Deborah before.
You might not know Deborah Brougher, senior grants and contract specialist in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology. A UTHealth Medical School employee for the last four years, those who do know Brougher might not recognize her – as through old-fashioned diet and exercise, she has lost 45 percent of her body weight in the last 16 months, becoming an inspiration to her colleagues.

Scoop sat down with Brougher to find out how she has made this transformation.

Q: What has motivated your lifestyle changes?
A: In December 2012, my father and I went to National Jewish as we had severe pulmonology issues; after a week of exhaustive testing, Dr. Good, my pulmonologist, told me that my obesity was the biggest problem with my lung function (I weighed 326.2 lbs. at that time).  Dr. Good said that I had to get my BMI down to at least 30 and that if I couldn’t do it, I would have to have bariatric surgery to accomplish it.  That very night, at the hotel, I changed my diet, salmon and green vegetables, no dessert and the process began.  I was put on supplemental oxygen in Denver and had to keep using it in Houston.  Then, in February 2013, I found out I had endometrial cancer, the type that is becoming epidemic in obese women.

Deborah after.
I had a hysterectomy in June 2013 and my gynecological oncologist, Dr. Karen Lu, at MD Anderson Cancer Center, told me that I had to finish losing my weight and keep it off; she described my cancer as the sentinel event for my health and that if I didn’t revise my lifestyle, there would be a downward spiral of health problems and I’d have a very poor quality of life for the rest of my life.  MD Anderson counsels their patients on lifestyle as they believe that diet and exercise improve survivability after cancer treatment.

The three people who have helped me save my life are Dr. Good, my pulmonologist; Dr. Lu, my gynecological oncologist; and Dave Kayser, my trainer.  These amazing people are an integral part of my success.  For an obese person, I believe it’s critical to find a health professional to be involved in this process and make the journey with you.

Q: What kind of changes have you made?
A: I have changed my diet over the past 16 months; it’s been a work in progress, and I’ve finally weaned myself off of almost all added sugar.  I went from eating a large container of ice cream and a bag of chips for dinner (shared with my dog, who was also obese) to eating a lot of green vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat.  And I weigh and measure all of my food; a food scale is a great tool to prevent portion creep.

Over these 16 months, my activity level has steadily increased.  I walk almost every day at lunch time, using the walking map for the medical center, usually the 2.65 mile route (yellow loop and pink loop combined) and my walking speed has steadily increased. One of my co-workers, Sandy Cegielski, and I started walking to train for the Komen walk last October.  Sandy said, “Let’s keep walking after the Komen walk!” and we are still walking.

I also have a wonderful trainer who I see three times/week and I go to the gym three times/week on my own.  But, again, this didn’t happen in the beginning; it’s been a slow and steady progression from doing nothing physically active to this point.

One thing that I believe has helped me is losing my sense of shame about my obesity.  One day someone asked me how much I weighed (we had been talking about my plans for getting healthy), and I looked at him and thought, I can’t tell him how much I weight!  And then I thought, why not, he is asking out of interest in my health and so I told him.  It was very freeing.  And inadvertently, I have created a support network in my department and at my gym.  Everyone encourages me and tells me what a great job I’m doing; some days, it’s just what you need when you’re not so positive about things.  I believe that this is the largest reason for my success, these wonderful people.  And never underestimate the kindness of strangers!  I have people compliment me that I’ve never seen before or met but they have seen my progress and speak to me.  How special that that they take the time to encourage me!

I also believe that my exercise has helped me deal with my overeating.  If I’m unhappy or stressed when I go for my walk or to the gym, I work that all out there, not by going home and eating ice cream and chips to anesthetize myself.

One additional motivator is that I am able to have DEXA scans to monitor my body composition.  A DEXA scan shows the fat, lean tissue, and bone mineral content.  I go every three months to monitor my weight loss.  My last scan showed I’d lost 34 lbs. of fat!  I can look back at all my scans and see tangible proof that I’m making progress!  It will be a great motivator as I transition from weight loss to maintaining my weight.

Q: What have been the results?
A: To date, I’ve lost 147.8 lbs.  I started December 20, 2012, at 326.2 lbs., and I’m down to 178.40.  My body fat percentage is down from 53% to 25%.  My resting heart rate is now 46 and my blood pressure the last time it was taken was 111/65.  I have been very lucky that I didn’t have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol but now my blood work is better than normal.   I’ve lost 16” from my bust and 16.75” around my hips.

Someone I work with told me I’m a much nicer person now, and she’s right!

Q: How are you feeling?
A: I feel like a new person and look like one; every day is a good day for me.  I gained 100 lbs. when I was 31 years old and then spent the next 29 years obese, trying to lose weight and gaining/losing hundreds of pounds.  After being obese for so long, you forget how limited you are and, for me, isolated as well.  The most I ever weighed, at least that I recorded, was 350 lbs.

I am cancer free and off of my supplemental oxygen!  My lung function has improved 25% and is no longer classified as COPD!  That is a huge improvement for me and a boon for our health plan, I’m off all of those expensive COPD drugs and oxygen!  Who knew obesity was such a problem for lung function?

Q: What advice do you have for others?
A: If you are obese and want to make lifestyle changes, start today!  See your doctor and ask many questions.  I believe more information than less is good; my experience with my doctors before Dr. Good and Dr. Lu is that they don’t really give you the whole picture of what obesity is doing to your body and the risks we run by staying obese.  Do your reading on the internet and go prepared to get all the information you need.  Ask your doctor to send you to a nutritionist for a consultation if you want to change your diet and are not sure what and how much you should be eating.  And if you want to start physical activity, be sure you’re cleared by your doctor then take it slowly but steadily; if it’s a walk to the mailbox or around the block, it’s a start.  And it’s not always easy to exercise in the beginning; sometimes it’s just uncomfortable, but it gets easier.  Walking is a great place to start!  When I first went to my trainer, I didn’t (and couldn’t) do more than 15 minutes of actual exercise; he educated me and showed me techniques and such and as I have become more fit, he has added more exercises and upped the intensity.

Find a way to create a support system; you will find this in the most unexpected places!

Keep weight loss logs; there is nothing more satisfying than looking back at your log to see how your weight loss is going; I’ve been using since 2006 and the only thing I ever did consistently was weigh and log it in  Now I have a record; even if you’re not able to lose weight, knowing where you are is a great tool.  I remember when I had to enter 350 in my weight log and thought that was as bad as it could get.  That was in July 2008, and it really wasn’t the worst.  Going on supplemental oxygen was the worst.

Q: How does it feel to know you are inspiring others at the Medical School?
A: It’s a bit daunting to think I might be inspiring others!  When I think about seeing pictures of other people who had lost large amounts of weight, I always thought, “Oh, I’d never be able to do that!”  But I have so I now know it’s possible.  If I can ever do anything that would help someone else in this journey, well, I’m in.  If you’ve never been obese, it’s hard to comprehend the struggle.  I hear people say,” just stop eating and exercise!”  It’s just not that simple.

I would also like to help spread the word about endometrial cancer.  I was shocked when I found out I had cancer; I’d never had any gynecological problems and then to have cancer!  Dr. Lu explained that endometrial cancer is not as well known as other types of cancers and told me to spread the word.  It’s a cancer that, in the early stages, is very treatable and women need to know about this, especially obese women who are at a higher risk.  There is great information on the MD Anderson website and any obese woman should discuss this with her doctor.

If you are obese and interested in participating in a clinical trial, MD Anderson has a trial, the LEAP study, which monitors obese women who are postmenopausal to learn more about endometrial cancer.  Dr. Karen Lu, at MD Anderson, is the Principal Investigator of the NIH funded Uterine SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) project, which is a huge research project on endometrial cancer.  Uterine cancer is becoming epidemic in obese women so, if you are obese, please educate yourself, talk to your doctor about this and be sure to know the symptoms.  There are eight obesity related cancers and many other conditions that are caused by obesity; if you’re obese, do your reading on what is happening to your body.

-Darla Brown, Office of Communications, Medical School