I think that I have had an epiphany. I think that I have just finally found a “job/life description” that fits where my heart tells me that I want to go. Let me explain…
I have been a Registered Dietitian for 35 years. In that time, I have done homecare, inpatient hospital care, outpatient care, private practice, long term care, back to private practice and now as an author and speaker. In all those roles, I have tended to lean towards caring for the concerns of adults, particularly “mature” adults. Even as a green young RD, driving around Waterloo region and going into people’s homes, my most memorable clients were the people who were aging on their own terms, staying in their homes as they finished their life journeys. Once in inpatient care, I was assigned to the Palliative Care team and thrived in that environment. And I love my residents in long term care. Seniors have lived long and interesting lives and are such a treasure. We, as a society, have lost much of our respect for our elders and their innate wisdom.
Since heading down this new path of using ketogenic diet and targeted fasting to impact on the cancer process and cancer treatment side effects, I have struggled with how to work with people to support them in using these interventions and in travelling the cancer journey in all its aspects – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Being a Registered Dietitian involves having a licensing body – in my case, provincial. I am allowed to practice as an RD in the other provinces that have a reciprocal arrangement with Ontario, but not all provinces do. And I have no jurisdiction in other countries unless I try to obtain my license there. A process that is long, involved and prohibitively expensive.
So, how do I explain or describe what I want to do? It’s not just medical nutritional therapy (MNT), the exclusive domain of RD’s, but so much more. In the clients that I have supported so far, only a small portion of our relationship is concerned with nutritional interventions. Yes, I teach a lower carb/ketogenic diet and yes, I have developed a Chemo Fasting Protocol that is highly effective in protecting the body from chemo side effects. But most of my ongoing interaction with my clients has been more in the area of supportive listening, providing compassion and empathy, helping to translate the medical aspects of cancer and its treatments into terms that non-medical folks can understand, and mostly, instilling confidence and empowerment in what can feel like an overwhelming situation. I’ve been there – I get it!
The mind/body/spirit connection is real and each part has massive impact on the other parts. And taken together, they comprise our life experience and how we view and interact with our world. There are times in life when we must “let go”, “be still and know that I am God”, and simply “be in the moment”. But there are other situations where we need to question the “status quo”, listen to our inner guru about what’s right for us, and take control of our own journey. That’s the KICKASS part. I get that too.
I want to help people as they journey through cancer treatment, not just where my license says that I am allowed to practice, but wherever those people are. And in this virtual world, that could be anywhere. So I need to step out of the RD role in this situation and find myself a new description, one that really reflects how I can help people. Am I a Life Coach? A Cancer Coach? Is coaching even the right word?
I have been mulling this over as I live through my holiday week and our current pandemic lockdown. And, as often happens, the answer has come to me out of the blue, like a gift from the universe. I want to be a “doula”.
Most people are familiar with the concept of a birth or pregnancy doula, a non-medical person who is support for the pregnant woman and her family throughout the birth process and the pre- and post-partum periods. Unlike the doctor or midwife, they are not the ones to deliver or care for the baby, but they are there for the parents. They provide personalized support for the person going through the process, not the process itself. There are also death doulas who provide a similar type of support at the end of life. They are especially helpful for those who wish to complete their life journey at home or as a medically-assisted death.
The word “doula” comes from ancient Greek, meaning “a woman who serves.” I love that! Wikipedia says “A doula is a trained companion who is not a healthcare professional and who supports another individual (the doula’s client) through a significant health-related experience.” Bang on! That’s what I want to be…
This is not an entirely new concept, but it’s little known or practiced. A Google search showed only a few persons working as cancer doulas. But there’s already some medical articles supporting the concept.
Here’s one: WebMD: What is a Cancer Doula?
The beauty of this concept is that I can practice anywhere. I’m not functioning as a Registered Dietitian, so the limitations of my license don’t apply. My nutrition knowledge is for educational purposes only, similar to what you get from reading my book. But you get the rest of me, the supportive, experienced, spiritual, kick-in-the-butt-when-you-need-it me. The me that you can ask anything of, bounce things off of, vent to and always be heard and acknowledged. I’m not a trained counsellor, just a fellow traveler and someone who has been there. I understand physiology and the medical system and can help with the overwhelming nature of cancer care. I’m willing to discuss your pooping problems as well as your hopes and dreams for after treatment. I’m a veritable goldmine of resources that I can send you if we identify some information that you need, even if it’s as simple as a recipe to help you poop better…
A dear friend said something to me that has stuck since the beginning of my cancer journey. She said “It’s like everything in your life so far has brought you to this point, to go forward as the Keto Cancer Dietitian.” That idea has stuck with me and been a guiding beacon in writing the book and sharing my successful nutritional strategies. But it’s also limiting and I think that my new “identity” as a Keto Cancer Doula is the next fork in my road.
I will be updating my Work With Me page on my website to reflect these new insights. Check it out at https://www.marthatettenborn.com/work-with-me/
Thank you for being with me so far on my journey. Here’s to more adventures ahead as a Keto Cancer Doula!