1. Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD, RN, FAAN

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My 96-year-old father, who has lived in my home for the past 10 years, was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. A small tumor that had invaded the bladder wall was surgically removed and we all agreed on a conservative course of follow-up treatment-watch the bladder and intervene as needed.

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After my father's first postsurgical cystoscope, the surgeon called me into the examination room. I was apprehensive about what she had to say given what I had interpreted as a cautious tone in her voice. The cautious tone, however, was really a reflection of disbelief at what the cystoscope had just revealed-no sign of cancer, not even at the surgical site, and no cancer cells in the last gavage.


After telling my father the results of the examination, she asked to what he attributed his longevity and resiliency. With no hesitation, my father replied matter of factly, "Prunes!! Every morning for at least the last 50 years, I have had a glass of warm prune juice as part of my breakfast. And, I snack on prunes in the daytime when I am hungry. In fact, I keep a can of prunes in my bedroom. It is definitely the prunes!!"


Genetics notwithstanding, health beliefs and routine health strategies can be powerful influences on living well and long. After hearing my father's prune theory of longevity, I got to thinking about how he lives his life. The familial dietary pattern to this day is Mediterranean-meat once or twice a week, lots of fish, pasta, vegetables, and fruits, especially prunes in my father's case. And when my father is not hungry, he does not eat, so in some sense he practices calorie restriction that has been recently touted as one strategy for living longer. His belief in "prunes" does not wax and wane. Morning prune juice is the dominant food ritual in his life and whether we are at home or away, prunes must be part of the daily diet.


Discipline, moderation, and flexibility are the core concepts that underpin my father's health strategies. There are certain things you must do every day-like stretching with light weights and, of course, eating prunes. Moderation is key-prunes, but not too many; stretching, but not too vigorously. And, flexibility is a life approach, if you cannot get prunes, raisins or figs will do. If your muscles are too tired for stretching, walking up 2 flights of stairs will suffice.


It is important to talk to patients and families about their health beliefs and to discern whether there is a match between what they believe and what they actually do. My father believes that he is what he eats. How these beliefs drive his way of living may be the key to his longevity. It is important for health professionals to reflect on their own health beliefs. How our health beliefs drive what we do may be the key to improving nursing practice.


Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN