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'The Year of Lori': Making good on a promise

Health care success stories told by the people who lived them


'The Year of Lori': Making good on a promise

Lori McCaleb before the promise Lori McCaleb after the promise

Lori McCaleb before and after the promise

For Lori McCaleb, it had been a tough few years – to put it mildly.

In 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The following year, she was laid off from her job. Shortly after that her beloved husband, Phillip, died suddenly of a heart attack.

It was late last year that she made a decision – 2011 would be "The Year of Lori." This would be a good year.

It was a promise to herself – to transform her health and her life. And, with all she'd been through, the UnitedHealthcare member was ready for a change.

For one, she'd recently seen a photo of herself – and she didn't like what she saw. She was carrying more than 50 extra pounds. "I had been overweight for over 25 years – since my daughter was born," says the 57-year-old Austin, Texas, resident.

But, she was determined to live as healthfully as possible. And, she had a long-term goal in mind, too. She wanted to enjoy her retirement years – something Phillip didn't get the opportunity to do.

Difficult, painful times

When she was diagnosed with cancer, Lori and Phillip, a retired U.S. airman turned college professor, were living in Boise, Idaho. That's where she had her treatment: a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, followed by chemotherapy.

But, shortly after completing her treatment, there was more bad news in Boise. In July of 2008, the technology company she'd been with for 11 years downsized – and her position was outsourced.

Losing her job led to a big life change for the McCalebs – a move south. The couple returned to Lori's native Texas. After years of living away because of Phillip's Air Force career, she was finally near her family. And, she was excited about a new work opportunity she'd found in Austin.

But, it wasn't to remain the happy homecoming she'd hoped for. Shortly after his retirement, and just a few months after their move, Phillip – her husband of 27 years – died suddenly of a heart attack.

For Lori, the emotional months that followed were the toughest she'd ever known. She often felt overwhelmed managing her daily life without Phillip by her side.

And, she was hurting physically, too. She was on drug therapy to prevent a cancer relapse. The side effects left her achy and drained – and unable to exercise. "My knees and legs hurt so bad I couldn't make it up the stairs," she says.

A snapshot spurs change

In 2010, on a trip to take Phillip's ashes to their final resting place at the military cemetery in San Antonio, a family member took a photo of Lori. Seeing herself was an eye-opener, she says. "You don't realize how large you are when you don't look at yourself in the mirror – or see pictures of yourself."

And, that image stuck with her as she thought about what she needed to do – and the life she wanted for herself.

Lori asked her doctors if it was possible to change her cancer medication to make it easier for her to exercise.

And, that's when the idea of "The Year of Lori" first started taking shape. "I was going to lose all my weight this year and live the rest of my life as healthy as possible."

Inspiring help along the way

In addition to her doctors, Lori also credits a UnitedHealthcare nurse for helping her prepare for a healthier future. As part of a Wellness Coaching program,* Lori received regular calls from her nurse. The two women discussed Lori's needs and plans. "She would call and give me pointers," Lori says. "We talked mainly about nutrition – and exercise. It's very helpful to have somebody keep tabs on you – and give you ideas on nutrition and other issues."

She kicked off "The Year of Lori" with both new eating and exercise habits. She joined Weight Watchers®. She also started working out three to four days a week, using her workplace gym. "There's a group of ladies I work with and work out with," she says. "I'm 10 years older than most of them, so my challenge is to keep up with them. So, I have to motivate myself. And, it motivates them in the process."

And, she goes online for inspiration, too. She often turns to the nutrition and fitness tips and ideas on®.** She says she especially loves how easy the information is to access. "I am a computer person," she says. "I like all the information available online. And, I can look at it whenever I need to."

A promising, positive future

It's been a life-changing year, Lori says. By late summer, she was nearing her weight-loss goal. She'd lost more than 40 pounds and several sizes. And, her doctors were pleased with her steady and safe weight-loss pace: about 2 pounds a week.

As a result, she was able to go on a lower dose of blood pressure medication – and her cholesterol was going down, too.

Today, she has "more energy than she knows what to do with."

"I feel like I'm 35," she says. "I can jog. I can run. I can go up three flights of stairs without breathing hard." She's also a regular on her neighborhood's jogging trail.

And, her transformation has helped her cope with her stress and grief – and think positively again, she says. "I don't feel like there's anything that I can't do."

She's even started dating. But, don't ask her out for dinner. She has her priorities – so she'll suggest a walking or hiking date instead.

"I've changed my lifestyle, and I think that will help me age gracefully and stay as healthy as my grandmother was," she says. "She lived to be 96."

**Though some may recognize the health portal by different URLs, all members can access the same valuable information. Oxford members, visit UnitedHealthcare West members, visit River Valley members, visit Medica members, visit either or You'll find your website on the back of your health plan ID card.

Weight Watchers is a registered trademark of Weight Watchers International, Inc.

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