educate, we educate oftentimes, you might be educating the children at school, and they bring it home to the parents who may not understand a healthy diet or a healthy lifestyle. So I think the take-home message really needs to be we need to do a better job I think at promoting health literacy and helping to educate our community on healthy habits, whether they be eating or exercise, or just in general, what do we do to keep our whole well being at an optimal state.”

Dr. Kerschl said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people in the workplace across different occupations dealt with burnouts and stressful situations. With the pandemic still ongoing after almost two years, there are different kinds of stress levels, whether it be working at home, trying to find daycare help with the kids, or even just trying to find employment for yourself to put food on the table.

Taking care of yourself has changed meaning since March 2020. Dr. Kerschl discussed how there has also been an increase in anxiety and depression that has been brought on by the pandemic. Whether you’re stressing about your job or stressing about where you’re next paycheck is going.

“So COVID made that situation prior, much, much worse and I think we really had good insight into what really needed to be done,” Dr. Kerschl said. “So it really highlighted for us that, hey, this is important. We need to focus on self-care healthcare, we need to focus on being holistic so that we can be a healthier society. So it’s all those things put together. I think we’re seeing that a lot more and in patients and we have to be more aware of that. And really try to focus on those well-being initiatives and those things that can help you maintain a healthy diet, maintain exercise, getting out there, you know, we’re not socializing as much as we have in the past. And that causes some, anxiety and depression in folks as well. That social support structure is so important for our community, to maintain health and to maintain well being”

Hendershot and Dr. Kerschl both say it is important to have a strong support system around you to make changes.

“My kids are just, they’re just blown away, they think that we can do everything together,” Hendershot said. “You know my 16-year-old, he’s a football player, and we’ll go to the gym and lift weights together, you know. So I just did my first powerlifting competition. At 42, I decided to become a powerlifter. So I just did that. And he was up there, he was my biggest fan, you know, cheering me on from the crowd. And, you know he cheered ‘that’s my mom’.”

“You know, having the support of your friends and your colleagues to help you in that journey that’s going to help you succeed and I think that that’s very important,” Dr. Kerschl said. “Certainly having a family that’s supportive, that understands your needs, and, and where you might be struggling is going to be, you know, critical to your success.”

Hendershot said before you can tackle the physical side you have to tackle the mental side.

“Everything that is a reason why you’re not doing the things to be healthy is an excuse that you have created for yourself. And they’re valid excuses. They are but they’re still excuses,” Hendershot said. “They’re still reasons not to do the things that you know you need to do to make the changes you need to make for yourself. So, dropping those excuses and realizing I’m, I’m accountable for that. I make the decision to sit there and scroll social media and drink coffee in the morning instead of go for a walk. Or it’s not that I don’t have time. It’s how I’m prioritizing my time.”

Hendershot said this kind of lifestyle change is not something you can just do overnight all at once.

“And that’s why you know, I’m a work in progress today, I always will be a work in progress because health is not a journey that ends it’s it is your life. It is the rest of your life. It is the most important thing if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.”

If Hendershot could go back and tell her younger self that it is possible, she would say this:

“So I would tell her that I love her. I love her the way she is. But there is a better way that she doesn’t have to feel trapped in a body that she’s not comfortable in. She doesn’t have to be held back by anything or anyone. She’s strong enough. She’s smart enough. And she has enough support. There. There’s a great medical community behind her. There’s all the research all the data, all the information in the world at her fingertips, and she can make a change you shake and make a choice.”

Hendershot said she has set some powerlifting and personal goals for herself in 2022 but her main goal though is to ride that rollercoaster at Kings Island four years later.

Copyright 2022 WTAP. All rights reserved.

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