Judy Gerow is member of the Kitselas First Nation and has been in Band Council for over 20 years: two years as Chief and the rest as Councillor. She is a mother of six, a stepmother of an additional six, and is also raising her granddaughter. Throughout her whole life, her health has been on her mind. I had the privilege of asking Judy a few questions about her experiences of health and aging and am excited to share her thoughts and story below.
Do you believe that health is a journey?
Yes, absolutely, I think it’s a journey! Your physical and mental health play a big part in your well-being and need to be in balance to be truly healthy.
When did you start really considering your health?
Even though I have always been thinking about my health, it was after I became a mother that I realized how important it was to take care of myself so that I was here for my children.
My kids are a real motivation for me. Now that I am raising my granddaughter, I want to take care of myself to make sure I am here for her until she can be on her own.
What things are you doing to keep you healthy?
I try to watch what I eat and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I keep myself involved in various activities, many of which are physical such as my volunteer role in the fire department. I like to fish and hunt and through this, challenge my body to keep up with others and carry what I can. I garden, too.
Family is also very important to me; we are a large and close family and look forward to getting together for family dinners. As I get older, I spend more time thinking about my life, what matters, and how I can live this to the fullest.
How does this healthy lifestyle make you feel?
I feel a sense of pride that I can still pull my own weight, even though I can’t carry as much as I could in my youth. My role model is my mother. She is 84 years old and she’s still going strong. When she was in her 60’s, I had a hard time keeping up to her. She would get up at dawn and preserve fruits and vegetables until late at night. She is slowing down now due to health concerns. She has macular degeneration but she still cuts fish, even though she does it now by feel.
When I’m out on the river or in the bush, I have time to reflect and focus on the land and the environment. I find that very spiritual and I get a sense of belonging when I’m out there. It’s like I can feel the presence of my ancestors who walked before me for thousands of years.
How do you think having a healthy lifestyle now will support your health in the future?
I think it will help me to live longer and to remain active. I couldn’t imagine not being active. I want to be just like my mom! When I was growing up, I used to tell my friends that I didn’t want to be like my mother. It’s ironic that no matter how hard I tried to do things differently, I end up like her! My mother is always there, a focus in my life.
What are you most looking forward to about being healthy as you age?
I look forward to being active and having a fulfilling life where I can do what I want and not be a burden to anyone. I want to remain independent as long as I can.
If you could share one message with others about your journey, what would that message be?
When you are younger, you don’t think about what it’s going to be like when you’re older. Choices one makes when they are young do matter in the future, that is the message I would like to share.
Every summer was like bootcamp for me. I was busy keeping up to my husband as we hunted or fished together. I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Parts of my body are starting to give me more problems now – like my knees and my elbows – from pushing myself too much then, packing heavy loads, and jumping off rocks.
My husband passed away five years ago from lung cancer. He was a smoker and a drinker. I chose not to so I could be there for my children. My current partner has diabetes and heart disease from not taking care earlier.
Everyone needs to start taking care of themselves and be more conscious of what’s around them. Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.
I never had an interest in gardening even when I had watched my mom do it. Yet, last year, we planted a garden and what came up was wonderful! I found it so relaxing; I could just get lost in it. I could sit in that garden, pulling weeds and not think of anything and before I knew it, four hours had passed! Work and other things in my life slipped away. We all need to do more of this. Life is too fast-paced. I’m going on a vacation soon. My partner and I are taking our motorhome and just going – no destination or timeline! Stress-free!
About Victoria Carter
Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.