Fred Smith: CEO of His Health



Photo Credit: Dr. Linda Plummer Ward

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

When my friend of over twenty years, Rev. Dr. Fred Smith, told me of his diagnosis of prostate cancer, I wanted to be supportive in whatever way I could. I asked him if I could write about the choices he’s making and what keeps him motivated.

Fred liked the idea of bringing his diagnosis out of the private experience and into a public conversation. He wants to make his story available to other Black men and their loved ones who could benefit from the way he is insisting on answers from his healthcare providers, asking detailed questions, and making decisions about his health based on what works for his body and how he wants to live. I was delighted he said “Yes”! So, over the next few months we will sit together each week and talk about what’s going on with his strategy to take his health in his hands and be the CEO of his health IMG_0468team. I will write about his activities leading up to his June visit with his physician. In June, they will have another look at his PSA and make decisions based on what they find. We are walking with Fred as he works on his wellness. 

At our first meeting this week, I asked Fred two questions: 

  1.  How did he learn of his diagnosis?
  2. How has the diagnosis changed his life?

Fred learned of his diagnois after a routine physical examination. I’m a woman and don’t have a personal experience with a man’s physical examination, but I learned that it includes “two fingers inside the rectum to check for tumors”. They checked Fred for tumors and found from his blood work an elevated PSA. An elevated PSA by itself does not mean cancer, but the blood work + the physical exam resulted in his cancer diagnosis. 

After learning of the diagnosis that changed his life, Fred said he did not believe it at first and searched for another answer. He consulted another physician and did some research on his own. Then once he accepted the new normal of his life, he decided to make some decisions that would enhance his life rather than totally turning his power over to his medical team. He decided to include homeopathy as part of his treatment and consulted a homeopathic physician. 

Let me stop for a moment and say that neither Fred nor I are recommending “alternative” treatment, which means not using scientific medicine at all. The path Fred has decided to take is one of “complementary” treatment where he uses both scientific medicine and traditional therapies such as homeopathy, herbs and dietary supplements, acupuncture, massage, meditation, and nutrition (Hippocrates, born in 460 BC and called the father of medicine said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.) I am writing this not only as Fred’s friend, but also because in my private practice, I offer wellness support. I practice integrated wellness because I also include how spirituality IMG_1373influences our health and wellness. Fred, as a strong believer in prayer and the impact of faith on our lives, draws upon his religious beliefs as part of what keeps him well. 

Now, Fred is focusing on what he can do to strengthen his body and expand the options that have been presented by his medical team.   Homeopathic treatments are designed to work with the body’s own immune system to  offer resistance to disease; in this case, cancer. 

What I find most useful in Fred’s story, and certainly valuable for other men, is his determination to not only be a part of his healthcare team, but to be the leader of how they decide to treat him. He respects his medical team, but does not turn over to them what happens to his health and his life. Fred has decided to live his life not with fear, but with the faith that his courage, strength, and wisdom will help him through this challenge as it’s helped him through so many others before this. 

Fred does three things that make him the CEO of his health:

  1. He reads as much as he can about prostate cancer, its treatment, if there are clinical trials (click this link for active national clinical trials) that might benefit him, and other treatments outside of the medical standard of care.
  2. He surrounds himself with positive people who support his decisions and allow him to talk when he needs to process what he’s feeling. Or just allow him to be silent when he needs to reflect. 
  3. He exercises, tries to eat more nutritiously (we’re working on that in our next visit), and pays attention to the stress in his life so he can reduce its impact on his wellbeing. 

A prostate cancer diagnosis is really hard to hear. Fred was no exception. But, he moved from the shock and denial that comes with hearing he had a life threatning disease to  “commando” action—on a reconnaissance mission to take back his power. He believes he can make a difference in how well he feels and what decisions are made by his medical team. Taking charge is not new for Fred—so why not be CEO and take charge of his health?

IMG_0738Next week we look at Fred’s grocery shopping and I will give him suggestions on how he can prepare healthy meals. He told me the recipes must be easy and taste good!! Okay, Boss!! Got it 🙂  

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Sunrise—The Hope of the Resurrection



So the women [“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” v1] hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8

Today, April 2, 2018, is celebrated in some settings as Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday. Though it has no official role in Holy Week, it may be observed as a day of rest and when my daughter attended a Catholic high school, they were out of school in observance of Easter Monday.

I’m mentioning Easter Monday because though I did not post on Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, I wanted to complete my Holy Week reflections even if it meant posting on the day after. Also, this scripture found in Matthew about the two Marys being “afraid, yet filled with joy” after learning of Jesus’ resurrection is how I feel sometimes after hearing some good news. Afraid that it may be too good, too wonderful, too perfect to be true; yet unable to stop the feelings of joyful hope.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had arrived at dawn, at sunrise, looking for the crucified Jesus. They  hoped he was not dead, but not really believing his word that he would rise from the dead. So, they went to the tomb at sunrise waiting to see if the Son had indeed risen from the dead.

This is the Easter season. Yesterday, I like many others were joyful and celebrating the Resurrected Lord. It was a glorious day. I cooked and we had guests. The food was good the fellowship was even better. We attended the 6:00am Sunrise service at our church and had a wonderful celebration, but by evening after all the good festivities I was exhausted and fell into bed.

But, today on Easter Monday I am like the two Marys, I want some proof that something has been resurrected in my life. I woke up anticipating a new day and trusting God’s promises that when I wait on the Lord, I will have renewed strength (Isaiah 40:31); that my desires will be satisfied with good things (Psalm 103:5); that even when I am perplexed, I will not be in despair (2 Corinthians 4:8). On this Easter Monday I need to be reminded of God’s promises and the hope of the resurrection.

I’m on my way to a friend’s mother’s funeral. Another friend lost her mother last week. But, because I know my Redeemer lives I can offer comfort to them in their loss. I am


My sister, Barbara, as a youth and my Mother dressed for Easter.

familiar with that pain because my mother died in 2012, but I also know that joy does come in the morning (Psalm 30:5)—after many sunrises and until then, Jesus did not leave us comfortless (John 14:16). Jesus left us the Holy Spirit so we would have peace, in spite of the circumstances.

On this Easter Monday, take that joy you experienced yesterday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection into your week. Live the joy and hope of the Resurrection each day with the reminder from one of my favorite Easter songs, He Lives:

In all the world around me I see His loving care
And though my heart grows weary I never will despair
I know that He is leading, through all the stormy blast
The day of His appearing will come at last
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart (emphasis mine)
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From A Distance


But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Luke 23:49

It is Good Friday. Jesus is crucified. The people who knew Jesus stood at a distance and watched the mocking, the hazing, the physical and emotional abuse. They also watched him breathe his last breath–from a distance.  Were they watching from a distance because they were afraid? That would make sense; those who opposed him were powerful. Did they stand at a distance because they did not know what to say to their friend, their loved one, their leader who was now just another person crucified by the Romans? Or did they feel that somehow he deserved what he got. Maybe, if he had only been less visible, drew fewer crowds, less—hmm, maybe less of a visionary; then, maybe “they” would have left him alone and he would not be hanging from the cross. Or did they watch from a distance because they felt hopeless, helpless, and not equipped to speak out on his behalf? I have probably felt all of these feelings when I have stood at a distance, watching while people I knew faced adversity. On this Good Friday, I think about times I have stood back and watched. 

Just this week I have stood and watched, feeling helpless, at unexpected events. I had planned for several weeks to write a mentor of mine and let her know how much I appreciate that she gave me the opportunity to write for her newspaper for several years. I told her at the time how much I valued her having confidence in me by giving me a platform for my health and faith column. But, I wanted to let her know that years later, she remains very special to me. Just as I “found the time” and prepared to write her a note, I learned she had died. I was left holding words in my heart that I wish I could have said to her. The distance from my thoughts to my actions was too great. I did not take the steps to close the gap and reach out to her–before it was too late. 

Also, this week a friend’s mother died. I replied with a text message–from a distance. I know. When did this happen that we express our condolences with a text message??!! No covered dish taken by her home with a card filled with a few bucks; not even a phone call. A text message–from a distance. 

Then, a friend became the center of a situation that will change many people’s lives forever, including his. I was immediately sad for him; yet felt helpless, not sure what to do. I tend to hang back not wanting to intrude on people’s privacy. But, recently I was let go from a position on the word of some students. The administration used the language of “budget cuts” but,  all those who were standing at a distance knew what was behind my being relieved of duties. I was silenced because who can defend herself against budget cuts. I did not mind losing the position (I was probably a bit much for them anyway) as much as I was hurt by no one reaching out to me. They did not have to say they agreed with either of us, only that they wished me the best or they knew I had done my best. The silence hurt more than anything. So, I could not let my fear of intruding stop me from reaching out to my friend. I reached out–he reached back. I’m glad I let him know he’s not alone. I can’t fix it. I can’t make it go away. But, I’m happy I was able to offer my love and friendship–Regardless. I’m glad I wasn’t silent because to me, silence feels like lack of support. 

images-1It is Good Friday. The 40 days of reflection and repentance that is the Lenten Season ends with Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. On this day, Jesus was surrounded by friends and followers, but they stand at a distance; watching. In just this one week I have been one of the ones watching from a distance and I have also taken the courage to reach out and close the gap between thinking and taking action. I can tell you that taking the risk to reach out and connect makes a difference. I don’t have to feel regret, wishing I had reached out sooner or in a more personal way. It wasn’t over for Jesus as he hung on the cross and it’s not over for me or for you. Bridge the gap to connect with someone who needs to hear from you. As Diana Ross sings, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand; make this world a better place if you can.” 

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Riddles, Service, & Doris Day

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:5



Question: What do these three things, Riddles, Service and Doris Day have in common?

Answer: They are how my sister, Barbara, keeps her joy. 

When you have a stressful life what do you do to keep your joy and wellbeing? I don’t mean when you can’t get a nail or hair appointment and you tell your friend, “Girl, I’m so stressed—my stylist is all booked!!” I mean the daily stress of making ends meet or having a chronically ill child or parent or even living with a chronic illness yourself. I’m also talking about the stress that comes from working in a stressful occupation, like being a police officer. How do you wake up every morning already knowing what kind of day it’s going to be, but also knowing that this is your life and you take the bitter with the sweet? 

My sister, Barbara (known as Barb), is the middle child in our family and has always been the peacemaker. I remember her covering for me when I lost the washing money (sorry, Barb). She was my mother’s reliable child who could be counted on to take care of the task without backtalk (me) or charming her way out of it (my baby sister). Calm, caring, and concerned about others are words that describe my sister Barb. I had also thought of her younger self as meek (sorry Barb). I remember her telling me that when she began working for the police department as a clerk, the detectives would scare her with homicide photos . It was funny to them, but the stuff of nightmares to her. 

fullsizeoutput_e34Imagine my surprise when she said she was joining the police force. I was very impressed and proud; but as I said, surprised! She did not like to even look at the photos of homicide victims, I could not imagine how she would deal with seeing the real thing. But, she did it and has not looked back. How does my so-called meek and mild little sister deal with being on the police force and managing— well, criminals, over the years. She has had her ways of staying sane and joyful during her over 30 years on the police force. You may be as surprised as I am at how easy it is to live joyfully—even when life may bring challenges.

When is the last time you kicked back and watched a fun movie? My sister often watches Doris Day movies to relax and be taken away to a land of happy endings and predictable outcomes. Norman Cousins, in his ground-breaking book, Anatomy of an Illness, watched funny movies as part of his recovery from a “crippling and irreversible disease”. Happy movies that make you laugh have the added benefit of increasing your wellness. Think about adding movies with a happy ending to your downtime. In the words of  the Serenity Prayer  “change the things I can”. Watch happy stuff and pass on watching/reading the unhappy news feeds (me) for a few hours.


Another way she keeps her mind and spirit renewed is by serving others. Service is one way she shows love. Today is Maundy Thursday, the first of the three days leading to Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday is associated with Jesus’ Last Supper and his act of servanthood when he washes his disciples’ feet. On that night, Jesus tells his disciples to love each other as he loves them. Barb not only “serves and protects” as a sergeant on the police force, but she and my other sister, Ava, show love by serving people who have a visual impairment. Each month they host the ministry called VIPs (visually impaired persons), prepare the meals and serve them with dedication and love. People may not want you to wash their feet (though a foot massage is usually welcome), but you can show love in other ways. Maybe with a simple book of riddles.

Barb, also known as Auntie Barbara, on a visit to my nephew and his wife’s house had a chance to use one of her other super powers: telling jokes. It had been several months since she last saw our nephew and his family and was surprised when the younger of their two children, who is four, asked Auntie Barbara if she had any “Auntie jokes”? At first she had no idea what he meant, but he was able to tell her one of her “jokes” and she then remembered the riddles they had enjoyed on her last visit. So, she was ready. The family spent the next two hours taking turns guessing the answers to her riddles and trying to see who could get the most correct answers. She told me they laughed and laughed at the “corny” riddles. A family evening spent without cell phones, no technology, no Netflix–just together finding joy in each other and a book of corny riddles. How cool is that??!!


For once, I am not preaching or trying to make a point. Not really 🙂 I just want you to consider ways to get through the day when the days are tough or maybe just when one more thing becomes “a bit much” .  You don’t have to take that trip to Paris (though that is on my joy list) to find joy. You don’t have to stay discouraged when life comes at you fast and you feel alone. You don’t have to have the perfect hair, nails, or relationships to experience joy, love, and wellbeing. Just keep it simple and fun: watch Doris Day movies,  serve others, and take delight in an evening spent with family and a corny riddle book. 

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How Do You Keep Going When Life is Hard?


Photo Credit: Dr. Linda Plummer Ward

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

What keeps you going when you’re tired, sad, disappointed? Conventional wisdom suggests “life is hard” and “keep going”. Oops, that may have been me making those statements.  For years, in fact, a quote attributed to Harriet Tubman was my signature at the end of my emails: 

If you are tired, keep going.
If you are scared, keep going.
If you are hungry, keep going.
If you want to taste freedom, keep going.

The “life is hard” quote comes from a consoling comment I made to my four-year-old daughter who was crying because her homework was hard. I know she was only Four.Years.Old. Don’t judge me. I was preparing her for life. 

Anyway, my point is that most of us have statements that go through our heads when we need to get motivated through challenging times. Certainly those statements help us stay the course and as I have said in the My Quiet Spaces blog, pretty words can be healing. 

However, I’m offering another equally profound way to keep going in the face of adversity, weariness, and despair. I offer you to use your mission, your heart-felt purpose to give you the energy and passion to not give up even when life is hard.

I know I have needed to keep my eyes on my purpose these past few years in Houston. It seems that anything else I try does not work out. I tried working part-time for a national nonprofit where I had once been on the Board in Nashville, but I seem to have upset the balance with my desire to try something different. It didn’t work out. I was an adjunct for one lo-o-o-ng semester and then was told “budget cuts”! Okay, what was I missing?? According to my therapist, I was not living in my purpose, my God-given purpose.  All other paths I took served to take me away from what God intends for my life. I had believed that any meaningful, paying work would be nourishing and move me forward. Not true. I may be paid, but not have meaning. I may think I have meaning, but not actually flourish. I have learned (the hard way—yes, Erin, life is hard) that it is only when I work in my purpose that I keep going through challenges, that I bring joy to others as well as myself, and that I live meaningfully.  My purpose:  Sharing messages with women on how to live healthy, well, and with joy nurtures, not depletes my spirit.. 

Though I am known for giving advice, sometimes even to my clients, I cannot tell you what is your purpose. You know it; it only needs to be reclaimed, resurrected, affirmed. But, just in case you need a little bit of inspiration, here are three websites/blogs that talk about life, purpose, and joy and I like what they say:

Kevin Monroe’s The Purpose Manifesto: Start Living Your Why Now is a quick, yet inspirational read. I met Kevin several years ago when he was consulting with our faith-based initiative at the Tennessee Department of Health. He was energetic, knowledgeable, and offered practical wisdom that engaged our congregations. You can download it at no charge. 

Unbelievably Human does not give advice or have resources on finding your purpose. She simply models what it looks like when you are living your purpose. It looks “unbelievably human; unbelievably you”! Sheer fun, but also unrelenting in its reality for Millennials. 

You have probably heard TED talks, which cover diverse topics. Have you had a chance to check out their blog posts? Also diverse, provocative, challenging, and funny. This post may help you ask more helpful questions as you think about your purpose,  The Right Way to be Introspective—(yes, there’s a wrong way).   

You decide how to explore your purpose. Listen to your life and ask yourself: “What keeps me well? What brings me joy? How can I do more of both?”. Then, you may begin to have the answer to “how to keep going when life is hard?”. #LiveHealthyBeWell





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It’s Not Easy Being Green

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My younger brother, Malcolm, said this phrase from the familiar Kermit the Frog Sesame Street song to me years ago. He was such a philosopher and often highlighted his discussions with an illustration that made his point and had staying … Continue reading

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“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”

imagesA friend who is a pediatrician said her son told her he wanted a “real doctor.” He was about six years old and was ill. Nothing major, but certainly ill enough to require medical treatment. As she began to treat him, he pulled away from her distrustful. Then he insisted he wanted a real doctor. She could not convince him that she was, indeed, really a doctor. But, he could not trust what was known to him; the person most familiar to him and closest to him. He felt that a real doctor was someone else—a person who doesn’t live with you; not someone who knows your secrets and shortcomings. Someone out there.

Before you chuckle indulgently at the innocence of her son who doesn’t know he has the real deal living at home with him every day. Before you dismiss this as something a child would think and nod from the wise place of “being a grown-up” that you are more mature than that. Before you stop reading this article because you are not six years old and you know good advice when you get it. I’m really talking about you, about me. Not the six year old you, but the grown, wonderful, smart, talented (did I say good-looking) You!

You overlook the doctor, the teacher, the spiritual guide—the wisdom living inside of you to seek others who you consider to be “real,” but have less knowledge about who you are than you have about yourself. We are taught at an early age to listen to the experts, that is, someone outside of ourselves. Our teachers, our doctors, the web expert, the Oprah. As a counselor who has a counselor, I believe in seeking advice. I believe in convening a meeting of the “Kitchen Table” the “Back Porch” the “Barber Shop.” I have gotten some really good stuff at the beauty shop. . . and it worked!

But, what I am proposing here is to take the advice we get “out there” and allow it to inform our own wisdom—not to replace it. With that in mind, I am beginning a new series: “You Are The Real Thing.” Remember the Tammie Terrell and Marvin Gaye song, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”?  Well, I am inviting all of you who have found what works for you; who have begun to live well and healthy not because of what the diet doctors say, but because you have researched,  listened to your body and your wisdom; then created your own lifestyle that works for you. You have built a wellness lifestyle that is not restrictive, but selective. You don’t allow yourself to be shamed by what you’re not doing, but to celebrate what you are taking steps (no pun intended) to do that will benefit your wellness. 

I use the language of wellness and well-being when I talk about health because you don’t become well or have well-being because you have the biggest muscles, run the farthest, or eat all the right food groups. Your well-being grows because you feel good in mind, body, and spirit. 

The writers in this series, beginning with a dear friend of my Daughter who I have grown to love, Stephanie Griggs, a young woman who listening to her own wisdom to figure out what works for her. Please see Stephanie’s delicious article,“Doing the Work.” on my website. You will see more from Stephanie. I’m proud of her for “doing her!”

Talk back to us. Tell us what you have learned about your own wellness that allows you to flourish. How did you learn that you are the Real Thing?!!

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