The plant based nurse

My family's excellent adventure to better health!


Engine 2 nationwide 28 day challenge, days 11-15, Tear it down and build it back up!

It has been a little crazy around the Hayes house the last few days. We’re still in the midst of tearing down damaged parts of our home and putting them back together better than before. Well, we’re not exactly doing it. Some qualified professionals are since anything we do ourselves usually has to be redone later!

Tear it down 4

Tear it down 5

All this craziness has made me think about how when we began our plant based journey to change our diet and improve our health, we had to do the same thing— tear down and discard all of our old ideas about what healthy eating is and build new ones along  with gathering a new arsenal of foods and recipes to begin building up our health!

I feel so happy and honored that I have been able to make so many new friends in the course of our journey and we got together with many of them this past Friday evening to enjoy plant strong pizza. We were 18 strong and we had folks of all ages, from age 2-60+. The wonderful thing about this lifestyle is that it is never too early or too late to begin learning about preventing and reversing disease through plant based eating.

My niece Amanda came with her 2 boys and her oldest often asks her why people eat junk food! Their favorite food is salad and they love bean burritos. I am so proud of her for involving them in preparing their food and getting the off to a great start.

E2 pizza7

We also have some members who are retirement age and it’s exciting to see  them come  to our gatherings with open minds to hear new ideas and  experience new foods. A plant based acquaintance on engine2extra told me a story about her father last summer. He came to plant-based eating in his late 80’s and was feeling so great after his first month, that he e-mailed all of his friends  to share his  good news. One of them replied back that it was too late for him to change and for the diet to do any good at his age. He became furious and held  fast to his  stance that he knew he was doing the right thing and that he would continue to have wonderful benefits.

That is my wish for our new Engine 2 friends, that they will experience such wonderful benefits in these 28 days  that they  will not be deterred or discouraged from this path!

Remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!

E2 pizza 3 E2 pizza 13 E2 pizza 16 E2 pizza E2 pizza2 E2 pizza4 E2 pizza8 E2 pizza12 E2 pizza14 E2 pizza15 E2 pizza17 E2 pizza19 E2 pizza20

E2 pizza9 E2 pizza11E2 pizza18

E2 pizza10

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Engine 2 nationwide challenge, day 4, “I’m going to eat a ton of these potatoes, because I can!” -The Plant Based Husband

I was really tired tonight, and didn’t want to eat out since we just ate out yesterday. I stood in the kitchen and grabbed things out of the cupboard trying to come up with some kind of concoction. I wanted to make rice and beans, but I only had chickpeas and cannellini beans. So I gave up and left my fire roasted diced tomatoes, beans, and BBQ sauce on the counter and sat down to finish some work and watch you tube videos. I happened to be watching Potato Strong’s channel and I thought, BAKED FRIES, one of the easiest and most delicious meals on the planet! I was also dying to try the BBQ sauce we bought on our field trips to Whole Foods Market on our way home from Philadelphia the other day, so I crumbled up some tempeh and poured some Bone Suckin’ Sauce on top to heat it up to have on the side.

Next I sliced some Yukon gold potatoes and a sweet potato into wedges, no peeling required, topped them with extra spicy and Southwestern Mrs Dash, garlic powder, and onion powder, and sliced a yellow and green pepper and an onion and threw them around the potatoes on the silicone baking mat. The fries baked at 450 degrees for 30 min with no turning or fussing and while they were baking, I put a couple of handfuls of prewashed chopped kale in a pan with veggie broth and lemon zest and put some fresh broccoli in a pot to steam.

Potato fries going into the oven

Potato fries going into the oven

My husband came home to the aroma of potatoes baking in the oven and was excited and said, “I’m going to eat tons of these because I can!” He proceeded to tell me how he loves it when we eat a ton of potatoes and then laugh about how much we can eat. Yes, this is a romantic moment in the Hayes house, a couple of plant based nerds having fun eating potatoes and  laughing about how much we eat!

Have fun with your food and enjoy!

Engine 2 day 4


Lemon garlic hummus with roasted yellow bell pepper and my first cooking video!

I like to make hummus on Sunday afternoon when I get home from church to have for lunch and so I have leftovers for snacks and lunches during the week. I especially love it when we have fresh tomatoes in the garden so I can make hummus sandwiches with fresh greens, tomatoes, and whole grain mustard. Hummus is filling and nutritious and you can use it for so many dishes. For example, if you like 3-2-1 dressing (3 TBS balsamic, 2 TBS mustard, 1 TBS maple syrup), but you want to change it up and give it some more texture and creaminess, just add a little hummus! It’s great on grilled Portobello mushroom, as a snack with raw veggies or in a wrap with a tortilla or a romaine or collard leaf.

Hummus is a great way to add beans to your diet, especially if you’re new to this way of eating and not so sure about eating whole beans yet. I remember before we started eating this way and I used to groan a little inside when my husband would make a dish with beans. Now I LOVE all kinds of beans. They are a great source of plant protein, will help you feel full, are rich in phytonutrients and can help you lower your blood pressure, lose weight, lower your cholesterol and may even be protective against cancer according to Michael Greer, MD from So eat your beans! Have some hummus, rice and beans, bean tortillas, bean dip, veggie and bean soup, bean salad, or whatever you like.

Today, on a whim, I decided to try to make a video about making hummus. The lighting wasn’t perfect and I had some technical difficulties, but it was fun and I hope you enjoy it!


Meet Bonnie, my plant based wonder sister!

I’m excited to share my sister Bonnie’s story with you. She is a real success, not just because she has done a great job incorporating delicious plant based foods into her life and that of her family, but because she is a success as a loving and giving human being.

Bonnie and I were separated when I was five months old. Our mother, Ruth who was very ill when I was born, died of cancer and our father couldn’t work and take care of four children and an infant.

Ruth Hastie

Ruth Hastie, 1923-1962

My father’s brother, Gilbert and his wife, Mary came to Michigan to bring me back to Pennsylvania to care for me. Over a year later, the family returned to Pennsylvania with the plan to reunite. I have been told that my Aunt who had been raising me as her own could not bear to give me up and my father let me stay with the understanding that I would not be adopted. I would also be told about my family and would visit my brothers and sisters. As we grew up, we visited occasionally, but Bonnie and I never had the opportunity to really know each other as sisters.

While in nursing school in 1984, I was caring for two patients with melanoma and studying about this deadly form of skin cancer. I thought I was being a hypochondriac when I noticed a mole on my upper back that looked darker than I remembered. I went to speak to my nursing instructor to calm my fears. Instead, she told me to march right over to the dermatology clinic after she showed me her scar from a melanoma excision. After I received word that my mole was melanoma, I called my birth mother’s oldest sister Jeanette to see what kind of cancer my mother had. She told me my mother had melanoma and that she had also had one. Soon after, I went to visit my sister Bonnie and her husband Craig and asked her if she had any moles that had changed. She lifted her shirt and showed me a large mole on her chest and I remember being very upset as it looked like one I had seen in a textbook. It was shaped like a butterfly, had irregular edges, and was not uniform in color. She told me she had been watching it and thought it was fine. I urged her to please get it checked and left hoping she would. I also found out she had our mother’s death certificate which showed that the melanoma on her leg had spread to her brain and liver.

Months later, Bonnie finally went to have her mole checked and unfortunately, it was also a melanoma. We were both fortunate that we caught these lesions before they spread to our lymph nodes or organs and since that time, we have each had a total of 6 melanomas. We also discovered that there have been 14 other family members with melanoma. We learned that in about 10% of melanomas, there is a genetic component and that in our case, we had a dominant gene which means our children have a 50/50 chance of having melanoma.

Bonnie and I kept in touch while I was away at nursing school and then when I married and moved away for 4 years, but when I moved back home when my son was 18 months old, we finally were able to get to know one another better and be sisters. Bonnie helped watch my kids when my husband and I had to work on weekends and her youngest daughter and my daughter spent a lot of time growing up together and loving one another like sisters and fighting like sisters too. We worked with the youth of our church and church conference together and went on church youth retreats together. Bonnie is a woman of tireless energy, from making her own wedding gown to working her way through junior college, then earning her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree while raising a family and working full time. She continues to work long hours at a major financial corporation managing things I don’t understand and compassionately managing many employees.

Bonnie and Craig

Bonnie and Craig

Bonnie has always been health conscious and I don’t ever remember her ever being overweight. She has been cooking without oil for quite some time to reduce fat in her family’s diet and she used to go to aerobics after work to stay active. We had a terrible scare a few years ago when she had to have a hysterectomy for a very large benign ovarian growth. I will never forget the phone call from my brother in law that she had to be taken back to the operating room after surgery for hemorrhaging. After a second surgery and 4 units of blood, she was very weak and took quite some time to gain her strength back from this “routine” surgery. She scared us again a couple of years ago when she developed neurologic symptoms and had to be hospitalized. She has been diagnosed with autoimmune illness, most likely lupus and possibly Lyme disease also as she has had multiple tick bites. It has been very hard to see the healthiest one in the family have all of these problems.

After I watched Forks over Knives and told Bonnie about my newfound excitement about plant based eating, I think she thought I had lost my mind. Her daughters Danielle and Erica were already vegetarian and she was not convinced this was a healthy way to eat. She had always been thin, but had gained some weight that we were attributing to the medication she was on for lupus. When she saw our family losing weight, she decided to try it out and her oldest daughter Amanda joined her in trying some recipes. I remember being surprised when she texted me to say she was going to the store to buy “rabbit food” and wanted to know what to do with this kale stuff.

Before I knew it, Bonnie was making up her own recipes, especially delicious veggie soups like creamy potato soup and hearty veggie stew. The weight quickly melted off and her pants were soon falling down! Her daughter Amanda also lost the last of her baby weight from her second pregnancy and her sons love all sorts of veggies and tell us their favorite meal is salad! She gives them wonderfully healthy meals and snacks and she proves that kids will eat what you teach them to eat and if you keep offering them healthy food, they will learn to love it. Bonnie is the best grandma ever and the boys call her “Bon Bon” since she looks and acts way too young to be called Grandma. She has a heart of gold and will help anyone in need if she can. She visits the patients at our local state hospital for those with mental illness with a group at our church, has taken in family members and friends to stay in her home when there was a need and helps with no judgment or expectation of anything in return. She is also a star volunteer at our yearly mission trip to Appalachia to repair homes to make them warmer, drier, and safer. She can work a drill and a hammer as well as she can run a sewing machine.

Bonnie and I in Appalachia doing home repairs

Bonnie and I in Appalachia

Plant based eating has not eliminated all of my sister’s health challenges, but we both feel that since we have outlived our mother and are still here in our 50s, maybe we need to do whatever we can to be as healthy and independent as we can for as long as we can. We also have hope because of the work of people like Dean Ornish MD and T. Colin Campbell that our genes are not our destiny. We once felt resigned to the fact that we would die an early death from the cancer that took our mother and now we have hope that we may be fortunate enough to live a normal lifespan and enjoy watching our children grow into wonderful adults and even enjoy grandchildren. I’m so glad she joined us in this journey!

Bon Bon, Amanda, Dylan and Devin

Bon Bon, Amanda, Dylan and Devin

Bonnie's family

Four generations

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Rice and Beans “recipe”

My husband’s favorite meal is fast becoming one of my favorites, too! It comes out different every time we make it and it’s always delicious. Just make some rice, saute some peppers, onions, garlic, oregano and red pepper in veggie broth, add some beans, some tomatoes, fresh or canned, some jalapeno if you like, some Southwest seasoning or whatever spices and/or hot sauce you like and you have a cheap easy meal! I just mix the beans with the rice, but my husband adds the raw rice to the veggies in the pan to toast it, pilaf style, then adds the liquid, cooks the rice and then adds the beans near the end. You can’t mess this up! Serve with a salad or some greens and top with avocado or guacamole or salsa if you have some.We make a big batch so we have leftovers. Enjoy!

rice and beans guacamole

beans and rice with guacamole

Beans and rice

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Day 26, Fall 2014 Engine 2 28 day challenge, Dancing…pure joy!

I decided to put off finishing my paperwork tonight until I met my husband after work to wish the son of one of his coworkers a happy birthday. We met at Ale Mary’s and I had a glass of wine and chatted with some nice folks and then Tyler, the man of the hour, broke into dance. I couldn’t help myself, so I joined him and we let loose and had a great time. I love to dance because you forget yourself if you can really let go and just enjoy the sheer joy of moving to the music and interacting with your partner. It was only one dance, but it made my evening and put a bright note on an otherwise frustrating and crazy week.

Breakfast- oats with blueberries and raisins over a bed of organic arugula with racy mango balsamic vinegar, topped with grape nuts and almond milk.

snack- banana and a couple of Engine 2 original crispbreads

Lunch- Leftover salad, chili and red potatoes, onions and red peppers

Supper- Tom yum soup, and Veggies with ginger sauce and rice at Thai Rak Thai. You know you’re eating out too much when they know your special requests by heart. One of the waiters I had a conversation with about how we eat on a prior visit also stopped by to say hi and said “You’re the vegetarians, right?” We think it’s fun to be different, how about you?

Spread some joy, dance!!!!

Day 26 breakfast Day 26 lunch Day 26 supper

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Your genes are not your destiny, a message of hope!

Today one of my assignments for the course I’m taking from ECornell in plant based nutrition was to write a letter to a friend who is “worried because his/her mother and aunt both had cancer and s/he worries that s/he is destined for a cancer diagnosis too! S/he is considering scheduling an early detection precancerous screening next month. Your assignment is to share some encouraging information with her.” I wanted to share my letter with you and “Steve” is a fictional friend.

However, prior to writing this letter, I ran into a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer just recently. I was saddened to hear the news and thought of him as I wrote the letter. I did try to broach the topic of nutrition gently with him as I have read about research by Dean Ornish that was encouraging, but he changed the topic so I did not push. Just a short couple of years ago, I would not have been receptive to this information either, so I try to respect where people are in their journey to health. It is hard for me, as I can hardly restrain myself from sharing, but this information is not mainstream yet and people often think we speak of quackery. I am eternally grateful I have found the plant based lifestyle and only wish I had learned about the amazing health benefits sooner.

Here is my letter:

Dear Steve,

I can relate to your worry and fear about cancer and am sorry to hear of your mother and aunt’s illness.I had always assumed I would die an early death from cancer. After all, my mother died when I was in infant at age 38 of metastatic melanoma and it is a dominant trait in my family’s genetic makeup on my mother’s side, which means my children have a 50/50 chance of having melanoma. I had even considered not having any children because I did not want to pass this legacy on to them. Both of my sisters have had multiple melanomas and two of my cousins have died from the illness. Between my mother and father’s side of the family, there are 14 of us that we know of that have been affected. When I survived to the ripe old age of 50, I decided maybe it was time to rethink my health. I had survived 6 localized melanoma lesions and I was still on this earth. Maybe I really was going to live to retire and see my kids have kids of their own.  This may be part of why my mind and heart were open to changing my lifestyle to improve my health when I watched the documentary, “Forks over Knives” in November of 2012. I heard the message of hope ring through the entire film that our genes are not our destiny and that by simply eating a more nutritious diet, I might be able to change my fate.  I no longer feel doomed and that is what I would like to share with you.

Along with chemical, viruses, and excessive radiation from sunlight or radioactive substances that can initiate cancer, family history can also play a role. According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, “Family history implies the presence at birth of cells already initiated: that is, the genes have been mutated, implicating genetics as a cause of cancer” (Diet and Cancer I: Chemical Causes of Cancer, T. Colin Campbell, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition Course Two: Diseases of Affluence).  Dr. Campbell and others have shown through their research that nutritional imbalances are the most significant cause of cancer, consuming nutrients above or below their optimum levels which promotes cancer growth. If one returns to eating these nutrients at optimum levels, the phase of cancer development called promotion where the mutated DNA that has been altered by a carcinogen causes cells to grow in clusters and eventually form tumors, can actually be halted and perhaps even reversed. According to Dr. Campbell, cancer may even be controlled by nutrition in the progression stage where the early clusters of precancerous cells grow into small and then larger tumors and are eventually diagnosed as cancer and may spread to invade tissues elsewhere in the body, better known as metastasis. Even though supporting evidence for controlling cancer through nutrition during the progression stage is less well developed according to Dr Campbell, it is none the less a cause for hope.

The other good news to me is that in order to help prevent my less than perfect genes from flipping the switch and causing promotion of tumors in my skin that can metastasize to my vital organs, I can make some simple changes in my diet. I don’t have to buy expensive supplements or medications. In fact, Dr. Campbell notes that “nutritional control of cancer should be considered within the context of food, not (within the context of ) supplements of individual nutrients” (Diet and Cancer I: Chemical Causes of Cancer, T. Colin Campbell, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition Course Two: Diseases of Affluence).  Dr. Campbell did some very provocative research with mice that showed the effect of protein intake on tumor development that supports his idea that consuming nutrients at optimum levels can halt cancer growth. One of his studies fed four different levels of protein to mice and they followed the development of liver tumors in mice that were exposed to the Hepatitis B gene. Tumors emerged and developed in animals that ate a diet in which 20% of their calories came from protein, there was less tumor activity in the animals that were fed 12% protein, and the animals that were fed diets with 6% protein had no tumor growth. Dr.Campbell notes that the amount of protein required by humans is about the same amount as rodents, or about 10% of our diet and that most humans consume diets well in excess of the amount we need. Dr. Campbell’s research went further to show that even in groups of rodents given high doses of carcinogens, but then fed a low protein, or “optimum” diet, they grew fewer foci  or clusters of pre cancerous cells and tumors. In contrast, the animals that were given a low dose of carcinogen, but then fed a diet high in protein grew more foci and tumors.  It is exciting to me that despite the dose of carcinogen, the important factor in the tumor development was diet.  In addition to these findings, Dr. Campbell’s research also showed that animal based nutrients when fed in excess, tended to stimulate cancer and plant based nutrients tended to decrease tumor development (Diet and Cancer II: Initiation versus Promotion, T. Colin Campbell, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition Course Two: Diseases of Affluence).

I hope that this information encourages you to educate yourself about how diet can influence your risk of developing cancer and gives you hope that your genes are not your destiny. I hope that you learn that you can make a difference in your own health by choosing what you put on the end of your fork. Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods provided by a whole foods plant based diet provides me with about 8-10% of healthy plant based protein, and gives me confidence that I am doing the best job that I can in keeping the switch turned off for cancer.

Please take care,


My sister Bonnie and I, plantstrong partners and melanoma survivors

My sister Bonnie and I, plantstrong partners and melanoma survivors





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Putting a bandaid on a gaping wound, nursing in America!

Nursing school graduation, 1985

Nursing school graduation                  1985

When I graduated from nursing school in 1985, I had big dreams. My birth mother had died when I was only a few months old from melanoma and my mother who raised me as her own suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis. Looking back she also had undiagnosed and untreated depression for many years. I hoped to really help people manage and overcome these awful illnesses and offer comfort where I could. I worked in the hospital setting for many years where most of our patients were in and out of the hospital for exacerbations of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, emphyesema,and congestive heart failure and I witnessed much suffering from strokes and cancers. Looking back, we did our best to patch people up, treat their symptoms with medications and treatments and send them home to do their best to care for themselves and manage their illness. There were people we got to know well as they were frequent visitors to our facility, coming in and out of the revolving door with acute flare ups of chronic illness. These patients were often labeled as non compliant as they would often stop medications that were prescribed to control their symptoms but had side effects that were difficult to bear or were too expensive.

When I transferred to home healthcare in 2003, I again hoped to make a difference as I could focus on patient teaching with one patient at a time. I now was able to get a better picture of why people had difficulty managing their illnesses. Some had little family support, some had limited education, and some were even illiterate and couldn’t read the instructions on their medications. Again, the cost of so many medications was an issue for some. For some, we could find strategies to overcome these obstacles, but for others, they continued to have frequent stays in the hospital, continuing to decline.

This is not to say that we don’t see success stories. We do care for people with acute and chronic illness who are able to learn to manage their medical problems, heal, and return to normal activity. I am constantly amazed by the resilience of our patients and families and am thrilled to hear their life stories. It helps us to remember that people are more than their disease state and had active and vibrant lives before they became sick.

Since my familiy and I learned about plant based eating and how it can help to prevent, improve, and even reverse many chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, it is hard for me to know this information and not share it with everyone I meet. The research is astounding and yet the mainstream medical community does not offer plant based nutrition as an option for patients. The work of physicians and researchers like Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr, and others is not known by the general public and if I can help to educate people in any way, that is my passion right now.

Even though the statistics around chronic illness and obesity in America are disheartening, I chose not to lose hope. I will talk to anyone who is interested in learning about how to empower themselves and improve their health through better nutrition and have found plant based community in our small town in Northeast PA and our small group is growing and is enthusiastic about the health benefits they have experienced.

I hope that in the future instead of blaming patients for failing traditional medical treatments, we will routinely be offering them the option of eating their way to a healthy mind and body without the worry of side effects, enormous cost and the complexity of managing multiple medications and instructions. I often feel that we are putting bandaids on gaping wounds as we try to treat the overwhelming rates of chronic illness in this country, but then I remember hearing Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Campbell speak and become reinvigorated by their messages of hope which are contagious. They believe in the power of people to heal if we have faith that they can help themselves and we give them the tools they need.

If you have ever thought about plant based eating, but are not sure if it’s for you, try it for 3 or 4 weeks and see how you feel! There are so many tools available, including great books, free resources online, and wonderful recipes. Enlist a plant based buddy to join you, or find a group of like minded folks online to help you in your journey. More about building plant based community in a future post!