Hello and welcome. This is my first post. And its a long time coming!
I grew up in a household brimming with health professionals. People throwing around words like orthostatic hypotension at dinner was commonplace, even as a child. I was blessed to be raised by parents who valued education, science, work ethic and health (or, that is to say our understanding of health at the time). Like any other kid I was given Tylenol for fevers, aspirin for headaches, and bagels for breakfast. My mother worked at Massachusetts General Hospital for 30 years, along with my brother, both as RNs. I even worked there during college. My Dad, a pharmacist, carefully warned us against "unsafe, unregulated" non-drugs like supplements. As I entered my twenties, more and more family members kept getting diagnosed with various diseases, most often cancer. They were treated with the most cutting edge chemo-therapies and radiation treatments at some of the best hospitals in the world, right here in Boston. My uncle almost died of colon cancer when he was 27. (He was uninsured and just recently finished paying off his medical bills 25 years later). My grandmother, my grandfather. Then a few close neighbors, some only 50 years old. My mom. My dad... Everywhere I looked, everyone was cancer-struck. These were some of the brightest health professionals I knew, and many of them were so young! Some recovered, some didn't.
I wanted to make a difference. I entered a Master's of Science program in Drug Regulatory Affairs and Health Policy at Mass College of Pharmacy. I aspired to work in cancer research upon completion of the program. Unfortunately, learning the ins and outs of the FDA and the history of our food and health policies made me more confused and disappointed than ever with the system. When my dad's disease began to overtake him, I was at a crossroads. I had only a flicker of faith left in our medical institutions. In our last ditch efforts we enrolled him in clinical trials. I started researching dietary advice from nutritionists. I took a leave of absence from my job at a pharmaceutical company to take care of my dad full time. When I look back on my life it is clearly divided into two sections: before my father passed and after.
I use the word "passed" loosely, almost in jest. "He passed" suggests a gentle movement from one side to the other, or some sort of unremarkable action. Death is unfortunately not as neat and tidy as it is often portrayed on TV. At 53 years old, my father died a brutal death, his body ravaged by cancer. His inner organs began breaking down, his kidneys and bowels were failing. Fluid had risen past his midsection and higher it climbed. At the end there were days upon days of agony. He was too weak to speak or focus his eyes on us. His body could no longer metabolize pain medication, and therefore offered no comfort. Disease seeped through the entire surface area of his body in the form of welts and puss. The last 12 hours were filled with his painful screams. The hospice nurse was overwhelmed and had to leave. He howled and cried and we were powerless to help. It was pure terror, right up until his last breath. This is what chronic disease looks like.
Experiencing a traumatic loss like this was simultaneously the worst and best thing that ever happened to me. It was a tipping point. And had it not been so poignant, it would not have been so obvious the work that needed to be done, and I would not have been so deeply motivated. The simple truth I learned in the coming years is that everyone must eventually die, but no one needs to die like that. Anyone who has experienced this type of loss will find it motivating. I hope that I am able to motivate through this story so that you will not need to experience it yourself if you haven't already.
My father followed all the traditional health rules, he was not overweight, he hit the gym semi-regularly, he went to his annual checkup with his primary care physician every year. He followed the food pyramid, wore sunscreen, and was generally an all-around disciplined person. He, himself, was a pharmacist, understood statistics and epidemiology and was always informed of the most cutting edge medical interventions. He was by all traditional accounts "healthy". In his 40s he got lucky when he had dangerous skin cancers successfully removed from his face, twice. He eventually succumbed to prostate cancer, with a potential second primary of colon cancer, just like his brother.
The problem was that he wasn't actually healthy all those years. He just had yet to be diagnosed with his horrible disease. By the time the doctors even figured out he had cancer, it was already spreading rapidly.
Looking back there were signs and symptoms (IBS, chronic back pain, fatigue) and each was treated with medication rather than investigated. Nutrition was not mentioned once by his physicians even after his diagnosis, even as a last ditch effort at the end. Misinformation and misunderstanding are rampant, even among the majority of health professionals. Our institutions have failed us.
After my Dad's death I set out to find a better way. I found the beginnings of that better way a little more than two years ago in my health coach, Dr Stephen Franson. He began to educate me about my evolutionary roots, the paleo diet, the ten pillars of fitness, spinal health, behavioral science, human potential and much more. Since that time I have been completely submerged in the full-time study of these concepts, many of which are being wonderfully fleshed out on various online platforms. I am thankful for Robb Wolf, Matt LaLonde, Chris Kresser, Dr Jesse Davis, Dr Paul Kratka, Dr Stephen Franson, Dr Nick Araza, Mark Sisson and more who have helped educate so many people, including myself. I'm thankful for Bonfire Health and for Crossfit. I'm thankful for the Paleo blogging community including John Durant and Melissa McEwan for engaging and challenging us. And I'm thankful for the open-source platforms for discussion in the Paleo subculture, specifically PaleoHacks and now PaleolithicDiet.com, because they keep us honest and open in our educational quests. In fact, it was Patrik who motivated me to finally start this blog and to write this post, in hopes he will select me to attend the sold-out Ancestral Health Symposium. If selected I will humbly and gratefully attend and report back in detail, here! But even if I'm not selected, I will blog here. I will question, I will research, I will test and I will inform others.(But I really really hope that I am!!)
Defining health as the absence of a disease diagnosis is a huge deficiency perpetuated by the medical community. In my experience so far, if you are compelling, people listen. And with the right tools and the right information, people's lives can be transformed. I now endeavor to do everything in my power to take daily steps towards to optimal health. This is the bar I have set for myself and the bar which I believe will change the world. Questions still remain unanswered, and the answers we do have are not set in stone, but we are constantly learning and constantly discovering, and as a group we need to be constantly educating ourselves and others. We need to approach health differently. We have to shift the paradigm, and we have to do it together.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned!