Jessica Beniquez had just turned 20 years old when she decided to get her health and weight under control.
At 320 pounds, she’d settled into a steady routine of working, overeating, and binge-watching TV and it dawned on her one day that she’d gotten too comfortable.
“On that day, I was about to start another show, and something just clicked,” Beniquez told Women’s Health.
“I asked myself, ‘What am I doing?’ I always wanted to change, but I never took the initiative.”
She’d been diagnosed with high blood pressure a year and a half prior, which she was prescribed medication for, but even that didn’t motivate her to make any changes.
Beniquez had struggled with her weight her entire life. “As a child, I was a very picky eater. I only ate pasta, chicken nuggets, and French fries (a.k.a. carbs on carbs on carbs), and I rarely ate vegetables,” she said.
After she landed her first job, things got really out of hand. With the extra income, she started going out to fast food places more often. After graduating high school, Beniquez was eating fast food morning, noon and night.
Tired of feeling “weak, lazy and out of breath”, Beniquez started by having meal replacements.
Still a picky eater, meal shakes seemed liked her best option. She had two shakes and a meal per day for three months but quickly realized it wasn’t a sustainable course of action, so she shifted her focus on healthy, whole foods.
It turned out to be quite the learning process, but Beniquez slowly began trying new things and completely eliminated soda from her diet. As she grew empowered, she learned about portion control, and it ended up working wonders for her.
“I like being able to have anything I want in moderation,” said Beniquez. “If I want a bowl of ice cream or a cookie once in a while, I’ll have it — saying ‘no’ to things just doesn’t work for me.”
She also started gradually incorporating exercise into her daily routine. At first, she went on a walk every night and did exercise routines she discovered on Instagram. Then, she worked with a personal trainer a few times a month to switch up her fitness routine and now, she goes to the gym every day.
A year and a half later, Beniquez lost a total of 170 pounds and in September 2018, she decided to have skin removal surgery.
“I had always wanted it, but I was scared and it was expensive,” she said.
“Still, the excess skin was bothering me, so it felt like it was time.”
Berniquez got 5.5 pounds of skin removed. She remembered suffering terrible pain during her first week post-op, but she slowly got back into the swing of things.
An unexpected road block
Just as she was starting to feel like everything was falling into place, Berniquez was diagnosed with cancer.
Earlier that summer, she found a lump in her armpit. She figured she’d hurt herself doing a new workout but when it didn’t go away, she realized it was a swollen lymph node. Still she continued to ignore it, thinking she was just fighting a cold.
She showed her mother, who urged her to see a doctor after Beniquez’s dad had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and had found out the same way. Without any hesitation, she made a appointment to see a specialist and was seen almost immediately.
After several biopsies, scans and lump removal surgery, Berniquez was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma.
Although she’s currently undergoing chemotherapy and feels more fatigued than usual, she continues to go to the gym and run.
“It makes me feel good to do those things.” she said.
Berniquez is grateful she can still do a lot of things other cancer patients can’t and wants to show others that nothing is impossible.
“You can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of your situation,” she said.
“I want to encourage women to be grateful for their health and not take it for granted — instead, to make it a priority.”