Cheryl Farley was so convinced she would die by the time she was in her 70s that she already made arrangements for her house, assets and final wishes.
With a family history of premature death, which she relates to disease and weight-related conditions, Farley, 58, of Mays Landing, thought she would follow in the footsteps of her late mother, father and brother.
But in early 2016, Farley said she took a hard look at her health, heavy weight and lifestyle and became determined to beat the family odds, dropping more than 130 pounds in the first year and a half.
As health experts link obesity to more diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, some people like Farley are drastically changing their lifestyles with exercise and nutrition to avoid medical procedures, pain, medications, health risks and a life cut short.
“My life is completely different now,” she said. “I want to live a long time, and I got tired of taking all the medications and being in pain.”
Nearly 28 adults per every 100 people are overweight or obese in New Jersey, according to an August Trust for America’s Health report. The state’s rate ranks low among all others, but experts say it is still growing.
In addition to common weight-related conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk of 13 types of cancers.
Experts found that those cancers, including multiple myeloma, thyroid, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreatic, liver, ovarian, colon and others, accounted for about 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States in 2014.
About 630,000 people in the country were diagnosed with a cancer associated with overweight and obesity in 2014, the majority of which were among adults ages 50 to 74, according to a CDC report released Thursday.
Farley said before February 2016, she was taking 12 different medications for Type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, inflammation, her thyroid and depression, among other conditions. She went to bed and woke up most days in pain, especially in the knee where she had a replacement several years ago.
She got inspired to make big changes in her life through a wellness program at her workplace, Wawa, and set out to find a trainer that would design a personalized exercise and nutrition plan for her physical and medical goals.
“All the exercise plans we do are individualized,” said Joseph LaCerra, Farley’s trainer and owner of Hometown Health and Fitness in Mays Landing. “For Cheryl, because she had a knee replacement, we needed to work on how to move properly and safely first.”
This was the fourth gym and trainer Farley tried, which led to frustration, she said. LaCerra said not finding the right person and wellness plans could serve as barriers for someone pursuing a healthier lifestyle, especially when medical conditions may be involved and a customized routine is necessary.
Farley said she eventually felt comfortable enough with LaCerra to tell him about all the medications she was taking for various weight-related conditions, and that made it easier for him to create exercise routines and nutrition guidance that would work for her body as well as her goals.
Since her lifestyle changes, Farley doesn’t wear her knee brace anymore, because she’s no longer in pain and because it no longer fits her slimmer leg.
Last month, her doctor took her off the last of her medications as her body and mind didn’t need them anymore. Whereas doctors had previously encouraged her to get weight-loss surgery, Farley said she’s no longer a viable candidate.
Farley meets with LaCerra three times a week to work on exercise and nutrition. She has tried almost every group fitness class at the gym at least once and no longer stands in the back in baggy shifts that hide her frame.
Instead of having all those plans for her belongings when she’s gone, Farley said, “Now, I’ve created a bucket list. Things that I never thought I’d be able to do, that I want to do. I’m so excited about what the future has … and my family is so impressed with what I’ve done.
“I’m having more fun in my life than I’ve had in the last 30 years. I just need to keep moving.”