Betsy Bernazzani-Okun’s story
The direction of my life changed forever in my 41st year.
I’d always eaten well, exercised, and spent as much time as I could in nature. I loved my family and husband. I worked hard taking care of others every day as a nurse. How in the world could I have breast cancer?
Looking back on that time, though, I realize that something had been off for quite a while. I wasn’t feeling happy with myself, my sense of humor had disappeared, my intestines were in knots, I was having panic attacks, and my heart would race. It seemed I was on a self-inflicted treadmill, running constantly.
Ten years earlier, my dear Mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Being free of the responsibility of children, I was able to help her after surgery. Watching her struggle with the physical and emotional aspects after her mastectomy was difficult. I felt I could do little to comfort her. But she’s a very strong woman – she recovered and has led a wonderfully fulfilling life with my Dad.
Naturally, I became concerned after her diagnosis for my three sisters and me. I prayed and asked God if any of us were to develop cancer, let it be me. I reasoned that two of my sisters have children and the other lives in Mexico and would have little support. It seemed logical that I’d be in a better position to deal with cancer.
So, many years later, that’s what did happen. Now the agony was mine. I dealt with breast cancer at first with a cold Western approach: the diagnosis, doctors, technicians, surgery, radiation, isolation, chemotherapy, scars, disfigurement and shame. I kept my emotions to myself. I didn’t want to seem weak or scared to those loving family members who didn’t know what to say or do. I figured I’d be the best patient ever!
My husband grew silent. Supportive, but silent. I let him stay outside my pain. He was scared, and so was I. Eventually, I started going to a support group far from the mega- teaching hospital I work at in Boston. I wanted to just be an anonymous woman with breast cancer, not a nurse that people knew. I didn’t much care for the group, however. The people who shared their stories were all sad and scared, and some were hopeless. “This can’t be good for me!” I thought, every time I went. So I stopped going, and that felt good. I needed to feel positive and move forward.
The only class that interested me at the nearby cancer center was a weekly nutrition group meeting. The focus was on whole foods, boosting the immune system naturally, incorporating fresh vegetables and getting all the fat and junk out of our diets. I had been a vegetarian since the 1970s so I thought I was in pretty good shape! Ha!
There was a lot of discussion at the class about the Kushi diet, and I had absolutely no idea what people were referring to. And it seemed that no one else there knew much either. So the nutritionist decided to have someone come and present a demonstration of macrobiotic cooking. When I got to the session, it was packed to capacity. I was amazed at the interest and the collection of people who attended. Some attendees were so ill – so hungry for something that would help.
The teacher, Warren Kramer, was already busy, with burners going and food cooking. The aroma was so inviting. He worked diligently, calmly, smiling as people came into the room. His assistant was a beautiful tall, slender woman, working in silence with a calmness and gentle smile.
As the class began, Warren introduced himself and started talking about “the powerful role food plays in creating our health.” He explained that what we choose to eat day to day and how we prepare it creates our blood quality, which in turns creates our tissues, organs and lymph fluid, which influences our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
That lecture changed my life and direction. I wanted to know this gentle man who loved what he was talking about and loved sharing it with others. He had a confidence and strength I wanted for myself. I knew instinctively that macrobiotics was true for me. I didn’t need any other proof. It made perfect sense. It was as clear as it was simple.
I stayed that night after class, doing dishes, taking out the trash, and helping Warren pack up his cooking gear. But mostly, I listened – allowing myself to be open instead of fearful. I was filled with gratitude.
I felt happy, hopeful, and optimistic. That was my first macrobiotic cooking class with Warren and I haven’t missed more than a few since. Warren became my teacher, my counselor and now my dearest friend, who continues to share his passion with me and the macrobiotic community in Boston. I’ve had the pleasure of assisting him with classes now for many years, and I’m still learning. (I also spent a year studying at Denny Waxman’s Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia, which has improved my macrobiotic practice, and deepened friendships that I treasure.)
Here’s what I’ve learned to be true in 12 years of macrobiotic practice:
• Food is the most powerful factor in creating health. Once our
body is strong, our mind and heart opens and our spirit can soar.
Through this practice, you’ll find peace and confidence where there was once fear. And joy where there was anger and sadness.
Today, at 53, I am happily, gratefully enjoying excellent health. My family and friends admire my way of life now. They remark on my amazing energy, my endurance, my disposition and my joy. They think I look amazing for my age … thank God! I continue to explain that changing the inner environment first creates our outward appearance.
You can never say thank you too much. So, Meg, thank you for asking me to write this. Thank you for sharing your story in Becoming Whole. Thank you, Warren, for your continued friendship, guidance and love. Thanks to the Universe for all that I’ve been given and for the freedom to choose the life I want.
Blessings to you and me for taking the best possible care of our families, our friends, our planet and ourselves.