I Made a Promise
I helped my mom into her bed, making sure everything she might need was on her nightstand. She reached up and took my hand and from the bottom of her heart said, “Take care of yourself, will you?” I sat down on the edge of her bed and looked directly at the woman who gave birth to me, raised me, helped me when I needed her, let me fall when I needed to, and inspired me with the example of her life. I knew all of what she was saying. She was dying of cancer but it was constant intense emotional stress that killed her. She sacrificed herself and she didn’t want me to do the same. “I will, Mom. I promise. Because if I’m not healthy I can’t help anyone else.” At the beginning of every plane ride, a flight attendant instructs, “Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.” That I would do that was my mom’s deathbed wish for me.
I Ate to Live
I never met my grandpas. Mom’s dad died at 45 of a heart attack. Maybe that’s why she was so conscious of what she ate and what she fed my dad, my nine siblings, and me. Mom didn’t live to eat; she ate to live. Vegetables were a staple for dinner, with or without meat. Before skim milk was sold bottled, Mom made her own using Carnation non-fat milk powder. (I swear it was blue.) We had non-dairy ice milk instead of ice cream and fake salt in the shaker. We baked with Crisco instead of butter. Those were all the healthy alternatives to the high-fat and high-sodium foods the experts insisted contributed to heart disease and other illnesses. That’s why it scared the heck out of me that, despite her healthy dietary habits, Mom got cancer anyway. After her death, I started thinking of my own mortality. I had always focused on heart health, because of my family history. Now I was scared of cancer.
I Used My Voice
On a September afternoon in 2004, Barbara Blaine, the founder of , Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called me to ask if I could rush over to St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Burbank, Illinois to do a press conference about the Archdiocese removing a priest. Earlier that year, I’d accompanied Barbara and other survivors at several press conferences. The Chicago Archdiocese had released a statement; it was important for survivors to have a voice. I was cleaning all day and a mess. I had to hurry to get there before everyone left after Saturday mass. I quickly changed clothes and barely made it before all the press left. That was my first solo statement on behalf of SNAP. There’d be many more. I learned from these press events some things are more important than how my hair looks or what people will think of me. I’ve advocated for child safety since I was 13. And, in my 14 years as a SNAP volunteer, I’ve met many courageous survivors of child abuse. They are heroes.
I Got Sick
On a cold, dark January night in 2013, my husband and I met friends at a trendy Chicago restaurant. Just inside the exterior doors, as we shared goodbye hugs, I suddenly felt a large lump in my neck. It came out of nowhere. It felt like a golf ball. I felt it only internally. When I touched my neck with my fingers as if checking my pulse, I couldn’t feel anything abnormal. This wasn’t my first symptom. I’d had others that I’d ignored, hoping they’d disappear. But this scared me. I thought I might have lymphoma or something. (Remember my fear of cancer?) The doctor gave me antibiotics. Eventually, the feeling went away but more symptoms appeared and kept coming – more frequently and more intensely. My blood tests kept coming back normal but I wasn’t normal. My doctor seemed to be out of ideas so she prescribed Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug. She told me I should to give myself time to grieve my dad’s death. She didn’t understand and I was frustrated. I hated taking drugs unless absolutely necessary. (I got that from my mom.) Still, I took what I was prescribed.
I Opened My Eyes
In Spring 2013, I was diagnosed with tinnitus, incurable constant ringing in the ears which happens to be a potential side effect of Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering statin my doctor prescribed despite my objections. I believed the myth that reducing dietary fat and cholesterol lowered blood cholesterol. I wouldn’t realize until later why my efforts to reduce my cholesterol and triglyceride levels with my diet failed. I also wouldn’t realize until later how little most medical doctors know about nutrition. I had wrongly assumed nutrition would be part of the curriculum at med schools. I was hoping my doctor could help me get healthy. I would find out later, conventionally trained American doctors don’t specialize in health; they are trained to diagnose disease and treat the disease with drugs, surgery, or radiation. If wellness without drugs was my goal, I either had to hire a wellness specialist or figure it out on my own. I had degrees in Health Education and Exercise Physiology and had taught Health Science in a California junior high school. But that wasn’t enough.
I Thought I Was Dying
By the summer of 2013, I had almost no energy. I was gaining weight even though I hadn’t changed my diet. I weighed as much as I did when I was 9-months pregnant. I feared I had ovarian cancer as bloating is one of its symptoms. Thankfully, tests came back negative but my health kept declining. I thought I was dying but I didn’t know from what. Instead of getting answers from my doctor, I only got more prescriptions – without any diagnosis other than to lower my cholesterol to prevent heart disease. All summer, I waited for my colonoscopy appointment. I was miserable. I couldn’t think clearly and once felt dissociated from my surroundings. It was very strange and scary. While vacationing with my husband and two kids, on the 24th floor of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, I had my first experience with vertigo. Now, that was scary. It must be something with my brain, I concluded. I imagined our kitchen table with only three placemats.
I Found Hope
I refused to give up. I’d rather die fighting like a lion than succumb like a sheep. I didn’t have much energy to fight but I owed it to my children, my mom, and myself to try my best to get healthy. I came across a book titled Why Isn’t My Brain Working? and ordered it, read it despite brain fog, and realized at least one of my problems was nutritional deficiencies. I went to a local health food store and stocked up on supplements. A few weeks later a friend asked me how I was. I filled her in. She kindly explained to me the difference between food-grade and pharmaceutical-grade supplements. I had no idea. I trashed all that I’d just bought and place my first order with USANA. Not long after, I finally met with the GI doc, an osteopath, who suggested I might have food intolerances, such as to gluten or lactose. He suggested I experiment for one month. Eliminate and then eat some and see how my body reacts. I finally had a doctor who listened to me and believed me and didn’t look at me, with prescription pad in hand, like I was crazy. There was hope! I had something to do besides take drugs. I followed doctor’s orders and many – but not all – of my symptoms disappeared over time and have not returned. My -oscopies which all came back clear so I don’t have celiac disease but apparently my body doesn’t like gluten or dairy, both high-inflammatory foods.
Six months after my colonoscopy and taking USANA supplements every day, I felt much better better. Not only did I stop eating gluten and dairy, I stopped eating grains and other high-inflammatory foods such as peanut butter, margarine, vegetable oils, and canned beans. I started choosing organic produce and clean protein sources whenever possible. I stopped caring about calories, learned about the Glycemic Index, and avoided high-glycemic foods. I finally overcame my addiction to starchy carbs, a potentially deadly habit brought on, in part, by the USDA’s Food Pyramid. I focused on foods I could have instead of greiving over foods I shouldn’t and, what do you know, I started enjoying foods I was always told to limit such as high-quality eggs, steak, and chicken skin. In March, 2014, I went in for my annual physical. My weight dropped to 127 pounds and my cholesterol and tryglycerides plummeted. I did it without drugs. I did it – the right way – with high-quality nutrition through food and supplementation.
“Are You Ok?”
In the spring of 2014, I started seeing a lot of friends and neighbors I hadn’t seen since I recovered my health. They’d all say the same thing: “You look great!” And then, cautiously, “Are you okay?” After this happened a several times, word for word, I realized what was going on. My friends had noticed my dramatic weight loss, more than anything. My hair was no longer falling out, I had more energy, and naturally I was in a better mood. But the loss of 25 pounds of excess fat on top of the 20 I had lost a few years earlier was noticeable. I thanked them and assured them I was okay. It made me sad, however, that for so many people, dramatic weight loss is nothing to celebrate; it’s often a result of undergoing treatment for cancer or some other degenerative disease. I could’ve easily been among them. I thought I was doing things right but realized so much of what I was doing – of what I was taught – was wrong. Then, it angered me. How many people are suffering – from disease, obesity, discomfort, frustration, fear, anxiety, because of the myths and misinformation promoted and propagated by ‘experts’ who are either ignorant of the latest scientific data or know it but don’t share it because they’re profiting from the status quo? A Canadian survey of medical doctors found 85% of them would not undergo or recommend for family members the same treatment they prescribe to their patients. Chronic disease is on the rise in the U.S. and, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, medicine is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind heart disease and cancer. Yes, I’m okay. And I’m grateful for my health. But, I’m not satisfied. And I won’t be until I’ve done everything I can to help others have the same opportunity to heal as I’ve had.
I Watched a Friend Heal – and Die
I got a phone call in September 2016 from a friend and fellow advocate in the clergy sexual abuse movement, Rick Springer. Hearing background noise, I asked Rick if he was at the VA again. He told me he was at Portillo’s, a popular Italian beef restaurant chain in Chicagoland. “Kate,” he said, “I was just walking back to my car and got this feeling, ‘Is this what it feels like to be normal’? He suffered from COPD and many other ailments that kept him in almost constant physical discomfort. He was adamant that his poor health was a direct of a priest-rape when he was 12. Rick did everything he could to heal: he got sober; he read voraciously; he hosted group support meetings; he spoke out; he connected with friends daily. But, I believe there were two factors that led him to finally say, “I haven’t felt like this since before the abuse.” 1) He was assigned a tough-love caregiver, an angel named Gus, and 2) He started focusing on nutrition and taking care of his physical health. When I asked him about his breakthrough later, he said he finally believed he was worth taking care of. That exchange was in the VA hospital, a few days after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and few days before he died from it. I’m grateful Rick experienced feeling “normal” before he passed. My goal is to help survivors get to where Rick got well as soon as possible so they can spend less time suffering and more time living.
In early 2015, I was asked to give a 3-minute presentation to survivors of clergy abuse or other advocates that might help them or others in their local support group. I decided to speak about nutrition and the importance of taking care of our health. I used the examples of Steve Jobs, Tim Russert, and Gilda Radner as individuals who were talented and driven. Yet their lives were cut short by chronic disease. I warned, “Don’t let the same happen to you.” A few days later, Barbara Blaine who founded SNAP called me asking for more information about what she could do to protect her health. Later that year, Barbara asked me to help out at the SNAP office in Chicago. I agreed. Often, I’d arrive in the morning and Barbara would show me what she was eating for breakfast to check if it was healthy enough. Whenever we’d lunch together, it was all about nutritious choices. But when Barbara saw me taking my AM supplements one day she said, “I thought we weren’t supposed to take vitamins.” She insisted she could maintain her health through diet alone. Sadly, she suffered a fatal heart attack in 2017. She was 61.
I Joined a Vision
In early 2016, I signed on to join the vision of Dr. Myron Wentz: A world free of pain, suffering, and disease. Pretty big vision, huh? Dr. Wentz is a double Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology and a recipient of the Albert Einstein Lifetime Achievement Award. He developed standard diagnostic kits to diagnose infectious diseases such as Epstein-Barr virus and strep throat. After his parents and other relatives died of degenerative diseases, Dr. Wentz decided to shift his focus from diagnosis to disease prevention. In 1992, Dr. Wentz founded USANA Health Sciences, Inc. (USANA is Greek/Latin for True Health). USANA is a science-based developer and manufacturer of nutritional supplements and non-toxic personal care products used by, among many others, over 2,000 Olympic and professional athletes worldwide. I’m grateful to be a consumer of USANA products and honored to be associated with a company and world-renowned leader with such vision, heart, and integrity.
I Got Certified
Entreprenuer Sir Richard Branson once said, “I somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” That’s what happened when I came upon information on the health coaching certification program by American Council on Exercise (ACE). It was in 2017 and I was 55 years old and had two children in college. I knew I didn’t require a certification to fulfill my mission but I wanted to learn. I knew how to teach health. I knew how to plan and operate health care exhibits and give presentations. I had some experience with coaching – sports and otherwise – but I wanted to learn more. When I came across the opportunity to become an ACE Health Coach, I said yes. And ACE has helped me immensely learn how to better help others successful reach their goals.
I Discovered My Mission
While I was studying for my ACE Health Coach Certification, I happened to come across another ACE study, one measuring the effects on physical health of Adverse Childhood Experiences. This caught my eye because I had been told by a reporter interviewing me about Barbara Blaine’s untimely death that survivor of childhood sexual abuse have a life expectancy ten years shorter than those who were spared such trauma. If I wasn’t outraged enough that so many kids are abused and many carry the emotional pain from it their entire lives, this added to my anger. But, anger helps motivate me to act so things will change. If you’ve suffered adverse childhood experiences, please be sure to download my UnRut Your Health guide, read the tips, and complete the activities. It’s a start.
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