EASO Patient Council Member of the Month Joyce Verhoeven
Please tell us who you are:
“My name is Joyce Verhoeven. I am an HR / PR & Communication manager @ Preton. Preton is known in Belgium for its precast concrete in wall and structural elements. I live with my wonderful partner, my stepdaughter (5) and our son (3). I try to combine my time-consuming professional life with my private life and add some sports into it!”
Please tell us about your county and where you live:
“I live in Belgium, a country that is known for chocolates, (French) fries, beers, fragmented politics, etc. I think the world sees Belgians as real epicureans. I live in Kapellen, close to Antwerp.”
Please share some of your favourite things (activities, hobbies, interests)
“Although my profession feels like my hobby most of the time, spending time with my family will always be my favorite activity. My partner and I were looking for something healthy to do together and this is how we came up with Yoga. My partner can use this in his main sport (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) and for me this sport releases all the stress and keeps me focused on my health and “must-have” healthy lifestyle. Besides Yoga, I also do high intensity cardio 3 to 4 times a week for 50 minutes.”
Joyce, what has your experience of obesity been?
My experience with obesity… I used to be obese and I still have to struggle with this every day. I was always the biggest girl in my classroom, maybe there was another girl bigger than me in another class, but I had a label: I was a big girl. Although I was practically never bullied directly about my weight (except once or twice), I felt ugly and I felt labelled. But I was/am more than a big girl. I’m Joyce, I’m passionate, stubborn, dedicated, lovable, unselfish etc.
Later on I received job rejections (3 times) because I was overweight. At the first job I was asked how I can have any discipline for hard work if I can’t have discipline around what I put in my mouth. The other two just said I wasn’t “presentable” enough for their companies. After I found a good job and performed very well… I was called for an evaluation on the other side of the country. “You are very good” they said, “you are an example for other consultants. However… if you want to grow… you should lose weight”. Turned out I really had to, because I wouldn’t fit into the car I would get (Mini). ☺ In addition to all of this, I couldn’t ski anymore because It hurt too much, my knees hurt and my back hurt. I couldn’t do a lot of things and struggled with many activities.
A couple of months later (5.5 years ago), I met with Dr Lafullarde, the nicest, honest and most respectful doctor I’ve ever met! After a lot of health screenings, he performed a gastric bypass. Weight started to melt away and since I was only 24 years old, I didn’t have much of an issue with loose skin. I lost friends, gained friends. I got divorced because, you change and the perception of “you” changes too. Your whole life changes and psychologically you can’t be ready, but patients need to prepare themselves. For 2 years afterward, I didn’t have any problems concerning my weight even throughout my pregnancy. After a while I noticed I gained weight again and at that time I started to realize… my gastric bypass wasn’t a cure for my disease or a quick fix… it was a second chance I was given by Dr Lafullarde, but now I have to work to maintain & respect this new life. I continue healthy eating and I started to work out more to lose the weight I gained. I will never, ever be one of those persons who can eat everything they want, but I will keep working on being healthy.”
What are your hopes for the EASO Patient Council at the 2016 European Obesity Summit?
“I hope at least one patient will realize they are not alone and know that there are people in various organizations who can help. I was also shocked to learn that obesity wasn’t recognized in Europe as a disease, apart from Portugal!
I hope politicians from around Europe realize this is a disease and a very serious one. When you are addicted to smoking, there are pills, patches etc. Similarly there are other strategies for addictions like alcoholism. Or let’s mention anorexia… when people are addicted to eating (and their metabolism isn’t very good…) they can’t just remove themselves from the seductive situation. They have to make a right decision 3 or 5 times a day, every day, every time.
Obesity is a modern disease and causes a lot of health problems overall. I really hope politicians and European countries can finally see this.
I also hope attention will be brought to obesity among children. A healthy lifestyle needs to start early and people should be warned about a variety of unhealthy food since a lot of parents just don’t know some foods are in fact bad for their children because perceptions can be misleading.”
How do you currently advocate for patients and how do you intend to advocate for patients in the future?
“Several patients who knew me before my surgery have asked me for advice; I try to answer them and their partners/family as honestly as possible. I think 4 people I counselled did have surgery, 1 will have surgery in the coming months and someone else didn’t, but lost a lot of weight and blogs about it. I hope I can be a support and answer questions as a beacon for patients before and after surgery. I also hope to engage with close family members and friends of patients as well as politicians and organizations needing information from a patient point of view.”
“I also hope I can inspire patients with obesity to do more sports… and not to be afraid to try. And if you skip a day… it’s okay, don’t beat yourself up and give up; keep going.”