One of the things that I love about Arlington, and the D.C. Metro area in general, is the amazing people who live here. In honor of Veteran’s Day, I wanted to spotlight one of our residents, a Veteran who served our nation for over 26 years (30 years if you count her time at the U.S. Air Force Academy) and now serves our community by helping us navigate a healthy lifestyle. Deanna Won is a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel with exceptional intellect – she is a physicist! – who now runs a successful Health Coaching business. We met at For Five Coffee Roasters recently, where she shared her remarkable story.
Deanna grew up in San Francisco with a love for music and dance. She always thought she would pursue a career in one of those areas, but her life went in a completely different direction. When it was time to choose a college, Deanna turned down a four-year scholarship to my alma mater, UC Berkeley, and chose instead to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. Deanna was the only woman in her class to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the Academy and spent her career working in the sciences for the Air Force. We chuckled when she explained that she was able to apply math concepts from school in real life – and it actually works!
Over her 26-year career with the Air Force, Deanna worked everywhere from labs in the United States to NATO operations abroad. She started her career as a laser radar design physicist, then later became an electro-optics sensors physicist and even developed detectors for nuclear and chemical/biological agents, as the Chief of Counterproliferation Technology. As her career progressed, she did a stint with Eastman Kodak through a special partnership between the military and private industry, was later selected to be the Military Assistant to the Air Force Material Command Chief Scientist, served as the Director for Sensors Technology at the Pentagon, worked as the Deputy Division Chief for Launch Systems, resulting in an historic launch of five NRO, NASA, and NOAA satellites in 33 days following the September 11th attacks, served as an Executive Officer to the Deputy Chief of Staff for NATO operations, and more. Her favorite assignment by far was when she served as Deputy Group Commander in Turkey, to support U.S. troops assigned in theater and getting to work with the local national Turkish leadership.
Deanna spent the last third of her military career back in the D.C. Metro area, doing work on space-based missile defense with the Missile Defense Agency, serving as the Deputy for Mathematics, Information and Life Sciences, as well as the International Office, at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and then working as Military Assistant to the Director of the Defense Technology Security Administration, playing a vital role in the international transfer of military and commercial dual-use goods and technology to protect critical information in support of U.S. national security.
Her final assignment was in the Pentagon’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, where she served as the Commander and Joint Program Manager for Biological Defense, protecting troops, government agencies, and allied nations from biological attack. She accomplished all the above by her mid-40s!
Deanna would likely have continued on with her impressive military career for many years to come, but it was cut short when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This form of cancer is subtle, often called “the cancer that whispers.” It started with a slight feeling of pressure near her pelvis. While it was noticed once on a scan, her doctor thought it was a harmless cyst. It wasn’t. Over time the pain increased to the point where it radiated to her shoulder and she started having trouble breathing. It became a very aggressive cancer that progressed to the point where both of her lungs collapsed. She was placed in hospice and given only four weeks to live. Many of the drugs given to Deanna had created horrible side effects. Specifically, high doses of morphine, which were supposed to help with the pain, did nothing except make her feel even sicker.
While sick, Deanna took a careful look at her lifelong habits with regard to stress, trauma, diet, and exercise. She had grown up with a standard American diet, including some meat and processed foods, but plenty of vegetables and fruits. As a nationally certified fitness instructor for eight years, despite exercising regularly and eating what Deanna believed to be a healthy diet, a combination of environmental toxic exposures, working in a high-stress and demanding career, and unresolved emotional conflicts resulted in Deanna’s diagnosis with cancer.
Deanna decided to use her research background to try to heal herself in a natural way. She enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) to study all of the different dietary theories. When she learned how critical diet is to health, she immediately changed everything about the way she ate. She learned that a raw vegan diet is the most effective for combatting not only cancer but most other chronic diseases, so she adopted a diet that was completely organic, vegan, and raw. Not only was she able to leave hospice, but within three months, her large tumor began to shrink, and she was able to recover without chemo or radiation.
If you were to look at Deanna today, you would not be able to believe that she was at death’s door. She has not returned to the unhealthy eating habits of her past. And she doesn’t miss it. She experiences no afternoon slump. When she travels, she has minimal jetlag. Her quality of life has improved substantially.
But for the cancer diagnosis, Deanna would have continued on in her very successful military career, which she loved. She would have also continued on in being unaware of her very unhealthy habits. Her experience of healing through food and changing every aspect of her being was so life changing – rather life saving! – that she decided to devote her life to helping others shift to a healthier lifestyle.
Deanna became a certified health coach and created a holistic healing program to help her clients. She takes a “Mind-Body-Spirit” approach and shares her Eight Principles to Holistic Health to improve the lives of those she serves. True wellness, according to Deanna, must be achieved through not just the body (diet and exercise) but through emotional and spiritual work as well. She encourages her clients to explore and address their past traumas (and can refer out to a therapist if needed) and to practice their faith. When confronted with her own mortality, Deanna’s faith served as an anchor and source of wisdom beyond herself that guided her through the illness.
When working with Deanna, you will be asked to fill out a health history form and have a consultation with her. She wants to know your full history so that she can customize a program for you based on your unique needs. Since Deanna does not offer a one-size-fits-all program, she offers a number of different services to choose from. These range from a pantry check to lessons on how to read labels to shopping trips. She advises on circadian rhythms and teaches about how an electromagnetic environment can harm your health. Because Deanna is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, she can also arrange for functional labs through a blood, urine, or saliva testing. She can identify the source of any malnutrition problems you may be experiencing and work on a solution.
I asked Deanna whether she has seen any decline in the volume of clients since the COVID-19 outbreak. I thought it might be possible that people are retreating to their homes and eating food that is bad for them. The internet is certainly full of memes about it. On the contrary, Deanna has seen an uptick in the number of clients. This is likely due to the fact that a lot of us are taking this time to evaluate and change the aspects of our lives that were not working. Health is a big issue for a lot of us.
As we came to the end of our chat, I asked Deanna what she believes to be the most important thing we can do to improve wellness. Deanna stresses that how you start your day is the most important and strongly encourages developing a morning ritual that cultivates an attitude of gratitude, hope, and a little sunshine: “Expose yourself to the morning sunshine. There is something special about that morning time. How you begin your day has a critical impact on how you will complete it.”
To learn more about Deanna and the services she provides, check out her website.
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