‘I promised brave cancer teenager Alice I’d lose 11st so I could donate bone marrow’ Encouraged by a tweet from tragic Pride Of Britain winner Alice Pyne, Karen Mitchell created a bucket list, which included losing weight and saving lives When Karen Mitchell read the popular blog written by teenage terminal cancer sufferer Alice Pyne, not only was she deeply moved but also inspired. Pride Of Britain winner Alice, who had Hodgkin’s lymphoma from the age of 12, took to social media to urge people to join the bone marrow register. Karen decided she too would sign up to donate her stem cells and save lives. But there was one thing holding her back – her weight. She was 25st and had a BMI of 60, well above the healthy range of 18-25, and when she began the online registration for Anthony Nolan with her weight and height – 5ft 6in – she was rejected as being too fat. So, instead she sent brave Alice a tweet, promising she would lose weight to join the register. And when Alice replied, urging her not to give up, Karen swore that she would not fail. Now she’s lost an incredible 11st 7lb and next week she will make a life-saving donation in memory of Alice, who died in January 2013. “Alice told me not to give up and I didn’t want to let her down,” says Karen. “Her amazing legacy can go on saving lives and I hope everyone reading this will donate as well – not for me but for Alice.” Karen, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, had battled with her weight for as long as she could remember. Her teenage years were a misery as she was forced to dress in size 18 clothes. Even turning vegetarian and making her staple food cheese at 15 didn’t help solve her weight problem. “I longed to wear trendy clothes like the other girls at my school but I could only shop in the ‘fat’ section of shops,” she says. Karen married when she was 27 but says she knew when she walked down the aisle in her size 28 wedding dress that the marriage was already doomed. “In my heart I knew I wasn’t right for him and he wasn’t right for me. But I was a big girl and I told myself it would probably be my only chance to get married and settle down. I hoped we could make it work,” she says. But just five years later the marriage was over. She was still a size 28 when seven months after that, in November 2008, she met Dan Hague on the internet, quickly falling in love. Blissfully happy, Karen piled on even more weight – but she wasn’t the only one getting bigger. After four years together, by 2012 Karen’s weight had peaked at 25st and Dan’s had rocketed up from 14st to 19st 8lb. “We were just so happy together,” she says. “We enjoyed going for drinks and meals and cooking together, but it was always really high-calorie, bad foods.” Together they weighed a whopping 44st 8lb and attracted cruel insults wherever they went. But Karen, who works in a fizzy drinks factory, was still shocked when she tried to join the bone marrow register after reading about Alice and was turned down. “I thought Alice was incredibly brave and inspiring and when I read that encouraging people to join the bone marrow register was number one on her bucket list, I knew straight away that I wanted to do something for her,” she says. “Being rejected was a turning point because here was this amazing young woman who was terminally ill yet doing all she could to help others – and I was just wasting my life being fat. “I couldn’t even walk up the stairs at work without becoming out of breath. I felt useless. Now my weight was stopping me doing one thing for Alice.” To join the register, donors needed a BMI below 30, but Karen’s was 60. So she sent Alice a tweet that read: “I promise to lose weight so I can join the register.” “I couldn’t believe it when she actually tweeted back to say, ‘Please do it’,” Karen says. “I told myself that this time I would lose the weight. But it felt like such an impossibly huge mountain to climb. “I wanted to lose 11st, so that meant more than half my body weight had to go. I wondered how on earth I could ever manage to do it.” Motivated by her promise to Alice, Karen joined a local Slimming World group and swapped takeaways for vegetable stir-fries, salads and fresh fruit for chocolate bars and crisps. And as the weight slowly started to fall off, she continued to follow Alice on Twitter as she ticked off all the wishes on her bucket list, which included meeting Take That and whale watching. “I followed her doing all the incredible things she had on her list and, like all her thousands of followers, I just thought her courage and bravery was so awe-inspiring. Having made a promise to Alice, I was determined to keep it,” says Karen. To keep on track, she decided that she too would write a list containing all the reasons she wanted to lose weight. Karen dubbed it her “Belly Bucket List”. Of course, at the top was her aim to lose enough weight to join the bone marrow register for Alice. Other objectives included being able to climb the stairs at work, wear high heels, see her nieces grow up, fly in a plane without a seat belt extender and fit into a chair. Then, like Alice, Karen started her own blog to keep her motivated and she began to upload the photographs of every healthy meal she ate. By January 2013 she’d lost 5st and was down to 20st when she heard on the news that Alice had died, aged just 17. “I was devastated to hear she had lost her battle,” says Karen. “I’d never met her and only communicated with her once, but she was such an inspiration to me and to many others. “All I could do was vow to carry on dieting until I could join that register as I had promised.” Karen started walking and running to speed up her weight loss and was soon able to start ticking things off her own bucket list. The first came last summer when she found herself sitting in a deckchair on the sea front, allowing her to cross off number 14 on her list. She says: “I’d never been able to just sit down in a chair before because usually I wouldn’t fit, especially if it had arms. It might sound a bit daft, but just to be able to sit down without worrying if I would fit into the chair or not felt really fantastic.” Another milestone moment came when Karen saw some pink and blue tartan tights on Amazon, which she ordered, despite the fact they were labelled “one size only.” To her joy they fitted, and she was able to tick number 10 off her list. Karen was also to get rid of number 16, when a fan of her blog sent her a T-shirt with the Muppet character Elmo on it. She continued slimming, and boyfriend Dan joined up too, meaning the couple could share meals and exercise together. “There was some healthy competition between us, which definitely helped,” says Karen. “We had a scoreboard in the kitchen and whoever lost the least weight that week had to cook for the other. “I even posted about the weight loss battle between us on my blog, so people could pick which team they were on – mine or Dan’s.” Now, 18 months after Alice died, Karen has lost 11st 7lbs and weighs 13st 7lbs. Her BMI is now 31. Unfortunately, aged 39, she is too old to be a bone marrow donor for the Anthony Nolan charity, but next week she and Dan will be donating their bone marrow stem cells via the National Blood Service. Dan has gone from 19st 8lb to 13st 8lb – a loss of 6st – which means together they have lost 17st. “One thing Alice used to say that has stuck with me is, ‘ You only have one life, so live it’, and, thanks to her brave example, that is exactly what I am doing,” says Karen. “Her courage and optimism not only inspired me, it transformed me and I hope to encourage people to sign the register like me just as Alice wished.” For more details about joining the Anthony Nolan marrow register, visit www.anthonynolan.org ENDS.
*Disclaimer: Results May Vary From Person To Person.