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Amazing Memories Happen in Las Vegas – WLSFA 2013 Recap

This blog is a several weeks overdue, but if you follow my blog you know that I’ve had my hands full and have been a busy little Slender Seeker so don’t spank me too hard, or if you have to spank me, do it with something soft.

So let me start by saying – What happens in Vegas – doesn’t stay in Vegas, it comes home with you, haunts you, and makes you want to stick your head in the sand and become an ostrich. But I’m not about to talk about what you think I am, I am Pandora – I do positivity, I don’t do drama, I don’t pick sides, and I don’t get involved in internet flame wars unless you are the CEO of a company and you make some horribly weight biased remark – then I will talk some trash, take some photos in front of your store as I boycott it and pretty much tell you to “go fitch yourself.

So what did I bring home from Vegas that should have stayed there you ask? You really wanna know? Ok – 6 lb. Apparently what happens in Vegas passes your lips, goes to your hips and settles itself anywhere but where you want it. I mean why couldn’t I gain six pounds of butt or boob? But no, where does it go? Right to my abdomen and my love handles. Not my idea of a good time. But I’ve been busy working them off this week and now, I’m back down to my normal 156-166 “I can maintain this.” place.

That said, Vegas was a blast! And I want to take the opportunity to share a few of the highlights of my attendance at the WLSFA 2013 Mother of All Meet and Greets.

I arrived on Thursday, after receiving my first speeding ticket ever on the highway doing 75 in a 55 – which likely ended up making the drive cost me more than the plane tickets for two would have, but we’ll see what happens when I get the bill.

My first experience in Vegas was having one Ms. Cris Martin roll up on me in the check-in line and call my name. I’m horrible with faces, I didn’t recognize her at all, but she recognized my hair from the pictures of my haircut I had posted on Facebook and let me tell you, being picked out of a crowd like that by someone who knew me from my involvement with the community was a really cool experience for me.

We checked in and then it was time to meet up with a few friends for a little dinner date. I got to see three of my favorite people, Diana Lyn, Rain Hampton and Linda Lombardo and got to meet Linda’s very sweet daughter as well. Of course HJ was with me, so we had a full table and lots of catching up to do. Next we headed over to the little Banded Living Gathering that my WLS Mom Sandi Henderson was hosting, and you know me, always volunteering to help the next thing I knew I was up in Laura Van Tuyl’s room working on decorations for the next day. I love how life seems to put me in the right place at the right time, because sitting in Laura’s room that night I ended up meeting three people who would, after this event, end up being very special friends in my world as they came in to say hello, pick up t-shirts, and sit and chit-chat. JULIE and CRYSTAL who would become my and Heather’s BFFS for the weekend and Darren King, a past WLSFA grant recipient, who I’d heard a ton about but never got to meet. After blowing up balloons and playing on the Casino floor with Julie and Crystal for a bit, I headed to bed.

Friday morning came early as I met Laura at her room to help set up for the VIP Luncheon with Carnie Wilson and walked around with a balloon attached to my back that said “Ask me.” as a Greeter for the event. Greeting was so much fun! I got to meet so many people for the first time and get so many hugs from people I hadn’t seen since Dallas. It was a perfect volunteer task for this social butterfly who loves to be inclusive and try to make everyone feel welcome. I’d do that job again any day! Next was the Carnie Luncheon where I had the opportunity to be a table hostess and see a couple of old friends like Mary Chavez and Diana Lyn, and meet a couple of new faces too, like the amazing event photographers Patricia and Airen Miller. The Carnie Lunch was AWESOME and Carnie Wilson was absolutely amazing. Her personal approach, the way she cares so much about our community and the compassion that she has for those walking the path of the weight loss journey shone through in a way that I can only describe as genuine. When my WLS Mom Sandi escorted me up to Carnie for my photo-op and introduced me, she mentioned to Carnie how I had lost my Father during my journey but he had a way of following me in it and impacting it and literally brought Carnie and I both to tears. When she told Carnie how much weight I had lost and how determined I was to help others in their weight loss journey, well, let me just say, I’ve never really experienced one of those moments when your Mom stands there and brags on how proud she is of you, and sharing that moment with Sandi and Carnie was a moment of this journey I will cherish for years to come.

The lunch finished and was time to grab a quick bite to eat. Next we were off to the Paris Party, right after Heather and I addressed the little issue of my shoe malfunction and put band aids on the blisters that the gorgeous heels I had worn earlier that morning left on my feet. ( I Still have those blisters – More proof that what happens in Vegas comes home with you! )

The Paris Party was amazing, I love opportunities to see this community all dressed up and Rain and Darren and I got a great laugh at the amount of food we were able to collect for our little snack platters. The Talent show was amazing all the acts were fun to watch and very entertaining, the MC was great. But there were a couple highlights of the evening I want to mention. First and foremost let me say that the moment when Chaz Martinez started asking people to raise their hands if they had lost over a certain amount of weight and in a sea of bariatric patients I had another wow moment as he paused to congratulate me personally on having one of the highest amounts of weight loss in the room. There were a couple of others that had numbers in the 250 lb. range, but it is always flattering to be recognized for that accomplishment. I didn’t realize until it was pointed out to me that night that at my height to achieve a normal BMI would put me at 149 lb. – I was carrying an extra 271 lb. at my highest recorded weight and I had lost 260 lb. I had lost 96% of my excess body weight. HOLY COW! I had no idea I had that sort of percentage, I had never taken the time to figure it out. Another WOW Moment. But we were not done with WOW moments for the evening. Next Darren King, last years WLSFA Grant recipient who I had met just briefly the night before looks over at me and says “Pandora, you look like P!nk, has anyone ever told you that?” Hello. I love P!nk. I just got my hair cut in a fashion just like hers and you know what, you are my new favorite person right now! You just made my night with that compliment and I love you for it. Wow Moment #3 of the day. Next I was brought to tears as my dear friend Yvonne McCarthy ( Bariatric Girl ) got on stage and preformed a tap dance routine that made the people who told her she would never be able to do it because she was too fat eat a nice helping of humble pie. My admiration and love for that women is endless, and every time I see her stand up against those that put her down as a kid, the little fat girl in me that got teased and tormented cheers inside. Diva Taunia’s performance of “I’m Not Pregnant I’m Just Fat,” brought tears of laughter to my eyes. I wish I could sing, because if I could I’d rock some snarky lyrics just like that to entertain you all, but alas I am not singer, especially if you compared me to the show stopper of the night, the Pacific Northwest’s very own Jeris Underwood. Oh My Gawd, can THAT woman sing. Jeris I hope you are singing at many more events to come after that performance, I was literally in awe of this woman’s talent.

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The night was far from over though, because Jennifer and Kevin Mahonney know how to get a group together and they talked me into going zip lining. Me. Pandora – I am scared to death of heights, I sobbed like a baby at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a teenager – Williams, zip lining. I can’t believe I did it, but we had a big group going, Crystal and Julie and Heather and Rain where tagging along for moral support as they held their hands up in a “Fitch Please” manner when we asked them to go and how could I turn down an opportunity to do something that I absolutely never could have done before when so many people I love were doing it. It was a Pacific Northwest zip lining adventure and I managed to talk Darren into joining us, as our +1.  It was, hands down, one of the most amazing things I have done post weight loss. And what a WOW moment as I stood there, strapped into a harness with a 250 lb. weight limit and realized that I couldn’t have done this before deciding to have a RNY Gastric Bypass and take my life back from obesity.

We won’t talk about how late Darren Julie, Crystal, Heather and I stayed out, or how tired I was the next morning as I attended my Plastic Surgery Consult with Dr. Al Aly and walked the convention floor meeting some of the Vendors. A couple of Vendors sent me home with some presents for a couple of Fan Appreciation Giveaways, so look for that coming in the next few weeks when I have time to take a break from studying and figure out the details. I bowed out at lunch time and headed up to the hotel to get a quick nap in before it was time to get up, and do my table top discussion on “Reconstructive Plastic Surgery from the Patient Perspective.” I want to send a big shout out to all the lovely ladies that showed up for that table top, it means a lot to me that you all support the things I do, so thank you. After a wonderful discussion around the table regarding reconstructive plastic surgery after massive weight loss it was time to get some dinner and get dressed for the “Let Your Star Shine Gala,” – Heather and I ate at the Thai Food restaurant in the Bally’s Hotel and let me just say, I’d eat there again, and again, and again. It was that good. But I need to back up for a moment and share one of the most emotional moments of the weekend for me with you.

As I was getting ready to head to dinner, a man I didn’t know approached me. He wasn’t someone I recognized off Facebook, he wasn’t on my friends list. But he came up to thank me for everything I had done and to tell me how much I inspired him and how grateful he was to me. As someone who aspires to help others in their weight loss journey, THIS sort of moment right here is what I live for. Instantly, I gave Marty a big hug to say thank you and as he started to talk to me about how he was struggling in his journey emotionally, how he had to take some time away from the community to take care of himself and heal, and how hard it was to be a caregiver to his Father who he knew he would not have for much longer, goosebumps raised on my arms, tears swelled in my eyes, and my heart filled with both a sympathetic understanding and an instant love for this man. I truly, truly believe that each of us is put through a journey in life so that we can learn something from it. While being there with my Father through hospice was the single most heartbreaking experience of my entire life, I believe that what I took away from it, has armed me with the experience I needed to help others. Whether it was my best friends mother passing away earlier this year, Heather losing her step-father, or me standing there giving Marty a hug and letting him know that though this part of his journey might be difficult, it is something that he can get through, and if he needs to take time away from this community until he is ready to participate again, there is no shame in that, you have to take care of yourself first. I was able to share with him that I had done the exact same thing, remind him how my blog had gone silent for so long after my Father passed until I felt ready to share part of me with the world again and until I felt that what I had to share was constructive and positive. If there was moment during the whole convention that truly defines who I am and what I am about it was this moment. Being able to share this moment with Marty and hope that I in some small way I may have helped him, is exactly who I am and what I am about. Marty, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving this moment to me.

The Saturday Gala was so much more than I had expected. Walking it was like you had walked into a red carpet affair, everyone was dressed to the nines, looked absolutely stunning and I couldn’t get enough pictures with people. It is so much fun to get all dressed up and enjoy an evening together. And though I was a little self-conscious in what goes down in history as the shortest and tightest dress I have ever worn in my life, I tried not to let it show too much. Another fun little WOW Moment for me was when I was tapped on the shoulder by Antonia Namnath, the CEO of the WLSFA to go up on stage and participate in the Bling off competition. I know there is a group of people out there that will snub their nose at the entire concept, but I’m not one of them, and I think it was all in good fun and once again, it was humbling, flattering and a bit surreal to me, to stand on the stage in front of all of those people and listen to them cheer and scream for me mostly because I know that when you all scream and cheer, it’s not because you think I am pretty or you think I look great in that sparkly dress, it is because you think I bring something special to this community, you like who I am and what I am about, and you are proud of what I have accomplished; and THAT means a whole lot to me.

I sat in a front row seat at the Gala at a table with Julie and Crystal and Heather and gosh if I remember who else because I was so utterly focused on what was happening on stage, and cheering and screaming as loud as I could for everyone that I possible could. But what really stands out of me about that night is Carnie Wilson’s talk with us. Carnie Wilson is simply amazing. She can have you in tears one moment as she shares emotional parts of her weight loss journey and have you bent over, holding your side in fear it will split open in laughter the next. But the WOW moments of my weekend were not over, there were two more in store for me, first there was the ladies from RealSelf, an organization who gave away a $500 gift card that could be applied towards any thing you wanted in your weight loss journey who approached me with some of the nicest compliments I have ever received about how they had stumbled across my blog and how much they enjoyed my writing, how real I was and how open and honest I am about sharing my journey; ups, downs, twists, turns, triumphs and disappointments with others. But even more flattering than that, they approached me with the request to syndicate my blog on their site and an offer to work with them in the future. Amazing opportunities just seem to present themselves to me and for someone who once dreamed of being a writer and who dreams of writing a book someday, this was truly another WOW moment for me. I just signed the contributor agreements yesterday and I should have information for you soon on where you can find Desperately Seeking Slender syndicated on the RealSelf.com website. Before we headed out after the event I managed to sneak up and steal a hug from my WLS Mom Sandi, and the ever so handsome Mr. Chuck and had the opportunity to speak to Carnie again for a few moments. I thanked her for her wonderful talk, for her support in this community and for being a role model and someone who inspires and motivates us as a community. After we stole another quick photo, Carnie looked at me and laughed a little as she said “Are you kidding me? YOU motivate me.” The comment shocked me and I turned around with tears in my eyes and to collect myself a moment. I doubt Carnie even remembers me as I write this nearly a month later, but Carnie, you made me feel like a rock star that night, and to be told by someone like you who truly has the power and reach to effect change, that I motivate you, well it was freaking amazing.

After the party several of us headed to the dueling piano bar to listen to some music and the Julie and Crystal and Heather and I got a little gamble on. Julie and I had quickly become addicted to that “Let’s Make a Deal” slot machine, but our $20 went a long way that night, I think we sat there playing for nearly an hour and half that night. Morning came early as did the sad and daunting task of saying good-bye began. The last day of an event is bittersweet for me. It’s so hard for me to say good-bye. I was hoping to take home that cool CLICK bike home in the raffle, maybe even that nice iPad that someone went home with because that would have made someone in my house happy, but I came home from the raffle empty-handed. What I got instead was this amazing pictures of more people than I have ever seen doing the Desperately Seeking Slender cheer. \O/

As I left the morning gathering and headed back to the room to get packed I ran into Cris Martin and Jackie Stewart and as the three of us stood there for a bit talking another one of those moments that I live for happened. Cris and Jackie were so sweet and kind to let me know how much they thought of me and how much they felt I had to bring to this community, and I think that they both got a chance to get to know me a little more personally in those few moments that we shared. It is always flattering to me to have people in this community that are so encouraging and supportive of me, but as I told each of them that day, I think every single one of us brings something to this community. The weight loss surgery community is just

beginning, we’re joined each year by more and more post op patients, and each of us, has something to give back to this community. If the weight loss journey was a mountain, some of us are the top, we’ve reached a different place in our journey whether we’re at goal, working on getting there, are starting a journey through reconstructive plastic surgery, or dealing with figuring out who we are in our world after weight loss. Some of us are climbing that mountain, taking one step at a time, learning how our lives change when the weight starts coming off and some of us are at the bottom looking up at the daunting and intimidating journey ahead with excitement and sometimes, fear. But no matter where we are on the mountain, there is always someone a little farther ahead of us that we can reach out to for help and support when we need it. As such, there is always someone behind us that we can reach back for and help a little when they need it. Every time I see this many weight loss surgery patients come together, I see us standing on this mountain together.

I had an amazing time in Vegas. I made new friends that I know I will have for ages, and I had some moments that were truly irreplaceable in my life with folks like Marty, Cris and Jackie. The WLSFA event was a more social event for me than the OAC one was back in Dallas, they are each very different and each have different things to offer just like the organizations themselves. I’m glad I went, and even nearly a month later, I’m proud to be a member of the WLSFA and a part of what they do. Helping people who cannot afford weight loss surgery is a passion of mine. I cannot wait to be a part of helping to fund a skin removal surgery, because that is even more of a passion of mine and something that I can do, through the WLSFA ,to help those that were not as fortunate as I was. What this organization does for those people, and the potential for what it can do in the future will keep me involved and when it comes time for next year’s event, if there is any way I can afford to go, I’ll be there with bells on.

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A Bucket List Moment – Meeting Chris Powell

There are times when I can’t begin to figure out where to start…

My Father’s remains are in my car after my trip to Los Angels where I helped my Mother move out of the house that my parents had lived in my entire life and said good-bye to the one place, that no matter what memories it held that haunted me, I always knew I had to go back to if I needed it.

It’s been almost two years now since my Father passed away and inevitably my relationship with my Father seems to constantly put me in the right place at the right time. As I left for California a friend on Facebook asked “What do you do for a living Pandora, you are always traveling.” It’s strange the misconceptions people get sometimes, often we think someone is out gallivanting around and having fun when the truth is, life is falling apart all around them.

Things haven’t been easy for me this year, good yes, easy no. It’s been one of the most heart breaking years of my life. In January I pretty much wrote off the rest of my Family when I realized that no matter what ever happens, the drama that happens in that family will never be something that I can pull myself far enough away from without disengaging myself from it completely.

I spent the first couple months of the year recovering from my reconstructive thigh surgery, and what should have been five months full of me studying for my Personal Trainer’s certification turned into a much different adventure when my three-week “vacation” in March turned into something I didn’t expect. – There are some people who have been such an amazing part of my life, my chosen family if you will, and if they ever need anything, and call on me, I am there, no matter what. But the next few months had a lot of those people needing my help and I wasn’t really expecting it.

I wasn’t expecting to rush from Ohio to Dallas to help my friend deal with her Mother dying of cancer in an 11 day period from diagnosis to passing, I wasn’t expecting to take my course at the Cooper Institute without finishing all the reading in the book because I forgot to reschedule and just happened to be there. I wasn’t expecting to rush back to Ohio a couple of weeks later when Heather’s Step Father lost his 15+ year battle against MS and Parkinson’s to be there for her and her Family and I sure wasn’t expecting for my Mother to decide to move in the middle of those eight weeks.

I literally had two days at home, one of which I spent primarily finishing up graphics projects for the WLSFA event in Vegas before I had to unpack, re-pack, pay some bills and grab the puppy before we were headed off to California to pick up my Father’s ashes and help my Godfather Tom, run his annual Maserati Rally before digging our hands into a house project that he needed help with. After losing my Father two years ago, I never say no when someone like my Godfather needs me, no matter how much of my own life I have to adjust to make it happen. He’s 71-years-old and I know I might not have him for that much longer, so he is a high priority in my life.

Going back to the house that I grew up in for the first time after my Father was gone, was hard for me. I had walked out of that house the moment he passed away and never gone back inside. There were a lot of tears and bitter-sweet moments in that for me. Putting his ashes in my car was hard, knowing that I was taking my Father away from the only place he had ever called home in my life was a difficult task for me. Seeing all the memories and pieces of my life that were left behind because my Mother couldn’t take them was an emotionally shattering moment in my life.

To top this all off, I had also just received the news that my insurance won’t cover the final stage of plastic surgery I need to get my body back to where I am going to be happy with it after surgery. This has been a devastating blow to me, not something I am likely to get over anytime soon. My insurance will no doubt be paying for the mental health sessions I am going to need to figure out my way through this before it is all over, but I guess that won’t cost them as much, so they’ll be ok with that.

Exercising in LA was hard for me. Eating was easy and grazing as I stuffed my emotions with food exactly the way I used too, was a bad habit that was kicking back in for me while I was in LA. Sometimes when things get too emotionally heavy, we fall back on old habits… But just as I was starting to fall into the darkness, life threw me the answer I needed. It offered me a chance to meet my hero, Chris Powell and his amazing wife Heidi.

I could have cried when I met Chris and Heidi, it was absolutely amazing. I was so scared that I’d turn into a blubbering fool if I really opened up that I didn’t dare tell either of them what all was going on in my life at that moment, it didn’t matter, what mattered was that yet again, when I needed Chris and Heidi most, life found a way to put me in their path.

I jumped all over the opportunity to attend the ABC Extreme Make-Over Finale for Mehrbod at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood when I saw it posted on Facebook. In fact, I stayed in LA three extra days that I probably shouldn’t have in order to be able to go. This also made it so that I was there for more of my Mother’s move, and able to go through some of the stuff she left behind to make sure that things like old family photos didn’t end up in piles of junk that was taken to the dump or set out in boxes at a garage sale.

A Photo from the Finale that Heidi Powell posted on Facebook. Wait till you get to see Mehrbod now on May 28th, 2013 on ABC Extreme Make-Over Weight Loss Edition

I wasn’t sure if I would actually get the opportunity to meet Chris Powell, but I knew I would get the opportunity to see him live on stage and I knew that would be amazing in and of itself. Seeing my hero in action… what could be better. Okay, meeting him could be better, and it was. When I first walked up to Chris Powell he was talking to someone else and taking photos with them and he looked over at me, stopped for a moment smiled and said “Hey, I know who you are!” Then he went back to taking photos and when he was done and I walked over, he wrapped his arms around me in a big hug and said “It’s great to finally meet you.” By this point I was a little bit star struck, and I honestly can’t remember the entire conversation, but a few pieces of it stand out a bit. Chris Powell told me how proud he was of everything that I had accomplished, how much he appreciated me staying the extra few days in LA to come to the Finale, and how impressed he was with my determination to pay it forward. He told me that his favorite quote is by Gandhi “Be the Change you wish to see in the world.” and he said that he saw me doing that. He told me that I looked amazing, and asked me how it felt, and reminded me that from here on out, I don’t really even have to say anything to people, that they will see how far I have come, what I have accomplished and how good I look, and just start asking me what I have done to get there.

I got the opportunity to take a picture with Chris, and then I had the opportunity to meet his wife Heidi Powell. You want to talk about an amazing human being! I have never met a woman that exuded kindness the way Heidi Powell does. She is just one of those people who when you first meet them, you think, “What a kind-hearted soul and generous nature she has.” Of course I should have known this already, it must take such a special woman to share her husband with the world the way she shares Chris, and it was so touching to me when she and I had the chance to talk about our Father’s passing away. I had no idea until a post on her Facebook page a short time ago that our Father’s had passed away so close to each other, but Heidi and I had a few moments to talk about our Fathers and about how losing someone so monumental in your life can change it so much.  Heidi mentioned how it made her appreciate her time with Chris so much more, and how it made her fear losing him every time he traveled without her and I got a chance to share with Heidi how much Chris coming in and telling me he was proud of me once my Father was gone and could no longer do it had really saved me.

It was very interesting, because during the Finale, Chris talked a lot about “Falling without Failing,” the ability to fall off track without failing and ruining all the hard work you have accomplished so far. I guarantee if you watch the finale for Mehrbod when it airs you will hear a lot about this. I found it so interesting because quite honestly I was at a point that I was falling, for the first time since my weight loss I saw a weight gain of 10 lb. on my scale and instead of my normal panic that would set in and make me start working hard to get back on track, the depression of the bad news about the remainder of my skin removal surgeries had set me in a tail spin where for the first time I found myself thinking “What does it matter, I’m always going to look like this and I’m never going to be who I want to be or do what I want to do because of it.”

Then all of a sudden there was Chris and Heidi Powell. giving me hugs, thanking me for coming to meet them, telling me how great I looked and what a great job I had done. Then the next day, Chris went on Facebook and responded to a post I had made talking about how great it was to meet him and said, “It was wonderful to meet you! Keep up all you are doing. I would love to hear how your training goes.” – Heidi came in right behind him with “It was so fun to meet you in person Pandora! Wasn’t it an amazing transformation?” – Heidi had also thanked me the night before for all the updates I send them, and they both asked me to keep in touch.

I call Chris Powell my hero and it’s not something I say lightly. There are very few people in the world today that I believe live up to my expectations of a hero, Chris Powell is hands down one of them. In the two short years since my Father has died, Chris has single handily pulled me out of two of the darkest moments of my journey, one with a letter and virtual pep talk, and one with a hug and the promise of being interested in what I am doing to help other’s fight obesity.

There are not many celebrities that I look up to, admire, or say “I want to be like that when I grow up,” Chris Powell is one though, and when I say “Grow-Up” I’m talking about my wimpy little Cardio Queen no weight training muscles. But I have plans to fix that between June and October when I am doing more studying at the Cooper Institute, working with some trainers in Dallas to get some experience under my belt and taking on my own weight training program as if I were my own client.

Thank you Chris and Heidi Powell for such an amazing experience, meeting you in person was as awesome, moving and motivational as I expected it to be. You are both so special to me. <3

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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