My health adventures began in February 1986 just before I turned 32. A couple of weeks before my birthday, my aunt was visiting and talking about wanting to “lose weight.” I told her that I was losing a lot of weight. She asked me what diet I was following. I told her, “None! I eat what I want, and I still lose weight. It’s wonderful!” She looked at me and said, “You need to be checked for diabetes right away.” All I knew about diabetes was that my grandma was diabetic at the end of her life. When she came to visit, Mom always bought “dietetic ice cream” packaged in individual cubes about 2 inches square. Although I disliked ice cream, I loved sharing this with her, so I looked forward to it. For me, it meant fun times—how ignorant I was.
Going to the endocrinologist right away confirmed that I was, indeed, diabetic. He told me we would have to wait and see if I was Type I or Type II. I was a little old for Type I and very young for Type II. I remember going to church that Sunday. My son was transitioning from nursery and my daughter was new there. The nursery leader and I were very close friends so I told her the news. That was when the bottom dropped out of my world. She told me about someone in our ward whose son had just died as a result of diabetic complications. I was a mother of a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. To think I might DIE of diabetes sent me into total depression.
I called my home teacher (my husband was not a member of the Church), and he came with another brother and gave me a blessing. I will always remember his words to me that day. He said that if I lived the Word of Wisdom, it would be as if I never had diabetes. I had tremendous faith that this would be my lot. I lived the Word of Wisdom very religiously, or so I thought I did.
I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes mellitus, which used to be called “adult onset diabetes.” It usually begins when a person is in their 50s to 70s, not when they are 32 years of age (although because of our diet, it is becoming more prevalent among younger people now, including teens).
I started insulin, and after a while, I began a diabetic “honeymoon.” It is called this by endocrinologists because of the way the pancreas responds to added insulin at first. It gives the pancreas a boost, and your blood sugars drop to normal range without insulin. Well, somehow I thought that meant I wasn’t diabetic at all. Like so many others, I made a big error in judgment and after a few years of decent control, I thought I was cured and began eating more sugar, etc. Boy was that stupid!!!
Years went by, and I continued being a good Mormon girl, living what I thought to be the law of health. But I was gaining weight—a lot of it—and I was passing out from high blood sugars from time to time. By the time I was divorced in 1998, I had gotten up to 310 pounds! Just before leaving my marriage, I began to lose weight until I got down to 200 pounds. I was walking more and stopped drinking soda and the craving for sugary things passed. All of these changes helped me a great deal.
My eye doctor saw no diabetic changes to the retinas in 1999, but I was living on borrowed time. I had no idea I had a gun to my head, and my finger—the same fingers that were throwing all kinds of junk foods into my mouth—was on a very delicate trigger. It took me another ten years before the Lord opened my eyes to the Word of Wisdom as it was truly meant to be understood.
In 2000, my new husband and I moved to California to care for my mom who had lung cancer. I couldn’t seem to find work. I was under a lot of stress with a new marriage, and the children were having a hard time adjusting to a “step father.” One evening in August 2000, I was coming out of the kitchen with a bowl of cereal I was eating when my tongue and the left side of my face went numb. My husband tried to get me upstairs to “rest.” My left leg was going numb. I told him, “I think I’m having a stroke.”
I spent three days in the hospital and returned home and for six months was unable to do simple things, like make a sandwich for my husband, walk without dragging my left foot, or type on my keyboard. I began to recover slowly and eventually began to work in the medical records field. I went to school starting in 2002 to learn more about medical records and received a degree in health information technology in May 2005. I had the desire to go on and become a doctor, because I had a 4.0 GPA in college, and I thought I needed to do more to help others. It wasn’t to be, however.
By October 2007, I had recovered 98% from the effects of my first stroke when I had a second one. I still didn’t have the pieces together in my life to understand the Word of Wisdom fully. That didn’t happen until much later. The second stroke, rather than being a stroke affecting one side or the other like the first, was a medullary stroke. The medulla is just above the brain stem. If the brain stem had been affected, I wouldn’t be here today. But the second stroke disabled my eyes severely and my mobility on both sides, though I didn’t really have the weakness like my first stroke. I was clueless as to what to do other than take medications and aspirin. I could no longer work at all. My career fizzled before my eyes!
In July 2009, I started having more problems. This time I was gaining weight pretty rapidly. I was retaining fluid. It started with my ankles and began moving up my legs. I knew something was wrong with my kidneys or liver. My doctor gave me some Lasix to reduce my edema. It didn’t seem work at all. I sat on the couch with my feet up all day long. That didn’t work either. Finally, in January 2010, I went to the doctor, and she sent me to the hospital immediately. I was gaining 10 pounds a week from fluid retention right before going into the hospital. They put me on severe water restriction. On my 53rd birthday, I experienced acute renal failure. They found me (euphemistically) “unresponsive” in my bed. They used life-saving efforts to rescue me, and I spent the next four weeks in a hospital bed, 2 ½ weeks of which were in the Critical Intensive Care Pulmonary Unit with all kinds of tubes running in and out of my body. I was in a medically-induced coma to keep me from removing lifesaving tubes.
The first day I remember waking up, I saw two young missionaries standing by my bedside. They asked if I would like a blessing. The one had a very distinct accent and darker skin. I wrote on the message board (I had tubes running down my esophagus and was unable to speak), “Where are you from?” He said, “Tonga.” I nodded, “Yes” to their inquiry. I almost cried because I had wanted to move to New Zealand after becoming a doctor because I loved the Maori people after reading the biography of Matthew Cowley, and I knew the tremendous faith of the island people. So I knew when he pronounced the blessing, it would be strong. I have tremendous faith in blessings and have been miraculously healed many times after administration.
Well, I was told by the nurses that I was a miracle to them. They told me they had seen many people who had come there and either passed or were comatose the rest of their lives. They couldn’t believe I was alive and functioning as well as I was. I slept quite a bit at first, but I distinctly remember my daughter and my sister (both vegans) talking to my new doctor about me being a vegetarian. I was in shock! I thought, “When did that happen?” I heard the doctor say, “Vegetarian . . . that’s very good.” Well, I wanted to be “very good,” so I shut my mouth and every day I would order new vegetarian foods to see how they affected my blood sugars, hypertension, etc.
I came home to my daughter’s apartment as my doctor didn’t want me too far away until she was sure I was stabilized. Of course, when I lived with her, I was suddenly “vegan.” I learned to be very creative with meals and had a lot of fun. I lost a lot of weight until finally, we moved out just before April back to my home in the mountains. I lived vegan for quite some time until my husband came back from trucking school. I slowly added some chicken here and there, etc. I never did go back to my old diet completely, however.
In March 2013, I went to my nephrologist (kidney specialist) after trying very hard to follow the guidelines from Davita, a company that specializes in giving dietary advice to kidney patients. The doctor told me that my kidneys were functioning at 15% and if they didn’t get better by June 2013, I would be put on dialysis. I was so scared. I realized that following the guidelines wasn’t working. I got down on my knees and poured out my soul to the Lord. I told him I thought I knew what I was doing to heal my body, but obviously I didn’t know enough. I knew He knew exactly how to heal my broken body. I pled for His help to know what I needed to do.
The next morning, my sister called me up and said, “Hey, you have GOT to read this new ebook I just got. It’s called The End of Diabetes by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.” I had no money, so she told me she would buy it for me. Dr. Fuhrman is a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet doctor, and he has been using WFPB to cure people of diabetes, hypertension, and even kidney disease. I began following his book after reading it. It made so much sense to me, and he REALLY knew about diabetes. There are so many “doctors” out there who spread a lot of misinformation. I was so happy to find him.
My sister then started calling me almost daily and saying, “You have to watch this movie, Forks over Knives,” etc., I got into The China Study and many more doctors who are spreading the WFPB word. I knew right away that the diet would help me get in control of both my kidneys and my diabetes. I was highly encouraged. Right after that, my husband, who LOVES Moses and is a convert to the Church, said he wanted us to read something from the scriptures together. I thought we should read the Pearl of Great Price so he could learn more about Moses that isn’t in the Bible. He was blown away by Chapter 1, but Chapter 2 blew my socks off when I read the 29th verse:
And I, God, said unto man: Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in the which shall be the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. (Moses 2:29)
I realized the WFPB doctors were saying exactly what the Lord had been telling us all along. Then I reread the Word of Wisdom and realized that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow in all that He has been telling us. I had a renewed testimony of the Word of Wisdom that was being shown to me through other scriptures and writings as well. I felt tremendous gratitude that the Lord is so patient with me that He showed me again and again what I was to do. I finally understood the blessing given by my home teacher when I was first diagnosed with diabetes. He promised I could be as if non-diabetic if I lived the Word of Wisdom; only now I understood what that meant when the Lord opened my eyes.
After following the WFPB diet, my kidneys started improving, and my diabetes began to be under better control also. I’m still working on the retinopathy that developed in 2012 and on my rosacea (and was very encouraged by Barbara Cramer’s news that she has resolved her rosacea with the WFPB diet). I have hopes for those things, too, as well as losing more weight. It takes time to get so messed up, and it will take more time to correct the problems I’ve cause from my old habits, but I have renewed faith in the Word of Wisdom as I understand it now. I will continue to study it to learn even more. Everything in the gospel comes in “layers”—bit by bit until the whole picture is revealed. I can hardly wait to learn some more—the nuances of how my body can work better with healing herbs and nutritious whole, plant-based foods.
My kidneys have gone from 15% functioning to 29% functioning. Not only are my kidneys are improving, but the clarity of my mind is incredible. My strokes had taken away my mental abilities to a great degree. I was devastated by this. I had studied ten languages and was completely fluent in three. I was also very into science and math, history, and tutored just about everything under the sun, except economics/politics. I had been named the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society Leader of Promise in 2005, and my lightening-like brain had been reduced to a pile of mush. With WFPB, it’s coming back! The Word of Wisdom diet is bringing me back to health.
Phyllis Bessenaire is 60 years old and lives in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Central California. She has 3 children, 2 living, with no grandchildren yet. Her major at BYU was ancient languages, particularly Greek and Latin, although she has studied 10 languages in total. Quite expectedly, Hugh Nibley was and still is her greatest hero. She also loves history, which includes Church history, and science. She returned to college in her “later years” and graduated with three associates degrees (an A.S. Health Information Technology, an A.S. in Biological Sciences, and an A.A. in Social Science) from Fresno City College in 2005, with highest honors, 4.0 GPA, was a Leaders of Promise scholar and received the associated scholarship given to only 30 Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society students worldwide every year, and was awarded the Kathryn D. Loly Scholarship for scholarship and service by Alpha Gamma Sigma Honor Society of California. On the lighter side, she ADORES cats and most animals. While she awaits some grandchildren, she continues as an avid genealogist researching her family, finding and submitting temple ordinances for over 1500 persons thus far and has experienced many, many miracles while doing this work. But that’s another interesting story…