Retired Waiakea High english teacher, Corliss Yamaki, is a cancer survivor
“Don’t put food in your mouth, if you have food in your mouth” are words that Corliss Yamaki tries to live by.
For years Yamaki has struggled with the ups and downs of weight and with it the battles of good and bad health.
Yamaki was born and raised in Hilo and is a 1961 graduate of Hilo High School
“We just celebrated our 50th class reunion last October,” she said. “I’ll be turning 69 in July.”
In 1992 Yamaki noticed one of the warning signs of cancer and was given two biopsies before being diagnosed with bladder cancer.
“I was stunned because I didn’t fit the profile, which was white male, middle aged, overweight, heavy smoker and heavy drinker,” Yamaki said.
In fact, the only thing that matched Yamaki’s profile was being overweight.
At the time Yamaki was an English teacher and she waited until the end of the school year to schedule her surgery.
“My son was graduating that year from Waiakea High School so I waited until the end of June to go to Queens Hospital to have my surgery done,” she said.
Yamaki was one of the lucky ones as the post-op biopsies revealed no cancer cells anywhere in her lymphatic system.
“The doctor told me I was cured and I had no radiation, no chemo,” she said. “I just had to have scans and sonograms every six months for the next 5 years.”
Yamaki was back in school the fall of ’92 and took with her a ‘souvenir ostomy’ as a results of her ordeal.
“It’s almost like having a prosthesis and it takes adjustment, mainly in attitude,” Yamaki said of her ostomy.
As a result of being a diabetic Yamaki found herself with numerous side effects, mostly infections.
“I’m not on insulin, but being diabetic just complicates things,” Yamaki said.
Following her surgery Yamaki began to gain more weight as she didn’t want to strain her body, especially her mid section.
With the weight gain also came an increase in her medications, not only for the diabetes, but also for hypertension and cholesterol.
What changed everything for Yamaki were regular exercise and an awareness of what she consumed.
“I joined Curves and worked out three times a week,” she said. “In 2007 I joined Weight Watchers because HMSA offered a deal where it would pay for the initial fee and three sessions.”
Yamaki, with diet and exercise, began to see a change in her health and became encouraged in the progress she made.
“I found myself simply doing it and I was in control of how much and what went into my mouth,” she said. “I ate lots of vegetables and fruits that I liked and minimized the carbs and meats.”
It was during these transition days that Yamaki became extra motivated with the upcoming wedding of her son.
“I decided I didn’t want to wear a tent to my son’s wedding, so I worked harder at losing weight,” Yamaki said.
“It was during this time that I also resumed hula at the Kamana Senior program,” she said. “In all, I lost nearly 40 pounds.”
Yamaki is the first to admit that weight continues to be a struggle for her as she is on a ‘rollercoaster’ ride in the endless battle to stay healthy and fit.
“I wish I could say that I’ve reached my goal, but I still have another 30 pounds to go,” she said.
Yamaki has made other changes in her life, postponing hula while adding Golden Zumba to her weekly schedule.
“I work out less at Curves and have added Zumba twice a week which gives me a good workout each time,” Yamaki said.
Due to her bad knees she has decided not to run/jog, but has added walking to her routine.
“All in all I feel pretty good,” she said of her weekly exercise routine.
Yamaki has also learned quite a bit about eating.
“It’s all about portion control and making good choice,” she said. “Weight Watchers advocates no deprivation, just common sense. If you can, use chopsticks when eating as you tend to eat smaller bites and portions are slower.”
Yamaki has decided to take control of her health and in the process has lost 40 pounds which has made a difference in her life. She no longer needs many of the medications she was once on and has reduced the strength of other medications.
With age, other health issues have cropped up in her life and she is discovering that diet and exercise does make a difference in life.
“With age comes other health issues, so while my original medications have lessened or been discontinued, I’ve had others prescribed for different conditions,” Yamaki said.
Yamaki has made enormous strides in taking better care of herself, but none of this came overnight and she still has a way to go in accomplishing all her goals.
“If you don’t do what’s best for your body, you’re the one who comes up on the short end,” Julius Erving said.
And someday should you happen to see a tall, thin, nearly bald stranger jogger around the back streets of East Hawaii remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
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