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How I Stay Well During the Holidays | SGO President S. Diane Yamada, MD

Nov 30, 2021

Diane Yamada, MD

For me, the holidays are rooted in the tradition of family gatherings, sitting around a roaring fire in Chicago or Michigan, or having incredible multi-course meals with my immediate family in Los Angeles. My husband, who is an ER physician at the University of Chicago, is a fabulous chef who derives joy and peace and wellness from cooking (not sure how that is possible!) and planning a meal perfectly paired with wine. My daughters, ages 25 and 15, usually contribute to the multi-course holiday dinners with creative homemade pies.

To offset the massive indulgence of the holiday calorie onslaught, I focus on Peloton bike rides, for the heart, reformer Pilates classes, for the core, and hiking, for the soul.  If I’m in L.A., I’ll hike to the Griffith Park observatory and the hills beyond, and when visiting my in-laws in southwest Michigan, I’ll take long walks along the lake and bluffs. I also take the opportunity to finish a book I may have started many times previously. I have a terrible habit of reading multiple books at the same time. The most recent books I’ve read, which I highly recommend, are Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson, which chronicles Jennifer Doudna’s contribution to the development of CRISPR and her path to the Nobel Prize, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, which tells the story of America’s Great Migration.

It’s a tradition that as a family we go to see the Joffrey Ballet rendition of The Nutcracker and watch some sort of mutually agreed upon movie. For my husband, it’s usually “It’s a Wonderful Life”, for my kids, some sort of romantic comedy and for me, any feel-good sports movie. This probably speaks to my appreciation for sports but utter inability to be a meaningful participant. Still, I have a healthy respect and admiration for how a team comes together to overcome hurdles and win.  Another tradition and source of wellness, or perhaps “unwellness” depending on your perspective, is watching Michigan football. As I write this, my family is debating whether to set aside time to watch the Michigan/Ohio State football game on Thanksgiving weekend. I am the ONLY person in my family who did not attend the University of Michigan, and I am an eternal optimist…

Lastly, the holidays, for me, are about gratitude and new beginnings. I love finding something special that might be a meaningful gift for someone and showing appreciation for the people that have dedicated their time and effort to our work. I like writing notes and finding purposeful words to express that appreciation. On New Year’s Day, I have tried lately to keep up my family’s Japanese tradition of serving ozoni (miso-based rice cake) soup and having a sip of sake to mark the start of a New Year and the hope of happiness and good fortune.  As we embark on another year of unchartered territory, I find stillness and comfort in the roots of some of these traditions, peppered with some of my own modifications.


Diane Yamada, MD, is a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Chief of the Section for Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Chicago Medicine in Chicago, IL.

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