Every Illness Has a Story


I love stories! I particularly love listening to a story.

There’s something so wonderful about listening to the seemingly perfect voice telling the tale or sharing information. Hence, I’m a big fan of audiobooks and given all the driving I do, find them great company in the car, not to mention I can learn something, too! At my very first class last Friday “Foundations of Health and Wellness” I was fascinated by one particular theme we discussed, that of “Narrative Medicine”. We watched a Ted talk given by Dr. Rita Charon titled “Honoring the stories of illness.” Every time I watch a Ted talk, I think to myself, I really should watch more of them – they’re so good!

Narrative Medicine

Dr. Charon and her colleagues at Columbia created a field called “Narrative Medicine” which they defined simply as “Clinical practice fortified by the knowledge of what to do with stories.” What they are trying to achieve is to train doctors to recognize when a patient is telling a story, and to hear that story, to absorb it, interpret it, even to guess through hints at what might be being left unsaid, to honor the story and then to be moved by the story to action. Dr. Charon gives some examples of how she’s used Narrative Medicine in her practice and the ways that it has benefited both her patients and herself. Doctors are busy people and these days their schedules often don’t allow for much more than asking a few direct questions and quickly trying to diagnose the problem before moving on to the next patient. Through their focus on allowing the patient the time to tell their story Dr. Charon and her colleagues have found that they learn so much more from the patient, that helps lead them to the diagnosis and the root of a problem or concern. In the talk Dr. Charon uses a touching example of a patient who had breast cancer. Naturally, this was of particular interest to me. After her surgery, the patient felt very fearful about her cancer returning. She wanted to hear her doctor say it would never return, but that is not something anyone can or will tell you. Dr. Charon reassured her patient that her surgery and treatment had been very successful but her patient kept coming in for appointments and checkups. Dr. Charon finally realized that what was really worrying her patient was the thought that she might die. (I remember very clearly thinking the same thing myself.) Dr. Charon realized that this patient, as she put it “is standing in the glare of death” and no one could change that, but what she could do is stand in that glare with her patient, and that made all the difference. There is so much valuable, touching information in this Ted talk, so if you have 18 minutes to spare to watch it, I think you’d be happy you did!

We all have a story.

all our stories are unique to us and each one as important as another. I know that sharing my story has been transformative for me. It took some time, but I came to realize that it was important to share my story, both for myself and my own personal healing and also to help others. I feel incredibly fortunate that I have and had doctors and surgeons who listen very well to my “stories”. I’m always given the time I need and I always feel heard. I wish this for everyone! Do you have a story to share that you haven’t shared yet? What are you waiting for? Is it trying to get out? Share in the comments, so we can all listen, absorb and honor it. email_signoff1

Plants that Clean the Indoor Air

I LOVE a statistic! Maybe because most of the time they totally take me by surprise, and who doesn’t love surprises?!? A recent statistic that caught my attention is that the average American spends 90% of their time indoors. Yes, there are people who work in the great outdoors and benefit from all that fresh air, but most people go from their home to work and back. Given all this “indoor” time, it is of vital importance that the air in our homes, schools and offices be of good quality. Sadly, this is not always the case and indoor air pollutants have been ranked among the Top 5 environmental risks to public health! This is serious!! Poor air quality can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, ear nose and eye issues and can lead to various health issues including asthma, allergies and inflammation. Inflammation in the body is a risk factor for many diseases. Everything from the building materials used, the glue that holds things together, the furniture, rugs and upholstery, to the cleaning products we use can all give off a variety of toxins including formaldehyde – yuk! Other contaminants like pollen, bacteria and mold also find their way in. Don’t panic – there’s a simple, affordable solution to the problem. In the late 1980’s NASA scientists conducted a study to find ways to improve air quality and what they discovered is that houseplants do the job perfectly! Don’t you just love when the solution is a simple one! The plants filter out the toxins so we can breathe in good, clean, healthy air. 6 Houseplants that purify the air – aah!!

Aloe Vera

IMG_4914 REMOVES: Formaldehyde, Benzene This succulent loves a sunny spot and requires little water. It’s ideal for those who really want low maintenance and a plant they can forget about and find it alive when they do remember! It might be small but it is a powerful air filter. We typically think of aloe for it’s precious gel which is known for healing burns and cuts but it does so much more!

Spider Plant

Wonderful information for care and growing! http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/spider-plant/spider-plant-care-gardening-tips-for-spider-plants.htm REMOVES: Formaldehyde, Xylene The spider plant is one of the easiest to grow and a great choice for those who’ve never grown plants or tend to forget they have plants. They thrive in indirect sunlight and before you know it, will produce flowers that turn into baby spider plants (spiderettes), and you’ll have enough for every room in the house.

Snake Plant (Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)

IMG_4964 REMOVES: Formaldehyde, Benzene, Trichloroethylene, Xylene This is a popular plant in offices, hotels and restaurants because they’re attractive, easy to care for, like dry soil (excellent for those who don’t like to water plants often or forget) and need little sunlight. I can vouch for this as a low-maintenance plant and have two that seem to have doubled in size in just two years.

Peace Lily

REMOVES: Formaldehyde, Ammonia, Benzene, Trichloroethylene The pretty peace lily will work hard to improve your air quality. They prefer a shady spot and moist soil to thrive. More fabulous info: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/peace-lily/peace-lily-plants.htm NOTE: Toxic to pets and young children, so keep out of reach or choose an alternative.

Boston Fern

REMOVES: Formaldehyde, Xylene The Boston fern is a star when it comes to removing formaldehyde, however, it can be tricky to maintain. They like a cool location with high humidity and indirect light. Depending on the humidity levels in your home or office you may need to mist them daily. More information: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/boston-fern/boston-fern-care.htm 

English Ivy

REMOVES: Formaldehyde, Benzene, Reduces airborne fecal matter Outdoors, this plant can wreak havoc on the exterior of your home, but indoors it’s a highly effective air cleaner. For those with pets, English ivy has been shown to reduce the amount of airborne fecal matter (an icky thought, I know…however, it’s nice to know there’s a solution!). It likes part sun and part shade, so you might have to experiment to find the perfect spot for it. For more information: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/ivy/indoor-ivy-care.htm I have to admit, that I used to be very “anti” indoor plants. I never seemed to be able to keep them healthy and happy and so they inevitably ended up looking sad and being thrown away :( It was about two years ago that I first read about all the amazing things that plants could do for our indoor air and I decided to try to add them back into my life. I can now say that I LOVE my plants. The key for me was to find ones that a) I love stylistically and b) ones that are a wee bit forgiving of a perfect watering schedule. Success! I now have many beautiful, thriving plants in every room in the house. I particularly LOVE aloe vera and have them in every room! So, if you’re like me and think you don’t like plants or you can’t keep them alive, I’m going to encourage you to give it a try. Start small. Buy (or get a cutting from a friend) of just one! It’s a simple, inexpensive way to improve the health of your home or workplace, remove toxins and improve your concentration! If they’re good enough for NASA, they’re good enough for me!   email_signoff1 Formaldehyde is a colorless strong smelling gas used in making building materials and household items. It is used in pressed wood products like particleboard, plywood and fiberboard. It’s also found in glues and adhesives, permanent press fabrics and paper product coatings Benzene is a chemical that is colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. OUTDOOR sources of benzene would be from gas stations, motor vehicle exhausts, tobacco smoke, and industrial emissions. INDOORS it comes from products containing benzene such as glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents. A major source of benzene is tobacco smoke. Xylene is a chemical product that is colorless but with a distinct odor and is found in many household and industrial items. Products that contain xylene include paint, varnishes, fingernail polish, adhesives, rubber cement and gasoline. Ammonia is one of the most widely produced chemicals in the US. It is colorless with a sharp odor. The majority of the ammonia produced in industry is used in agriculture as fertilizer. It is also used as a refrigerant gas, to manufacture plastics, explosives, fabrics, pesticides, dyes and other chemicals. It can be found in many household cleaners. Trichloroethylene is a colorless volatile liquid with a sweet odor. Trichloroethylene is used in consumer products such as paint removers/strippers, adhesives, spot removers, dry cleaning fluids (and dry cleaned clothes) and rug cleaning fluids.

Buckle Up!

Alison_Drake_quote_card_feel_the_fear A New Year! As I head into this brand new year, my mind is full of thoughts and questions about the year that lies ahead of me. Thinking about it makes me both excited and a wee bit terrified all at the same time! Looking back on my life, there have been years that stand out as pivotal, significant years. I didn’t necessarily know going into them that they would be so important, but by the end it was clear that they were literally “life-changing”. I seem to be having more of them these days. Last year, 2015 was an unexpectedly big year which culminated in my “Cups of Prevention” project and starting my new blog.

Here we go!

However, as I enter 2016, I know this is going to be a HUGE year for me. I’m not sure I’ve started many years actually “knowing” this in advance?! I feel like I’m entering a whole new phase of my life as I embark on my new Masters program. I will be learning new things, meeting new people, spending time in a different place…and these are just the obvious things I can predict. I have a sense that along with these there will be many other new things in my future this year. This is both an exhilarating and scary thought!

Ready, Steady, Go!

Several people have asked me if I feel ready. From a practical standpoint, I’m ready. I’ve registered for my classes, I have my schedule and I have my books. More than this though, I’m ready to get started on what feels like the beginning of a journey towards fulfilling my true life’s purpose. I’ve wondered over the years, what my true purpose in life is, and used to try to make it fit into something I was doing, so as I could make sense of it and feel like maybe I had actually found it. I never did truly find it, until now. It’s been an interesting, winding road to this place, but I am so grateful to have finally reached this point.

Starting Point.

Of course, as much as I feel that I have finally “arrived” at my life’s purpose, I’m also more than aware that this is really just the beginning. Wheee! I trust that all will be revealed to me as time goes on. I’m trying not to focus too far ahead or feel like I have to have all the answers right now. I am going to allow the next 2 years while I’m in this program to reveal these answers to me and point me in the right direction.
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” -Buddhist Proverb

Am I nervous?

Yes! I can’t help but think that everyone else in my class will somehow be further ahead than me already. That they will already have a grasp on Organic Chemistry (just the title alone freaks me out a bit). I’m wondering if I’ll be the oldest person in my class…and by how much? Rationally I know these things don’t matter and I know that once I get there these wee worries will dissolve. Roll on January 15th!
“You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” -Brian Tracy
So as my amazing husband Randall always says when something big is about to happen…”Buckle Up!” So “buckle up” with me and have an epic 2016!! IMG_4026 What does the new year hold for you? Are you trying something new? Embarking on a new project, hobby or career? I’d love to hear what your hopes and dreams for the year are. Please share in the comments. email_signoff1  

Just Breathe

breath We hear and see phrases like these all the time these days: "Just Breathe." "Breath is Life." "Take a deep breathe." "Catch your breath" But, what do they really mean by breathe? Surely, I AM breathing?! Of course I’m breathing, or I would not be alive.

Breathing: we simply can’t live without it!

The truth is, most of us are not breathing effectively. Notice your breathing right now. Is anything moving? If not, then chances are your breathing is shallow. Deep breathing should be an essential part of everyday life. It can help you to feel happier, give you more energy and even make you more productive. Deep breathing is probably best known for stress relief, but this #DailyMeasure has many other amazing health benefits, and I’ve highlighted some of my favorites for you.

Breathing Detoxifies and Releases Toxins

The body is designed to release 70% of its toxins through breathing. I know – I was surprised too! You know I’m a huge fan of detoxing the body to keep it healthy and happy, so this is reason enough for me breathe deeply! If you don’t release these toxins through your breath, other systems in the body have to work overtime to help out, which can eventually lead to illness.

Improved Oxygen Delivery

Deep breathing removes the carbon dioxide from your blood and floods it with oxygen – ah! Your cells will thank you! This increases the functionality of every system in your body.

Deep Breathing Makes You Calmer

Deep breathing naturally relaxes the body and the mind. We all have times in our day when stress creeps up on us and we know that stress is at the core of most diseases, so finding a simple way to manage stress is key. When we feel stressed our breathing tends to become short and shallow. When we breathe shallowly our body doesn’t receive as much oxygen as it needs and this constricts our muscles. We’ve probably all had that feeling of tightness in our body when we’re stressed or angry. This response triggers the sympathetic nervous system to release cortisol and adrenaline into the body, fueling the response again. The parasympathetic nervous system is the antidote to this and breath is the fastest way for these two systems to communicate. Deep breathing will quickly stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, to help you relax. So the next time you feel stressed, anxious or angry…take a few deep breaths and think about breathing in “the good” and breathing out “the bad”.

Breathing Relieves Pain

When we anticipate or feel pain our natural reaction tends to be to hold our breath. This is the absolute opposite of what we should be doing. Studies show that breathing into your pain actually helps to ease it. Deep breathing releases endorphins, which improves feelings of well-being and provides pain relief. Yay!

Deep Breathing Helps to Regulate Weight

Deep breathing can help whether you are overweight or underweight. If you are underweight, the extra oxygen feeds the cells and tissues. If you are overweight, the extra oxygen in the body will help to burn up excess fat more efficiently. When we are stressed (and most of us are at some point in the day) your body burns glycogen instead of fat. However, when you practice deep breathing and engage the relaxation response, this encourages the body to burn fat instead. Other Benefits of Deep Breathing
  • Elevates your mood
  • Helps you sleep
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Improves posture
  • Increases energy
  • Improves digestion
  • Strengthens lungs
  • Clear thinking & improved concentration
We all have to breathe, so why not make the most of it and reap these benefits.

Keep it simple

It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. It can be as simple as spending some time each day consciously breathing slowly and rhythmically. Draw your breath deep into your lungs and imagine and feel them expanding. When you’re breathing is shallow you’re only using a small portion of your lungs. Breathing deep into the lungs drives more oxygen into the body, which cleanses the blood and in turn benefits your entire body. You can practice this anytime, anywhere. Driving, sitting at your desk or computer or lying in bed at night.

Deep Breathing

Find 5-10 minutes once or twice a day to practice Deep Breathing. I can hear you all now, saying this is just one more thing you don’t have time for :) I totally get it. This is the one thing I had the hardest time with, and yet I find it incredibly beneficial, and I know you will too! There are several different breathing techniques, but I’m going to share just one simple version.


In order to breathe properly, you need to breathe deeply into your abdomen not just your chest. Proper breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmic, and through the nose, not the mouth. Are you sitting comfortably?
  • Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down
  • Take a moment to relax your muscles. Find where there’s tension in your body and release it.
  • Inhale through your nose, expanding your diaphragm (belly) then fill your lungs, counting to 5
  • Hold and count to 3. Feel your cells filled with golden, healing light.
  • Exhale fully through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely. Again counting to 5. As you exhale release tension from your muscles.
  • Continue this pattern for 5-10 minutes. You may need to build up this time. If you can only start with 2 or 3 minutes, that’s OK. It is better to do it for a shorter time than not at all. Doing this twice a day is ideal.
  • Concentrate on your breathing and counting, which will give your mind a much-needed break.
I can honestly say that since I have been practicing breathing more regularly, I find myself calmer and much more able to roll with life. The past couple of days are a perfect example. (If you’re short on time, you’ve read the important information already and now I’m just sharing a story of how I’ve applied breathing in my own life.) The quick-ish version is that upon returning home travel weary at 9 p.m. Saturday night after our recent trip to Portugal, just as we were getting into bed for some much needed sleep our house alarm went off. The message said “Gas Detected”. Eek! I was freaked out!! Randall checked what he could and said he thought it was an error. Hmm, I was not happy with that answer, thinking we might die in our sleep. I was all set to sit up all night, when the cavalry appeared. Within 15 minutes, what seemed like the entire White Stone Volunteer Fire Department were banging on the door. WOW – I was so impressed! In our sleepiness, it didn’t even occur to us that the alarm company might send the Fire Department! Although, honestly, I was relieved and happy to see them, although embarrassed for them to see me in my fluffy robe and glasses. They actually had equipment to check for a gas leak (unlike Randall’s hunch) and they reported all was well, but they would turn off the gas till we could have it checked. After all this excitement, I finally got into bed, practiced my deep breathing and drifted off. Sunday night we’re fast asleep and at 2:30 a.m. the alarm goes off again. Lights on, phone call to the alarm company to save the Fire Dept. another visit…none of this is helping with my lack of sleep or jetlag?! However, I get back into bed and practice my deep breathing and back to sleep I go. Today, we had the gas company, the alarm company and the internet service company all at the house…oh, did I forget to mention the internet was down? Grrr! There was so much going on and all I wanted to do was write my blog post. I sat in my office and breathed. I blocked out the comings and goings and before I knew it, I was feeling calm and rolling with all the visitors of the day. There would have been a time in my life when the events of the past couple of days would have me on edge and stressed, but not anymore! Please give it a try! I know you will feel better for it! Do you have a regular breath practice? What benefits have you experienced? If you’re new to a breath practice, please let me know what you think and how you feel! email_signoff1