Christmas, Cancer, and Carla

carla cooper and mikeOne of the most important features of a support group is just that – support. When life gets tough, you might need help in unconventional ways. Bariatric surgery support groups are most common  in person, usually offered through hospitals and surgeons’ offices. With my hectic schedule and so much of my time spent online, I prefer to participate in an online support group. I found the Bariatric Bad Girls Club around the time my surgery was approved, and I’ve come to depend on those friendships daily.

One of the dearest friends I’ve made through BBGC is Carla (AKA CC-BBGC). We’ve spent time together several times over the last 2 years, and she has given me encouragement and love when I’ve struggled through tough times. In August, we had plans to room together at the Obesity Action Coalition’s Your Weight Matters conference in Phoenix. On the flight between Norfolk and Atlanta, her husband Mike had a grand mal seizure on the airplane. After days of diagnosis and treatment, Mike was diagnosed with brain cancer.

rosie bullock christmas
Their last 4 months have been spent in chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and various other treatments. Despite Carla’s infectious happiness and positivity, the stress she has been under to support her husband through the last few months has worn on her. I’ve sent messages of love and friendship, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

When my husband was scheduled for a trip over Christmas, Rosie and I had originally planned to spend those days kicking back in pajamas and watching Christmas movies. But on the 23rd, after noticing that Carla’s posts on Facebook were particularly grinchy, I knew I had to do more. After a few travel arrangements, I decided to plan a quick 24 hour trip to Virginia. Rosie and I flew out to Norfolk on the morning of Christmas Eve to bring some Christmas cheer. We came decked out in matching Christmas jammies and silly hats. The smile on Carla’s face was priceless when we came out of security and each gave her a giant hug.

christmas in virginia with CarlaCarla was wearing a Christmas sweater at the airport in an attempt to be merry, but said that she had to go home and get into her Christmas gear. She dressed up as “Carla Claus,” brought Mike along, and we had some fun at Virginia Beach. We walked the oceanfront in our silly hats and outfits, talked, laughed, and got some exercise. When Mike was too tired to continue, he waited for us to walk further along the oceanfront. It was fun to see other people smile and comment on our “gay apparel,” and watch Carla briefly forget about the stress that cancer has brought into her life.

virginia beach no swearingWith all the stress that Mike and Carla have been under recently, it felt so good to help them laugh, smile, and divert their worries away from cancer for a while. We posed for funny pictures in Virginia Beach, particularly by the “anti-profanity” signs (Because in a Navy town, it’s common for everyone to “swear like sailors”).

After VB, Rosie said that she wanted to drive to the North Carolina border because she’d never been to NC before. So we hopped on the highway and headed to the border. We stopped at Border Station, which is a convenience store where half is in Virginia, half is in North Carolina, with a huge dividing line through the middle of the store.

Norfolk Christmas Eve Dinner 2014For dinner, we drove to the marina where Mike and Carla keep their boat. There’s a lovely dockside restaurant called The Lagoon where we enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner. Our mutual friend Vivian, who is also in BBGC, met us at the restaurant to have dinner with us. We laughed, we ate, and had a dinner that was a little unconventional for Christmas. We joked around with the restaurant staff, sang along to the Christmas songs playing over the speakers, and enjoyed the view of the marina as the sun set.

When we got back to Carla’s house, we snuggled up on the couch and watched the ridiculously awful B-movie, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” It’s one of those movies that’s so bad, it’s good. We laughed so hard we cried. Carla packed up a suitcase full of sugar-free Torani syrups (our favorite) to send back on the plane to Michigan (totally worth checking a bag).

bullock family 2013 christmas at airportChristmas morning was different than any I’d had before. We didn’t sit around a tree and open presents. We just enjoyed each other’s company as we ate breakfast and watched the parade on tv. Rosie and I had to be back at the airport fairly early to fly back to Detroit, so we said our reluctant goodbyes before 8 am. When Rosie and I got off the plane in Detroit, Taylor was waiting for us at the gate in between his flight legs. We snapped a quick family photo, gave each other a kiss, and he was off on his way.

Christmas 2013 felt merry this year, and it didn’t require a Christmas tree with a load of presents to open. It was about love, friendship, and celebrating the small joys in life. My greatest hope for Mike and Carla this year is that treatments will be effective and his cancer will go into remission. I hope to visit again later this year, celebrating the successful conclusion to chemo. Until then, I’ll be supporting Carla however I can online. 🙂

Wordless Wednesday: Roadtrip Almonds


I’m Speaking At ObesityHelp in Anaheim

speaking at obesityhelp 2013 in anaheimTomorrow, I’m heading to Anaheim to speak at the 10th Annual ObesityHelp National Conference. Last year, I attended the ObesityHelp event in Atlanta, and I feel honored that I was selected to speak at this year’s event. My session is titled “How to Connect for Support, Outreach, and Accountability.” Here’s a quick session overview from the event page:

Learn priceless tips on how to amplify the use of social media to help you make lasting connections during and after your conference experience. Nicole will talk about Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and food and fitness tracking systems. Discover strategies that will help you connect with others on your journey for support, outreach and accountability. You’ll walk away with a list of actionable tips that you can put to work right away at the Conference and for the long haul of your journey.

nicole bullock obesity help 2013
I’ve been told that my session is sold out, which might be because I’ll be giving out a Nexus 7 tablet in my session. I’m not sure if those not registered will be able to sneak in. You may need to bribe someone at the door. If you can’t make my individual session,  I will also be speaking on a post-op panel with Beth Sheldon-BadoreTerry RowMichelle VicariChris Waffle, and Jessica Stockton.

So much of my success I’ve achieved in my weight loss has been through the support I’ve felt online. Many of these online connections have become real-life friends and confidants. To be honest, I feel like a bit of a hack lately for being chosen for this topic. The support and outreach I felt so confident with in the first year of my weight loss experience has waned in the last 6 months (due to some health problems I plan to address in a post in the near future). It’s crazy how when you’re not feeling well, it’s harder to reach out for the support you need (which, consequently, is when you might need it most). Connecting over social media has given me an important link to the weight loss world while I had to take a break from blogging. I’ve decided that it’s okay to take a break, and I’ll be talking about that in my session.

It’s not too late to register of ObesityHelp in Anaheim. You can sign up on their website, or register at the door. Tickets are very affordable at $75, and include two days of education, entertainment, food, and fun.

Vegas-Bound for WLSFA

nicole wlsfa vegasSo excited.

Leaving for the airport in an hour to fly to Vegas. It’s time for the WLSFA Meet and Greet. I’m going to be seeing my Bariatric Bad Girls, and so many friends who have been helpful and supportive through the last year as I’ve had surgery and lost so much weight.

Oh, and Carnie Wilson is the keynote speaker. She’s been a bit of an idol of mine since my adolescence. Any of you who have been karaoke-ing with me know this – “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips is my go-to song.

If you’re there, make sure to say hi!

Vegas, baby!
WLSFA header

Catching Up With Nicole

Bariatric Bad Girls BraceletsMy, my, my. It’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve had so much going on that I’ve hardly had a chance to do anything blog-related. So consider this my catch-up post. I know it’s April Fools Day, but no jokes in this post!

My Trip to Virginia: My friend Robin from BBGC hosted a party in Virginia, and as soon as I knew it was happening…I had to go. Standby flights worked out in my favor, and I got to spend last weekend with some of my favorite ladies in the WLS community. In this pic: Carla, Crystal, Nicole, Suzanne, Robin, and me….all sporting our pink BBGC bracelets.

I’ve spent so much time talking online with these ladies, and only have seen them in person one other time in Atlanta for the Obesity Help event. I feel so much sisterhood with Bad Girls, and I wish I could spend so much more time with them in person. I’m really looking forward to the WLSFA Meet and Greet in May, as well as the Obesity Action Coalition conference in August.

Reactive Hypoglycemia Update: After 2 months of waiting, I finally got in for my endocrinology appointment at the Utah Diabetes Center. The doctor reviewed my symptoms, food and exercise diaries, and agreed the best thing to do for now is to monitor my blood glucose levels. I got my DIABEETUS testing supplies and it’s been nice to have better marker of my blood sugar levels than just symptoms alone.

I have been holding back at hard exercise at his suggestion, so most of my workouts are less than 30 minutes (and usually just walking). I also met with a nutritionist, who suggested that I eat about 300 more calories a day, with more complex carbohydrates and protein. I’ve only had 2 RH episodes in the past two weeks, which I consider a victory. Unfortunately, my 3-month weight plateau continues…

nicole at instacareBronchitis: I’ve been out of commission with bronchitis for a few days, but I’m starting to be on the mend. I had 10 days of minor symptoms that eventually culminated in pure misery and a visit to Instacare. I’m on day 3 of antibiotics, and spent the majority of Easter weekend asleep in bed. I’m hoping to be feeling good enough to travel to California this week for some time with family and the Social Media Managers World Conference in San Diego next weekend.

The 2013 WLS Awards: Today I found out that I was chosen as the “favorite WLS newbie” in DivaTaunia’s Weight Loss Surgery awards. Thank you to all who voted for me…I’m happy that you have been inspired by me (and felt inclined to vote). Check out the podcast to see which other nominees are rocking the bariatric world.

Swimsuit Season: The weather is warming up, and it’s time to find a swimsuit. For the first time in my life, I’ve actually tried on some 2-piece tankinis. I’m still looking for the right suit, but I’m excited to have SO MANY more options than I did in years past.

April is going to be a busy month, but I’ll try to post on my blog as often as I can. I’ve been trying to test out traveling with and without my laptop. It’s a lot easier to ditch the laptop and bring one less bag with me on the plane…but I can’t do everything I want to on my iPad. After I get back from San Diego, I leave for Type-A Advanced in Philadelphia, where I’ll be speaking on one of the expert panels. Then I’ve got WLSFA in Vegas in May, and FitBloggin’ in Portland in June.


Biking Across the Golden Gate Bridge

gastric bypass dischargeLast week, I visited the Bay Area for the first time. I’ve been to southern California many times, but never north of Fresno. When I had travel plans to go to San Jose for SMX West, I decided to go to San Francisco for 2 days of sightseeing. I did tons of walking, and saw all the sites possible. I did a double-decker bus tour of the city, and noticed all of the bikes around. I saw the signs to ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and I immediately knew that I wanted to do it.

As I looked into the various bike tours, I realized that it wasn’t just riding a bike 1.7 across the bridge. It was going to be a significant physical event. I ate a very yummy lunch at the pub at Ghiradelli Square (eggs Benedict with brisket on homemade cornbread) and got enough protein and carbs to last me for a couple hours. I packed some snacks…some jerky for protein and peanut butter M&Ms for some quick sugar.

I rented my bike from Blazing Saddles, and picked it up near Fisherman’s Wharf. They offer rentals by the hour, or for a full day. It was $27 for a 24-hour rental, and they gave me the map to get to Sausalito. Everyone gave a little different account of how hard it would be…and how many miles I’d be riding, so I just geared up for a very long 9+ mile ride.

I rode along the bike trail along the Presidio, through the wetlands at Chrissy Field, and enjoyed a gorgeous, sunny day in San Francisco. While I was attempting awkward selfies with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, I met a girl named Cat who was also trying to do the same. We took pictures for each other, including the picture above. We hit it off immediately, and decided we’d ride the bridge together. There were some pretty wicked hills to get up to the bridge itself, and I had to walk a fair amount of the hills. Once we were on top we were ready to ride across one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States.
golden gate bridge biking collage
It was such a sensory experience to ride the bridge. First off, I was sore from the 4+ miles of bike riding I’d already done at this point, and was surprised that it was actually an incline for the first third of the bridge. We were on the far left of the bridge, riding in a narrow lane that also had bikers coming from the opposite direction. So I was sandwiched between other bikers, and oncoming vehicle traffic coming on the right (only separated by an inadequate fence). I had to concentrate to keep up my speed, avoid running into other bikers, but still enjoying the gorgeous view of the bay. It was emotional to see the pure beauty of the misty bay, with my heart racing from the physical exertion, and realize I was in the process of doing one of the most exhilarating things of my life.

Once at the opposite end of the bridge, Cat and I took pictures together. We were so happy to enjoy the experience together. She was on time restrictions, so we parted ways after our pictures. She rode back across the bridge toward Fisherman’s Wharf, and I continued on to do the ride into Sausalito.

When I picked up my bike, the people there said “And then it’s just a 3 mile easy ride down to Sausalito.” Oh, how wrong they were! I was not downhill like I expected.There was a steep and curvy portion to get down underneath the bridge, and it was flat to drive into Fort Point. But then the next 3+ miles were on an incline. And some pretty steep inclines. I found this course on MapMyRide, and as you can see…the elevation rises were pretty significant. Had I known that I’d be doing such tough biking, I would have thought twice about the full ride. And against doing so much additional riding around before I crossed the Golden Gate.

Once I finally got into Sausalito, I was TIRED. And hungry. I just barely missed the ferry back to Pier 39, so I decided to get some dinner and catch the next ferry. I found the bike parking near the ferry, and walked around to find a place to eat. I misread the ferry schedule and missed it by about 2 minutes, which meant I had to wait another 75 minutes to catch the last ferry. Even though my legs were on fire, I walked around Sausalito more until it was time to board the ferry.

The ferry ride was 30 minutes, and I was so worn out I dozed for a lot of the ride. We passed Alcatraz and watched the LED light show on the Bay Bridge. As we were docking, I realized that we weren’t going  to Pier 39 like I thought, but all the way over to the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero. That meant I had an additional mile-plus ride to get back to the bike shop. At that point, my legs were so rubbery and tired I could hardly ride. Especially in the hillier portions of the city. By the time I dropped off my bike, it was after 8 pm, which meant I’d been on a bike or walking for over 7 hours. I returned my gear, hopped the trolley, and got back to my room as quickly as possible. I was totally asleep within 10 minutes of hitting the sack.

Like learning how to ski, riding this course was something I never would have attempted before losing weight. It felt so awesome to be able to enjoy such a physically-taxing activity. My butt and legs were sore for days (even to the point it was hard to stay seated at SMX), but it was so worth it.

Obesity Help 2012 Conference Recap

bariatric bad girls at waffle house

Last month, I attended the 2012 Obesity Help Conference in Atlanta (hashtag #OHAtlanta). Even though I’m not active in the Obesity Help support forums, I was happy that they were hosting an event. A lot of my friends from Bariatric Bad Girls Club were attending, which was enough motivation I needed to buy a ticket.

Because I was flying out to Atlanta on standby, I wasn’t exactly sure when I’d be arriving. I had my hotel room at the Hilton booked for Friday and Saturday night, but I ended up getting out on Thursday. And by getting out, I mean that I took the scenic route. I missed the direct flight to Atlanta by about 5 minutes because the stupid security line at SLC was longer than I’d ever seen it. Rather than waiting 5 hours for the next direct flight, I connected in Tulsa, and got to Atlanta Thursday evening.

waffle house cheese eggs

I tried to connect with the other BBGC ladies throughout my travels, but I couldn’t find anyone who had an empty bed in their room. I found an inexpensive (aka ghetto) hotel that was a few blocks from the Hilton, which was convenient for our breakfast plans in the morning.  In the morning,  I hauled my luggage down Virginia Avenue toward the conference. I was flagged down by a bunch of friendly people thinking I was mistakenly trying to walk to the Atlanta airport (which is close, but not within walking distance). I got to the Hilton, and immediately saw my BBGC ladies.

And where did we decide on for breakfast during an obesity conference in the South? Yup, Waffle House. Let’s just say a few people in the group got very tummysick and regretted the meal. I got the cheese ‘n eggs and was spared from getting myself too ill.

bariatric bad girls in AtlantaWhen we got back to the hotel, we went to the clothing exchange in one of the conference rooms. It was nice to be able to get some “new” clothes in smaller sizes. Between what I got in the exchange, and from Robin from BBGC, my suitcase was totally full when I came home.

There were lots of classes each day. Some were panel discussions, others were intensive courses about everything from plastic surgery to diet plans. Beth (aka Melting Mama) is the fearless leader of the BBGC, and was on the best panel discussion that I attended. She is excellent at bringing up difficult topics and discussing the hard realities of life after weight loss surgery. A lot of people don’t realize that weight loss surgery makes you more prone to alcoholism. When the food that you’ve relied on your whole life suddenly loses it’s appeal, transfer addictions happen. The discussions that happened about transfer addictions at the conference were very enlightening.

BBGC Fab 4 in Atlanta

One of the most wonderful things about OHAtlanta was the creation of “The Fab Four.” Suzanne, Angela, Crystal and I were naturally drawn to each other during the first day of the conference, and we were inseparable until we all left to go home. We sat with each other in classes, ate our meals together, chatted over drinks, and bonded like sisters. Although I connected with almost all of the BBGC’s in Atlanta, the Fab Four is the best thing that came out of the conference for me. We talk daily over a group instant messenger, and discuss food, clothes, relationships, non-scale victories, and our inappropriate senses of humor.

On Saturday night, there was a weight loss fashion show and masquerade ball. It was so fun to see the men and women in the fashion show who have had success and have gained confidence. So many smiles from the participants and cheers from the audience. After the fashion show, people donned their masks for the masquerade ball. Because it was in October, some people went with pretty dresses and masks, others went in Halloween costumes.

I went with a dress that I really like and feel cute and confident in. But part of me wishes that I’d gotten in on the group costume. Because black and pink are the colors of BBGC, a bunch of the ladies decided to go as the Pink Ladies from Grease, complete with Beth in her fashion show attire and Carla as “slutty Sandy” wearing her Slimpressions and red heels. I’m not in the Pink Ladies pic, but look how cute they are!

Besides the official conference events, we had a blast going through the vendor booths. There were some great vitamin, protein, and weight loss surgery-friendly products for sale. I skipped on the fizzy tablet that turns into vitamin jello, but I did buy my first Slimpressions.

I feel so blessed and fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful group of ladies (and a few token gents). It’s not just a support group for me. They are my virtual family. Because they’ve gone through a lot of the same struggles in life, we’re bonded. We rely on each other when times are tough, answer questions that we may have been misinformed on, and get our daily vitamin reminders from Toni. I met quite a few of the BBGCs briefly in May when I stopped by the WLSFA meet and greet on my way down to Cali for a wedding, but I didn’t get to bond with many people. After spending adequate time with my ladies in Atlanta, I can’t imagine my daily life without their support and humor. There is a lot of love in BBGC…just ask Carla who gave the most epic kiss of the weekend.

I went to quite a few conferences this year, and I had the most fun at OHAtlanta, hands down. If you’re interested in attending a future weight loss surgery event with the Bariatric Bad Girls, the next one will be the Las Vegas WLSFA Meet and Greet in May. I’ll be there with bells on.



Roadtrip To Portland – Part 1

Ever since my dilation procedure, I’ve been feeling great.  I decided I was in good enough shape to go on an overnight trip to Portland with a friend. He moved from Salt Lake City to Seattle, and needed a travel companion to keep him safe on the road. Originally my husband was going to go, but he ended up being scheduled on a trip of his own. It would consist of a drive to Portland and a flight back to SLC, all taking  a day and a half.

Because the vehicle would be jammed packed with his stuff, I didn’t have a lot of room to bring what I needed to travel with. I packed a small carryon suitcase, but he said it wouldn’t fit. I told him the only way I could pack lighter was to not bring my CPAP machine, and he said he could handle my snoring. I did pack a back of snacks…an insulated back with some Simply Gogurt, Laughing Cow cheese, shaved parmesean curls, grapes, and some sliced deli turkey.

We left SLC around 3:20 on Saturday with the plan to overnight in Baker City Oregon. After a pit stop in Burley, ID, Chris decided he wanted me to drive. He soon fell asleep, and I got to enjoy rural Idaho through a very gorgeous sunset. We got to our mediocre motel in Baker City around 9:45, having to adjust to Pacific time for a few hours before Daylight Savings hit.

We got back on the road around 7:45 am, and grabbed some breakfast. The motel offered a disappointing continental breakfast, but I couldn’t eat anything there. We went to McDonalds, and I got a sausage burrito. I opened up the tortilla, and ate some egg, cheese, and sausage. Chris was laughing at how little I was able to eat, especially as he downed 4 sausage biscuits. Funny to think that before surgery I could probably have eaten 2 or 3 of those biscuits.

Oregon Trail interpretive center Maybe it was from lack of sleep, or maybe because we were in a silly mood, but this road sign cracked us up. In Mormon culture, CTR stands for “choose the right.” We were joking that choosing the right is up for interpretation, and if you make the wrong choice, you’ll be sent to Hell’s Canyon.

It was an interesting day on the road. We had some light rain for the first hour of the drive, intermixed with partly cloudy sunny skies. When we got past La Grande and into the Blue Mountains, we got hit by a pretty crazy blizzard.

The Blue Mountains are notorious for snowstorms that pick up quickly and dump hard. Roads had not been plowed, and trucks were required to chain up. We slowed down to a crawl and followed the tracks in the snowy slush. There are some pretty steep downgrades, and we slid around a bit, but we made it through the worst of the storm, and it was raining by the time we went down “Cabbage Hill.” We stopped for some lunch outside of Pendleton, and I got a meatball sub at Subway. Of course, what I really only ate was a little sauce, cheese and nibbles of a meatball.

The rest of the drive to Portland was a mix between sunny skies and pouring rain. Driving along the Columbia River Gorge is one of my favorite parts of the drive to Portland. Lots of winding roads, little towns, elevation changes, dams and beautiful views. Right outside of Portland we stopped at the Multnomah Falls viewpoint. When we got into Portland, our first stop was at Voodoo Doughnuts.

To be continued…