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Woman credits 100-pound weight for loss for helping her detect and beat breast cancer

Being strong and having low blood pressure helped Tamara Loving as she went through two lengthy surgeries.
Tamara Loving weightloss
Prior to losing weight, Tamara Loving didn't exercise regularly. Now she enjoys incorporating movement into her life.Courtesy Tamara Loving

When Tamara Loving was 22, her mom died from breast cancer. Loving coped by “eating (her) feelings,” and she began gaining weight. Then after pregnancy, she noticed that she struggled to lose the baby weight.

“When I was pregnant with my son, I put on a ton of weight,” Loving, 45, from Huntington Beach, California, tells TODAY.com. “I reached the highest I had ever been which was 269.”

She joined WeightWatchers off and on over the years. In 2016, she joined for the last time and eventually lost 122 pounds. That weight loss helped her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later. 

“I firmly believe that this would have been a different outcome had I not lost all that weight,” she says. “The doctors have said, ‘I think your weight loss saved your life.’ Because I don’t know if I still had been 260 pounds that anything would have been found in that mammogram.” 

Weight gain, weight loss and then breast cancer diagnosis

In her junior year of high school, Loving stopped playing sports and being as active and noticed she gained a little bit of weight. But when her mom died of breast cancer, she gained some more weight. She didn’t truly notice the gain until after she became pregnant. She joined WW for the first time in 2003 and got down to her goal weight.

“(I) was super happy,” she says. “I got pregnant again with my daughter and unfortunately I feel like I didn’t learn as much as I thought I did because I kind of crept back into those same habits.”

Loving didn’t re-gain all the weight she lost and weighed about 215 pounds following her daughter’s birth. Again, she joined WW and lost the weight only to re-gain it again.

“I probably joined four or five different times. I would join. I would lose a little. I would quit,” she says. “The hardest thing was always walking back in that door.”

Tamara Loving weightloss, cancer
Over the years, Tamara Loving lost weight and then regained it before successfully losing more than 100 pounds in 2016.Courtesy Tamara Loving

Something clicked when she joined in 2016. At the time, she weighed 262 pounds and lost 100 pounds by December of that year. Since then, she shed 22 more pounds and now weighs 140 pounds.

“I have maintained my weight lost since rejoining in 2016,” she says. 

During this time, she also underwent regular mammograms. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 39 so Loving began screening at 29.

“The rule of thumb is when it’s a mother they start screening the daughters 10 years before your mother’s diagnosis,” Loving explains. “My very first screening I ended up having to have a biopsy done because they (saw) as suspicious area.”

Luckily, that area was just calcification and she resumed regular screenings. In 2017, the mammogram detected another spot that also seemed like calcification, at first.

“They called me back after the initial mammogram and said, ‘Hey we see this little funky area we want to get a magnified mammogram of it,” Loving says.

She underwent a needle-guided biopsy, which detected abnormal cells, but wasn't definitive. She decided to undergo a surgical biopsy and then learned some devastating news: Loving, then 38, had breast cancer.

“It was probably one of the hardest days of my life and the thing I dreaded most was telling my husband and telling my dad because my dad had gone through so much with my mom,” she says. “I was so scared. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t cry.”  

Loving had stage 1 hormone receptor positive breast cancer. Even though she had the surgical biopsy, she still needed to undergo a lumpectomy to make sure there were clear margins, meaning all the cancer had been removed. They also removed a few lymph nodes to make sure that the cancer had not spread. She opted to have reconstruction surgery done at the same time. The mass in the right breast was so large that they were removing so much tissue her breasts would be two different sizes so the plastic surgeon slightly reduced her left breast and did a lift on both.

When pathology returned, though, Loving faced difficult news.

“(My surgeon) was in tears practically. She said, ‘Tamara I don’t know what to tell you other than we didn’t get margins on that area, and we have to go back in,’” she recalls. “I was completely devastated.”

Loving worried they if they tried again for a lumpectomy they still wouldn’t have clear margins and she’d need to undergo surgery again. So, she decided to do a double mastectomy with reconstruction.

Tamara Loving weightloss, cancer
Tamara Loving saw the same radiologist in 2016 and 2017. When she arrived in 2017, he thought she was a different person because her weight loss was transformative.Courtesy Tamara Loving

“It was the most difficult decision I ever made in my life,” she says. She was able to do the reconstruction right after the mastectomy in part because she was in “exceptional health.”

“My blood pressure, the weight loss, my health was so good that they felt comfortable keeping me under as long as they did,” she says.

She didn’t need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation after surgery and has been cancer free since.

“They keep giving me a clean bill of health so that makes me one happy lady,” Loving says. 

Life after cancer

While “2017 was one of the worst years of (her) life,” Loving has been thriving since undergoing her mastectomy and reconstruction. She has maintained her healthy eating and exercise habits and has been cancer-free.

“I am so much stronger than I give myself credit for,” she says. “Life hasn’t really been the easiest. I suffered a lot of loss.” 

Tamara Loving weightloss, cancer
Tamara Loving learned a lot about herself through her weight loss and experience with cancer and found untapped strength.Courtesy Tamara Loving

Before 2016, Loving did not have a consistent exercise routine but now she exercises five days a week in the gym, a combination of cardio and weight training, while enjoying leisure activities, such as walking on the beach with her husband. She encourages others hoping to adopt healthy habits and lean on others for support.

“I just can’t stress enough the community and how much WeightWatchers members support one another,” she says.

CORRECTION (Nov. 2 2023, 8:49 a.m.): This article was updated to reflect the age Loving was when her mother died of breast cancer. She was 22, not 17.