MaryElaine is our youngest of 5 daughters – okay “MY BABY” and an employee from the get go – whether she intended to be or not. Mary Elaine has been working on the Farm since the beginning. She is essential to our Farm team as she helps whenever we need and with whatever we need. On Patio Service days, you’ll find Mary Elaine in the shop making sure everyone is getting the service they deserve. When she is hiding out from work, you’ll probably find her in the barn! She’s actively involved with the horses here on the farm including running the Fields of Athenry Equestrian Business. She has a special, and frankly rare, quality to work hard and for that I am so grateful and proud. Not only does she work hard but she keeps everyone laughing. Every Wednesday night after packaging has been done, as a farm family, we sit down around the table and have dinner (It’s our chance to laugh, share stories and enjoy each other’s company). Mary Elaine is the one who always has the whole table crying with laughter! Between her stories and her comments, there’s never a dull moment! MaryElaine and Bernadette truly have a special bond.
You may not see her working as often in the shop, however she is the inspiration behind the Farm. Bernadette and Mary Elaine are the youngest employees and have worked since the farms conception and are truly dedicated to our Mission.
Now that you have met the key players of our operation it’s time for Bernadette to share her personal journey. Having had her tumor removed 7 years ago, Bernadette has finally put pen to paper. She is now courageously letting us inside the depths of her Cushing’s Disease in hopes that it might help others to live each day to be the best you can be.
Bernadette’s Personal Journey:
It all started in second grade when I was eight years old. My mom began to notice I was gaining weight. It wasn’t the fact that I was gaining weight, it was the odd phenomenon that the weight was fluctuating along with my face flushing beet red with little to no exertion on my part, leg and ankle pains, overall joint pains, and blinding headaches. At first we blamed it on growing pains; I would gain some weight, then I would grow a little bit, but after a few rounds of this cycle, I just stopped growing. Soon I became the shortest and roundest member of my athletic, tall, skinny, 5’8”+ sisters. My hair was thin and scratchy looking, breaking off at the top. My legs hurt to the point that I shuffled like a little old arthritic man. It was a miracle if I could ever keep up with my long-legged family. This lasted from second grade all the way through my seventh grade year. During middle school my head would hurt so badly and pulse so strongly any source of light would irritate me. When I got these headaches I would get nauseous, but nothing ever came up to relieve me of the sickening feeling. I just figured this is how it was going to be for me. I didn’t expect to feel any better because when I had gotten to my worst that was what had become my normal.
Between second and seventh grade my mom battled with different doctors trying to convince them that something was wrong. I had many visits to NIH (National Institute of Health) and overnight stays to do testing. I was a case they had had very few dealings with before. I felt like an experiment. They used me as a prop for many training doctors, poking and prodding me like a dummy in one of their college courses. Like I said, I was something they were unfamiliar with. I learned in my experience, that sometimes when doctors can’t solve something, they jump to conclusions which lead to making irrational diagnoses.
Doctors blamed my wacky body levels on my mom giving me drugs or body creams to make me the way I was. They also insinuated that I wasn’t eating properly or exercising enough. Specifically from one doctor, “Could your daughter be taking your birth control pills?” I was only in 7th grade at this point, and being strong practicing Catholics, my mother did not take birth control.
Let me tell you what family I am a part of. First off, I lived/live on a working farm with horses to ride, creeks to play in, and woods to explore. There are multiple Olympic level athletes on my mom’s side of the family, who if they didn’t eat and exercise well wouldn’t be in the shape or condition necessary to compete on the international level. We would tell the doctors this, but they continued to blame it on me not eating well or eating too much and not exercising enough. After a few years of nothing but dead ends my family and I went to “visit” Grandma in Arizona. This trip was indeed a trip to visit my grandmother but it was mainly a trip for me to see an old retired family doctor friend, Dr. Tawfik Rizkallah, who with one glance at my full heavy body and constant rosy red cheeks diagnosed me with Cushing’s disease. I had all the classic signs but no proof to show for it. None of the fancy machines that hospitals have could find any tumor growth that linked my outward bodily signs to the imbalances within my body. This was about fifth grade.
By the time I reached seventh grade in 2008, my mother had had enough of me feeling the way I did. She took my health reports and asked her adult endocrinologist (Dr. Howard Lando) to take a look at them. He denied the papers at first saying he only deals with adults and that my mom needed to take me to a child endocrinologist because the child to adult system is so different. Mom did and it led us nowhere again. Mom pushed back and told Dr. Lando she needed him to take a look at my reports. Dr. Lando finally agreed and within a few weeks he had me sent to have an MRI. The hospital said they only wanted to do a scan of my adrenals when Dr. Lando sent the order in to be of both my adrenals and brain. He was furious when he heard the MRI team wasn’t going to listen to his order. He personally called them up directly and before I knew it, the MRI team agreed to his orders, put the rose smelling liquid into my veins and into the tube I went, listening to the clicking and clacking noises like horse hooves hitting pavement. A month later, October, 2008, I was scheduled to have brain surgery with none other than Dr. Joe Watson, a man who reminded me of a very tall and sophisticated “Bill Nye the Science Guy” who had a different pair of glasses on at each appointment. I was one of twenty kids in the U.S. he had ever removed a pituitary brain tumor from for Cushing’s Disease.
Now let me rewind a bit to early fall 2006, the time Drs. Pete and Lolin Hilgartner and Tara Rayburn were brought into my life. These are the people that I refer to as my miracle workers. Tara Rayburn is the woman who pushed my mom to make a product that would help make people feel the best that they have ever felt. She encouraged my mom to study the ways of how people used to raise their animals and how they made their broths and how they lived. She’s the woman who introduced my mom to the Weston A Price Foundation and Essential Oils, both of which help in healing and attitude in ways that I cannot even begin to explain. She’s the woman who introduced me and my mom to Drs. Pete and Lolin who have helped me heal and stay healthy since my surgery in 2008. Dr. Pete is a chiropractor who takes a different look on how to adjust the body, but he’s not just that. He’s a life coach. He has helped me stay strong through teaching me how the body works and giving different perspectives on how to look at things that I go through. He has taught me the power of saying no so I don’t wear myself out and drain my system of the things we have worked so hard to build up again. Dr. Lolin is the nutritionist. She has taught me and guided me to eat well and be well. She’s always telling me to surround myself with happy things; happy books, happy movies, happy people, because it’s amazing how much our body is drained when we are surrounded by negative news, negative people, and bad food. She’s the one who has helped me feel as close to a normal teenager that I can feel. These are the people that I really credit for my post surgery success.
This small, less than an inch, tumor caused my system to produce more than 758 milligrams of cortisol in my body daily. “Normal” people produce about 15-20 milligrams of this steroid daily. This is what helps maintain and support people’s immune systems and bodily functions when they get sick or stressed. After the removal of my tumor, my cortisol levels dropped to zero. I had absolutely no immune system. Nothing to back my system up if I had a sudden crash. I was put on hydro-cortisol for a long time and for any of you who have ever needed to be on a steroid, you know it is not a fun experience. In order to combat the steroid feeling and to help my immune system grow stronger and to help raise my levels again my mom worked on perfecting her Beef/Lamb Bone Broth, which she named Bernadette’s Broth because of the wonders it did/ does for me. This broth is made over the course of two to three days with the organ meat, marrow and soup bones, and spices to create an amazing product that results in energy boosts and immune system boosts. After drinking this broth like a cup of tea every day my levels slowly began to rise and I was on the road to recovery.
Between my mom’s Bernadette’s Broth, Dr. Pete’s adjustments, Dr. Lolin’s nutritional guidance, and Tara Rayburn’s guidance on which oils to use when, I have been able to work outside in the sweltering heat to the freezing cold without getting overly drained. I have been able to fall off horses and get back on without needing to be rushed to the hospital in worry that my body couldn’t heal itself after hitting the hard ground. I’m not as tired as I used to be and my joints don’t ache nearly as badly as they used to. That’s not to say that I’m magically rid of my disease because I’m not. My tumor could grow back if I don’t follow the guidance of the four people mentioned above. My tumor could still grow back even while I’m eating well and following the protocol Dr. Lando, Dr. Pete, and Dr. Lolin have set for me, but I also know that if I do follow the holistic path in combination with aids from clinical medicine that is used so often today, I have a better chance of staying strong and thriving and hopefully less of a chance of a tumor growing back. I owe my life to these people because they have kept me alive and healthy since 2008, while at the same time encouraging me to continue to grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I encourage everyone to take that step outside of the box of conventionality, and take control of how you eat in order to control how you feel, because I believe that the way we eat and how we treat our body has everything to do with how we live each day.