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Five Years Left to Live

“Mr. Fish, people with your heart history and disorders of your age usually have about five years left to live.” The doctor said it so matter-of-factly that the significance failed to move me for some time afterward, and when it did, I simply accepted it as my lot in life. That was during the spring of 2010; I had just turned 58.

Except for a knee injury I suffered after jumping from a helicopter during the war in Vietnam, my health had always been very good until I was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and chemically induced asthma in 1998. I was a cigarette smoker and, while employed as a cattle ranch foreman, I had inhaled the fumes from having regularly treated the five houses on the ranch for insects and pests. I thought that if a little chemical was good, more would be better. That belief almost killed me. I was prescribed two meds daily and two inhalers daily or as needed, but my pest-control days were over.

My next health crisis came in 2001 when a basal cell carcinoma was removed from just below my right nostril and above my lip; it shortened the right side of my mouth about a half inch. In the nine years that followed, two more cancers began forming on my face but not before my heart attack on August 28th of 2004.

I had just finished my last cigarette (ever)... I noticed an intense pressure in my chest and quite a bit of tingling and numbness in my shoulders and arms. Brenda happened to walk into the living room about that time and I told her, “I don’t want to freak you out but our lives are about to change, I think I’m having a heart attack.” She called 911.

Dr. Ike lost me twice in the clinic, here in Ozona and sent me on to Shannon Hospital in San Angelo, where they lost me 3 more times. I wonder if dying 5 times in one day is some sort of record… it was for me anyway.

A couple days later stents were placed in two of the occluded arteries around my heart, and I was advised that I had several more occlusions that would have to be addressed within the next 5 or 6 years. I was prescribed 6 different meds for my heart disease, to control my cholesterol (which had been hanging around 188 mg/dl just before the MI) and hypertension. I was back at work within a week, minus my cigarette habit.

I weighed about 250 lbs. at the time of the heart attack, had been diagnosed as prediabetic for years, and by the spring of 2010, I weighed 325 lbs. It was during my six-month check-up that March when my healthcare provider informed me that I was a diabetic and he would be placing me on a regimen of diabetic medications on my next visit, in November that year. He proceeded to explain that quitting smoking cigarettes probably kept me alive this long, but that people with my health history had about five years left to live, regardless.


My doctor advised me to adopt a vegetarian way of eating, which I soon did. However, by June I felt worse than ever before in my life and had probably put on another 10 pounds in the two-and-a-half months since my check-up. Just getting out of bed had become a chore that took planning to accomplish, and it was on such a morning that I decided I was going to do something about it… and I honestly didn’t give a damn if it killed me.

Brenda was already demonstrating symptoms of dementia; and my youngest son, Kyle, was in the military, getting ready to be deployed to Afghanistan. I knew I had to be there for Brenda, even though her personality had changed and our intimacy had already ended.

From the time we’d married, she was the epitome of motherhood, the proverbial “super-mom” who had everything under control when it came to cleaning the house, cooking, and especially the kids… ours, as well as many of our nieces and nephews. She was no longer that person, but I still felt quite connected to who she was before our health began to fail.

With a couple skin cancers reappearing on my face, and all my other issues, I wasn’t sure I’d survive until Kyle returned from the war. So, along with my oldest son, Cody, we planned a weekend camping trip in the Fall at The Bend in central Texas; just to create some memories. …and, boy howdy, did we!

To regress just a bit, it was during the first days of June while lying there in bed, contemplating my strategy for getting to my feet when I began reading an old New York Times article by Gary Taubes, entitled “What If It All was a Big Fat Lie?” It was this article that planted a seed in my brain and changed everything for me.

Within days of changing my diet from of vegetarian to one resembling more of a “paleo” way of eating with balanced macronutrients, I felt a huge difference in my vitality and within a month I began monitoring my blood sugar and taking some of my mom’s diabetes meds for a while, until it seemed like I didn’t need them anymore (this is NOT recommended, by the way). I started strength training on Cody’s old Bow flex rotary weight machine and that little motte of Live Oaks, where he kept the machine soon became a sort-of “solitude” for me that I still have fond memories of now.

By the time of our weekend camping trip, I had already cut a considerable amount of weight (probably 40 or 50 pounds). We did create some very good memories that weekend but more significantly, I had my first glimpse of the possibilities, if I stayed the course and efforts to regain my health. By November, I’d lost 60 lbs., and my diabetes was in remission.
I remember watching the doctor’s head oscillating from side to side as he compared each of my current health markers with those of my previous visit, back in the spring. Finally, he said, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep on doing it.”

“What about the diabetes?” I asked.

“What diabetes?” he responded.

Enough said. I concluded that my diabetes was in remission… and that was the kick in the butt I needed.

What has ensued since is a thirst for knowledge, the likes of which I’ve never known before. It soon became very apparent to me that our collective knowledge of nutritional science was grossly in error at, so many levels… that I had become a victim of the system we created to provide for our best interests.

The majority of the information propagated by authors of nutritional science is convoluted, confrontational, and propagates misinformation that seems to grow progressively more erroneous. Many of the authors are doctors and nutritionists who call themselves scientists but do not show any aptitude for methodology and interpret the truth that science is actually imparting with preconceived beliefs. They “cherry-pick” their data, interpret or misreport the data to support their beliefs and hypothesizes. I’m amazed by how much misinformation our society and the world community has accepted as factual.

However, there are jewels of knowledge in the transom that do reflect a sound interpretation of nutritional science that will lead us toward good health and wellness. As has been the case so many times before, I was my own worst enemy. I was ignorant. I had over-indulged. I had allowed my misguided beliefs to become my ‘truth’.

Well, I survived the five years my VA practitioner said I had left, back in 2010. A nuclear stress test in October 2017 indicated my heart showed no signs of ischemia, which meant that the 5 or 6 occlusions I was told in 2004 would have to be addressed in 5 or 6 years were no longer an issue. Oh, my Type-2 diabetes will have been in remission for 8 years in two months. Life is good!

In March of 2015, I completed a course of study (160 hours) with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and became an integrative nutrition health and life coach. I am currently writing a health column, “Here’s to Your Health” in The Ozona Stockman, and have been hired as a nutritionist here at the J. Cleo Thompson Wellness Center. I have counseled clients and family members since and been encouraged by the successes of their health journeys, as well.

My mom had a myocardial infarction (heart attack) on March 13th, 2014, and passed away in my arms, in front of her apartment here in Ozona. And, as many of you know, I lost my wife on October 31st, 2017 due to complications of dementia.
Both my late wife and mom inspire me and are the impetus for the passion I feel in regard to assisting others to negotiate their health journeys. Never before have I felt more like I am exactly where I need to be.