As the ultrasound wand glided over my partner Lisa’s belly, I couldn’t wait to see our baby on screen. At eight months along, Lisa was almost ready to pop. With our kids, Antonio, then 15, Michael, 14, Junior, 11, Faith, seven, and Chris, four, already at home, we were growing more excited by the day.
But when a worried look appeared on the sonographer’s face, I knew something wasn’t right.
‘There’s a lump on your breast,’ she noticed as part of the examination.
‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,’ Lisa said.
But when the results came back a week later, our lives were turned upside down.
‘I’m afraid you have cancer,’ the doctor said, explaining they’d need to induce Lisa so she could begin treatment right away.
Broken, I could hardly believe the news. That morning I’d been so excited to meet our bub, now I was being told my partner required life-saving treatment.
There must be some sort of mistake, I thought, angrily. Together for almost 20 years, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my soulmate.
‘I’ll get through this,’ she promised.
The following week, Lisa delivered our baby boy, John-Peter. But the joy was short-lived as talk immediately turned to Lisa’s chemotherapy plan. Although I’d vowed not to leave her side, she insisted I take our bub home to bond with his big brothers and sisters.
I tried my hardest to put on a brave face, but on the inside I was crumbling under so much pressure.
Always overweight, a year earlier I’d been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Though I didn’t want to burden Lisa with the truth, it was severely damaging my health. Suffering from sleep apnoea and water retention in my legs, some days I’d struggle to get out of bed.
I’m meant to be holding our family together but I’m just making things worse, I thought.
Still, I knew I had to stay strong for Lisa. Determined to see her smile, we decided to celebrate Lisa’s birthday in June 2013, by getting married. Joined by a handful of our closest family and friends, we said ‘I do’ in the hospital chapel.
But after 12 long months in hospital, her doctor delivered the worst news yet. The cancer had spread. It had made its way into Lisa’s blood, liver, kidneys and brain. Distraught, we quickly learned that no amount of treatment could save her.
I didn’t know how I’d cope without her. Sadly, just two months later, she couldn’t fight any longer. Surrounded by all six of our kids, Lisa took her last breath. And with that, my world came crashing down.
As depression and anxiety started to consume me, I found myself turning to food for comfort. Scoffing down a diet of white bread and hot chips, the weight just kept piling on. Though I’d always been a big guy, I was now tipping the scales at 220 kilos.
Still, it wasn’t until my dietitian sat me down that I realised I was eating myself into an early grave. My kidneys were failing.
‘If you keep up this lifestyle, you’ll be on dialysis for the rest of your life,’ he warned.
It was a wake up call. Who would look after the kids if something happened to me? Suddenly, I realised how important it was to take back control of my life.
But after trying every diet program available, nothing seemed to work. Worse still, my diabetes medication was being increased every three months. Begging my doctor for help, he told me about the benefits of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.
As I began to replace my carb-heavy meals with lean meat, vegetables and healthy fats, such as coconut cream, I instantly started seeing results.
Shedding a huge 10 kilos in the very first month, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
As the weight came off, I had less pressure on my joints and found it easier to move around. Better yet, I was finally able to start reducing my medication until my diabetes disappeared.
Now, three years on, I’ve lost a whopping 105 kilos. Since my transformation, I’ve started hosting workshops for people in the community who want to learn about nutrition. Many people just accept that type 2 diabetes is part of life, but I’m proof it doesn’t have to be the case.
I also try to inspire my kids to live a healthier life. It’s such a great feeling to know I’m helping others.
While I still have days where I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, I practice meditation daily to help keep me grounded.
Though not a day goes by where I don’t miss Lisa, I know she’d be proud of how far I’ve come. I’m proof that with determination, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
This story appeared in that's life! Issue 43, 26 October 2017.