Be an Ambassador for Your Own Health: Choosing a Journey to Health
The fact you’re reading these words tells me that you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a challenging health condition. By seeking out this story, you have already taken one of the first and most important steps to taking control of your own health—you have made the decision to begin your journey, and I congratulate you on this important choice.
I’ve spent many years living my own health journey and helping others do the same. I’ve worked with an incredible group of healthcare professionals who have taught me a great deal. These collected thoughts are not just my own—they are the result of a collaborative effort among western medial doctors, various other health practitioners, and countless others who have faced challenging health conditions. The following pages contain some things that helped me along the way. I’ve also helped many others on their journeys, and they have found these tips helpful as well. As you flip through these pages, I hope that you’ll learn a few lessons that will end up being valuable to you in your own journey.
Take It From Someone Who Has Been There
In 1999, I was diagnosed with hepatitis C. And while my experience navigating hepatitis C certainly hasn’t made me an expert on all serious health conditions, I think my story may prove helpful as you move forward on your own journey. My story simply provides an overview of one man’s health decisions and the lessons that I’ve learned along the way. And it reinforces what may be the most important piece of knowledge I gained—that the very act of choosing can bring us to a place of greater wellness.
“The only source of knowledge is experience.” ~ Albert Einstein
Learn from the Experiences of Others
This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”
Starting Your Own Journey
Now, no one is saying that you won’t need the help of a doctor (you will) or that you won’t need some spiritual guidance—I know that I did. A lot of people have lived through similar situations. It can be helpful, to find a friend who has been there before, and who can help you find your own way out. Each of us facing a challenging health condition does so with a unique set of health factors, genetics, support, and financial resources. Yours will play a role in setting your course just as mine did. But regardless of your circumstances, it’s essential that you remember one thing:
This is your journey. These are your choices.
You’d best start believing in ghost stories…you’re in one!
You may have a difficult time accepting your new situation, but denying reality won’t help. There is a scene towards the beginning of the 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl that sums up my feelings about accepting one’s journey after being diagnosed with a long-term disease. The main female protagonist, Elizabeth Turner, has just expressed to the leader of the marauding pirates, Captain Barbossa, that she does not believe in ghost stories. As she makes this defiant statement, the moon comes out from behind the clouds and reveals the true nature of Captain Barbossa and his crew: skeletal, undead monsters that cannot be harmed. Barbossa turns to Elizabeth and states coldly, “You’d best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner—you’re in one!”
It’s OK to be scared.
Being diagnosed with a challenging condition is much like being thrown into the middle of a ghost story. All of a sudden, your world has changed. Things that you once believed may no longer hold true. It’s OK to be scared. Fear is absolutely a valid emotion given the situation and it is a feeling that you should not ignore. However, you cannot deny your new reality. To get started, you must first accept that, whether you like it or not, you are on a journey.
To choose is also to begin. ~ Starhawk
Many of you might be thinking something along the lines of, “I don’t want a #%&!ing journey; I just want to get rid of this disease.” If there is an easy fix for your disease, you should absolutely take it. If a simple surgery, a well-established regimen of medication, or any other validated combination of therapies will cure your disease without having a major impact on your quality of life, absolutely go for it. But, if this simple fix doesn’t exist, odds are that you are on a journey. By visiting this site and reading my story, you’ve already taken at least the first step and that’s something for which you should be congratulated.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Is that Opportunity Knocking?
It can be helpful to try and look at your new situation as an opportunity. Jim Possehl is the Founder of Republic Financial Corporation and was my boss at the time that I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. His viewpoint has always stuck with me. Jim says, “When opportunity knocks on your door, it is not always a friendly or welcome sound. Sometimes, the opportunity is hidden in the very concerning and frightening sound of a doctor telling you that you have a serious, perhaps even life-threatening illness. Often, there can be a positive outcome, and there are ways to turn these words into a positive life experience.”
What if this diagnosis is a gift?
Jim’s insight and encouraging words led me to ask myself, “What if this diagnosis is a gift?” Because of the lessons that I learned along my journey to health, I firmly believe that I will live a longer, fuller life. For years following my diagnosis, people have been coming up to me and expressing their respect for all of the ways that I take my health seriously and try to live a better lifestyle. They say, “I wish I had your motivation,” To which I used to respond, “well, I’d be happy to give you some of my blood.”
When you’re going through hell, keep going. ~ Churchill
“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” ~ Patton
“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” ~ Elvis
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” ~ Nietzche
Looking back, these sentiments all ring true. The thing is that, long before I was cured, contracting the hepatitis C virus felt like a gift to me. That may seem nonsensical to you, especially if you’ve just been recently diagnosed. But believe me, it was true for me and for many others as well. Almost immediately, I started looking at my health and at life in general in a different way. I began taking better care of myself and I started reaping the benefits right away. I was soon living a more thoughtful, purposeful life. Years before I cleared the virus, I recognized that my disease had been, and continues to be, a life-enhancing gift.
Not Everything is as Scary
Everyone is scared in these types of situations, but, despite the fear, just try to go went ahead and started making small changes in my life to try and improve my health. You may be nervous and don’t be surprised if you soon start experiencing some pretty serious side effects.
Positive Side Effects
The first major side effect will probably be that you have more energy. With more energy, you’ll feel motivated to make a few more small changes; more side effects will follow.
“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” ~ Willie Nelson
Avoiding the Victim Mentality
The second major side effect is that you’re likely to start feeling empowered—you’re doing something, not allowing yourself to become a victim. You’ll begin to feel that you can actually have some control in how you deal with your disease. And that will likely lead you to make more changes. The final side effect of these changes that you make to combat your disease is the biggest of all: you’ll feel better. Change can be scary, but if you confront that fear, good things can happen.
Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition, is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have.
Maintaining a Healthy, Skeptical Approach
Making changes that are right for you can take a bit of trial and error, but you can also be smart about the things that you try first. Information empowers and, in this day and age, there are a number of challenges to finding information that is useful and that you can trust. You found my story on the internet so, like many people, you’re probably using the web as one of your primary sources of information. The internet can be a wonderful resource, but it can also be maddening. The amount of information can be truly overwhelming and it is often difficult to figure out what is real. I encourage you to maintain a healthy skepticism as you conduct your research. For example, if you are already believing everything that I’m telling you after reading just a few pages of my writing, you’re probably not being skeptical enough. I hope that I’ll have earned your trust by the time you’ve finished reading my story and have tried out some of the tips from my healthcare team, but I won’t take it personally if you hold onto your skepticism for just a bit longer.
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” ~ Buddha
Setting Your Own Goals
What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.
~Henry David Thoreau
That’s certainly a goal to consider, but it’s not the only valid option. If you are in a lot of suffering or if your disease is having a major impact on your daily life, your first priority might be to reduce your symptoms.
Or your first priority might be to get as healthy as possible before considering treatment. Your goal may be to live with the highest quality of life for as long as possible. Or, you might establish the goal of keeping yourself as healthy as you can until a cure for your disease is developed. All of these scenarios, and many others, are valid approaches to your disease and should be carefully considered as you determine your priorities and establish your goals.
Making Your Own Choices
When I was originally diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the side effects of the current treatment were terrible and the cure rate wasn’t great. As such, I made the decision to delay treatment and get as healthy as possible with the hope that treatment regimens would improve. A number of people, including key members of my support system, wanted me to go through treatment right away. I listened to those around me, but in the end, I did my own research and made my own choices. It worked out well for me, which I’ll discuss in more detail later. But for now, I just bring up my own decision as an example of how important it is to set your own personal priorities and goals and make choices that will help you to reach them.
In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die.
“And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Building Your Team
Among the most important choices that you’ll make are those involved in assembling your healthcare team. There is a sign hanging in the Cleveland Clinic that really stuck me:
“Most people spend more time looking for their next car than they do looking for a doctor.” ~ Cleveland Clinic
It Takes Time
If you think about what this sign says for a minute, it is frighteningly true. It’s essential that you surround yourself with the right healthcare team, and to do so, you must be your own ambassador. It takes time to find the right doctor, acupuncturist, nutritionist, etc
You Have to Shop Around
Think about it; when you buy a car, do you go to the lot around the corner and buy the first car that you see? No, of course you don’t. You read Consumer Reports, you talk to friends and family about the cars that they drive, and finally, you test drive a number of models before deciding on the car that is best for you. In the same way, it only makes sense to do a little research about healthcare providers in your area. Then, you might want to ask people you trust about the providers that they use and whether they like them or not. Finally, you can’t be afraid to take a new provider out for a ‘test drive’ before deciding if this professional is right for you.
Aim for Constant Improvement
For example, if your physician isn’t interested in your own health goals and priorities, find one who will listen to you and discuss them. If your acupuncturist has served you well and done all that she can for you, don’t be afraid to seek out someone who can take you even further. Use professionals and take the time to find the right team for you—there are few decisions you can make that will have a more profound effect on your health.
Don’t Hesitate to Find Healthcare Professionals Who Can Take You to the Next Level
The Most Important Member of Your Healthcare Team…is You!
Once you’ve put together your team of professionals, make sure that you use them. But most of all, make sure that you remember that the most important member of your healthcare team is you.
“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Nobody Else Has the Time
It Doesn’t Add Up
Let’s think about this for a moment. A primary care physician in the United States has an average of 2500 patients. This physician works long days, putting in 2600 hours per year. He or she has to spend about 30% of his or her time on administrative tasks, which leaves 1820 hours of patient time. That means that this hard-working, dedicated physician has less than 45 minutes per year to spend with each of his or her patients. Now take into account that general practitioners are expected to keep current on somewhere between 50 and 100 discrete disease in the ample free time that they have when not seeing patients or completing administrative tasks. It’s an impossible task.
It’s a complicated problem…
What to Expect from Others…
…and What to Expect from Ourselves
Again, I do not mean to malign our society’s fine healthcare workers, I am simply suggesting that we all need to change our paradigm regarding what we can expect from our providers. If you find one of the few practitioners who can do everything for you, by all means, use that person! However, most general practitioners cannot know everything about every disease; even if they did, they would not have the time to explain it all to their patients. Moreover, general practitioners cannot be expected to be up to date on the most recent developments in nutrition, exercise, spirituality, complementary and alternative medical treatments, or countless other factors that can affect our health. I will say it again: nobody but you has the time. You must become an ambassador for your own health.
One of the first ways that we can become an ambassador for our own health is to start by making the obvious health choices, those that we all know we should have made years ago, whether we were sick or not.
Stop Killing Yourself
My primary care physician and my good friend, Dr. Rob Gleser, said something to me a long time ago that has really stuck with me:
“I spend my day trying to convince people to stop killing themselves. Most people fight me all the way.” ~ Rob Gleser
Bad Habits Can Be Broken
Why do we do all of those things which we know are bad for us and which reduce our chances to heal? Being diagnosed with a challenging condition is a real opportunity to take a hard look at these habits that we’ve all developed over time.
“The only proper way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good one.” ~ Jerome Hines
Small Choices Lead to Big Changes
By making the simple choices to improve your health and by breaking the bad habits you’ve been meaning to change for years, you’ll soon find that you’re prepared to make some bigger choices in your life. Throughout this site, you’ll find resources that will help you make your own choices in a variety of different areas that can impact your health. It’s up to you how far down the rabbit hole you want to go in each of these areas—everyone’s path will be different. I’d like to share a few of the choices that I made with the hope that one or two might resonate with you.
There is no substitute for results-based medicine. Whenever you are considering a new provider or a new treatment, perform your due diligence: look at the data, ask for references, and ask about results. If the provider you’re seeing cannot provide these to you, then find a new provider who can.
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” ~ Winston Churchill
Treat Your Whole Self
Our team believes in the power of holistic medicine. You can find integrative health ribbon elsewhere with detailed explanations to accompany the terms, but simply put, there are many things that can impact your health.
Put your thumb over each section, one at a time and ask yourself: can I afford to ignore this aspect of my health?
It may be different for you, but my own answer was a resounding NO.
Exploring Other Health Practitioners
As part of a holistic approach to medicine, you may want to explore working with people other than your doctor. These professionals are sometimes referred to under the umbrella term of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, but that makes it sound much more confusing than it actually is. Look at the chart below—I bet you’re already familiar with a number of other health practitioners.
Changing the Natural Progression of Disease
This simple graph clearly demonstrates the benefits of a holistic approach to health.
In Graph 2, the letters A through D can represent any efforts you make to impact your health—changing your diet, exercising more, managing your stress, seeking out other health practitioners, etc. The more you do, the healthier you’ll stay and the better you’ll feel.
Health is Complicated
The human body is an amazing and complex. Many of the smartest men and women in history have spent their lives studying how it works, but there is still a lot that we don’t know. But there is no reason for the unknown to cause fear—the complexity of your body is something that should bring you great joy. Moreover, there are some important things that we do know. There is absolutely no debate about the following…
Live Long Enough to Live Forever
Technology is making great advances, but you need to take your health into your own hands. Whether it’s better drugs, the use of stem cells, less invasive surgeries, or other modalities, the treatment for every disease is getting better. Do it right, an you may live long enough to live forever!
If I keep myself healthy for the next 10 years, how much better are the treatments going to be?
Setting the Table
My healthcare team came to believe strongly in the benefits of setting the table. By pursuing results-based medicine with a great medical team and by taking a holistic approach to my own healthcare, I was doing all that I could to ensure that my treatments would be successful. There is a natural progression to disease and, the longer you have a serious health condition, the more likely you are to develop additional complications. However, the longer you stay as healthy as possible, the more likely you are to respond well to current treatments and remain eligible for future treatments. Setting the table by staying healthy gives you the best chance to return to wellness, both today and in the future.
“A healthy attitude is contagious but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.” ~ Tom Stoppard
Do Everything You Can to Make Your Journey a Success
During a recent conversation with one of the top surgeons in Colorado, I explained a bit about our holistic approach to health. At first, she thought that this wasn’t really applicable to her pre-op patients, but then I told her about setting the table and a light went on. She said, “I have a patient right now who if he doesn’t deal with his stress, the chemo isn’t going to work and he’ll never make it into the OR. I need something like this.” Every healthcare professional I’ve talked to has agreed that we should get people really healthy and then give them the treatment that can help them. Surgery works better if you’re healthy. Drugs work better if you’re healthy. Don’t sit there and get chemotherapy and eat glazed donuts.
If you’re putting yourself through this much pain, give it the best chance to work. If you have a healthcare team that is going to try and treat your lung cancer but you won’t quit smoking, then you’re not giving yourself the best chance. If your team is going to treat your diabetes but you won’t change your diet, then you’re cheating yourself. Become a success story for others. Don’t feel sorry for yourself—I promise that there’s someone who is worse off than you are. Are you going to die tomorrow? No? Well somebody out there is—say a prayer or send your positive thoughts to that person.
My high school football coach told me a story that perfectly demonstrates this point:
You may work harder than the player across the ball from you and he may drink and smoke and break all the rules AND when the ball is snapped, he may beat you easily. Such a disappointing result may cause you to think, “Why did I put in all the hard work and maintain my discipline all this time?”
But remember, if he had worked as hard as you did, he would kill you. Be thankful he didn’t have the discipline that you did.
Health is the same way. Your genetics may have predisposed you to certain conditions, where you need to maintain a discipline where others don’t.
But if you don’t, watch out!
Never hope more than you work.
~Rita Mae Brown
A Spiritual Journey
A man was caught in a flood. The water was up to his waist when a boat came by. The people in the boat yelled,“Get in!”“No,” said the man. “I have lived my life as God desires. God will save me. Go help someone else.” The water was up to his shoulders when a second boat came by. Once again, the people yelled,“Get in!”“No,” said the man.“I have lived my life as God desires. God will save me. Go help someone else.” After a while, the water rose over the man’s head. Just then, a helicopter appeared and dropped a rope down to him. “No,” yelled the man over the rotors’ roar,“I have lived my life as God desires. God will save me. Go help someone else.” A short time later, the man drowned. He arrived in Heaven, thoroughly confused and asking God,“What happened? I lived my entire life just the way I thought you wanted me to. Why didn’t you save me?” To which God replied,“Well, I tried! I sent two boats and a helicopter.”
Putting It Into Practice
Imagine that you had a healthcare team composed of the best medical doctors and the best other health practitioners. Imagine that you knew the best exercises to do and that you were committed to maintaining the best well-being thought practices. Imagine that you were working on your spiritual work, that you were following the best nutritional guidance, and that you were putting together a solid support team…
How much better off do you think you’d be?