Jerusalem — Janette Hillis-Jaffe, the author of “Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge, and Get Your Health Back One Day at a Time” (New page Books), has a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health, but says that most of what she really needed to know about healing, she learned when she was bedridden with a mysterious illness for six years.
“I first got sick in 2002 and spent six years suffering from an unspecified auto-immune illness. I saw more than a dozen doctors who told me, ‘You’re really sick but we don’t know what the heck is wrong with you and how to treat you.’”
Hillis-Jaffe told The Jewish Week that her brother suffered from a similar illness for many years and that her father died from pulmonary scarcoidosis, an auto-immune illness.
Always open to alternative medicine, Hillis-Jaffe, now 46, also tried homeopathy, acupuncture and other non-traditional disciplines. In retrospect, she wishes she had taken the advice of an Israeli naturopath she consulted during the first year of her illness.
“He recommended a raw food diet. My response? ‘You’re crazy,’ I had a newborn and a 2-year-old and it sounded like too much work. Too extreme and too hard and unpleasant. I thought, ‘Who could eat that way?’”
It wasn’t until six years later, when she had exhausted every other road to recovery, that Hillis-Jaffe, who by then had moved back to Massachusetts, grudgingly tried a raw plant-based diet and overhauled her lifestyle, and her condition improved dramatically.
“It took me six years to find the right path and make the change and wanted to help other people get their sooner,” she said, explaining why she decided to write the book.
Although “Everyday Healing” chronicles Hillis-Jaffe’s recovery on a raw food diet, the book isn’t an endorsement of one diet or treatment over another. Rather, it’s a step-by-step guide to making your health your top priority.
“The book is suited for anybody who wants to improve their health in any way, whether you want to lose weight, heal from a sports injury or recover from cancer. While a raw plant-based diet worked for me, I don’t recommend that for everybody. I strongly believe people have their own path to health. For some people it’s getting the right surgery and medication, for others it’s the right diet.”
Released in the summer, the book has created a buzz in the wellness community. Fran Drescher, the actress and author of “Cancer Schmancer,” a book about her diagnosis and recovery from uterine cancer, is one of the book’s fans. When Drescher held a Cancer Schmancer conference in mid-October, she asked Hillis-Jaffe to donate some copies of “Everyday Healing” so they could be sold at the summit to participants and in turn benefit Cancer Schmancer.
“Everyday Healing” urges readers to embrace five steps to wellness:
The first, Take Charge, explains how to make healing your top priority; the second, Nurture Your Heart, asks people to address the tough emotions — fear, denial or something else — that may be derailing their healing. The third, Believe, helps people adopt a “fiercely confident attitude” about themselves and their ability to heal. The fourth, Connect, explains how to establish a support system prior to and during the healing process; the fifth, Create Order, provides practical advice on how to organize your life for the good our your health.
“It can mean reorganizing your pantry so healthy ingredients are easily accessible or establishing the habit of cleaning out your kitchen sink every night so in the morning dirty dishes don’t discourage your preparing a healthy breakfast,” Hillis-Jaffe said.
The book also contains what the author calls “100 daily bite-sized entries” with practical advice and encouragement “to do what you need to do to get healthier.” Each day’s chapter includes a quote — one may be from Christopher Reeve, another from Buddha — as well a goal and anecdotes related to that goal.
“I’m not promising you’ll be healthy in 100 days but within 100 days you will have chartered your path to health.”
Hillis-Jaffe, who is a health coach, said not every illness can be cured but that patients can improve their quality of life by taking charge of their care.
“At some point people may have to accept limits on how healthy they will get but by creating connections you’ll be much better situated to handle any difficult outcome. Being more organized and having the right support is the key.”
Hillis-Jaffe said chronic illness often leads to severe social isolation and that patients tend to cocoon and not ask for help at the time it is most needed.
Logistical support, she said, might consist of others doing the shopping for you or accompanying you to doctors’ appointments, doing medical research or running errands.
“People also need emotional support. It’s so important to have an outlet for really hard emotions that come up. Having a serious health condition is very isolating,” she said.
In a few instances the book draws on Hillis-Jaffe’s life as an observant Jew. During her illness, she said, her Jewish community was her lifeline.
“Our family’s celebration of Shabbat and our community’s practice of caring for one’s neighbors made a huge difference in my ability to stay connected to people and feel less isolated. I never spent a Shabbat without seeing friends.”
In the book Hillis-Jaffe explores the “Mussar,” the Jewish path to ethical and spiritual growth and trust (bitachon in Hebrew). “It means trusting in God that all is good right now, even when it doesn’t seem that way. Full disclosure: I’m not there yet,” she said when she thinks about friends dealing with cancer.
Hillis-Jaffe is disarmingly honest and that is the book’s strength.
“Some people have been able to make big changes in their lives and achieve miraculous healing, and some people have a harder time making those changes,” she told The Jewish Week. “I’m the latter.”