Bromley, Joanna

Occam’s Razor and Why I Eat Seaweed (at least some of the time)

What would you do if you knew the year you were going to die? We all know no one gets out alive, but we console ourselves with the knowledge that we do not know the day or the hour. As a twenty-year-old, I find it easy to get into the “superman” mindset: barring any encounter with kryptonite, I see no reason that I should ever get old. Sure, other people do that, but not me, as I am different. However, if I knew I had a certain amount of time due to an illness, I believe I speak for many people when I say I would not continue to do what I am doing now. My family and happiness would become my main priorities. In fact, I would probably drop everything and travel the world, creating memories and most importantly, a life of few regrets. I certainly find it disturbing at times that I would so drastically change my lifestyle. What does that say about the way I spend my time? Again, I would rather not think about it.

What if you could do something about it? What if, despite the fatal prognosis of every medical professional, you did not want to die and you knew it was not your time? Such was the dilemma facing “Rhio” O’Connor, who decided to battle a fatal diagnosis of mesothelioma rather than accept a death sentence, as described on his website, www.survivingmesothelioma.com. Rhio refused to accept that his disease was “incurable.” He spent countless hours researching the best recovery methods and developed a personalized, eclectic treatment, and ultimately emerged victorious. His experience provides us with a testament to the human spirit, and a confirmation of the belief that where there is life, there is hope.

Although I believe we should view O’Connor’s story as inspirational, it serves as a caveat to those faced with such devastating diseases. We have become so accustomed to the standard protocol in our healthcare system, that many of us accept a doctor’s prognosis as our fate rather than a source of valuable information. Some of us would have accepted O’Connor’s death sentence as a fact. O’Connor is inspiring because he treated the horrifying news as an opportunity, rather than a misfortune, to discover more nontraditional paths to healing. Indeed, for O’Connor, necessity was the mother of invention: when faced with a time bomb, he devoted his every waking moment to preserving his life, a life he knew would continue.

My experience with macrobiotics has convinced me that were I faced with O’Connor’s situation, I would wholeheartedly pursue a nontraditional path towards treatment, which has cured many so-called “incurable” cases of cancer, infectious disease, and even the common cold. In general, macrobiotics, which literally translates “big life,” is a diet and lifestyle that originated in Japan and focuses on a core group of foods and spiritual practices. Macrobiotics essentially puts into practice the notion that “we are what we eat.” If we shove garbage down our throats day in and day out, our body will use this garbage as fuel. We generally do not choose to force garbage into our cars when we refuel, yet in feeding ourselves overly processed foods, we deprive our bodies of the nutrients and kindness they need to function at full capacity. Macrobiotics provides a strikingly simple solution.

Macrobiotians, as I will call them, eat a diet of whole grains (especially brown rice), sea vegetables, beans, tempeh, tofu, fish, and some more exotic foods such as salty umeboshi plums and pickled daikon. Lifestyle practices include yoga, chewing food slowly, and accentuating the positive.

My encounter with this “way of life” began with my mother’s trip to a macrobiotic center in our state. Visitors can sign up for conferences, a series of classes for macrobiotic certification, or even live there if struggling with a physical or psychological ailment. My mother met a unique group of people, some who had been declared “incurable” by the traditional medical community and had ventured to this institute as their last and only hope. Incredibly, many spent months and even years at the institute, and upon returning to their primary doctors, found that tumors receded and diseases disappeared. My mother returned with an enthusiasm for this new way of life, and unfortunately for our family, our cherished treats landed right in the trash, making room for millet, brown rice, beans, and rubbery seaweed. As we are not particularly a group of culinary adventurers, we were not pleased. Our philosophy was, what happens in the Atlantic, stays in the Atlantic.

I often felt that my mother’s obsession with macrobiotics was idealistic, and not in tune with the realities of advancements in healthcare and the terror of such a destructive disease. After all, what fool would skip medical professionals and seek treatment from a bunch of hippies? We know cancer is one of the biggest killers, and that early detection can significantly improve or save lives. If I ever got cancer, I figured, I would go to the doctor, and if he told me my case was hopeless, well then he must be absolutely correct. I believed it would take a great deal of bravery to focus on diet and lifestyle rather than chemotherapy. After all, the United States provides the most advanced health care in the world! Could it be possible that such a simple way of eating and living could cure such a horrible disease? Despite my initial doubts, I decided to give this “big life” diet a chance.

After attending an international conference of macrobiotics fanatics, I began to change my tune. In fact, after meeting countless people from all over the world, many of whom suffered from skin diseases, cancer, and attention deficit disorder, I realized that the answers to our problems are often the simplest ones. Indeed, Occam’s Razor, the scientific principle that holds that the simplest scientific explanation is often the correct one, may apply in the case of incurable diseases. If we are what we eat, our diseases may be a result of the fuel we feed our bodies and the lifestyles we choose to live. Chemotherapy and radiation all aim to zap the disease into submission, while macrobiotics aims to feed the body whole. I certainly would not rule out the traditional route, but rather than introduce new chemicals into my body, I first would seek to rid myself of the toxins already present, using sea vegetables and my trusty liver. I discovered it would take a great deal more bravery to ignore what I put into my body. I suspect O’Connor discovered that diet and lifestyle have a tremendous impact on chronic disease. In fact, he may have been a macrobiotian himself.

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