The HGTV star reveals the challenges that followed a life-altering nerve injury just a year after beating cancer in his new book 'Flip Your Life'
Tarek El Moussa is opening up about one of his greatest unforeseen health struggles.
In his new book, Flip Your Life: How to Find Opportunity in Distress — in Real Estate, Business and Life (out now), the HGTV star, 42, opens up about how a severe injury spiraled into an unhealthy relationship with pain medication.
El Moussa experienced a series of harrowing medical episodes back to back. In 2013, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after a Flip or Flop fan, who was also a registered nurse noticed a lump on his neck and wrote to the show’s producers. Shortly after, he was also diagnosed with testicular cancer. Several surgeries and radioactive iodine therapy helped him beat both.
Less than nine months after finishing his cancer treatment, he decided to play golf for the first time in ages, but toward the very end of the course, he suffered a devastating injury to his back.
El Moussa describes the accident on the green as “the beginning of fifteen months of a whole new medical challenge." He had slipped several discs in his lower back, and they were pinching his sciatic nerve. "In other words, what I had was not so much a back problem as it was a nerve problem—and it was debilitating.”
The Flipping El Moussas host details the toll it took on his mental health and the “hamster wheel of painkillers” his injuries spiraled him into. He describes the pain as so severe that he couldn’t even put on his shoes or socks due to his inability to bend over.
“Once I was vertical and highly medicated, I could function, but my walk was more like a shuffle. On a typical day, I would swallow eight or ten painkillers just to get through the day. Between the Vicodin and the Dilaudid and the morphine, I was as high as a kite all day long,” he admits.
After losing 60 pounds as a result of his “sick man diet,” El Moussa realized his medicine intake was no longer sustainable and decided on back surgery — which came with complications of its own.
When he went home after the procedure, his urethra swelled up and caused a complete blockage, prompting another week stay in the hospital.
As his then-wife Christina Hall took charge of running their household on her own, recovery at home came with more time “stuck in bed, drugged up on painkillers,” El Moussa writes. After six weeks of feeling lonely and depressed in their downstairs bedroom, he finally had a breakthrough.
Laid up in bed, he started binging the TV series Intervention. “I found myself feeling more and more inspired. They did it, I thought. I can, too.” In that moment, he recounts telling himself, “It's time to move.”
He carefully rolled out of bed and shuffled across the bedroom. "So far, so good. I kept going,” he writes. “After a few more steps, I was no longer hunched over; I was standing up straight. Once I got to the corner, it occurred to me that this was the first time I had moved in six weeks,” he writes.
And once he started, he couldn't stop. The house flipping expert ended up heading right out the front door and did a “complete loop of the neighborhood,” even giving Christina a scare because she had no idea he had left the house.
“But she could see that I was doing better: a whole lot better. In fact, when I finished my walk, 90 percent of my pain was gone, which I’m convinced was the result of all that movement,” he writes. “And that was the very first step of my recovery. I once again had hope that through hard work, I would be able to get my life back.”
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE in January, El Moussa opened up about the very difficult time in his life.
“I got my first cancer in 2013. I was fighting cancers in '13 and '14, and I had surgeries, and then for a few months I got better,” he said. “And then in '15, I hurt my back. So for four years, I just lived through hell.”
When writing his book, El Moussa told PEOPLE, he went on an “emotional rollercoaster” while recounting his health issues, divorce and more, but he pulled together and “got through it.”
“The number one takeaway is that anything is possible. Literally, anything is possible. You just got to start. Most people never start,” he said. “Take that first step. Go for that first walk . . . Just start.”
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