Keasha Hawkins-Moore struggled to walk across the parking lot that had been baking in the summer sun.
The 50-foot walk left her winded.
Weighing about 500 pounds, she sat in her car, trying to catch her breath.
“I thought, ‘Oh, God. I’m gonna die and no one’s gonna find me until I’m all stinking and have been here awhile,’ ” Hawkins-Moore said.
She went to the emergency room in the morning. Doctors wanted to run a test, but the machine had a weight limit of 500 pounds. She came in 2 pounds under the limit.
The results showed that the Omaha woman had a blood clot in her left leg. It had broken up and made its way to her lungs.
The experience — and the potential of not being able to undergo a life-saving test — scared Hawkins- Moore. She decided to overhaul her habits. When she left the hospital, on her 42nd birthday, she started her weight-loss journey.
“I haven’t looked back,” she said.
Since then, Hawkins-Moore is closing in on dropping half of her starting weight. She’s battled cancer, lost loved ones and strengthened her faith.
Sign up for the Live Well Nebraska newsletter
Get the latest health headlines and inspiring stories straight to your inbox.
Hawkins-Moore, now 44, has struggled with her weight since she was a teen. When she started high school, she left basketball and track behind. Then the weight gain started picking up.
“I really can’t pinpoint it,” Hawkins-Moore said. “I’m not really sure how it happened. I just looked up one day and at 14, I was 200 pounds.”
At her heaviest, the 5-foot-9-inch woman weighed 507 pounds.
A typical breakfast then might have included up to six pieces of bacon, three eggs, two or three pieces of toast and a cup or two of fried potatoes. She’d wash it down with orange juice.
She might have eaten two snacks during the day. First would be a fast-food fish sandwich, fries and soda. Later, she’d have a bag of chips or a candy bar and a soda.
Lunch might have included fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, biscuits and corn.
And for dinner, Hawkins-Moore would have pot roast, potatoes, bread and Kool-Aid. Cake rounded things out for dessert.
“It was horrible,” Hawkins-Moore said. “I didn’t find out how horrible until later as I started to focus on losing weight.”
Because of her weight, it ruled out simple things like going to the mall. She couldn’t fit into the seats at a movie theater. She chose to drive instead of fly because air travel was too tricky.
At work, she did a lot of sitting. Once she got home, she’d sit again to watch television.
“I pretty much only got out when I had to,” Hawkins-Moore said. “There are certain things you have to do — dentist, grocery store and doctor’s appointments.”
After her June 2016 trip to the emergency room, Hawkins-Moore shook up her routine. She started by downloading MyFitnessPal, a calorie-tracking app, on her phone. She entered her weight, set her goals and the app gave her an allotted number of daily calories.
Hawkins-Moore said it worked for her. It wasn’t like other diets she’d tried that would restrict the amount of carbs she ate or would force her to eliminate certain foods.
“This tells you, ‘Here’s your calories for the day. Use them wisely,’ ” she said.
Now she eats a boiled egg and piece of toast for breakfast. Or she’ll eat a bowl of oatmeal with fruit. Lunch might be a large salad with grilled chicken or tuna. Dinner is usually grilled salmon with a cup or two of steamed veggies. For snacks, she’ll eat trail mix or bananas with peanut butter.
“It makes me choose better. I had reason to do it,” she said.
She still indulged in cravings. If she wanted fries from McDonald’s, she ate them. If she wanted a handful of chips, she ate them. But over time she learned she could eat more and stay full if she ate less junk food.
In a year, with only diet changes, Hawkins-Moore dropped about 100 pounds.
After that, she found she could walk longer distances. She could stand without being tired. She no longer had to use a seat belt extender in her car. Her clothes started fitting differently.
But then came a roadblock. In January 2018, Hawkins-Moore had a nagging pain on the left side of her abdomen. Doctors ran a battery of tests and found a fatty mass. A biopsy revealed that it was cancerous.
It had likely been there for years. The tumor took up almost the entire left side of her abdomen, said Dr. Jason Foster, a surgical oncologist who treated Hawkins-Moore at the Nebraska Medical Center. It was encasing her kidney and spleen, and was pressing against her large and small intestines.
Doctors weren’t sure if they’d be able to remove the entire growth. She spent three months undergoing radiation treatments.
After the diagnosis, Hawkins-Moore had to step away from her duties as a pastor at a local Christian church, Sure Foundation Ministries. But her strong faith and her church community helped support her. They prayed, offered encouragement and called to make sure she had what she needed. Her personal faith remained strong, too.
“There’s no doubt I would have given up if I didn’t trust that God was with me and taking care of me and looking out for me,” Hawkins-Moore said.
Doctors were able to remove the entire tumor — which Foster estimates as having weighed between 15 and 20 pounds. They also had to remove other organs, including her kidney, spleen, half of her pancreas, some muscles along the back of her abdomen and adrenal glands .
During her battle with cancer, Hawkins-Moore’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died shortly after she was released from the hospital.
“I felt like I wanted to quit, but everything was saying, ‘No. You can’t quit. What about your son? What about this? What about that?’” she said. “This is a life change. ... You can’t give up on your life because you have hard times, and you feel sad, and tough things happen.”
Patients go through lots of emotions dealing with a cancer diagnosis and going through a major surgery, Foster, her surgeon, said. Hawkins-Moore had a good support system during the process. She had a positive attitude that rubbed off on other patients and hospital staff.
“She’s 110 percent committed to her weight loss,” Foster said. “... She was never taken off her path. It’s only fueled her to get to her goals of a healthy life and weight. It’s very inspirational.”
Tracey Pearson has known Hawkins-Moore since she was a child.
“She’s always been ‘This is who I am. I’m not a little skinny minnie.’ She was comfortable in her own skin,” Pearson said.
“I got a chance to witness something miraculous,” Pearson said of her friend’s health journey.
Hawkins-Moore is down to about 290 pounds. She hopes to drop another 50 pounds and have surgery to remove excess skin.
She’s back to work, and she’s starting to add exercise into her routine. Her 7-year-old son helped to motivate her. He gave her a set of pink dumbbells for Christmas. She sits on a chair and lifts weights and does leg lifts. She walks on the treadmill in her apartment’s gym.
She hits the mall a couple of times a week to walk around, parking farther away from the entrance to get in extra steps.
“It’s almost like a new world to me,” Hawkins-Moore said. “It’s like, oh my gosh, what have I been missing? I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m zooming everywhere. I want to experience the life I kept myself from because of my weight.”
17 rare and unusual health stories out of Omaha
One rare disease left an Omaha doctor eating a shakelike formula to supplement her diet. A friend said it tasted like cat food. An Omaha man woke up after his family took him off life support. And a Lincoln teen is allergic to almost everything.
Check out the stories on their unusual ailments and sometimes equally unusual treatment plans.