This is the incredible story of Willie Gagiano. By beating cancer, he lost 80kg and transformed his life from dying to living. This is a true testament of what the human body & spirit can overcome!
I got to know of Willie via my brother in law after he was diagnosed with lung cancer (….I am happy to say he is cancer free and doing extremely well).
The connection came due to the fact that Willie was also diagnose with cancer 2 years ago, except his was on his tongue. What happened over the 2 years that followed was a remarkable transformation of body, mind and soul.
I want to share Willies story because he is one of those people who did not let adversity prevent him from doing what he needed to do to change his life.
The words below is his own which have been translated from an interview I had with him in Afrikaans:
J: Willie, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do
W: My name is Willie Gagiano. I live in Riebeek Kasteel and I am 44 years of age. I have a daughter of 13 and I have my own business here in the valley.
J: You have gone through a massive physical transformation Willie and at one point you were 215kg…..what do you think was the cause of the weight gain?
W: When I was young I loved rugby and I loved sport but I was very lazy. I was even too lazy to get fit for the rugby as much as I loved it, so I was never a hugely energetic person.
Then at 27 I started my transport business and it required a lot of sitting around and waiting in my vehicle. My staff would do all the work of loading and off loading and I would sit and wait.
There was no exercise involved on my part. I would either play games on my cell phone or I would eat. When weekends came around, I would be sitting at home working on my hobbie which was jigsaw puzzle building (6000+ pieces). So my life was very inactive and my diet was not healthy.
J: Won’t you please take us back to the day your transformation started….the day you found out you had cancer:
W: It was 2016 …..I had found a little hole on my tongue which I initially ignored, but it started to collapsed more and more until I decided to go to the doctor.
They informed me that it was cancer and that it had spread to the glands in my neck. I had it cut out but 3 months later it was back and I had to return to have it cut out again.
I was advised by my doctor to do radiation, but at the time I was 215kilos which was too heavy for the hospitals beds. I had to be under 150 kilograms before I could continue with the treatment.
The doctor informed me that there was a good chance the cancer could return so it was all up to me to lose the weight if I wanted to continue forward with this treatment.
That was the moment that I set on my journey to lose the weight.
J: If you were weighing 215kg, how did you start? It must have been physically difficult.
W: It was. Just getting up in the night to go to the toilet was a struggle for me. I would have to hold onto furniture to get up & walk. By the time I got back to bed I was struggling to breath. Sleeping was the worst because I always had this fear I would stop breathing. On top of that my knees hurt, my ankles hurt and some days every step was painful. But I knew I had to do something.
So I started by walking every morning & evening. I started with just 100m at a time…..it then became 200m, then 500m then a kilometre and slowly I built up the strength and fitness to walk further and further. Although it doesn’t seem like much but I committed to walking every single day.
It’s amazing how quickly our body changes because within a month I was able to walk 5 kilometers! I could just feel the weight dropping off me the more I walked and committed to my daily exercise.
A friend told me that I would get “bitten” by the exercise bug, which I didn’t believe in the beginning because I really didn’t like walking or exercise. However as time moved on, I actually started to enjoy it. So much so I had friends suggesting I try a race with them over the weekends
Initially I couldn’t even visualize myself getting past 5km let alone finishing a race, but I decided to do my first 5km race and I loved it! It felt good. The company and people there were amazing and I wanted to do it again!
SO I slowly started building onto that. From 5km, it became 10km and from 10km it became 15km and now I am running 21km races! I am completely addicted!
In the beginning I could only run a kilometre and walk the rest, and now I can run 8 at a time and walk 2!
Every weekend I go onto the internet to see which races are happening where and I sign up, commit and I show up to them every weekend!
J: That is incredible Willie!!! From someone who could barely get out of bed to completing half marathons….it is so inspiring. Was there any other changes you made in your life to help loose the weight?
W: Yes. I use to drink and smoke a lot. SO much so that my liver started to give problems….this was before I was diagnosed with cancer. It was then that I chose to give up alcohol but for some or other reason I struggled to let go of the cigarettes. My doctor told me I needed to stop because of the cancer but I just couldn’t!
I was smoking less but I was still smoking. So I prayed. I prayed that God would help me let go of this hold the cigarettes had over me. And then just before I had my operation to remove the cancerous glands, I remember lighting up a cigarette and on the 2nd inhalation I felt a wave of nauseas and repulsiveness come over me and that was it…..I put it down and have never picked up one since.
J: How big of a part has your faith and religion played in your journey?
W: A very big part. I prayed everyday that God would give me the strength and courage to keep going especially the motivation to get up every day and go walking because truly, I hated it in the beginning. It was hard, painful and exhausting but I prayed that God would keep leading me through, giving me the strength and motivation to keep going…..I prayed that he would allow me to continue living because I am a single parent. I have a daughter and she needs me.
My faith has played a huge part in my transformation, probably the biggest. I honestly believe by gods grace I am still here today.
J: I get goose bumps when I hear you say that because I so believe in the power of prayer regardless of one’s religion. Our biggest transformation starts on the inside by what we believe within ourselves. That inner faith, belief and trust is needed to transform the physical body. Unfortunately so many people miss out that part of the journey. They focus just on the exercise or diet and completely disregard the mental, emotional and spiritual aspect of health and well being.
W: God got me through this and through Him I am able to keep going.
J: Now that you are fitter and stronger, what other things are you able to enjoy that you couldn’t do before?
W: I am able to do trail runs now which I could never do before. I am able to get out into nature breath fresh are see the amazing views and scenery…I also feel closer to God when I am out in nature seeing the birds, and streams and trees.
I have also met many amazing people. Being able to get out and do these races I have been surrounded by beautiful souls that uplift and inspire me.
J: So what’s your next challenge?
W: I want to complete the 1000km Challenge where you get a year to tally up 1000km. I also want to complete a 42km full marathon. ….maybe comrades in 3years, but I first want to get my weight under 100kilo to ensure that my knees and hips don’t take too much strain.
J: DO you do any other forms of exercise at the moment?
W: I try do some basic resistance training at home. I have a bench with a barbell and I do chest press and bicep curls to build some strength. I even use my lorries battery to do arm rows!
I still struggle with sit ups so I do them on my bed, but I am getting there. A little stronger every day!
J: How has your life changed since losing the weight?
W: Everyday things we take for granted is such a blessing now. To be able to jump out of bed with energy and without having to grab onto objects to keep me up straight, feels incredible. To be able to sleep straight through the night without struggling to breath or having the fear of suffocating, feels incredible. To have less stress and to be able to release stress through exercise, feels good.
I have become closer to God and I learned to appreciate every breath I take within every moment.
J: How much weight have you lost to date?
W: I started at 215kg and I am now 137kilo’s and I am not stopping there. I am never going back to the size or state I was in before. God has given me a 2nd chance and I am not going to waste it.
J: What is your message to others who are needing to lose weight, get their health back and transform their body?
W: Let’s put it this way, if I could do my life over, I would have never started smoking or drinking. I would have started walking and running from a young age. I never knew being healthy & fit could feel so good.
For young people growing up, I would recommend they start walking and running.
It doesn’t cost you anything, all you need is your body. It also brings you closer to God which helps guide you to make better choices in your life. And just do your best to make healthy choices with what you eat.
It’s starts with a small step….
Willie, I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you have shared your journey of complete transformation with such openness & love. I know you are going to change MANY peoples lives with your story!
I can’t wait to cheer you on when you pass that 1000km mark and do your first marathon! You got this my friend!
Beating cancer & losing 80kilos…. now that is reason to celebrate life every day. May Willies story be a reminder that it is NEVER too late to make a change for the better!!!