It’s such a basic first step, and yet it’s the one we forget to take every day. “Take good care of yourself,” advises Luanne Pennesi, RN, MS and founder of the Metropolitan Wellness Centre in New York City. “We’ve got to take good care of our minds, of our bodies, we have to process emotions in a healthy way; we have to manage us first.”
That is the first thing you need to do in order to take charge of your health, and by extension your life. Pennesi had to learn this herself, the hard way. Currently a leading name in the field of natural health medicine, she has built her career on the melding of new-age, alternative and holistic Eastern health therapies with the conventional, diagnostic science of Western medical practice. But she was working as a nurse administrator in the oncology unit of a large hospital when she first hit her tipping point.
“I was working all the time. I had chronic fatigue syndrome,” she explains. “I used to drink thirteen cups of coffee a day!” This was common among her fellow co-workers, but after sixteen years, the stress of her lifestyle took a devastating toll. She started developing thyroid imbalances and breast lesions due to all the tension and caffeine. And the conventional pharmaceutical treatments she was being given by her doctors were just barely suppressing her symptoms. As an alternative, she started taking classes in holistic medicine, a field in which treatments are focused on the “whole person,” rather than just the illness itself. She was able to reverse every one of her issues through those classes when she realized: “I [still] wasn’t living my true potential as a woman.”
“What happens so often is that people will jump into a cause, and they’ll lose their whole identity to the cause,” she says. “I lost my whole identity to my work as a nurse administrator. It was who I was, and I was terrified to think, ‘If I left there, who am I?’”
This is the Achilles’ heel of many, many career-driven women.
It’s never a bad thing to be focused on your career or your personal causes, but it’s easy to give ourselves over to them so completely that we forget about ourselves in the pursuit of the goal – which is ultimately self-defeating, for our health and even in terms of said goal. It’s hard to succeed when you’re sick.
Avoid the Trap to Begin With
“Women have grown up to be ‘The Nurturer,’” says Pennesi. “We have it in us. It’s what we do, we nurture. And sometimes, well, there’s a thin line between nurturing and martyrdom. Many times, depending on our religion, or our peers, or the profession we go into, we might get pushed into doing-doing-doing – and then we come last. And when you have that kind of mindset, where you constantly feel like you have to be doing [stuff] for other people in order to feel worthy, and to get their acknowledgment – that, combined with an unhealthy diet is the perfect storm for cancer.”
She gives the Eastern alternative explanation for what happens. “When you’re that kind of person … cancer, on an energetic level, is always about some kind of imbalance in the liver. And the liver area, in Chinese medicine, is where we hold on to anger, frustration, and resentment.
“The breasts are the organs of nurturing, of feeding, of giving. If women develop breast cancer – these are the women who are always taking care of everyone else, and put themselves last. People with cancer in the lungs – the lungs are where we hold onto sadness, grief, and resistance to change. But fibroids, ovarian, and cervical cancer – these are about anger, frustration, and resentment because you’re living someone else’s agenda. You never get to give your own life meaning. We just adapt to other people’s expectations of us.”
Don’t rely on pharmaceutical therapies; they treat the symptoms, not the problem
For Pennesi, it took a journey of self-discovery and growing disillusionment with the Western medical industry to find the real key to restored health and longevity.
“Hospitals, and the whole corporation of medicine, are like a business,” she claims. “There’s no incentive to keep people healthy. It’s an illness-based system – [they] need to keep that business going in healthcare. [They] depend on people to eat bad food and get stressed out. The more people get cancer, the more money they make on pharmaceuticals and surgery and radiation. I have witnessed people who have reversed dozens of conditions that conventional medicine has failed miserably at reversing, in spite of the millions of dollars of research that go into studies controlled by the very pharmaceutical companies that are selling the drugs to suppress the symptoms that our bodies manifest in order to beg our attention.”
And Pennesi numbers herself among this statistic: “I had hepatitis B, I had chronic fatigue syndrome, I had cytomegalovirus, I had acne, breast lesions, ovarian cysts, I suffered from mycoplasma pneumoniae – and with perseverance, knowledge and with determination I reversed every single one of these issues.”
She started bringing this up at the leadership meetings at the hospital where she worked. “When I would speak up about the hypocrisy of what we were doing, and looking at other things we could do, [the hospital] wanted to suppress me.”
Her boss told her she was dispensable, and she retorted that they could just dispense of her, then.
“So I got myself fired,” she laughs, “and I went out and got my Master’s degree in Natural Health, and shortly after that I went on to get a four-year degree in Chinese Medicine. I became a certified AMMA therapist: it’s a specialized tendon and muscle massage [therapy] that you do with the hands, where you connect all of the acupuncture pressure points. It was kind of funky for a nurse coming from administration and oncology to go into something like this, yet I was very excited because, for the first time in my career, I saw people actually improving, actually getting well.
“The next and crucial step for me was: how can I recreate my life so I can be more to people, to help them be the best they can be? The first step was me being the best me I could be!”
Live for Yourself
“In the Healing Arts literature, there’s a specific order that we have to invest our energies in ourselves,” Pennesi explains. “Take good care of you. Once you’ve got that down, then and only then are you going to be able to draw in healthy, like-minded people for healthy romantic relationships, friendships, acquaintances, and so on. Now you have your inner and outer circle of good friendships to support you on your journey while you’re taking good care of you, [that’s when] you’re ready to go out and start doing things on a broad, community level.
“This is some pretty heavy stuff for some people to take,” she warns. “When you say ‘what do I need to do to deconstruct my life?’ – what’s going to happen is you may not get acknowledgment. We strive, not just women but people in general, we want to be acknowledged, loved, and recognized. And when we stop doing the things that get you that recognition, you have to be okay with disappointing people, with people saying ‘I don’t like you in this [new] way’.”