Life-changing experience inspires to help others

* Joanne Campbell when she was unwell and struggling with diabetes.

A Grassy Park woman, who overcame obesity and 43 liver tumours, wants to use her experience to help others facing similar difficulties. She has also turned this experience into a business opportunity.

A few years ago, Joanne Campbell, 43, was fighting for her life. She was severely overweight, diabetic and living with a condition called adenocarcinoma.

Born into a family that loved sweet treats and other indulgences, Ms Campbell recalls being overweight for most of her life, with the weight piling on over the years until she eventually weighed 112kg at the age of 29.

She also remembers how, when she fell pregnant at 17, she had developed extreme hypertension and was diagnosed with gestational diabetes – high blood sugar levels that develop during pregnancy but usually stabilises after the woman gives birth.

Seven years later, when she was pregnant with her second child, the hypertension complications which plagued her during her first pregnancy resurfaced and she ended up delivering her baby prematurely on the floor of their living room, with only her husband at her side.

Then, her life took a drastic turn in 2008 when she was 31. Ms Campbell recalls that she had enjoyed a beer and then took a nap. When she woke up, her stomach was bloated, she was in severe pain and could hardly move.

The following day, she visited a doctor who sent her for a scan, and it appears the alcohol had revealed her underlying health conditions.

“I remember vividly that the radiologist looked extremely puzzled. She excused herself to call the senior radiologist and while lying there, alone with my thoughts, I glanced over to the screen and to my horror my liver looked like it had been punctured with holes.”

Devastated and depressed, Ms Campbell was referred to a liver specialist.

She had about 43 tumours which had formed a mesh-like covering over her liver.

At this point, Ms Campbell was extremely overweight, diabetic, hypertensive, had fatty liver syndrome and high cholesterol.

She was then scheduled for an operation, but first she had to lose weight, which started out well with a seven kilogram loss over a period of a few months.

But then in 2016 her condition deteriorated as her blood sugar reached between 15 and 17 instead of the 5.5 it should have been.

“My medication had stopped working. It was like my body had become resistant to all medication. I was on insulin then, increasing my units from 20 units a day to 120 units a day.

“At this stage nothing helped and again, the feelings of depression crept in. By 2018 I sat down with my endocrinologist and told him I felt like I was dying a slow death. I was 41 years old and I was not going to see the 55-year-old me,” said Ms Campbell.

After discussions with her doctor about what her options are for a healthier lifestyle, the doctor recommended bariatric surgery. The procedure, during which changes are made to the digestive tract, such as reducing the size of the stomach, is done on severely overweight patients when healthy eating and exercising have not helped to significantly reduce weight.

“Four days after the operation in July 2019, my life changed dramatically: no more insulin and I needed only oral meds. Eight weeks later, I no longer had diabetes and hypertension and required no more meds except vitamin supplements,” she said.

It was this experience which inspired Ms Campbell to launch the Diabetic Life Foods online store.

“It came out of pure frustration with not being able to locate all the products I needed in one store. I had to visit up to four different stores for three products and hence the idea of having sugar-free and carb conscious products under one roof came about,” she said.

She lost 30kg in eight months and in February this year she had reconstructive surgery to repair an incisional hernia and scar revision. By May this year she had lost 35kg.

“Life is easier without the worrying or nagging feeling that you’re going to die due to health issues that can possibly be controlled. Sometimes we have to make a decision to live or just wait for life to be over and done with.”

For more information about healthy eating and Ms Campbell’s story visit the Diabetic Life Foods Facebook page.