I’d like to introduce you to my friend Brandy Wendler, the reigning Mrs. North West, Registered Nurse, Celiac Disease advocate, Heart Disease advocate, Special Olympics supporter, blogger, and one of the most incredible girls I know. We met over drinks in San Francisco and quickly became friends, bonding over Southern Food, flight suits & vacation plans while forming a Gluten Free Girl Gang with a few of our other GF Soul Sisters.
Check her out on Facebook, and read on to find out why she jumped in the ocean at Zero degrees in a bikini.
I love this girl! KC
1. You’ve taken your Southern roots to Alaska, of all places! How’s a girl from the South making snow feel like home?
Believe it or not, Alaska is a lot like the south. People are generally good to one another because they know we are separated from the rest of the United States and know they have to look out for one another. A lot of the people I have met have become like family. They supported me at my first pageant, encouraged me with my Celiac Disease Awareness and help me out when my husband is gone. I repay their kindness by making gluten-free southern-style meals and sweet tea!
2. How did you begin competing in pageants?
It was actually my husband’s idea. After I was diagnosed, I was frustrated with the lack of knowledge out there and I wanted to find a way to raise awareness. Miss Congeniality happened to be on TV while we were talking about my frustrations. He asked me if I ever thought about doing pageants. He said his understanding was that the ladies spoke on behalf of foundations and causes and thought I should give it a try.
3. My favorite Mrs. Alaska story is the Polar Plunge. Tell our readers about that adventure, please.
Special Olympics is a cause that is near and dear to my heart because I have an older sister who participated in the games all the time and I used to volunteer as well. So, when I heard that they were doing a Polar Plunge to raise money, I thought it was a great way to support the organization and do something truly Alaskan. Believe it or not the jumping into the water is not the hard part – its getting out of the water that gets you! The first year I jumped it was 0 degrees. The Special Olympics people think ahead though – about 50 feet from the water is a warmed tent with hot tubs.
4. Tell us about LivingWithoutGrain.com.
It was the name of the first website I started to raise awareness for Celiac Disease and it was based on living with Celiac Disease or being gluten-free in Alaska. I started the first regularly meeting Gluten-free support group and I compiled the first public list of gluten-free friendly restaurants in Alaska. As soon as the group grew, I discussed physicians they saw regularly who were knowledgeable of the disease and issues associated with it so I could make recommendations to others.
5. As a nurse, you’re seeing the issues of misdiagnosis firsthand. What’s your best advice for being your own medical advocate?
I always tell people to get a copy of their visit notes or take notes themselves. Sometimes, its easy to forget everything that you discussed with the MD and the notes will help you remember. Also, ALWAYS get a copy of your labs. You have to be your own advocate and that means keeping track of what goes on. I speak with so many people who say their labs were “ok” but have no clue what labs were actually tested. You have to know your numbers and when in doubt – ask! If you aren’t satisfied with the answer or feel your doctor is not listening – find another physician. I ended up seeing over a dozen doctors in two years before I finally got an answer. Medicine isn’t exact and you know your body better than anyone. If you are still feeling poorly – keep looking for answers!
6. After a long day, what’s your favorite easy meal?
Peter Pan Honey roasted peanut butter on gluten-free bread. Simple but so yummy at the same time and, while it’s not the healthiest, it’s definitely a comfort food for me.
7. Got a food or beverage you can’t live without?
That would be sweet potato fries – not only do they remind me of home and growing up but they are sweet and filling at the same time!
8. How do you like to spend your days off? If you ever have one.
Typically relaxing with my husband on the couch and watching some cheesy B-rated sci-fi films. He is in the military so the time we have together is precious.
9. If we opened your refrigerator, what would we find?
Fresh and washed veggies and fruit, almond milk, and some already prepped chicken and oatmeal. Eating healthy can be a chore so always having healthy foods readily available is important. I eat healthy 80% of the time. (The other 20% is when I have my peanut butter and fries!)
10. Anything else we should know or mention?
Celiac Disease changed my life. I looked at it as a curse at first but now I see it is a blessing. It has opened my eyes to a life I never dreamed of having. I’ve met some incredible people, traveled to some great places, experienced foods in a new way and started paying more attention to my health. I feel that I am a better person now because of my autoimmune disease. By God’s grace, I turned my mess into my message and I wouldn’t take it back for anything.