Fierce Lady Interview: Karen Nicole Smith, Blogger & Patient Advocate

My friend Karen Nicole Smith is a blogger and patient advocate who hails from Canada. Despite going through long-term heart and kidney issues, she remains a well of peace. After years of corresponding, we set aside time to sit down and talk about life, illness, horses, race, and just about everything else under the sun.

Below is the result:


Drew: So, welcome again, it’s Drew with FierceGentleman.com, and I have the pleasure and the honor today of speaking with Karen Nicole Smith. Hello, Karen.

Karen: Hello.

Drew: Karen is a patient advocate who hails from Canada, our cousin from the North, and she has an incredible story of dealing with the medical system and dealing with her health issues. I’ll let her tell more of her story, but I wanted to have her on today because of her greatness of spirit, and I think the story that she has share is important….and I know it will resonate with a lot of people out there. So Karen, welcome.

Karen: Thank you for having me, and thank you for such a gracious introduction.

Drew: You’re so welcome. So I would love just have you explain a little bit about your background, and what brought you to where you are today?

Karen: I started to deal with health issues in my teens. And since then I’ve been living with kidney failure which, I’ve done kind of the cycle of kidney failure which has been to be diagnosed, to lose kidney function, to do dialysis and then in my case, to receive a kidney transplant. And then I’ve lost to kidney transplant after 18 years. And now, I’m doing dialysis again so it’s kind of this cycle.

And then because of the chronic kidney disease, I’ve been living also with heart failure. They kind of go hand in hand. And then just recently, within the last few months, I’ve also been dealing with a rare cancer, a sarcoma similar to what our Toronto mayor, famous Toronto mayor Rob Ford died of a few weeks ago.

So, lots going on healthwise. And for some reason, my health seems to be the foundation of my life lessons and where I learned from to evolve as, you know, from a young person to an adult to being the person that I’m striving to be, and who I am today. So definitely for me, my health is a huge part of my life journey and the lessons in that.

Drew: And tell us a little bit more about what it means to be a patient advocate.

Karen: Well, in my case, it’s having lived with so many challenges and having experienced so much within the medical system that now that we’re living in a patient-centered or towards a patient-centered medical model which is where the patient actually has input. It’s not just what the doctors and what the clinicians and what the executives are deciding. They’re actually asking patients how they would like their care to go. And I think of it as all these years having weddings but not asking the bride what she wants and now finally saying to the bride you know, “What will make your experience best?” And that it’s just intuitive, like how can we have had medicine without asking patients for their input so long?

So now, it’s wonderful because I have the opportunity to speak at conferences, be a part of committees, be a part of– just so many ways that I get to contribute to medicine and share my perspective. And I’m very lucky because although I’m doing dialysis and I have kidney disease and all these different medical issues, I feel really well. And there are a lot of people that don’t. So I can sit in on these meetings and contribute.

Also contributing from all the patients I’ve been over time because I have not always felt well. And I’ve done many different modalities of dialysis or you know, so many experiences that I can draw from to contribute when the medical teams are sitting around and deciding what or considering, I should say, how a particular treatment should go or how a policy or practice should be managed. I can contribute from all these lived experience.

That should– before I consider myself a lived experience expert. So the doctors can imagine what certain aspects of medicine feel like from the patient perspective. But as patients, we can say, “Well, this is actually how it felt and this was our priorities at that time.” You know so many times we flush out perspectives that the doctors can’t even imagine and that just informs how medicine should move forward just putting patient first which is, you know, I guess that that would be the most important thing in medicine, wouldn’t it be? The patients.

Drew: It seems so intuitive, what you said.

Karen: Right.

Drew: But we have this system that has been counter to that for, you know, 100 years, or even more.

Karen: Right. Right.

Drew: I mean my dad is a doctor and I– he’s a very good doctor, and of the thing I observed him do over and over again was just sit and mostly listen to the patient.

Karen: Well, that is wonderful on his part because many, many doctors — and I’m sure he’s from a generation that’s a little bit older, right?

Drew: Yeah.

Karen: But many doctors of his generation would have said, “I think I know what’s best.” You know, this very paternalistic approach to medicine. And so for him to intuitively want to listen and– because even in a new– part of medicine considered narrative medicine and that’s where you let the patients tell their story. And then the health stuff, the actual physical tests and stuff are secondary to the story, which is, it’s just brilliant. It changes medicine in that the way time has allotted has to be different. You can’t just whip people through 15-minute time slot so all of a sudden. You have to sit and really listen and you know, make use of that information. And it’s just amazing. It’s different. And it’s such an exciting time in medicine.

It’s definitely a world movement of patient-centered care. I think perhaps, maybe London with the NHS might be where things started or it seems to have started. There are lots going on in the States. My hospital in Kingston is attached to– has a sister hospital in Georgia that is leading patient-centered care in the United States as far as I understand. So there’s lots going on internationally and it’s good– things are happening slowly but surely.

And then you know you do have the old guard who of medicine whether that be doctors or executives that like still, you know, like thinking that that you know the patient’s stories and everything are anecdotal and not, don’t contribute much. But there are many, many physicians and clinicians and people in health care that are getting you know, really prioritizing patient-centered care, which is awesome.

Drew: I wanted to ask along that line and because I know it’s– I’m sure it has been a struggle at times, how have you found or bring out your own self-advocacy or backbone? 

Karen: Once you have some of the catastrophic events that I’ve had it puts things in perspective. Like my BS meter is really on high. It’s not– I don’t tolerate much and it gives you kind of a– you just weed through crap quickly. And you’re also aware that time is very, very precious. Even now dealing with this sarcoma, you know when I spoke to the oncologist the last time, my cancer doctors. The sarcoma is so rare that I could have the cancer re-occur tomorrow or it could never re-occur. And they can’t give me any prognosis on those. I have no numbers to go off of. So you can imagine how precious today is.

So, I’m going to fight for what I believe in that what’s important to me because I’m not going to take for granted that you know, I can’t have things take years to accomplish. Some of the things that I fought for, for my health, you know I’m thinking like I want stuff to happen now because I don’t take time for granted.

Plus in my case, as I mentioned, I feel really well and there is a sense of, a sense of looking out for the other patients who don’t. You know, you’re going to conferences, you’re going to meetings. People who do traditional dialysis are at the hospital three times a week for four hours each time. And then they’re also going to doctor’s appointments across many areas of possibly being sick. And so, the last thing they want to do is to find parking at the hospital and go to a meeting. And that doesn’t seem to bother me very much. So, that adds another layer to it is advocating for the people who can’t advocate for themselves. 

Drew: Yeah. It’s really important. And you know it really brings to focus the concept of time and making good use of time.

Karen: Yes, yes. Professionally, personally, I mean that my time, my sense, my concept of time it affects my love life, it affects everything. And I think just have a different, a slightly different orientation to time and you know jumping in there. That’s a little bit different than other people who maybe don’t sense that their life could end at any moment. That sounds so morbid and dramatic but I don’t take for granted that I have years and years and years ahead of me. I would like to live to my 90’s. I think 90’s are good enough for me. I could do it. But I’m also at peace with going to the doctor tomorrow and finding out I have three months to live.

Drew: And, you know, even though I mean what you said is really powerful, but I also sense that you have enormous patience.

Karen: Well, I’ve had to. I’ve been waiting for a kidney transplant since 2009. I had one– I had a cancer before that took me off the transplant list for two years. And then I’m off the transplant list again because of this sarcoma. So I can look forward to I guess 2018, I guess I could look for to being back on the kidney transplant list if I’m cancer free between now and then.

So, you have to be– I hadn’t thought of it, but I have to be this very interesting balance of being time-focused and like getting things accomplished quickly but also being really patient in the same breath. It’s interesting and it’s not something that I’ve made peace with overnight. You know you don’t just wake up Zen about stuff this weird.

You have to kind of grow into it, I think between my experiences and some of the really– some of the things that I seek specifically for peace and happiness and joy like my meditation, my horseback riding, my walks, my– you know, different things that I consciously add into my life so that I can have this much peace as someone can have under these circumstances. I think it’s a combination of those things that have me kind of Zen about that weird balance that I kind of have to have.

Drew: Yeah, and I wanted to dig into that. I’m so glad you brought up some of those things that you do because I did want t ask you. I know you did a great video recently about riding. And I just wanted to ask you to talk about the little bit because I think– and in most in particular, a really important for healing and for humans to be connected to ourselves. So I wonder if you could speak to that a bit.

Karen: Oh, well thank you for your compliment on that video. It was really fun to make actually. I didn’t realize how fun it would be to talk about my horseback riding lessons. But a few years ago, one of my best friends, she has a horse and she’d always talk about her horse and going out and riding and stuff like that. And one day, I just said, “You know what? I’m going to come with you.” And I just wanted to experience what it was like.

And she took me into an indoor arena and I stood in the middle and she– first, she put her horse so it was on a lead and then she rode the horse around me kind of in this long, oblong circle, just riding the horse and showing me you know, giving me an experience. And it was just this thundering, powerful, beautiful, dizzying spectacle. It was amazing. And then there are the sounds of it. And then we’d already have the 40-minute drive out to the country where you know, windows down, getting all this great air, and I was just hooked as soon as I experienced all that.

Before we even left, I had made an appointment with her trainer for my first lesson. And bought all this tack like within the first month. I already had a saddle and, you know, my helmet, and all this riding stuff and started my journey on riding lessons.

So, it’s really therapeutic for me. And it touches on so many things at one time. And I just feel so blessed to have the opportunity to experience it, to spend time with the animal. And what I loved so much about this particular trainer is that as much as you learn about being a good rider, you also learn tons about the horse and, you know, body language. And it’s just — I don’t know  — it’s so transformative for me. It’s almost like yoga in conjunction with this, you know, thousand pound, or I don’t know how much horses weigh, animal.

And basically, the animal kind of represents the universe telling you whether or not you’re doing your yoga positions properly. Working with these horses, you don’t use reins, you use your seat and you use your legs to tell the horse what you want to do — almost like a dressage thing. And it is amazing, you get out there and you just see if it’s going to work and it works and it starts to be intuitive in your body.

And then there are days you go and you know you’re a little off kilter and you see it in how the horse responds to you. And just this amazing communication and amazing give and take. It’s just very positive for me. And yeah, it’s just good. I can’t really [Laughter] I can’t really be subtle about it. It’s just really a fun thing.

Drew: Absolutely. And I’ve had a similar experience even though I’ve done only a bit of riding when I was younger and again, more recently — and it’s a powerful experience and so transformative to be the linked to another being like that an animal.

Karen: Yes.

Drew: And it’s such an empathic, I think in our– what I noticed especially for men is we’re so disconnected with all the technology and the screens and the thinking up in the forebrain. But then when you get on a horse, you have to be in tune and you have to really almost telepathically connect with this being.

Karen: Exactly. It’s so much about presence. If you are– you just can’t– well, it’s dangerous actually to not be present when you’re on a horse.

Drew: Yeah.

Karen: You know because in some ways they are leading, in some way you’re leading.

Drew: Right.

Karen: And for instance, if something spooks the horse, it’s I’ve learned it’s my responsibility to reassure the horse about whatever it is that scared them.

Drew: Uh-huh.

Karen: But then at the same time, they’re leading in the sense that this animal really doesn’t have to do what I want it to do unless we communicate well.

Drew: Yeah.

Karen: And it’s just so, it’s so cool that give and take and that dynamic. And yes, it’s so– you have to be so present. If you’re not, you can really get hurt. A horse bucks you off or it knows you’re not really being present and it decides it doesn’t want to hang out with you that day. You’re going to get hurt when it you know throws you off or rubs against a tree and scrapes you off of its back. It’s really a time you cannot have yourself fooling around or anything in your mind except for being in that present moment. And in that sense, it’s very, it is– it’s like a, to me it’s like a meditative thing, a yoga thing, so many things as far as just that present moment experience.

Drew: Yeah. I think it’s critical and the stakes are real.

Karen: Yes. Oh yeah. 

Drew: …I think it’s a fantastic practice and I really– I’m really encouraged you know people to get into it. There’s a reason that that is actually one of the– it’s a form of therapy for people that have PTSD or have gone through other forms of trauma.

Karen: Definitely.

Drew: Or are looking for healing. I think that’s the reason.

Karen: Well, that was definitely one of the reasons that I pursued it because I knew that there would be a therapeutic benefit as well. And it has made a huge difference for me. I think people think that it’s very expensive or that it’s elitist or this and that. And I’ll tell you the woman that I ride with, she has all these beautiful horses and these farm and you know, I’m sure on paper, she’s worth millions of dollars and she’s the most laid-back, easy going, loving person.

I bought all my tack second hand, a few things I bought brand new, but I still have gorgeous, a gorgeous saddle, everything is really nice. And I managed to make it reasonable, because with my health I am a little bit underemployed so I hope people understand that you don’t– it’s not this snobby thing. It’s really very– it’s very, you know, easy and it’s shouldn’t be something that people think it is elitist or you know just for certain types of people. It’s very approachable, really fun.

Drew: Yeah, I agree. I agree. I want to talk a little bit of philosophy. What does it mean for you, what is the– what does it mean to be a Fierce Lady?

Karen: Well, I have to start off with– by congratulating you and letting you know how I found you which was I– actually, I think I found you on Facebook or Instagram or something and it was the 10 Signs of a Fierce Gentleman. And I read that and I immediately printed it out. And to me, I was just captivated because I think a lot of us have ideas about who we are, or who we want to be, but I had never seen something articulated in a way that was like a manifest or a wish list or a what I aspire to list so articulately and interestingly and approachably, I was really so impressed and that’s why I reached out to you.

And so, for me, my philosophy as far as being a Fierce Woman I have to give you that. Definitely, I have to give you that graciously because it was the first time I saw something that was organized together and I could kind of think about things and piece things together and think about traits that I wanted in myself.

But then also think about how I would like to be a complement to this Fierce Gentleman. You know, I think of– right now in my mind when I think of like the ultimate fierce couple I think about Obama and Michelle and how a President is made. Definitely through his actions but through the support also of a really good woman, I think. [Laughter]

Drew: I agree.

Karen: Not everybody might agree with me but…

Drew: That’s OK.

Karen: Yeah. So, I also looked at that list and thought how can I support this type of man in who I am, and in what I can bring to a relationship? You know, because I was also at a point in my life where I was deciding that the types of relationships I was having, I was done with that, I was ready for a Fierce Relationship if I can use your term there.

Drew: Absolutely.

Karen: Yeah.

Drew: So, what is that– that’s a really interesting idea and I think that one will resonate with a lot of listeners and readers is how do I complement? And that’s also, you know, I think of that as well — how do I complement a woman? How do I be there for her? How do I serve her? How do I support her? And so, what do you think? What was the conclusion you came to?

Karen: For myself?

Drew: Yeah.

Karen: Well, for me, it was reading through that list, giving myself a little self-reflection at that time and saying, you know, “Am I online with this? Am I enough of a Fierce Woman to really attract a Fierce Gentleman in my life?” So it was really self-reflection first because I believe that our relationships are mirrors of who we are ourselves, right? So if I’m not attracting fierce gentleman means you might have a little work to do on yourself, Karen, you know.

Drew: Yeah.

Karen: So, that was an amazing place for me to start and I just kind of delved into who I was and what, the work that I wanted to do on myself knowing that as I evolved the people around me would reflect that. And I was really thrilled about that. So it almost was– it’s almost like thinking, I have work to do on myself. Let’s concentrate on that first. And then I thought as I get to the place that I want to be, my Fierce Gentleman will appear or the Fierce People in my life will appear in general.

And then I can work to be a complement just through being myself and through what we learned in our friendships or in our relationships. Because I think that’s hard to predict. You know what I mean? It’s a little– it’s different you know whether you’re dating a doctor, whether you’re dating a researcher, whether you’re dating an actor, whether you’re dating a musician, whatever, it’s different ways that you have to complement. It’s definitely going to be similar, you know if this person is Fierce in– it’s almost like a tier, or a level of being.

So it wasn’t like specific things I was thinking about complementing. It was more like about this journey and this new type of person that I was going to become and that the new type of people that I would attract in my life. And that to me was so exciting and worth the work on myself. And the work that I’ve done on myself since having found your philosophy, I mean it’s leaps and bounds.

And I’ve been rewarded so well too just amazing experiences, amazing opportunities, meeting amazing people. You know, getting myself right and then watching how the universe rewards me for being a person of integrity, for you know putting myself together cute, even though that sounds you know superficial, just all the things that I worked on in myself.

Drew: The other is just a reflection of self.

Karen: Right.

Drew: Or reflection of the inner self…

Karen: Right.

Drew: One of the best ways we can change the world, I mean I’m very, you know, I get excited about I want to change the world. I want to make things better. And I realized over the years that the best thing I can do for the world is actually to work on myself.

Karen: Right.

Drew: Not in a super narcissistic navel-gazing way.

Karen: No, no, no, no, no.

Drew: Just in a way trying to become, like you said, more in integrity, more honest, more on my purpose.

Karen: Right.

Drew: More of service to others, less selfish.

Karen: More brave.

Drew: More brave.

Karen: And it’s awesome stuff. It’s stuff that makes you open your eyes in the morning and think, “Wow! This is going to be a great day. What am I going to experience today? What can I impact today? What can I improve in myself and in the world today?” And I guess yeah, in your case then and what I’m thinking about too. Once you’re doing those things it can be this small tiny little things. It can be doing things and not even realizing the impact and also having peace with that too. You know, I write my blogs and I might get feedback from 5% of the people that read it.

Drew: Yeah. Absolutely.

Karen: But who knows what impact I’ve made, and I just put one foot in front of the other and continue working on these things and trying to have a contribution and leave the world better for me having been there, knowing that I may never realize and know explicitly what I’ve impacted or have done. But still having peace with that and still being excited and happy.

Drew: We don’t know what ripples that we send out in the world and how that you know could come to really change things for someone else. And we may never know but, it’s just as important to, even if we’re not getting that in your face validation. I think it’s just as important to continue doing the small actions and doing the small kindnesses that really do make things a better place.

Karen: I agree 100%.

Drew: So I want to also ask you, I know we have this wide ranging conversation here. You studied sociology and I didn’t. So I wanted to ask you about this. There’s increasingly social conversation about race and, “Are we in post-racial society.” And I’m going to ask you what’s that experience like, and what do you see from your perspective?

Karen: Oh wow, that’s a big one. That’s a big juicy one.

Drew: Easy question, right? Simple.

Karen: So simple. Yes, well, let me nail that down in five minutes. [Laughter] For me, my experience as a Caribbean person living in Canada and seeing what’s going on in the United States. First of all, we are definitely not post-racial. [Laughter]

Drew: Yeah.

Karen: It is– race affects so much. It’s so hard because I’m of two minds. Part of me wants to rise above race and you know be a good person and contribute to the world and think of the universal family and sunshine and lollipops. But race does have an impact on the life we live, the choices that we make, the access we have to resources. So many things, you know, the stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves. Being Caribbean I have such a different history, post slavery and at the present time, my family in Trinidad, you know, they have never not seen themselves represented in government and you know, lawyers, doctors, the bank, politicians from time. You now it has always been like that. So it’s a completely– it’s a different psyche, it’s a different foundation.

And I think the Black American experience, oh my gosh, I feel for Black Americans so much. I can relate even to some degree because I have lived in the United States and I have experienced. I lived in Atlanta, Georgia actually and I’ve lived in New York City so I have experienced the perspective from the Black American perspective but a little bit differently, you know, as an observer more than definitely in the experience. But still have I think some breadth of understanding of what’s happening and what’s going through people’s minds.

It’s so hard to watch what’s happening especially since many people, Black Americans included you know, they might not understand even the socio-economic, from a sociology perspective, all the factors that are contributing to, you know, the frustration and the– it’s just such a hard position. I guess it’s a hopeful time because everybody has the opportunity. You know, things are coming to the surface and people will have the opportunity to– the whole world has the opportunity to see how things really are you know for Black mothers and fathers to have to worry about their children, sons and daughters but mostly sons, you know worry about how they’re being treated, preparing their children for the world so differently than White parents get the privilege of. And I don’t say that to be polarizing or derisive but just two– you know it’s a reality that is a different. It’s almost like a different world, a different perspective that the races are living.

Drew: It is. I like to make the example that it’s like, if life is a video game and I am the white male who is six feet one inch tall and my dad was a doctor, I’m playing on easy mode.

Karen: Right, right.

Drew: You know there’s a gulf of experience between me and the young Black man maybe who was born in a ghetto of some US city or even just, even in a “middle class family” in the US city. Just being born Black in America already you’re playing kind of on a higher level of difficulty of just navigating life.

Karen: Definitely higher level of difficulty. And their system, you know you might have like a touch pad and they might have like a joystick from the ‘80s, you know what I mean?

Drew: Right. Exactly.

Karen: Like it’s a completely different game…

Drew: Yup.

Karen: …in all senses of word the difference lies, you know. And so, I’m glad that people are starting to see that and it’s coming. That is the most important part of the awareness that I think society needs to come to grips with is just the social stratification like for whether it’s financial, whether it’s– just pointing that out and having people admit and understand that it’s real is so important. Because I think that can be the most pivotal piece.

Once we start to say, “OK, this is real and people experience the world differently on the basis of race.” Then perhaps things can be addressed, changes can be made, people can make concessions. And the more I think we can convince the world that this is real, that people are having different experiences the more we can perhaps talk about, open a dialog about how we can be supportive and contribute to a more level playing field.

Drew: Yeah, absolutely then I think it had to start with that awareness and admitting because you know, I mean it’s human nature, human psychology if you have privilege, if you have power, you don’t want to admit that it’s anything less than merit-based. But it’s really not.

Karen: No.

Drew: No one was born into a different, a different position.

Karen: Exactly. And that’s the part of society that hurts my feelings a lot is that a lot of people believe that– or society will make you believe that it is merit-based. And that if you can’t get it together it’s because you’ve done something wrong.

Drew: Right.

Karen: When it’s not. It is– your opportunity to succeed is so much more than your will to get up out of bed in the morning and you know pull your bootstraps up. That is just not– that’s not the whole picture. I hope that we can make some of these shifts in how we think and how we talk to people in society about success and difference in privilege and difference in access and look at things from a more realistic and real perspective as opposed to some ideal world or some world that just benefits certain groups.

Drew: Yeah and that’s why in the manifesto at Fierce Gentleman we have, we refuse to turn against our brothers. There’s so much in our culture they encourage us to turn against one another, men against women but also you know men against other men.

Karen: Right.

Drew: And you know there’s so much divisive language. Unfortunately, the United States seemed to slipping into this very polarized political form of political discourse…

Karen: Yeah.

Drew: And it’s really unfortunate, now we’ve gone through this cycles before, you know it tends to go along with income inequality, which is another piece of the puzzle, but…

Karen: Right.

Drew: It’s unfortunate that we’re at this magical point in history, and, you know, and the United States is really slipping. And so that’s really quite the core of the philosophy one of the big things that I wanted to just mention and one of the things that I try to keep in front of my faces as long as the playing field is not level, I can’t really enjoy my privilege. While my brothers are in chains I’m not free.

Karen: Right. No.

Drew: While my sisters are being systematically oppressed in big and small ways, I cannot really– you know the taste of freedom that I have is tainted.

Karen: That is the type of loving and I mean bigger picture universal loving philosophy that’s going to take us so far in society and it’s sad to see that we seem to be going in the opposite direction. But then there’s this little pockets of good philosophy and good approaches to life and that makes me feel better.

Drew: So the question I pose to you was, how can women balance backbone and self-advocacy with being a gentle or yielding or surrendering? And this is very much the core of the fierce and gentle philosophy. It’s both of those sides of the coin.

Karen: Right. Right. When I read the question, it kind of stopped me in my tracks because there’s so many ways that gentleness and yielding and surrendering could be interpreted. And it can be interpreted in a negative way. And I know that’s not what you intend and that’s not what you’re trying to promote. But it immediately had me thinking and of course, I’m a thinking person and I enjoy that so I was really challenged to think about that question.

I know for me, the gentle and the yielding and the surrendering, I was tempered through my health and my health has been a lesson that has kept, you know, like carried over to other parts of my life. So my health has made me I think a surrendering person and a gentle, more gentle person and a more yielding person because in that lesson I knew I can’t– there’s no amount of self-will or work or energy or sweat, blood sweat and tears I can put into making myself well or on my own terms. It’s almost– it’s a yielding, a gentleness and a surrendering to universe, to my journey whatever it is that you believe in. If it is that you believe in God or in Source or whatever you want to call it. Believing that I am yielding to that and to what I am meant to experience through my life journey with my health which could be construed as negative.

So, for me, the gentleness, the yielding and the surrendering is with my health, first and foremost, to know that I believe I am a part of source, a part of universe and that I am meant to learn through these experiences. So these experiences are not good or bad, they just are. And my reaction to it is good or bad and I have through evolving seen these reactions– have my reactions be positive because it’s so much wasted energy and thinking, Why me? Or why– why do I have to go through this and other people don’t? Or you know whatever it is, whatever negative energy that I could be putting in to my health that zaps me and robs me of life and good.

And so, that relates to all my relationships. Not just with my relationship with my health. My relationship that I’ll have with a man, with friends, with my father, with whoever. And to me, there is a loving– it’s very much an act of love and that is like a universal love that you would have for anybody to being gentle, yielding and surrendering in your relationships. That doesn’t mean you know getting treated like crap or, you know, letting anything go.

It’s kind of like a higher level of understanding and a higher level of empathy to where– like for instance, a friend of mine and I are talking about Rob Ford who’s a very polarizing figure. And for some reason because of my health and the things have happened to me, I was thinking about Rob Ford as a troubled man who you know, even in his 40’s was making decisions that most people have gotten over making those types of decisions at a younger age.

And I’m thinking, what is this man going through that he’s saying, acting, making these decisions? My friend was like, “Wow! OK you just cut it down right to the humanity to think about this person what’s underlying their actions.” And so, it’s getting convoluted but… [Laughter] I’m thinking about all of us. And as loving of a way as I can, what is making somebody choose an addiction or be bound by an addiction? I should have said choose, because once we know better we do better, right? But knowing better might– can never come for some people and doing better you know is going to follow. It’s really to me about a level of love, a level of compassion, a level of empathy.

Drew: And it sounds like you’re saying self-love as well.

Karen: Yes, and that is– that’s come from the work that we’re doing on ourselves right?

Drew: Uh-huh…absolutely.

Karen: And loving ourselves first and then having the capacity to love others.

Drew: I think it’s an act of love to have a backbone and to have boundaries and to set boundaries and to know when to say no to things that are bad for you.

Karen: Right.

Drew: Or relationships that are bad for you.

Karen: Oh yes, definitely. It’s so weird how we have to go in first, before we can be of any help or to be loving or to be empathetic to anybody else. It’s the analogy on the plane taken to heart so much you know, you put your mask on first and then you can help other people. Your cup has to be running over before you can be of help to anybody else.

I think my health has helped my cup to run over. My health has made me put my mask on first. And now, I’m just finding this amazing capacity to be gentle and to yielding and to be surrendering to people in my life, strangers and friends and family. And it’s just– it has been such a gift to me and life has become so much easier and so much you know despite even the difficult things that I see and experience just day to day you know life has become easier because it just kind of puts everything in perspective.

So being alarmed at the start thinking about being gentle, yielding and surrendering all of a sudden just came to mean to me and for me to understand that that is just the most beautiful way to live. And it’s beyond — it’s bigger than the relationships between men and women. It’s just our relationship with each other, our relationships with animals, our relationships with nature, our relationships with ourselves.

Drew: Yeah. Our relationship to the world.

Karen: Yes, yeah.

Drew: And our experience of it. I think that’s, I think it’s really profound that– I mean I’ve gone through life in a lot of cases trying to force things to happen, make things happen.

Karen: Yeah.

Drew: And that is I think cultural in men, in particular, are encouraged to use this very straight line energy of make it happen.

Karen: Right.

Drew: And that is it is effective, but it’s also exhausting.

Karen: Right.

Drew: And I think what you’re, kind of what you’re talking about is getting to this idea of using Power vs Force. Force is like you rowing in the rowboat with oars under great strain, and Power is when you hoist the sails and let the wind do most of the work.

Karen: Right. And work cooperatively with the wind.

Drew: And that’s what I really encourage people to think about I think in their own lives is thinking about are you the cause of everything in your life through efforts, through force? Are you forcing it? Or are you aligning with power? Because they’re, I mean the power that’s available to us if we get in the right channel is we align with it…

Karen: Right.

Drew: …is so massive. It’s just– it absolutely outstrips anything that we can accomplish through our force of will.

Karen: Of course. Oh yeah, and I love also the word alignment because it seems as though in my life, once I was in alignment with you know the channel of self-love, you know, with universe with everything, all of sudden I really had to, I really could relax and let things happen and have kind of a faced faith and a peace and also see like miraculous, amazing things manifest with little to no effort. Like really me just being like, “Oh, this looks like a wonderful opportunity.” Or you know, just having things appear all of a sudden…Instead of me busting my butt trying to you know make this happen.

Drew: Yeah.

Karen: You know, all of a sudden I relax and started having fun and started, you know, just being more loving to myself. And then all of a sudden everything just comes up roses without even much effort in my little garden. It’s awesome.

Drew: Yeah, it really is.

Drew: All right, wonderful. Well, so this is such a great conversation. I know there’s so much that we’ve gone over that is going to be valuable to people. I want to thank you, Karen for taking the time and to spend time with us and really appreciate you for that.

Karen: No problem. It has been such a pleasure and an experience, such a positive experience. Just as I was saying that we have no clue how we impact other people from, you know, doing the things that we just, you know, intrinsically feel that we need to do, we can’t even sometimes explain it. You know, why you wake up in the middle of the night and write some blog post and then go back to sleep and then you put it out there and then you can’t, we can’t imagine what universe is doing through us.

And your impact on my life, Drew, has been incredible. You have no clue it was just really very powerful from finding the Manifesto and the [12 Points] to, you know, even just the questions you sent for me to think about things and to you know challenge myself and to prepare for this like, it has been amazing, you know. And definitely, I have to thank you. It’s really, really positive.

Drew: Yeah. You’re welcome and I’m so glad that you reached out to me and we’re able to connect.

So, we’ll leave it there. But I just want to encourage everyone to go to KarenNicoleSmith.com and you can also find her lovely YouTube channel there as well. I encourage you to watch, she is producing really great videos. Actually, I’m quite jealous I have to say, I wish I could, I was producing videos like yours but it’s not.

Karen: Thank you. It’s a GoPro and a little imagination and learning iMovie the hard way. [Laughter] That’s all it is.

 

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Also published on Medium.

5 Comments Fierce Lady Interview: Karen Nicole Smith, Blogger & Patient Advocate

      1. Roman

        I’d also happily recommend looking into the studies of Dom D’Agostino:
        fourhourworkweek.com/2015/11/03/dominic-dagostino/

        Another article worth bookmarking for extensive research and further references in the future: fourhourworkweek.com/2014/01/28/cancer-treatment

        Cheers!

        Reply
  1. Pingback: Talking to Drew Long (founder of Fiercegentleman.com) . . . | karennicolesmith

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