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Rise Up To Meet And Overcome A “Health Opportunity” with Barbara Livesay
The Intersection Of Conventional And Alternative Healing
How are you doing, Sean?
Taylor Smith, we are up and rolling again. This is exciting.
This is episode ten with Barbara Livesay. If you have not had the chance yet, we would appreciate it if you head on over to iTunes, drop us a five-star rating, drop us a review, show us what you love about the show, and we’ll keep on giving you great content.
Great stories about people who have recovered from the journeys of near death and come back.
Our guest is a very special guest because she’s the sister of John Livesay, who you heard on episode five of the podcast. She’s a very beautiful, amazing human being because she was able to take a health challenge and transform it into a health opportunity. I chose that wording very specifically because that is the wording that Barbara has embodied based on her experience at a facility called the Optimum Health Institute, where they don’t use the words for an illness anymore because they don’t want to bring it into the mind in that way.
It’s the C word.
It’s a great way to shift your perspective by saying, “This is a health opportunity. I have the chance to learn and make a change in my life.”
I think so too that she had something to take from her brother John, who has written books on panic and mindset. She created her own words. She created her own theory on how to apply what she was going to get to heal herself, which is outstanding.
What’s special about Barbara’s story is like so many of the people we talked to, they have to make decisions about how to tackle a health opportunity. What she decided to do was to take the middle road where she had a procedure done to remove cancer from her body. She then took the holistic approach by checking into a facility called Optimum Health Institute to really get a new fresh perspective on life and jumpstart herself into a radical change in healthy living and approach to nutrition.
We’re not going to recommend her way is the right way. We’re just showing you other people’s stories or talking about other people’s stories. Check with your doctor, check with your team. We’re here as messengers from the universe, relaying stories to everybody. With Barbara, we drove down to meet with her in California, in SoCal. We wanted to meet her face-to-face because John is dear to my heart. He is one of the people responsible for launching our podcast. He has been such a big help and advocate for what we’re doing and then who we are as human beings and touch, move and inspire. We went down to meet with her huge hugs. We realized what she’s doing and how she’s coming about it. She’s facing the odds and surprisingly enough, she’s coming around the other end now and she’s beautiful.
Let’s go meet what Barbara has got to say.
Welcome to the show, Barbara. How are you doing?
Thank you. I’m great.
How are you doing, Sean?
I am fantastic.
Just so everybody knows, we’re going to be talking about Barbara’s story. Barbara, tell us a little bit about the background of who you are and then we’ll get into the story of you here.
I am a native Chicagoan but I’ve lived here over 30 years. My career was in healthcare. I used to rep for a skilled nursing company. In the last few years, I’ve been working for a hospice end of life company as a sales rep. I was having some difficulty with some major pain in my lower abdomen and it lasted for the entire weekend. When it was gone by Monday, I didn’t give it much thought after that.
What did you think was going on? Just funky bowels?
It was this thought that I probably had gas or something like that because it did go away. Then it came back and I figured I needed to tell my primary care physician who suggested I go have an MRI done. I had that done and two days later, we got the results that showed a cyst. They’re very interesting how they start with a very minor word at first. From there I went and met with a gynecologist who read the MRI report and said, “I’d really like to do an ultrasound to get more detail on these.” A week later I did that test and got immediate results and conversation with that gynecologist who said, “These are very large masses and too large for me to operate on.” I was very naïve still at this point. I even asked her, “Where do you do your outpatient surgery?” She said, “No, this will not be outpatient. You need to find an oncologist.” That was a big shock to hear that word since with my career background, I’ve always been trying to help patients who have either gone through knee replacements, strokes or are having the situation with their own disease where they’re not trying to cure it anymore and just to remain comfortable. Hearing I needed to go see an oncologist was a big wake-up call.
What was your first reaction at that moment?
Fear. I’m single and no children. At that drive home, I was grateful that I didn’t have children to have to tell that there’s something possibly serious medically with me. From there, I started doing research on oncology hospital choices here in Southern California. I ended up choosing City of Hope based on my career and their reputation as a research hospital. Looking up their women’s gynecology cancer reputation, I believe they rank 22nd in the US. I then made the call to get in as soon as possible to the City of Hope.
What was the timeline like getting from the first day you heard from your doctor to getting into the facility?
From the MRI to getting to City of Hope was a month. There were probably a couple of weeks of delay at City of Hope getting me in for that initial consult. I went back to my PCP after letting her know I’d gotten the ultrasound results and those had been shared with her. She, at that point, recommended writing me out of work and explained to me to request an FMLA leave of absence from work. This was June and she was writing me out until the end of August hoping that the surgery would happen in June, which it didn’t happen until July.Shifting your perspective gives you a chance to learn and make a change in life. Click To Tweet
What was the process from June until July? In her eyes, you were supposed to get it as soon as possible. What’s the process you actually had to go through to even get the surgery done that you needed to get done?
After the City of Hope gave me my first consult appointment, it was probably an hour or so discussion with the oncologist and his NP there at the City of Hope. I was then requested to do some more blood work there at the hospital, a CT scan. He explained it would give even better images of what he now called tumors. That was around June 21st or so. Everything has to be scheduled, so it’s not like you can do it the same day of a consult. Around early July is when the CT scan was read to me with him showing me how large they were, and he was now calling them tumors. That’s why the significance of going from cyst to mass to now someone saying you have two large tumors was painting the picture that this was serious. At that second or third appointment was when he said, “We’re looking at a four to six-hour surgery. I’d like to get it done as soon as possible. A scheduler will call you.” That was the process. In the meantime, I had told my brother, my best friend, and our mom, but very few friends at this point.
One of the things we talk about in the show is the effects that these types of situations can have. Not just on you but also your loved ones. With Sean and his stroke and what he’s been through, beyond just the injury and what it took him through there was a big emotional effect on the family. We don’t always realize that beyond you having to power through and be strong and go through this, so do all the loved ones around you.
I chose to wait until I had a surgery date to tell our mom because she lives out of state, and I didn’t want her unnecessarily worrying a lot. I knew once I told her, she would kick in. We planned for her to come out in August because originally the date was early August for surgery and then it got moved up and so we changed her flight to coordinate all of that.
Your mom is how old?
I am very much proud to say she’s 86.
She doesn’t look 86. She looks amazing. Tell us about this ovarian cancer of what you had. I know some people know about it, I know a little bit more because my dad was an OB-GYN and it can spread pretty quick. It could hit the liver, it could hit the kidneys, it could hit the stomach. What did they have to do internally to take it out or to remove what was already there?
As explained to me before the surgery was, we see spots that are not looking good near your liver and near your diaphragm. I had had a very low appetite since about March, so I had been told by the gynecologist, “These masses are pressing on your stomach. That’s why your appetite is half or less.” Once they opened me up, they removed my spleen because there were some compromised cells too close to it. They removed what’s called the omentum lining and the appendix. They cut two inches of the liver and the beauty of the liver is it can grow back, and a full hysterectomy was done. It turned into a six-and-a-half-hour surgery. I don’t remember much of day one or two, nor being wheeled into the operating room. They gave me the cocktail from the anesthesiologist before I was wheeled in there.
My first memory was more like Wednesday. It just sticks out in my mind of being cognizant of being in the room. I’m hooked up to all kinds of things. I’m seeing my mom in the room and the nurse probably. Later that day, my best friend arrived who had never made mention of coming, so that made me uneasy. I remember a PT coming and I think the other girl was part of the PT Department really pushing me to get up and walking, and I did not want to. My best friend, she was like, “Come on, I’ll go with you.” They made a mark of where I was supposed to go and turn around.” I said, “It must be bad if you’re here.”
The first thing is that when it happens to them, anger will sit in and it just takes over your whole body. The depression, the anger, is the first step of all that. You’re right to be angry. You have every right to go, “Why is this about me? I don’t get it. I’ve done everything I was told to do. I’ve been given this life. Now you’re telling me I have cancer and you’re taking out pieces of my inside.” Once you realize, “I’m alive, I’m breathing, I’m grateful to be here,” the gratitude has set in. What did you do to get to where you are next? I’m looking now and I was expecting something much worse. Your brother, he painted a picture like, “My sister is this,” and I was thinking about you weren’t able to get up the couch and how are we going to pull this up? You’re sitting at the table, you’re sitting up straight, you look fantastic. You have a smile. Your eyes are glowing. You have a sparkle here. You have a sense of light. What have you done since then? What can you tell us? What are you doing?
I’ll just let everyone know that Barbara made a really tough decision after the surgery to not go ahead with chemotherapy despite it was recommended. Leading into what Sean was getting at, you chose to start looking at your recovery from a new light.
I learned it was stage three-C. Going into surgery, I had the conversation with myself and with the surgeon to say, “If it’s stage three or four, I’m telling you right now I won’t be open to chemo.” With some research from my brother and my girlfriend, they found a fabulous place that I can’t say enough about called Optimum Health Institute in San Diego and another location in Austin. I chose that because I’ve been told in the past, “We are what we eat.” I’ve been a vegetarian since my early twenties for reasons of animals as much as I just didn’t like meat enough, I didn’t miss it. To your point, I’ve had those little moments of, “Why me?” when I was in the hospital. I’m a good person. Finding Optimum Health Institute to go to was divine intervention for sure.Your commitment is your commitment to yourself. Click To Tweet
I spent the month of August recuperating at home to get a little stronger before going because their literature tells you that you have to be able to walk the grounds by yourself. There’s no medical staff there. Their premise is mind, body, spirit, so you’ll learn about how powerful our mind and our thoughts and beliefs are and coming from a place of gratitude. A very wise person told me my body had the diagnosis, not Barbara. Here’s how I’m going to choose to get my body into remission. They have a lot of testimonials on the website of people who have been told dire things from a Western perspective and then beat their cancer and gone into remission seven, eight years. While I was there, we have classes three times a day on food and eating a vegan raw diet and how much you want to embrace of that after you leave after two or three weeks is up to you. Your commitment is your commitment to yourself. They give you the steps to do the work internally with yourself. There was a word of the day every day.
You do stay there, and they teach you about food and what to put in the gut.
Gut health is number one now for me, and eating, I choose to do more like six mini snacks throughout the day to every two or three hours and choosing what I put together to eat. They firmly believe in giving your gut a break after you eat and not drinking anything for 30 to 60 minutes depending on what your meal was comprised of.
It’s amazing what you said, “I choose.” It’s a choice to live. It’s a choice to be happy. It’s a choice to say, “I can get through all this, I’ll beat this. This is just a hiccup in my life. It’s one small moment. The moment is going to pass.” I still have issues telling myself that. I’m eight years post, you’re a few months and you look amazing. I love that you start talking about the microbiome.
You are totally spot on and a big part of what sounds like they’re doing in the Optimum Health Institute is, one, saying that food can really help your body heal. When your body has all the building blocks it needs, it tends to have this powerful intelligence to care for itself and to heal itself. A big part of that is food and what we’re putting into our system every day because they’ve done studies. There are trillions and trillions of microbes in your digestive tract. The more diverse and the healthier and populous the number of microbes in your gut are, it tends to associate with your level of health. A big factor for improving the health of your microbiome, improving the health of your gut is fruits, vegetables, raw organic foods. It sounds like that’s exactly where they were attacking it, but it sounds like too it was a bit more than that.
It’s a mindset because you’re very clear.
It is what you use as well to make that food. Glass containers, not plastic, ceramic knives, ceramic pots, and pans. What you’re trying to do is keep the metals out of your system as much as possible because we can’t control the environment and planes overhead. What you can control then make the choice of doing that. It goes along the vein of cleaning products and beauty products are horrible for most women, even if they’ve been purchasing things because they don’t want to go with something that tests on animals, it’s still probably not a good product to use versus going vegan on all of that. I embraced and went in there with a little bit of fear. It was a little bit like getting dropped off for camp because I didn’t know what to expect.
We didn’t know anyone who had gone, but my brother and I and my mom firmly believed that this was the best path instead of choosing Western medicine. The immune system is the very thing that’s getting attacked by chemo for my type of cancer and at my stage. I felt that it was best to go with food as my healer and my whole gratitude attitude. You keep a journal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal on and off for many years, but they encourage you to write down three to five things every day before you go to bed that you’re grateful for. I’ve continued faithfully now to be daily in meditation in the mornings and then do my journaling in the evenings.
Many of us, we blame ourselves and we get so mad at ourselves. “I did this to me and if I wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t have done this.” All of a sudden, you’re stage three, I’m paralyzed and paraplegic and I had a stroke. “What do you mean I had a stroke at the age of 39? I didn’t understand it. This was happening to my grandparents, my parents’ parents and I was in great shape, I’m immortal, I’m Spartacus. Why is this happening to me?” You’re probably thinking the same thing as so many people get caught up. It’s no one’s fault. This is part of life and things happen. Stuff just happens. How you decided to deal with it is a choice you’re making. It’s beautiful because you said, “I’m going to go down and Optimal Health is going to help me and I’m going to choose to do it.”
Then you get the camaraderie there of the other people. The other thing I wanted to mention is we never said the c-word there. It was called health opportunity. “Are you here with a health opportunity? Raise your hand.” Some people are there because grief has really gotten a hold of them or past wrongs by a loved one. I met people in various stages of why their reasons for being there. I’m in touch with four or five people, which is nice.
There’s community support too which is what you’re talking about, which is so essential because you can talk about it with other people. Part of the trauma that we went through is the grief. This emotional healing is just being able to have a conversation going, “I’ve been through this. What are you dealing in? Let’s talk about it.” Everyone has a story. I don’t care who you are because we’re all human.
I’ve noticed just having conversations with people on the show, with Sean, is that one of the biggest challenges with anyone going through a health challenge or any challenge in their life is feeling alone and feeling like they’re the only one going through it. A big reason we do this show is to start having these conversations, not because they’re the most comfortable conversations to have, but because this is what real human beings are experiencing and going through on a daily basis. I would love to hear from you, Barbara, was there any stand out a-ha or big moments when you’re at OHI?Put health as a priority and don't ignore a sign that is not a normal ache. Click To Tweet
Every Wednesday they do a releasing ceremony, and I hadn’t done something similar to that in a very long time. You write on a piece of paper something that you want or a person that you want to release. The a-ha moment for me was that they suggested you fill it with something positive or that space will then come back into your heart. Possibly, you didn’t really release it if you don’t replace it with something positive. The food education was priceless for me on this journey. I don’t know how else I would have learned it without them, without staying there.
One thing you mentioned too when you were showing me this big chart that’s on your counter now is they even go into another layer beyond just, “Here are the foods you should eat,” but “Here are the foods you should eat together and here are the foods you should not combine together.” Do you mind telling us what their philosophy behind that was?
Because of gut health and to help us not to cause the digestion system to be in constant overload in connection with your immune system. By choosing to food combine the way they suggest, your digestive system is in a healthier state to keep our whole gut healthier. The bathroom doesn’t become an issue. They had the testimony of people who may be in the past had acid reflux. I’ve never had that but that goes away once their food combining changes into more of Optimum Health’s education.
What are a couple things they say combine that are synergistic?
Fruits are one that they break down into three categories, acid foods, sub fruits, and sweet fruits. Their best analogy at the first class of food was, most people run whether they make it themselves or go somewhere and have a banana strawberry smoothie. They should not be eaten together. People raised their hands, “I go to this vegetarian restaurant or vegan.” They’re like, “They don’t serve food combining.” You’ll have to educate yourself on that.
I’ve heard of it before but I’ve never personally experimented or looked into it but I’m interested. More than anything, you’re bringing new awareness to me and I love that.
Melons should be eaten alone or left alone. That’s a phrase I heard years ago. Transit times of once you have had a meal not to drink water, they recommend alkaline or reverse osmosis if you can install that in your home for 30 to 60 minutes depending on what you’ve eaten. I learned salad is a pretty nice meal in the morning and I never thought I would do that but I did that. A simple cantaloupe with cinnamon on it. It’s all about learning. They call it the holy four; fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. You can take anything. I’ll say to your audience that my other a-ha moment was getting the book, Life Changing Foods. That book has not only recipes in it but it gives very specific education on if you have had ovarian or a heart issue, eat more dates, here’s why. Have cilantro because that helps the gut. Honey helps the bacteria in our gut.
Pre and post or during this, have you changed? Has your mind changed? Have you looked at the world differently? What about you, Barbara is different? I’m more compassionate. I look at people now. I don’t point fingers. I was arrogant. I was naive. I look at people. I stop, I talk to them. It’s not their fault whether their obesity, addiction, cancer, stroke, health opportunity. Have you changed? Are you open to going in and talking to people? Do you want to go back now and go to health opportunity clinics, walk around, see these people and offer them advice? Is that who you want to do?
For sure, my empathy and compassion levels have doubled and certainly my gratitude levels. Through Optimum Health, my stay there, learning meditation, to not let people push my buttons. The breathing with yoga when I’m stronger, be able to get back into exercising. That has changed a bit. One time I was asked, what are your four top qualities? Kindness is something that I’ve always tried and strived to have. If someone was going to describe me as, “She’s very kind.” I want to educate more women because ovarian is a silent symptom.
I don’t know why it’s quiet other than we don’t have prescreening. That’s where even my surgeon at City of Hope said, “We’re trying to find a pre-screen test for ovarian and we haven’t yet.” The other lesson that I’ve shared with many friends is to listen to our bodies. I know you shared before you had maybe some symptoms a week or so before the stroke happens, even with me ignoring.
It is gas pains. I’ll get through it. I had a bad meal and some gas.
It’s natural though. We don’t have a pain in our body. We notice it but we don’t always go, “This is serious.”
If it lasts more than 24 hours, I will tell you coming from the background I’ve had. I should have known anything lasting over 24 hours you should at least make the phone call to your primary care physician, go in and describe what was happening and see.
Let’s go somewhere else now. You said you wanted to call your dad. Tell me about that. I know it’s hard to talk about it and your dad’s been for a couple of years now.
As you can relate, I’ve never been in the hospital except to be born. It was a very new experience. I was the one always visiting patients. Since a little girl, my mom had us volunteering and giving to others. As an adult in my career when I was on the skilled nursing side, I visited our patients if they had to be re-hospitalized for any reason. To be the patient and hear terminology or see these machines being hooked up to me was very depressing and shocking. I was at a very low point and even with our mom there. She was so strong and putting in twelve-hour shifts with me every day. By day seven of not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of being able to go home. Prior to surgery, I tuned into, “Seven to ten days. Seven days.” You only hear what you want to hear. Day eight, I probably had one too many tests or pokes and so I had a conversation with our dad who’s passed saying, “If you want to come to get me, it’s okay.”
They come back to us at certain times. They continue to show up in the dreams, when you’re hurting, when you’re in pain but your dad’s always here for you. People often say, “What’s it like after life after death?” I had the coma and I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, literally in my dreams. I crossed over and came back and I know there is something there. You’re blessed to be here, but you also choose to live life. I have a saying with my people. I say, “I can, I shall, I will.” You’re the example of it. You’re showing up. Our tagline for our show is, just show up. Many people retreat. They go inward and going inward is so dark. It is brutal. To go outside and talk to loved ones, to talk to people, that’s what this Optimum Health did for you. It got you outside of your internal darkness and showed you a possibility of what’s next.
Having the career choice that I had in the last years or so, it was also about quality of life for how I view that. Even with some dismal conversation with a post-appointment at the City of Hope, I’ll be blunt because she was. She said, “If you don’t do chemo, you probably have months to live.” I leaned forward and I said, “That’s your opinion but I don’t agree.”
That’s your choice. I’ll tell everyone on this show, these are our stories. We’re not recommending anything. We’re not saying not to do this and not to do that. Barbara and I are sharing what’s worked for us. Do your own research and contact your own doctors. What Barbara and I have done, we beat the odds and we’ve done it our own way. We choose to be here. They told me I was never going to walk, talk, or drive a car again. Don’t even ask what I told that neuropsychiatrist. She got fired and I fired her, and they brought in a whole new team. I made that choice. I’m walking out of here, eight weeks later I walked out of there. It was ugly with a cane and a walker. It took everything out of me but at least I was walking. That’s half the battle, just to show up.
I’ve graduated from a walker too. I watch my stamina.
When we pulled up, I was like, “This woman looks like she’s one for a three-mile hike and two-mile jog.”
Not yet. That’s on my goal.
Do you plan hiking and running? What do you want to do now? Do you have hobbies?
I enjoy taking walks with my dog. I have a German Shepherd. She was also a big focal point of wanting to get home. We’d never been apart for seventeen days. I enjoy tennis and going bike riding. My goal is to get back to the gym with light exercises, like water aerobics. I can’t get back to Zumba for probably another four months.
If you had to tell anybody out there who’s going through something similar, what do you tell them? If you sat down with yourself, if you looked at yourself back in February, what do you tell yourself now?
Put my health as a priority and not ignore a sign that is not a normal ache. You went for that 5K walk and then you didn’t stretch enough and you’re sore. Something out of the ordinary for you to listen to it. I’ll also share with your audience, one exercise we did at Optimum Health. They asked us to pair up. You would sometimes be in small groups. I would tell Sean, “In health, love, and work, a year from now, what would you say to me?” That was a very worthwhile exercise to turn to my new friend there at OHI that I didn’t know for eight days prior.
What did you say?
I said, “I’m in a very healthy, loving relationship with a wonderful gentleman. We’re going on another vacation. I have a job where I’m valued and contributing as an executive assistant at a hospital.”
It’s creating your dream and creating your future in the present.
Knowing that you have that this doesn’t define us. Nobody asks you anymore, “Did you go to college?” It’s what you did and the same with the health opportunity.
It’s based on theory and you’re applying everything you’re learning. It’s a life lesson and you go out there and you’re stronger for it. It’s all going to happen to you. The love, vacation, travels, all that you choose to do because your body’s going to heal itself.
It’s already healing.
I would love one last question from you. What’s your message of hope or inspiration for anyone else out there who’s possibly going through something like this?
Reach out to your peeps, your like-minded family, friends, people that build you up and they’ve always been there for you. Whoever that is in your inner circle, reach out to them for the whole process and when people offer help to receive it. Thank you. I feel honored being on the show.
Do you feel better now that you’ve talked about this?
Everyone needs to talk about their issues. If you let it out, it heals itself.
I hope it helps someone else.
Thank you, Taylor. Thank you so much, Sean.
- Barbara Livesay
- Adventures in Health on iTunes
- John Livesay – previous episode
- Optimum Health Institute
- City of Hope
- Life Changing Foods
About Barbara Livesay
Experienced Sales Representative with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Strong sales professional skilled in Coaching, Sales, Sales Operations, TeamBuilding, and Fundraising.