Where to begin… once upon a time is as good a place as any I think. I was born in the Okanagan Valley in the 1940s in a small farming village that few people had heard of at the time. Now, the Okanagan valley and “my” village of Naramata is a popular destination for local wines and the beauty of the area.
My family is fourth generation “Naramation”, and for three generations scraped out a living on the orchards. The land is still in the family, owned by my brother and his family who now grow grapes and operate a winery.
My life was pretty ideal looking back, building forts from apple boxes, changing sprinklers with my dad, target practising in the hills, lifting rocks in the lake and watching cray fish scurry away, and of course teasing my two brothers. We never had television until the year I left home in 1964. I graduated at the age of 16 and a half, and went off to explore the world.
For many years I had the travel bug. To feed my adventurous spirit, I worked until I had money to travel, then I would travel until I ran out of money, and start all over again. One sport that certainly filled that spirit was skydiving. I was part of, and travelled, with the Canadian skydiving team in 1968 to the world competition in Graz, Austria. Skydiving was a big part of my life until I had a skydiving accident and hurt my back. The world changed for me in an instant. For 18 years I was often bedridden and had to endure debilitating pain. It took many years to find a non-invasive treatment that helped me without having to have surgery, and this was the beginning of my search outside of conventional medical treatments.
In the early 1970s after the birth of our first child, my husband and I headed “back to the land” to a remote area of BC. We had no running water, no electricity, and a cow – so I learned to churn butter, and make yoghurt wrapped in blankets behind the wood stove. Eventually we had to move to find work – with plans of returning soon to complete our projects. But then the twins came along, so we never did go back to the land. And alas, the marriage was not to last either, and I ended up with three toddlers. At the time, I taught teenagers with behavioural problems, while juggling three young boys “plus one”, an unofficially adopted son. Even though he didn’t live with us full time, our family was his support system. He still remains part of our family after so many years. The demands of young children and teaching teens with special needs were huge, and it seemed overnight I went from being an Everready battery with boundless energy to someone who could hardly get out of bed in the morning.
The medical doctors all said the same thing –“you are depressed”. Well, I didn’t have time or the inclination to be depressed.
Friends had been telling me about a naturopathic doctor in our area. Back then I had never heard of a naturopathic doctor and I was soon introduced to the adrenal glands – the organs responsible for stress adaptation. With some supplement support, I was back to my normal energy, and off and running again, not realizing at the time that understanding the importance of adrenal glands in health was going to be an important part of a new career in the future.
In the early 1980s I found love in my long-time friend and moved back to Naramata with my sons. Our plan was to live up the ski mountain in the winter, home school the children, and run his orchards in the summer. Sadly, life had other plans for me. While we were up the mountain on a sunny January, my fiancé was killed in an avalanche. It was like a bad dream, and in many ways still is. This sad and heart-breaking experience significantly changed my life onto a completely different course – eventually becoming a naturopathic doctor. A person never knows what life is going to bring and why – but the only thing that is guaranteed in life is change and this change was huge for my entire family. After the shock of my love’s death had worn off a little, I had to ask myself “What do I want to be when I grow up?” I was 37 at the time and decided to become a naturopathic doctor. I proceeded to complete the necessary prerequisites at the university at night while working during the day.
Now the next hurdle – the money. There wasn’t any! Naturopathic college was extremely expensive. I did own a wonderful little log cabin that I very reluctantly sold to pay for my first year’s tuition. I decided I would worry about the remaining three years when the time came – and off I went – simply on a wing and a prayer in an old beat up Dodge van with whatever I could fit in along with three little boys. The years proved to be very challenging as student loans barely covered tuition.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges during naturopathic college came in my final year. As I was studying for my final board exams, I had another accident. I ended up with a concussion, broken pelvis, and fractured acetabulum (cup in the hip socket). By some miracle I was able to write my board exams and actually pass. I eventually graduated and received the award for Proficiency in Naturopathic Medicine. When I went up to receive the award, I mentioned the award should really go to my sons because if they hadn’t been the amazing kids that they were, I would not have managed what I did. We all sacrificed a lot during those years, and although there were so many times I wanted to quit, I knew I couldn’t for my children’s sake. I just had to keep going no matter what.
I think it came down to grit – the stubborn refusal to give up.
My main focus during my 25 years in clinical practice was women’s health. My first book on women’s health and menopause was in 1998 and over the years I have written several books on these and other topics. My most recent book: Women’s Health Matters – The Influence of Gender on Disease is a good read to learn more about women’s health issues, as well as the influence of the adrenals on overall health and hormone health. Currently, Julie Reil, MD, and I are collaborating on a very comprehensive new book with a focus on women’s health. Every woman faces changes and challenges in each phase of their lives, from puberty through the senior years. For example, in teens mental health problems and early puberty are on the rise while infertility is affecting many women. Moreover, women of all ages are suffering from hormone disorders and the senior years can result in new and different challenges. We provide information and solutions from both conventional medical approach as well as natural solutions to many of the common challenges that occur throughout the ages.
The adrenal glands command the most powerful hormones that affect your body and, in fact, your life. When the adrenal glands are functioning optimally, during the menopausal hormone changes they produce adequate amounts of precursor hormones that are further synthesized into estrogens and testosterone. However, many women have adrenal insufficiency due to chronic stress, and the adrenal glands struggle to respond to the ongoing demands of stress and additional demands of hormone changes, resulting in many different symptoms.
About 12 years ago, I moved to Victoria where all my sons were living. I started a new practice and probably would have continued working as long as my physical and mental abilities allowed. Again, life intervened. One of my twin sons was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour. I quit practice the day he was diagnosed in order to support him through this extremely challenging process which continued for about four years. As his brain slowly recovered from medical treatments and the seizures became manageable, he was able to become more independent, although still not without extreme challenges on a daily basis.
A few years ago, I was unexpectedly approached to write a book on brain health and the resulting book: Three Brains – How the Heart, Brain, and Gut Influence Mental Health and Identity, is another one of my recent books. I feel blessed that I have been given the opportunity to continue in my field, through writing and lecturing on women’s health and the naturopathic approach to wellness. Since I am now well into my senior years, I am learning a new appreciation and have a better understanding of some of the challenges that come with aging. This process has inspired me to provide education and some solutions so that women and men can remain healthy and active through the silver years.
My grandchildren are a special gift. They continuously fill my heart with love and joy, and are a constant reminder that through all the difficulties in life, there are always gifts. For me, the role as grandparent is a very special and wonderful gift. Although life brings changes and challenges to us all, some people will not have the opportunity to reach older ages and I now realize that aging is indeed a privilege.
Over the past 30 years, my patients were the fuel for the fire that has kept my passion alive in this field of medicine. The honour of being part of their journey, see them embrace their healing journey and turn things around for themselves brought me great joy, and continues to inspire me with the goal of continuing to “pay it forward”. I could not have accomplished the level of successes in my career, and the writing of several books without the support of many other people and the divine grace.