Celebrating Life

Getting my "healthy me" back

Amanda TillmanMost of us have goals of being healthy and fit. Unfortunately busy lives combined with convenient, less-than-healthy foods often contradict good nutrition and exercise.

I’m an example.

Growing up, I loved to walk, play tennis, rollerblade, snowboard and bike. I ate well, but didn’t pay real close attention since I was so active. In my late 20’s, things changed.

Workouts started getting lighter and food choices got a little lax. Along with that, my pants started getting a little tighter. I also began using food as a coping mechanism for stress.

I reached a point where I knew I needed to get my former “healthy me” back. I wanted to physically and mentally feel whole again. I met with my physician and after charting my weight for the past six years, it was clear I needed a change. Within the week I had an appointment with a nutritionist.

The first thing I learned was how to eat properly. I not only needed to burn more calories than I took in, I wanted to do it in a healthy way and be sustainable too. I learned how to measure my portions and track calories, fat, fiber and protein to ensure I was eating a balanced diet that was not only healthy, but would keep me satisfied. I kept a food journal to make sure I stayed on track.

The next step was re-evaluating my physical activity. Fortunately for me, exercise was always in my life even when I wasn’t focused on my weight.

I learned that camping out on a treadmill three to four days a week for 40 minutes wasn’t enough. So, I increased my workouts to five days a week for an hour a day. I joined a tennis league and started participating in boot camps, cardio classes and weightlifting. I added strength and cardio to get the best results, and the variety kept things from getting boring. Soon the weight started coming off – one to two pounds a week, to be exact.

I started my journey two years ago in April. I’ve lost 70 pounds and have kept it off for almost a year. It hasn’t been easy. I still carry my food journal and every day is a struggle. I had to find a balance between healthy food and exercise while still occasionally eating "fun” foods. Do I eat pizza, cheeseburgers and fries? Yes, but I’m smarter now about when and how often.

My newest challenge is running races. Not long ago, I hated to run. But I’ve discovered what an effective workout it is, and I like the competition. To date, I’ve completed several 5Ks, two 10Ks and am training for my first half-marathon!

Along my journey, I’ve learned plenty about myself. Even if I don’t always feel great every day, if I try to feel better and do better every moment, it’s easier to make my way to great.

If I can do it, you can, too. Once you make up your mind to do something, you can achieve anything.

Posted by Amanda Tillman on Fri, Jun 07 2013 10:10 amAmanda Tillman is a creative development administrator for American Family Insurance.

Have you thanked a veteran today?

Thank a veteran this Memorial Day weekend.I never grow tired of stories from those who’ve served in our Armed Forces.

As a young newspaper reporter, I met one of the last surviving veterans of WWI. Though 90 years had shriveled his frame, he stood tall and proud as I took his photo next to an American flag.

On another occasion, I interviewed one of the few surviving crew members of the U.S.S Indianapolis, the last American ship sunk by enemy forces in WWII. He recalled with vivid detail four days floating at sea until rescuers arrived.

And as a child, I listened intently as my father and uncle relived their war experiences from the Army and Navy, respectively. Though serving in a foreign land may not have been the optimal way to spend their youth, they never regretted the role they played in defending our nation’s freedoms.

I’ve met a good share veterans from my own generation as well – men and women who’ve served in numerous capacities, for many different reasons. Some, like me, were stateside in the Reserves, fortunate to have stayed out of harm’s way. Others weren’t so lucky – separated from their families for many months and by thousands of miles to serve our nation’s call.

As part of our 30 Days of Thanks, American Family recognized veterans for their service. We were pleased to hear from numerous people who have worn the uniform. Here are just a few comments we received: 

  • “I served in the Korean War on the front lines from late Feb 1951 until Dec 31, 1951, A VERY cold place – much like Minnesota – and we had no overshoes or winter sleeping bags....Brrr.”
  • Sometimes we’re all forgotten about, and what we give up for our country. Family, health and life.”
  •  "I am a veteran – 4 years active duty, Security Forces USAF. I show my appreciation to Veterans everyday by acknowledging them when I see or meet them."
  • "Yes, I am a Veteran of WWII – one of the few still alive.  I was a medic and worked in a large Veteran's hospital as a surgical tech, so I saw the terrible results of war. I also lost some of friends I trained with."
  • "Having served 21 years myself, I thank God everyday for these young men and women who keep us safe today.  We must never forget however, all our veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and all the other victories forged by our gallant men and women in uniform."

Thank you to all those who took the time write. And thank you everyone who has served in the Armed Forces – in war, in peace, at home and overseas. We live the results of your service every day.

P.S.: Want to thank a veteran? Leave a comment, or head to our Facebook page and post a message on our Wall. 

Posted by Paul Bauman on Fri, May 24 2013 7:25 amPaul Bauman is a web experience administrator for American Family Insurance. When not developing content for the company’s websites, he enjoys sharing the running trail with his thoughts, which move at a much faster pace.

Fighting cancer and celebrating life

Angie CampbellImagine being told you have cancer. Just when you think it’s all behind you, imagine being told you have it again.

That’s the story of my 13-year fight with breast cancer.

It started innocently enough. During a routine physical, my doctor found a lump. She was worried and insisted on a mammogram.

The mammogram looked suspicious, so I had a biopsy. The news came back that I had breast cancer. Treatment for me was a mastectomy. Fortunately, my tumor was isolated, so I didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. I did, however, have reconstructive surgery.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a support group, because I couldn’t identify with people there. Many were mad at their doctors and the medical profession. I wasn’t. My doctor found the lump – she didn’t put it there!  Also, most support group members were married with children. I’m not married and don’t have children, so we couldn’t relate to each other. I wanted those things too, but I felt like “damaged merchandise.” It took me a long time before I could even watch a commercial with a baby in it!

In 2004, I celebrated five years without cancer! I learned the five-year mark means you’re practically home free. It was a bittersweet milestone. A few months before, I lost my brother in a car accident. Now, I didn’t have one of my best friends to celebrate with. Later that year, I was diagnosed with depression.

Fast forward six years. I noticed a bump below my breast I hadn’t seen before. I saw my doctor who thought it might be fatty tissue. It didn’t go away and became red. My doctor sent me to a surgeon for a second opinion. The surgeon said she’d remove it, but wanted to run some tests. Two MRIs, three biopsies, about six ultrasounds and a PET scan later, I was told that I had breast cancer again. The surgeon said it was already at Stage 3. I know that’s not good, but I wasn’t ready to give up my fight!  

Since then, I’ve been receiving a form of chemo that’s non-toxic. I recently had surgery to remove the tumor and started taking yet another medicine.

I’ve tolerated treatment fairly well. Unless you know me personally or saw my name on a “Race for the Cure” poster, you wouldn’t even know I’m sick. I could be the person sitting next to you, your neighbor or your best friend.

My fight continues. I want researchers to find a cure. I need them to find a cure! Not only for the women currently fighting this dreadful disease, but for those who unfortunately will follow in our footsteps. I want to see my munchkins (my friends’ children) grow up and graduate from high school. I want to be one of the first out on the dance floor at their weddings.

I’m not giving up – I want to celebrate life!

Posted by Angie Campbell on Tue, May 21 2013 6:37 amAngie Campbell is staffing specialist with American Family Insurance.

No Matter Where You Are In life, Don’t Ever Stop Dreaming

As a little girl, Ashley Rouillard never lost sight of her dreams. With hard work, determination and a little luck for good measure, her dreams are coming true. I grew up in Manchester, NH, one of three children raised by a single mom. Times were tough. We didn’t have a lot of money or material possessions.

What we did have was a lot of love.

When I was 15, Mom met a wonderful guy named Jerry. They soon married and life began to take a turn for the better. Jerry quickly became a great role model for us kids. He not only helped us with our schoolwork, but he showed us how to be happy!

With Jerry’s encouragement, I became the first member of my family to go to college. I attended Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH, and graduated with a major in Art Education.

As a student, things fell into place for me and my dreams were now within reach. I attribute it to the power of positive thinking and realized that when we’re happy, our dreams come true! It has a ripple effect.

Stories from DreamBankAfter I graduated, I had the chance to study in Italy (the best place to experience art and the renaissance!), California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and now Madison, Wis.

Since moving to Madison in 2012, I’ve continued to fulfill my dreams of sharing art and connecting with people. In January, I hosted “Dream Boards” at American Family Insurance’s DreamBank in Madison, which encouraged people to use visualization as a tool in achieving their dreams. I’ve also become a preschool teacher using art to help children every day.

So what do I dream about today? I dream of being an artist and illustrating children’s books. I dream of helping children through art. I dream of having a healthy life and one day raising a family.

Lastly, I dream of traveling to Peru to volunteer at Sembrando Semillas con Yoga where children are taught yoga, art, sustainable farming, and how to lead a balanced and harmonious life.

I’m living proof you should never stop dreaming. Your dreams are out there. All you have to do is reach for them.

Editor’s note: This is part of a Dream Protectors blog feature called Stories From DreamBank, which showcases real-life dreams from visitors to the American Family Insurance DreamBank in Madison, Wis. Visit DreamBank on the Square or online at www.amfam.com/DreamBank

Posted by Ashley Rouillard on Tue, Apr 16 2013 8:14 amAshley Rouillard is an artist and preschool teacher.

Finding my dream again: My weight loss and health transformation

Stephen PetersonI have been battling my weight my entire life. I have been the “fat kid” since fourth grade. I did not participate in sports or exercise. I watched from the sidelines.

Diagnosed with high cholesterol in college, I was put on cholesterol-lowering medication, and later another prescription for heartburn. I was also diagnosed with sleep apnea, as I stopped breathing an average of 38 times every hour. I had to wear a CPAP machine mask at night just to keep me alive and breathing until morning.

In March 2012 that all changed.

One night while walking our dog, I decided to jog instead of walk. I jogged at a very slow pace for about 100 yards, stopped to catch my breath, and walked for a bit. Something changed in me at that moment. A voice in my head said, “This is enough!” It was time for me to take control of my life and set a better example for my family.

Later that week my wife and I signed up for our first 5k in June 2012. After training for three months, we both finished the race. I finished two seconds under 30 minutes. This was my first time running 3.1 miles all at one time. I was hooked! That same afternoon I signed up for another race in July, this time a five-mile one. On one of the hottest days of 2012, I ran five miles in 52 minutes! Next was a 15k relay with two friends in October. I ran my leg at my personal best time. After months of training I was ready for my next challenge, a half-marathon. In Nov. 2012, I completed a 13.1-mile run in two hours and 25 minutes!  This June I will run in a six-team, 200-mile relay race from Madison to Chicago, called the Ragnar Relay.

After six months of watching my diet, running and doing other exercise (and setting a better example for my children), I’ve lost 60 pounds and 23 inches. I no longer need to take cholesterol-lowering or heartburn medication. I recently had my sleep apnea problem checked and the occurrences have dropped from 31 to 1.1 per hour. A rate of occurrence for an average person is three times per hour. I will be re-evaluated in June, and I know I am on the way to never needing that CPAP machine again.

What have I gained from this experience? I gained the ability to dream again. My father passed away well before his time and never had the chance to meet my children, his grandchildren. I have made choices in my life during this past year to ensure I will continue to set a good, healthy example for my kids and live long enough to meet my grandchildren – and beyond.

All it took was making a choice between living in an unhealthy way or taking control of my life and my dreams. Today, I really live life instead of just existing.

Have you made the choice to live a healthy life? What do you do?

Posted by Stephen Peterson on Tue, Feb 12 2013 4:36 pmStephen Peterson is a physical damage senior desk adjuster with American Family Insurance.
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