Diagnosis leads to healthy lifestyle changes

Port Alberni, BC

In January 2020, Robyn Samuel, youth navigator with Nuu-chah-nulth family and child services, found out she had fatty liver disease; a diagnosis that propelled her into a wellness journey that continues today.

According to WebMD, fatty liver disease occurs when someone has extra fat built up in their liver. Usually the first line of treatment for fatty liver disease is to lose weight, keep cholesterol down and exercise more.

Samuel, from Ahousaht First Nation, said finding out she had fatty liver disease came as a surprise. She originally went to her doctor because she was experiencing foot cramping that was making it very difficult to walk.

“It felt like bowling balls on my heels,” Samuel said. “I went to the doctor and it turned out I had something wrong with my liver. The pain from my feet was caused because of my liver.”

After the diagnosis, Samuel’s doctor told her she needed to change her diet, eat healthier and try to walk at least three times a week. Samuel started by changing her diet. She was forwarded an article from a friend on the best foods to eat for people with fatty liver disease and so she decided to use the article as her go-to guide for meals.

“I eliminated dairy, cow, pig, sugar, anything deep fried, bread, rice and potato. My food intake is basically fish, chicken, salad, fruits and vegetables and a lot of eggs,” Samuel said. “It was a big change and what I also did was started cutting back what was on my plate.”

In the first three months of changing her diet, Samuel lost 50 pounds and has since lost 30 more.

“I’ve never met [my doctor] in person yet and I told him I dropped fifty pounds in the first three months and at that time I didn’t know that I had lost another 30 because I didn’t feel it. I don’t own a scale,” Samuel said. “[My doctor] was blown away by how much weight I had lost. It was really just keeping true to what I eat and how often I eat. I do eat three meals a day and then I have snacks in between, I usually have a bedtime snack too…it’s just eating smart.”

As for her journey with exercise, Samuel said she attempted to start walking when she was first diagnosed, but found she couldn’t get into it in the beginning.

“I found out at the end of January 2020 that I needed to start changing what I’m doing,” she said. “In January (2021) I knew for a few months there that I had energy that I should be utilizing. At the beginning of January one of my family members was like ‘Hey, we should go for a walk’… so ever since the beginning of January up until today I’ve gone out every day.”

Samuel eventually got bored with just walking and her exercise routine evolved into daily jogs. She says on average she will go out for a five-kilometre run, but if she comes up short some days it’s just important she got outside.

“There’s no excuse for me not to go,” she said. “Just accepting that you don’t always have to go to the max, that’s one thing that I’ve learned.”

Samuel said her blood work has been looking really good and she’s waiting for the results of a recent test to see if there’s still any damage to her liver.

“I would say I’m proud of my accomplishments. My dad was diagnosed with liver cancer just before I was diagnosed with my fatty liver disease so I really felt that I needed to take better care of myself,” Samuel said. “My dad can keep moving on his journey in a good way and I can keep moving on my journey in a good was as well. I have young children. I’m still young, I’m going to have these kids in my nest for a good 10-plus years and I want to improve my health and make better choices.”

Samuel said her advice to anyone wanting to start living a healthier lifestyle is to just take the first step.

“Be brave and strong and positive and we can focus on today and worry about tomorrow later,” she said. “If they don’t feel they’re ready, just take on what they’re ready for. Being healthy is important in the long run, it’s worth it.”

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