Lukieya Coachman was “always on the thicker side” growing up, but it didn’t bother the 6’0” athlete, who was just focused on playing basketball. Coachman was good, and she earned a scholarship to play in college, but when she got pregnant and eventually dropped out, her athletic career was pushed aside — and her weight went up.
© Lukieya Coachman; Kat Borchart
For the next few years while raising her son, Coachman’s weight was manageable. But just before she hit age 30, it “started to get out of control.”
“I would do crash diets, work out really hard and lose the weight, but I never knew how to keep it off. And every time I gained the weight back, I would add more,” the Riverside, Calif.-native, 43, tells PEOPLE for the 2021 Half Their Size issue.
At around 360 lbs., Coachman “didn’t feel good” about herself, and daily life was wearing on her. She had trouble tying her shoes, going up and down stairs — even taking a shower.
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Lukieya Coachman Lukieya Coachman
“I would have to turn the water on and sit on the side of the tub in-between washing off, because it was just hard to stand up for too long,” she says.
Then, in June 2017, Coachman noticed that her face was starting to swell. Thinking it was an allergic reaction, she went to the emergency room to get checked out, where doctors noticed that her heart rate was elevated. After a chest x-ray, they determined that Coachman had a 10-cm. mass in her chest.
“From that point on, they admit me into the hospital and they're running all kind of tests,” she says. “They're doing biopsies, CT scans, everything. And it took them six days to come back and tell me that it was cancer.”
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Coachman was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma after her oncologist found a second, 4-cm. mass, and she immediately started chemotherapy and radiation.
Then, she “did the total opposite of most people with cancer,” she says. “A lot of people, they lose weight. But no. I went from 340 lbs. to 421. I didn’t want to go out or do much because I’m not supposed to be around too many people. So, I stayed in the house and I ate.”
For more on Lukieya and four more women who changed their lives to get healthy, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands now
Thankfully, Coachman’s treatments worked, and after six months she was declared cancer-free. But watching the number on the scale increase — and becoming more aware of her health — made her want to lose the weight for good. So she immediately signed up for WW, starting the program in Jan. 2018.
“I knew that I needed to lose the weight, and I knew that I wasn’t able to do it on my own,” she says. “I wanted to lose the weight and keep it off.”
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The home health aide focused on eating lean proteins like chicken breast and turkey, along with fruits and vegetables. She also prioritized the weekly WW meetings, putting it on her schedule and making sure that nothing would get in the way. The hardest part, Coachman says, was giving up sweets, so she started making healthier snacks, like a bowl of Greek yogurt with chocolate chips.
From there, “the weight came off pretty easily,” especially once Coachman started walking each day, aided by a step counter that her son gave her for Christmas.
“When I started, I was only walking around 2,000 to 5,000 steps a day, and even that was exhausting,” she says. “So every week, I tried to increase the amount of steps I walked, and the more I did, the more the weight started to fall off.”
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Kat Borchart Lukieya Coachman
In seven months, Coachman lost her first 100 lbs. After a year and half, she was down 200 lbs. and wanted to pump up her workouts — so she start taking group fitness classes at the gym, which she “loved.” She’s now lost 243 lbs., and is proud she was able to make a change.
“I wanted to lose weight for my son, because I want to be here a long time for him and the rest of my family,” she says. “But ultimately, it was for myself, because regardless of my weight, my son is going to love me the same. It doesn't matter if I'm 400 lbs. or 200. So, it fell down to me loving myself enough to actually be committed to lose the weight to make myself better.”
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Lukieya Coachman; Kat Borchart Lukieya Coachman
Plus, Coachman says, she wanted to help herself stay cancer-free.
“When you have cancer, there's always a chance of it coming back, or there's just so many other problems that are health-related because of your weight,” she says. “I want to try to be as healthy as possible, because I want to be around as long as possible.”