Jacqueline Casson, 65 *
Diets featuring tomatoes, eggs and grapefruit had one thing in common for Jacqueline. They didn’t work. And while her friends relished their retirement, she felt that her weight had sucked every ounce of enjoyment form her life.
It was Professor Kerrigan and his team who put the zest back in. Since her gastric band procedure, she’s the sociable, active, happy person she used to be – and she can’t get over the difference it’s made. The feeling, she says, ‘is wonderful.’
The nightmare realisation dawned during an everyday shopping expedition. While out searching for a birthday card, Jacqueline Casson, then 65, was struck by the reflection of what she took to be a large, unkown woman in a shop window.
As she stopped to see more she realised that the mismatched proportions – small head, big body – belonged not to a stranger but to her.
It was a devastating blow. Back home, Jacqueline dissolved in tears. ‘Heartbreaking,’ is how she describes the feeling.
But the moment had been a long time in coming. Jacqueline’s weight loss started after she had her two sons. Others regained their pre-pregnancy weight. She didn’t. Instead, she became a serial dieter, working her way through different regimes.
From eggs, grapefruit and tomatoes – she tried the lot. They had only one thing in common – they didn’t work. The weight stuck to her like a pot of glue. When it did temporarily disappear it always came back. And to overcome her misery, Jacqueline would take solace in comfort eating.
The realisation that there was no diet left worth trying made her hit rock bottom. Retirement at 58 after running a pet shop should have been fun. For Jacqueline, 5’5” and then weighing 16 stone, it was anything but.
While her friends, who hadn’t gained weight, carried on socialising, enjoying holidays and nights out, Jacqueline stayed in, avoiding being seen – and even travelling on public transport. To her mental anguish was added physical suffering: aching joints, arthritic hips and breathlessness which hit her when she bent over. High blood pressure, sleep apnoea and panic attacks, accompanied by a racing heart, added to the misery.
When she raised the idea of surgery, supportive husband, Mike was with her all the way. ‘If it’s what you want, you must do it,’ was his verdict.
Her GP’s referral led her to Professor David Kerrigan, specialist bariatric surgeon who now heads Phoenix Health. He suggested a gastric band, the best procedure given her lifestyle and age.
Fitted in 2009, the band has, she says, made her a new woman. She can’t praise Professor Kerrigan enough. ‘He’s wonderful,’ she declares.
Not only has she lost 4½ stone since the operation – or just over three quarters of that excess weight – but she’s still shedding the pounds, dropping to a current 11st 7lb and buying clothes in size 14 instead of the size 22 she needed in the bad old days.
Though she paid for the operation from retirement savings – she wasn’t eligible for NHS funding – she doesn’t begrudge a penny. While you’re supposed to be spending your money on enjoying life after work, nothing about her existence was fun, she says. ‘I wasn’t living – I was simply existing.’
Jacqueline today brims with confidence and enthusiasm. Though she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, even this hasn’t put her off her stride. Instead, she feels her earlier surgery has made her stronger and better able to cope. She even wonders if the cancer would have been detected as early without it.
What makes the difference is feeling good about herself. It makes she’s confronting her cancer head on – to the point of having a pink ribbon tattooed inside her wrist as a way of raising almost £600 for her local hospice and MacMillan Cancer Support.
As to Professor Kerrigan and his team, ‘they were all brilliant,’ she says. She singles out the dietician – ‘a real gem’ – for particularly praise. The gastric band itself is ‘a little miracle’.
Though she’s heard that you can cheat when it comes to your diet, it’s not something she could even imagine doing. After all, when you’ve paid for your operation out of your own hard earned money, the only person you end up cheating is yourself. ‘No way’ is she going to put any of that weight on – ever.
She’d urge others not to let age stand in their way. ‘Just do it,’ she says – and don’t see retirement as a barrier. You may have stopped working but life is out there, just waiting to be lived.
There are also the unquestionable physical benefits – better joints, lower blood pressure – which make daily activities so much easier. And that includes travelling.
Following trips to Rome, Gran Canaria and Rhodes, there’s a shopping visit to New York in the pipeline.
Her husband and sons are in full agreement. Mike has got the happy, lively wife he used to have. Jacqueline has had her lost life returned to her. No wonder she describes it as ‘the best decision I’ve ever made.’