Kim Davis, 57, has emerged as a favorite on “The Biggest Loser”. A firecracker from Mulberry, Tennessee, Davis is a breast cancer survivor and, for her, the weight-loss reality show isn’t about looking better in a bikini: “This is about saving my life,” she told SurvivorNet in an exclusive interview. Heading into Tuesday’s show this week, she’s down 28 pounds from aRead More
Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “There will never be a study that says, ‘Hey, you know what? If you eat fast food every day you’re going to reduce your risk of cancer.’”
Kim Davis’ Cancer Journey
She was 38 and pregnant with her son, now a college sophomore, when she felt a lump in her breast. “That’s a risk factor — having a first pregnancy at a later age,” she explains. “But I was told I just had lumpy breasts — and you hear what you want to hear.” After the baby was born, when the lump didn’t go away, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 HR-positive breast cancer. “The HR means hormone-receptive — the cancer fed on the estrogen in my body,” she notes. At the time, Davis was “in pretty good shape” and weighed about 150 pounds.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer with a brand new baby,” she said, “all you want to do is live long enough for that child to remember your name.”
Her oncologist at the Walt Disney Cancer Institute in Orlando told Davis she had an 80% survival rate. She underwent a lumpectomy, 4 rounds of chemo, and 31 radiation treatments. “I had a positive attitude,” she recalls. “I never thought it was gonna get me; I just thought [cancer] was something I had to deal with. I wanted it to be over and done.”
After treatment, she took Tamoxifen for 5 years. She later had a total hysterectomy to treat (benign) uterine fibroid tumors “I’d had fibroids for years,” she said. “I thought the hysterectomy would fix the problem with the mid-section; belly fat is nothing but an estrogen factory.”Although genetic testing revealed she was BRCA-negative, cancer runs in Davis’ family: “My dad died of lung cancer. My brother had head and neck cancer and died four years ago. My maternal grandmother had breast cancer and colon cancer; she died 40 years ago. My brother has colon cancer and just got a clean bill of health.”
Walking For Work: “I Was Not Inactive”
Davis works as a tour guide at the Jack Daniels bourbon distillery, where she clocks 12,000 to 16,000 steps per day on a pedometer. “I was not inactive,” she says, “but I consider myself a food addict. And when you go into the break room at work, there’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, squash casserole.”
By the time she answered the casting call for “The Biggest Loser” she had type-2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and was taking blood pressure medication. “I’d started to have cardiac events and I was scared to death.”
Although she’d “whooped cancer’s tail” Davis says she “could not get ahold of this food addiction — even though I know that food can kill me just as quickly as the cancer.”
Taking Time From Work For Health
As she advanced in the casting process, she approached her company’s human resources department to ask for time off to participate in the show. Their response: weight-loss didn’t qualify for a leave of absence. “They give people time off for drug and alcohol rehab, but there’s no cheeseburger rehab,” Davis says. Still, she notes, “although obesity causes more deaths than drugs and alcohol combined, that’s not what’s listed on a death certificate: It’s cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.”
“I went back to them and I said, ‘this if for my health. It’s not about being on a show’. And finally, I got unanimous approval from 7 old boys who said, ‘Absolutely. We support this.'” The approval was Davis’ first victory on the road to regaining her health. ‘There needs to be a real shift in this county,” Davis says. “They’ll pay for your blood pressure meds but they won’t pay to get the sugar out of your system. Being away, I realized, I’d put more thought into the gas I put in my car than I did about the fuel I was putting in my body.”
In addition to losing 35 pounds, Davis says her type-2 diabetes and sleep apnea are gone and her energy is up. And she hopes to inspire others with the message: You’re never too old to get in shape. “At this point in my life, I’m not willing to give [cancer] any ammunition. You’ve got to get healthy in your mind in order to get healthy in your body. I was the oldest one on the show. I lasted a lot longer than folks thought. I proved to myself that it’s never too late to start another story — because this story will be better than your last.”
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The Belly Fat Connection
If you’re a woman over 50 with a few extra pounds around your waist, you’re at an increased risk for cancer, according to research. The problem comes from the fat around some of your vital organs, and alcohol and sugar may not be helping.
A recent study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), finds that women over 50 years-old who were considered “normal weight” but had a waist that measures over 34.6 inches had an increased risk of developing cancer, along with other dangerous health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Specifically, women who were normal weight but carried this belly fat were about 20 percent more likely to die of cancer than women who were normal weight without the belly fat.
Years of compounded evidence have linked obesity to a number of cancers—including colorectal cancers, breast cancer, uterine cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, and pancreatic cancer, among others. For most of these past studies, though, researchers defined obesity based on body mass index (“BMI”). Technically, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is “normal weight,” a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 is “overweight,” and a BMI over 30 is “obese.”
But as the new study shows, it’s possible to have a “normal” overall BMI and still carry extra belly fat. The researchers called this condition “central obesity,” and pointed out that it’s especially common in the U.S. (In 2012, over a third of all people in the U.S. had “an unhealthy waist-to-height ratio.”)
Why Does Belly Fat Increase Cancer Risk?
Although there is still a lot that researchers don’t know about body fat and cancer risk, one thing they do know is that the fat that accumulates in the waist area is a type of fat called “visceral fat.” Because visceral fat surrounds your vital organs, it is more dangerous than the fat that accumulates around, say, your limbs. This is because too much visceral fat can cause inflammation in these organs, which, in turn, can eventually lead to cancer.
Fat cells can affect your body’s hormones, too, Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a breast cancer oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a medical advisor to SurvivorNet previously told us.
“We know that when women are overweight, they can have a state of inflammation in their bodies,” Dr. Comen said. “Some of those fat cells can make estrogen, and we know that being exposed to too much estrogen over a woman’s lifetime can significantly increase her risk of breast cancer.”
Post-Menopausal Women And Belly Fat
The over 150,000 women who enrolled in this new study had all gone through menopause. “For post-menopausal women, lower estrogen levels can change the way your body stores fat,” doctors at the MD Anderson Cancer Center wrote in a guidance article about belly fat and cancer risk. “Instead of storing fat in your hips and thighs, you may see more fat in your abdomen. This extra tummy fat can disrupt your hormones and increase your chances of breast and uterine cancers.”