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‘I Lost 170 Pounds—But Now I’m In A Fight For My Life’

Women's Health logo Women's Health 2/7/2019 Jessica Beniquez as told to Emily Shiffer

a person standing posing for the camera: Jessica Beniquez had been overweight all her life-but at 20, she decided to make a change. She lost 170 pounds through portion control and exercise. Soon after, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. © Jessica Beniquez Jessica Beniquez had been overweight all her life-but at 20, she decided to make a change. She lost 170 pounds through portion control and exercise. Soon after, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. I was overweight my whole life. As a child, I was a very picky eater. I only ate pasta, chicken nuggets, and French fries (a.k.a. carbs on carbs on carbs), and I rarely ate vegetables.

Things got worse once I got my first job. With extra money, I went to fast food places more often, and once I graduated high school, I was eating fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

One day, it finally clicked: I had to get my health and weight under control.

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A post shared by Jessica (@getfitwjessica) on Jan 23, 2019 at 7:10pm PST

I remember the day clearly: I had just turned 20, I weighed 320 pounds, and I realized all I was doing was working, eating (my snack of choice was crackers and cream cheese), and watching TV (I'd binge One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl episodes for hours).

On that day, I was about to start another show, and something just clicked. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing?’ I always wanted to change, but I never took the initiative. I had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and was prescribed medicine a year and a half before, but even that didn’t push me to change. But that day I said to myself, I'm done. I don't like feeling lazy, weak, and always out of breath.

I didn't go about my weight loss in the healthiest way at first.

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A post shared by Jessica (@getfitwjessica) on Jan 24, 2019 at 3:40pm PST

I ordered a bunch of meal shakes at first. Since I was such a picky eater, I didn't necessarily know where to start, and those shakes seemed like the easiest option. After three months of doing two shakes a day and a meal, I went down to one shake a day and two meals-but I eventually quit the shakes altogether.

I wanted to start focusing on whole, healthy foods-but even that was a learning process (my first salad was covered in ranch dressing and cheese, but it was a start). I slowly started trying new things (like turkey lettuce wraps), and completely cut soda out of my diet.

Over time, I discovered I didn't want to focus on what I was eating, but instead, how much. Portion control worked wonders for me. I like being able to have anything I want in moderation. If I want a bowl of ice cream or a cookie once in a while, I'll have it-saying "no" to things just doesn't work for me. Here’s what I typically eat in a day:

  • Breakfast: oatmeal (made with water), two stevia packets, peanut butter powder, and a whole banana.
  • Lunch: two pieces wheat whole grain toast with half an avocado, eggs, salt, and pepper; a bowl of honeydew, watermelon, and cantaloupe.
  • Snacks: fruit, popcorn, or baked chips. I also love cut-up cucumbers and tomatoes drizzled with vinegar.
  • Dinner: grilled chicken breast, sautéed zucchini, and white potatoes (air fried).
  • Dessert: oatmeal (again) with fruit and peanut butter powder (and some real peanut butter, too).

I started exercising, little by little.

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A post shared by Jessica (@getfitwjessica) on Jan 22, 2019 at 5:56pm PST

When I was first starting out, I went on a walk every night and learned exercise routines from Instagram. I also worked with a personal trainer once or twice a month for new ideas. Now, I go to the gym every day.

Just 17 months later, In September 2018, I had lost 170 pounds. That was when I decided to have skin removal surgery on my midsection. I had always wanted it, but I was scared and it was expensive. Still, the excess skin was bothering me, so it felt like it was time.

Overall, I had 5.5 pounds of skin removed. I had about a week of really bad pain following the surgery, but after that, I was able to take walks outside and slowly get back to my normal life.

It seemed like everything was falling into place, but then I got some bad news.

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A post shared by Jessica (@getfitwjessica) on Feb 4, 2019 at 9:38am PST

During my recovery from my first skin removal surgery, I was diagnosed with cancer.

In July 2018, I found a lump in my armpit. It was sore, but I thought I had just strained something (I had with a new trainer and was doing new workouts). When it didn’t go away, I realized it was a swollen lymph node and thought I was fighting a cold, so I continued to ignore it.

But when I showed my mom, she was concerned. My dad had previously been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma (a rare type of cancer of the immune system), and that's how he found it. I made an appointment right away and got in quickly because of my dad’s history.

After multiple scans and biopsies of my breasts and armpits, along with lump removal surgery, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. I am currently in stage 4, with the cancer in both of my armpits, my spleen, my bones, and my groin-all of this happened just two weeks after my skin removal surgery.

While I am currently undergoing chemotherapy (and it seems to be working), my battle is ongoing. I've felt more fatigued than usual and need to let myself rest more often, but i'm still able to go to the gym and run-it makes me feel good to do those things.

Of course, I have days where I'm like, 'this sucks." But I'm lucky that I can still do things many other people with cancer can't. I want to show others nothing is impossible, and you can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of your situation.

Right now, I'm not focused on losing weight-I want to stay strong and build muscle. I'm focused on not letting cancer take over my body. I want to encourage women to be grateful for their health and not take it for granted-instead, to make it a priority.

Video: 10 Things Women With Breast Implants Should Know About Cancer Screening (Health.com)

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