I’m so happy to be bringing you this interview with Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, BCC, CWP, “The Minister of Health”. I was contact by Russell very soon after I started my blog when he saw me mentioned on the VeganHealth.org website back in October of 2013. Since then, I’ve been a fan of Russell and love his health-oriented tweets.
Tell us how you came to have an ostomy.
I was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2004. There was some bleeding when I had bowel movements. I didn’t think too terribly much about it initially. However, when it persisted I went to see the doc. An examination occurred and a colonoscopy performed. The cancer verdict was delivered.
I had cancer as an adolescent – bone cancer in my left arm. That arm had to be completely amputated. I was left handed.
How long have you been eating a plant-based and when did you choose to go vegan?
I started eating more plant based/vegan in 2006. Someone had referred me to the RAVE Diet (http://www.ravediet.com/). I began to read everything I could relating to plant based diets and cancer. I’d been vegetarian off and on for many years for ethical reasons. I really became plant based for health reasons. However, the more I learned about the agriculture industry the more I was convinced being vegan was/is a moral issue.
Did you have any concerns about eating this way with an ostomy or with your history of cancer?
I was a pooper before my rectal cancer and colostomy. But since the surgery I’ve noticed the better/cleaner I eat the faster food passes through me. I irrigate (flush the colon with water) every morning. It’s a real drag and some days it are more successful than others. I try to eat as best I can and just deal with the consequences of poop.
What was your biggest challenge when becoming vegan and do you have any ongoing challenges?
The biggest challenge was telling my spouse. She is probably 90% plant based today but will occasionally eat fish and consumes cheese. One day recently she ate a hamburger, probably the first in a couple of years. This is difficult for me when I think about eating animals within an ethical context. However, I sincerely believe that if everybody ate the way my wife does, the world would be a much better place.
I’ve also been consumed with an evangelical zeal to convert others to this way of eating/being. People generally don’t like zealots so I have had little success in the conversion process. Yet, when the benefits of eating plat-based are so clear to me in terms of animal well-being, health, and environment, it is difficult for me to understand why others don’t see what I see.
Have you noticed any health benefits since you became vegan?
Oh sure! I lost weight. My blood markers are all better. All the things you generally read about have been made better by eating this way. My blood pressure has begun to creep up again. High blood pressure runs in my family so I can’t help but think medication is in my future.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to go on a plant-based diet? Have their attitudes changed over the years?
For the most part my friends and family were very supportive. Perhaps there was some joking initially but that quickly waned as they saw me lose weight and begin to look better. I think after the cancer scare most my friends and family would accept anything I did if it helped my health.
What do you eat in a typical day? Do you take supplements?
My diet can be pretty boring. I like to eat fruits and nuts most mornings. I’m mostly a grains, greens, and beans guy so most days will include bowls made with these. I’m a follower of Dr. John McDougall and Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
I take vitamin D supplements in the winter. I now live in Chicago, IL (after 45+ years in Texas) so the sun can hide for some time during the lovely winters we have here. I also use a B12 supplement.
Do you find eating to be difficult when you travel? Are you easily accommodated or do you take extra steps to make sure that there are no problems with food?
I generally don’t eat as cleanly when I travel. However, I usually have little no difficulty in restaurants. The vegan way of eating has become much more familiar lately. It’s easy to piece things together from a menu to create a hearty meal.
Do you have any advice for other ostomates or cancer survivors who might be interested in transitioning to a vegan lifestyle
I think my biggest suggestion would be to transition slowly but deliberately. I believe some people, for a variety of reasons, make the transition too quickly. I’ve read where those who transition slowly but deliberately will often have long lasting success. Those who move too quickly can sometimes get frustrated and go back to eating in less healthy ways. Try to move towards real food. I try to stay away from stuff in packages although I still eat these things from time to time.
Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. You’ve likely been eating animals for a long time. Mistakes will likely be made but try not to become discouraged. If you can find a local meetup for healthy vegan eating take advantage of that. If you can find an individual to help you, take advantage of that. Isolation makes the transition more difficult.
Do you have any other advice or tips for someone living with an ostomy?
Be patient…If your appliance will be permanent know that you’ll be working with this the rest of your life. Be open to trying new products. I think we can get stuck using the same thing when there might be a better product out there. If you get to feeling down or depressed, don’t be afraid to talk with a professional about your feelings.
If you have any inclination, learn to meditate. Meditation can be a great help to most people today.
Tell us about your work.
I do health coaching for people at www.ministerofhealth.org. Take a look and sign up for my updates!
What ostomy appliance or products are you currently using?
I just use a small Hollister bag, plate, and paste. I use a Coloplast irrigation kit.
What’s your favorite food?
Hummus baby hummus! I could eat that stuff every day. Making a simple recipe with my high powered blender gives me great pleasure.
You can reach Russell “The Minister of Health” at: