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Like most people, Mary Bis knew she wanted to live a long and healthy life, she just needed some additional measures to help get her health under control.
Bis, 44, of Elmhurst, has a family history of cancer. While her mother was going through treatment, her mother’s internal medicine physician, Diane Fabrizius, M.D., suggested Bis and her siblings get tested for the breast cancer gene (BRCA).
“We did it together. Most of my family members got tested for the BRCA gene, including my aunts and cousins,” she says.
Bis met with a genetic counselor, who gave her a blood test and mapped out her family tree. Her results came back BRCA-positive. She knew she had to do something, but the timing had to be right.
“I wanted to have children first and I was also committed to my profession. After my mom passed away, that expedited things. I knew I needed to get my life going and address my own risk,” she says.
At age 35, Bis met her husband Ian and they had two children, Archie, 8, and Rocky, 6. There was no better time than the present.
Bis relied on the support of her family members who recommended she have preventative surgeries. Her doctor, obstetrician-gynecologist Brian Sklar, M.D, performed an oophorectomy to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She then had a prophylactic double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. Once she was through with her preventative surgeries, she began breast reconstruction.
The road to recovery had started, but she didn’t recover as quickly as she had hoped.
“During recovery, I put on lots of weight, which made the healing process that much harder,” she says.
Along with weight gain, Bis struggled with shortness of breath, back pain, joint pain and sleep apnea due to being overweight. It was frustrating; prior to her surgeries she watched what she ate and she did her best to stay active, even completing walking marathons.
Pictured above, Mary Bis "before" photo
Bis knew she needed a permanent solution. She researched bariatric surgery, but the idea was daunting — it was another surgery and another recovery.
“Once I read that gastric bypass was completed laparoscopically, it helped me expedite my decision making,” she says.
She attended her first information session with bariatric and obesity medicine specialists Mark Choh, M.D., and Omar Shamsi, M.D. Both physicians were supportive and walked her through the process. Hearing the health benefits of the surgery — which were more than just weight loss — struck a chord.
“Once Dr. Choh mentioned that gastric bypass could help kick-start my metabolism, I knew it was right for me since I didn’t have a lot of bad habits to break. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I knew I would need to work hard to ensure the surgery was effective.”
She was committed to getting her weight under control and reducing her risk again for serious health conditions, and she completed the checklist of appointments that were required.
The day of the surgery, Bis was anxious. “I began to think this might be my last chance. If it didn’t work, it would all be for nothing.”
The surgery was minimally invasive, with a brief healing time. Once it was over, Bis was ready to see results, but it all depended on her commitment level.
“I had to learn my new stomach capacity. I had to monitor what and when I was eating.”
Eventually she got into a rhythm. When she started to see results, she wanted more.
“I am down over 150 pounds, I have more energy, more comfort when exercising, and I enjoy being active. It is to the point where I stopped paying attention to the number on the scale and began watching my body transform.”
Bis continues to see Dr. Shamsi to make sure she remains successful and to make sure she is not deficient in her vitamins and nutrients.
“It can be difficult for patients after they have gastric bypass to get used to the way their body absorbs food, but the effects of following a proper diet and exercise routine are beneficial for many reasons,” says Dr. Shamsi.
Bis’ preventative surgeries have helped her prevent health issues before they can begin. Not only did she reduce her risk for cancer, but she also reduced her risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases relate to obesity.
Bis says, “It’s hard to believe when I started this journey, I had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer and now I have less than a two percent chance, while also decreasing my risk for other health problems. It hasn’t been easy, but I know these surgeries will have a large impact on my quality of life going forward.”
Learn more about genetic testing and counseling and cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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