THROUGH HER EYES: BONITA SHELBY

I had to really listen to Bonita when she spoke. Such a soft-spoken woman, and if I went so far as to describe her as slightly shy, I don't think I would be too far off the mark. Her voice was melodic and soothing, and she possessed a calmness about her that I wish I could bottle up and take with me everywhere I go.   

Over the next hour, Bonita Shelby, a Washington, DC native, would reveal to me how breast cancer, infidelity and the essential oils, led her on a journey of healing by harnessing the power of food as medicine.  

"Diagnosed with breast cancer 28 years ago, I wanted to become more clear and intentional of what I was putting in and on my body." --Bonita Shelby  

I was a certified public accountant and after a stressful week, mostly on Fridays, I would buy a pint of chocolate almond ice cream. It was my date! Looking back, it's interesting to see how I came to love ice cream. I remember my grandmother would always ask me to go to the store and get her three kinds. Most people have never heard that term, but that’s what she called Neapolitan ice cream, three kinds. My grandmother could eat an entire container and I certainly followed in her footsteps as that is a far too easy task for me to accomplish.  

But sometimes things are happening with our bodies and we simply ignore the subtle signs, assuming it’s something minor. It took decades for me to realize that after eating ice cream my breasts would begin to ache. It was the ingredients, the milk in the ice cream. Once I realized this, I eventually moved to goat or coconut ice cream which agreed with my body much better. Over time, I began to realize the importance of what I put in my body. 

When I got married my husband, who was somewhat health conscious, would tease me about eating pork and what pork was doing to me. As time passed, eliminating it from my diet became an easy change since I wasn't going to cook a pork dish and a non-pork dish. It just became easier and easier to cut pork out completely. I was able to substitute ham with corned beef and I began to make other substitutions along the way, until I weaned it completely out of my diet.  At that point, I did not enjoy cooking or even being in a kitchen, and if I had my way I would eat out all the time. But things began to change. As I said, my husband planted the seed in me that began to open my eyes to the need to make healthier food choices and to understand how those choices could impact my health.   

Unfortunately, my husband and I grew apart; we both had outside affairs and we eventually separated and then years later, divorced, amicably. Decades later, he would lose his battle with metastatic prostate cancer. 

Years after my divorce when I was 36 years young, I had an unexpected diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer in my left breast. This was only months after having a clear mammogram; but I had felt something, so I went to see my general practitioner again. I was referred to a surgical oncologist and he advised me to have a lumpectomy, and to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. I didn't know then what I know now about food, essential oils and their medicinal uses, so I was very obedient to what the doctors advised. I never thought I would die and I was comforted and loved that the surgical oncologist said, "Let's get you back to your life!", and that's what happened! 

It wasn't an easy happening.  I was a new Christian; but I had two dear faith filled aunts who were nurses at Howard University Hospital where I was treated. They knew the health practitioners involved in my treatments and they told me not to listen to negativity and to be careful when sharing my diagnosis. And so, I was, because I didn't want to hear people say, “Oh yes, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer or my aunt was diagnosed, and even after she went through all the procedures, she still passed away.” That is deflating, hearing those voices of negative stories. It’s not that people weren’t trying to be helpful, and I don't mean to give light to the loss of their loved ones, but those experiences were not helpful to my overall well-being. So, I shut it down to almost total isolation, especially during my treatments. I focused and built up my relationship with the Lord and I gave Him the glory for my healing. I ran to the Lord and I do believe He led me to certain things along the path of my life.  

After my weekly chemo treatments, I was so weak and sick to my stomach. Sleeping was the order of the day and I would go for days with no appetite and then, just like that, I would want to eat everything. I saw a cycle developing of going for chemo treatments, not eating for a few days, then having a voracious appetite and eating for the week before the next treatment and then everything repeating again. It was a flow and that's how it was, but I needed to use supplements to build up my strength and to get rid of the debilitating fatigue. 

My treatments lasted for about nine months and thankfully, 28 years later, I walk in divine health!  I believe that out of the ashes of my experience came many things: the idea for my business, DiVine Health Choices, the use of essential oils as a lifestyle and in cooking as well, and the daily awareness of nourishing my body with real, good food.  

Because of my victory over cancer, I wanted to become more aware of what I was putting in and on my body. I began to eat out less and I realized that by eating out less I could control what went into my body. That desire to maintain control evolved into creating a mini-cookbook filled with recipes for healthy, tasty, quick and real good food. I wanted to show people how they can eat many of their favorite foods by substituting certain ingredients. But it’s not just about the food that goes into your body, it's what's put on it, our emotions and relationship with our Creator – body, mind and spirit. 

Over the past five years, I’ve been learning how to use genuine essential oils in cooking. I wanted to use essential oils to bring out the natural flavors and because of their beneficial, natural and nutritional properties. I would love to go into restaurants to show chefs and their customers how using genuine essential oils can create remarkable flavor. I make a yummy lavender lemonade, basil salad dressing, spaghetti sauce with oregano essential oil and I use dill essential oil in many fish dishes. But it's not just these oils, all essential oils have multiple therapeutic uses and support a healthy lifestyle and wellness; but for food preparations and recipes, the focus is really on flavor by using an essential oil for seasoning.  

Food has the power to jog memories and sometimes food is the memory. It was in the early 2000s when I realized my love of cooking. I was cooking split pea soup. As I was standing over the stove, I began to remember when I worked at the Government Printing Office as a bookkeeper years ago. I would go to the cafeteria and I remember ordering split pea soup which had these tiny little carrots in it. I loved that soup! It was something about it and the comfort I felt while I was eating. For me, that memory was comfort. 

--When you look in the mirror, what do you think of the woman staring back at you?   

When I look in the mirror and see the woman staring back at me, I think she is a work in progress, always! I've done well in getting on a healthy lifestyle journey, but she still has work to do because she likes to eat and it shows. Ha!