By: Alicia Jackman
I have always thought of myself as being a healthy person. I enjoy exercising a little each day and eating healthy foods. In 2007, after having my second child, I was having weird bowel issues and was surprised when I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Doctors told me that it happens to some people and might not be a big deal throughout my life. I was prescribed four gigantic pills daily, which the doctor intended for me to take the rest of my life, and I came to terms that this was a disease I had. I took these pills daily and the disease didn’t seem to be bother me after that for years.
Six months after having my third child and being called as the ward organist, my fingers and hands started to swell and be hot. My fingers gradually got so swollen and stiff that it was too hard to keep playing the organ. Eventually I had to ask to be released from this calling, which really saddened me. I couldn’t open jars or button buttons. My knees and hips hurt so bad I couldn’t get on the floor to play with my kids, and I would cry in pain and frustration daily. I also started falling asleep for hours at a time. This scared me as I was home with three little children. When I was awake, I felt like an 80-year-old lady, when I was only in my early 30’s.
I finally saw my family doctor, then specialists, and it took months for them to figure out what was wrong. In 2010 I was diagnosed with a type of rheumatoid arthritis that the doctors determined must be related to my ulcerative colitis. Doctors told me that I had an autoimmune disease and that my body would continue to attack itself in my joints, then could move to other organs, which would eventually kill me. My doctors prescribed medication to suppress my immune system which they said was the only way to lessen these attacks.
Each year my arthritis would get a little worse and move around from larger joints to smaller ones. I got weird skin rashes/hives on my feet, neck and back. Besides that, I got 5 cavities within 6 months that my dentist attributed to the medication I was on. My youngest daughter had to get her molars capped at age 2 because the medication I took while she was growing inside me affected her baby teeth. My face puffed up from one of the medications, and one eye would randomly get red and puffy where it looked like I was punched in the eye.
The doctors did their best to find the best “cocktail” or combination of medications that would work best for me to help with all these weird symptoms. One rheumatologist would even inject cortisol into my fingers and wrists to help bring the swelling down. I took pills, injections, and eventually infusions at the cancer center. These would work for a very short time, then my symptoms would come back and get worse. During this frustrating time, I felt like a pincushion as I was poked and prodded to take blood for this and that test. I began to realize the doctors really didn’t have the answers I thought they did. The doctors never discussed diet, other than assuring me it wouldn’t change anything. They continued prescribing medications.
Finally, I was put on the last medication the doctors could prescribe for me, which was an infusion at the cancer center every 8 weeks. The cost of these infusions went up in price one year from $8,000 to $14,000 per infusion, and they weren’t even working. My prayers became sincerer, or rather, more desperate for answers. While I was going through the pains of arthritis my prayers to God went from, “Take this disease from me” to “Help me deal with this disease,” then “What am I supposed to learn from this experience?” and “How am I supposed to function as a Mom when I can’t move?” to now “Please God help me, the doctors don’t know what more to do!”
I don’t think God wasn’t listening to me through the years, I know he was, but his time is not my time. God was answering my prayers through small moments of service: service others would give me and moments when I had good days and I could serve others. He also answered my prayers with hope that this too will pass. When I went in for my 5th colonoscopy a nurse heard me talk to the doctor about wanting to cure my ulcerative colitis. After the doctor left she told me she had had ulcerative colitis and it spontaneously went into remission. I asked what she did to go into remission and she said she didn’t do anything different, it just went into remission. My family doctor mentioned he too had a neighbor who also went into spontaneous remission. This gave me hope, but no answer to how.
The beginning of 2013 my husband and I watched a video on Netflix about a guy who went on an all juice diet. He had been heavy and this diet helped him not only lose weight, but as his body got healthier he was able to get off medications. Others on the show also cured their diseases. After this film, I was all in! I instantly stopped all my medication and got a heavy-duty juicer and bags and bags of carrots and vegetables to juice. Unfortunately, stopping all my medication at once was not wise on my part, and I didn’t find relief, only intense pain and hunger.
Months later, thanks to Netflix again, my husband and I watched Forks over Knives, and I felt like I was getting closer to the answers God was sending me. My husband started studying more after watching this film and read the books Eat to Live and The China Study. It is a blessing to have a supportive husband that is willing to research and support me in a change of diet. We experimented on our own with a whole food, plant-based diet. I stayed on my medication, but I was finding that I wasn’t having rashes or swollen eyes and the swelling in my joints was going down. We got better and better at cooking and our kids began to request our healthy meals over the unhealthy ones. I noticed when I would give into cravings and eat an animal food, like a hamburger (one of my favorites), within 30 minutes my wrist joints would swell up and pop for days. This painful reminder motivated me to keep eating this way.
At the end of 2014, my mom came across the book Discovering the Word of Wisdom by Jane Birch. When she read it, she felt the spirit so strong that she changed her whole thinking about food and changed her diet. She gave this book to me to read, and I too was touched by the spirit as I read it. I felt it was emphasizing what I was learning. It showed me the spiritual side of a whole food, plant-based diet. Reading D&C 89 I noticed different words stood out to me that I hadn’t noticed before. Besides the counsel to eat meat sparingly, I noticed the Lord is pleased when we do not eat animals. I want to live my life so that it is pleasing to the Lord. I believe if I follow this counsel, walking in obedience, I can receive health in my naval and marrow to my bones. The Word of Wisdom also promises that I will be able to run and not be weary, walk and not faint. I longed for the blessing to have restored the mobility that I had been desperately missing.
I felt I was getting more answers to my prayers and was so glad to have the support of my husband and now mother with me. As we ate a whole food, plant-based diet and exchanged recipes with my mom I noticed that I was having more energy in the mornings. I would wake up and feel great. Eventually my wedding ring fit again that hadn’t in over 9 months. The swelling in my fingers and wrists went down. I could move them easily and started playing the piano again. I also noticed it wasn’t painful to walk up and down the stairs and even started running on the treadmill. My hair got thicker and my nails seemed stronger.
A year went by and I wasn’t having any arthritis pains, but I was still taking medications and having infusions. Feeling much better, I wanted to get off the medications I was on as I was reading books by great doctors about eating a whole food, plant-based diet not needing medication. However, my kind doctors wouldn’t support me on this diet and insisted I stay on the cancer treatment medication, giving the medication credit for my relief. I needed a doctor that could support what answers I had been getting and help me get off these medications that were causing long-term problems to my body.
Last year my mother-in-law told me about her “crazy doctor” that put her on a diet of no animal products (Dr. Ernest Severn). She was surprised to see my eyes light up in excitement as I asked for his information. I found out his office is close to us and that I had kept an article he had written in our city paper a year earlier about how eating a whole food, plant-based diet clears up acne. I thought it was written by a dermatologist and hadn’t thought more about it. This was my final answer to my prayer, to find a doctor that would support all that I had learned. I met with this great doctor as soon as I could and he confirmed all the studying I had done and most importantly how to correctly go off each of my medications.
My journey through my health struggles has seemed long, and yet the lessons I’ve learned have been wonderful. I am so happy to wake up each morning well rested, with fingers and hands that move with ease and move in a body without inflammation or swelling. I enjoy working out and running. Last May I ran my first race ever, a 10k, and took first in my age group. My body is strong! I had blood work done recently, and my inflammation markers are low. My colon is in great condition, and it never was the reason for my arthritis. Recently my doctor recommended a DEXA scan to see if my bones had improved from the 2013 scan which showed I was in the osteopenia level due to depletion from medication. The results of this recent scan show that my bones are now in the “normal” limits! My doctor informed me that my “bone density has improved!” Earlier in my life I didn’t know you could improve bone density once it was lost. This is amazing news! Besides my bones being stronger, my skin really does have less acne, and I’m kinder to my family as I’m not frustrated with my body not working. I understand more the frustrating pain that people go through physically and mentally through trials.
I know our answers don’t come in our time frame but the Lord’s time frame. There’s a reason He wants us to take these journeys. They test us, our families, our faith, and our sanity. My family and I enjoy the blessings of eating a whole food, plant-based diet. Food that grows from the earth is delicious and brings us peace that we are sparing the lives of animals with how we eat. I no longer take my health for granted, and I now know that my body is a wonderful gift and not the imprisoning casing of my spirit. This is why we are on this earth, to have a body, to learn to navigate it, to care for it and to let our spirits thrive in it!
Alicia Jackman (39) lives in Saratoga Springs, Utah. She has a BS degree in Business Management from Utah Valley University. She is married to a wonderful man and has four amazing children. She is currently the organist in her ward. She’s a homemaker and enjoys organizing, running, planning healthy meals, watching her kids at their sports games and dance performances. As a family, they enjoy spending time together, biking, traveling, and visiting with dear friends and extended family.