“Macro-biotics = Living the Great Life!”
by Marge Lyles
How did I find my way into the reality of the “Abundant Life” that Scripture promises and the macrobiotic movement espouses? The path opened to me late September of 1992, shortly after Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida, when I discovered a lump in the outer, lower quadrant of my right breast. Within three days it was diagnosed as a malignant, ductal tumor, two centimeters in size. The oncologist recommended either a lumpectomy, followed by radiation, or a total mastectomy, needing no further treatment. If I didn’t do anything, he said, the average lifespan could be five years.
At age sixty-one, I opted to do nothing. If I couldn’t find a way out of this dilemma through natural means, I determined I would enjoy those last five years.
Through a series of circumstances, I found my way into the macrobiotic realm of healing in November 1992. As I write this testimony it has been sixteen years since my personal “hurricane” followed “Andrew!” It is now 2009, and I am finally in the process of writing a book detailing my experiences of natural healing. Meantime, I hasten to write about how The Kushi Institute’s “Way To Life Seminar” was the pivotal point in turning my battle against cancer into victory. I want to share my story so that others may learn of the wonderful world of macrobiotics, and also may learn from my two major errors in attempting to follow the prescribed way.
Having been raised a “country girl” in Maryland in the 1930-40’s, I was taught by the Sisters of Saint Francis to follow the way of that beloved, nature-loving man, Francis of Assisi. Therefore, when cancer appeared in my body, at age sixty-one, I had a strong desire to deal with this invasion to my health with natural means. My husband, Louis, was very concerned that I was not going forward with the conventional means of surgery and radiation immediately. At his urgings I requested that my nutritionist, Carol Hopkins, search for a medical doctor with leanings toward what was then called “Complementary Medicine.” Carol soon found Jeffrey Rubin, M.D., who spent a solid thirty minutes attempting to persuade me to follow conventional means. It was obvious that he, too, was extremely concerned about my future welfare. He then gave me equal time to explain my reasoning.
When I convinced him my decision was based on a lifetime of attempting to “be natural,” and not some hasty whim, he responded: “If you still choose me to be your doctor, you may call me Jeffrey and I will monitor what you are doing; but you must know that in the end, I will not heal you, nor will you heal yourself. In the end,” he added, “it will be God who heals you.”
Hearing that he would cooperate with my quest, and his proclamation above agreeing with my own beliefs, tears of relief washed over my smiling face and I asked, “Will you be my doctor, Jeffrey?” The good doctor agreed and we set up my next appointment of many. Before I left the office however, Doctor Rubin added his first of very few suggestions: “If you are going to pursue this natural path you have chosen, I would advise you to learn and follow the macrobiotic way of living, for it is my experience that those who choose to defy medical means and follow that plan are the ones with the best success.” At that moment I felt an air of mystery between us, and as I turned to go I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, not knowing what to expect next!
“Macrobiotics” was not an entirely new word to me that day, although I knew very little about it. By strange coincidence, a few weeks earlier, a friend had introduced me to her caterer, who “happened” to be a macrobiotic cook. Since Claudia, the caterer, was a beautiful Mexican woman, I presumed it was some form of Mexican cuisine. Now I was about to find out how wrong I was in my presumption. To add to the mystery, the doctor said I should go to “Oak Feed” in Coconut Grove, and there I would find someone who would tell me what to buy to get started. He further advised me to find Lino Stanchich, whom he had met in the past, and to engage in consultations with Lino.
In November 1992 as we drove directly to Coconut Grove from Dr. Rubin’s office, I began to feel like a detective with spyglass in hand. “Oak Feed?” I pondered, fully expecting to find an old building with an open board planked porch of yesteryear, where people came to buy feed for their livestock! I puzzled over how this place could help me become well.
What a lovely surprise to find the health food store that existed then and locate Sandy Puckel, the owner, who assigned a clerk to assist my first basic macrobiotic shopping. I was advised to purchase such things as miso, gomashio and umeboshi plums, in addition to the sea vegetables of kombu and wakame, along with organic brown rice and adzuki beans. Then, Sandy put me in touch with Lino, saying Lino would tell me what to do next. After buying all those then-strange sounding items, I could hardly wait to meet him.
Finding Lino at Sunny Mathews’ place in Coconut Grove also brought me the wonderful friendship of Brenda Gignac, who served as Lino’s “scribe.” With Brenda coaching from the sideline, I soon became diligent in pursuing Lino’s suggestions. The first major advice was temporarily cooking on a two-burner camp stove to prove that cooking with gas really made a difference. After six months of that experiment, my husband became convinced my energy was improved from eating foods cooked with that more gentle heat. He set about replacing our electric stove with a four-burner gas stove. This was not an inexpensive move, but one that we have never regretted. I grew up in a family that cooked with gas and the switch for me was a delightful feeling of “coming home.”
One by one, all of Lino’s suggestions became my guidelines. I was also pleased that he approved of my taking Essiac, the Canadian Indian Herbal formula that my nutritionist had led me to begin and which was approved by my primary physician, Kirby Hotchner, D.O.
During the ensuing months, as the mysterious veil greadually lifted from macrobiotics, I came to trust Lino's approach to healing as the tumor began to shrink. The tumor grew on the lateral side of the breast near the surface, making it palpable. Dr. Rubin and I measured the tumor on a regular basis and happily took note of this shrinkage. I remember drawing sketches of its changing size and how I thought it looked. Every two weeks "Jeffrey" took out his tape measure and, smiling, announced a decrease. I had already measured at home with my "dritz" sewing ruler. At his confirmation, we celebrated with joyful laughter.
Dr. Bernie Siegel, a pediatric oncologist of world-renown, advises that we “befriend our cancer.” Early on, I set about to do that and began by naming my tumor, “Tillie.” As I came to know “her,” I realized Dr. Larry Dossey was also right when he says, “Cancer comes to teach us.” In my process of healing, I realized that “Tillie the Tumor” came to teach me much about the imbalances in my life. My lifetime focus had been on mind and spirit, with little care given to my body. I set out to achieve homeostasis by shifting my thoughts about “body, mind and spirit” to a more integrated thought process, like “bodymindspirit.” It took awhile. Even now it is a challenge to maintain that perspective. Meanwhile, within six months of beginning macrobiotics and Essiac, my originally unwelcome visitor, while becoming my friend and mentor, had actually shrunk from peach seed size to the size and consistency of a garbanzo bean, also known as a “chick pea.”
Unfortunately, while cooking every bite I ate and eating it alone for six months straight, I became very lonely. My southern gentleman spouse who now begrudgingly tried to support all my strange endeavors, could not adapt his taste buds to the macrobiotic changes. Therefore, he went to local restaurants for most daily meals. When spring 1993 arrived Lino introduced me to “pressed salads,” a welcome addition to my menu! However, in my loneliness, in direct disobedience to macrobiotic principles, I eventually accompanied my husband to a local fast-food restaurant. I rationalized my way into the first and major deviant act from macrobiotics: I reasoned I would only order an ordinary salad and bring an organic Bancha tea from home, thinking one meal of slight deviation was not dangerous. The fast food restaurant did not mind that I brought my own tea! And they most likely would not have minded had I brought my ‘pressed salad,’ but the thought did not occur to me at that point.
It was great to get out of the kitchen again, but this decision cost me a great setback in my recovery. In the months to come I discovered that same “fast food” salad contained a most undesirable condiment! NOW I know why we ‘press’ the salad with salt or vinegar! However, I didn’t realize the chances of contracting a disease from uncooked food if the chef preparing the food neglected hand washing. In the weeks that followed that lunch, I noticed the tumor began to harden again and grow! Lino, unaware of my restaurant meal as I never thought to mention it, suggested I travel to the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts to perfect my knowledge and to meet with Michio Kushi for his discernment. I flew to the institute the first week of July 1993.
There I studied “The Way to Life Seminar” for one week and counseled with Michio. I recall his asking me how much miso I was eating. I answered, “Oh, I love miso!” and proudly explained that I thought since it was supposed to be so good for me, “more was better.” At that point it was about the only taste that I liked in my new way of eating. Therefore, I was spreading miso on rice cakes like an hors d’oeurvre and having several each evening with a cup of tea. Michio only smiled, and explained that miso was salt, and too much would harden a tumor. We felt that explained the hardening, but what about my then yellowing skin? Michio told me my liver was in trouble, but he said the yellow of my skin was not the color yellow of cancer.
I decided to return to Miami and have blood work done to determine what was going on in my body’s chemistry. The blood test proved that I had contracted the hepatitis-A virus, most likely during the restaurant visit I had made that fateful month of June. In retrospect, that salad and day off from the kitchen was definitely not worth it.
By this time, “Tillie” was much larger than she was in the beginning due to the virus, and much harder than she would have been, had I not overindulged in the miso for about a month that spring. My weight had spiraled from one hundred and twenty to a mere ninety-four pounds. For the first time since my diagnosis, eleven months earlier, I was very weak due to the virus and extreme weight loss that was not in the plan.
Although I heard that some victims of hepatitis are hospitalized and given plasma intravenously, I was frightened at the thought of going to a hospital with this now greatly enlarged tumor, which went from garbanzo size to a larger than ever—golf ball size. In my condition, I feared the medical doctors would insist upon removing my entire breast.
It was not for the sake of vanity I was holding on to my body part; it was rather a desire to keep my body in balance by keeping both breasts. I knew I would never consider reconstruction by putting something foreign in my body. Even if I opted to have a double mastectomy to stay balanced, I dreaded the thought of going through life wearing special bras, held in place with elastic and inserts to achieve a normal appearance with my clothing. Because I thought my liver could not stand another detoxification that soon, I opted for a lumpectomy in November 1993, fourteen months after my original diagnosis. I had lived for more than a year knowingly walking around with cancer. Until contracting the hepatitis-A virus, while living those early months of the macrobiotic way, I recall feeling better than I ever had before in my prior life, despite the tumor!
It took fourteen months more, from November 1993 until January 1995, for me to recover from the invasion of hepatitis and the surgery. I used acupuncture to help heal my liver, which had been assaulted by the virus, and to arrest my uncomely, unhealthy weight loss. For weight gain, Lino suggested I make cornbread from scratch so that it was entirely organic, while otherwise continuing to follow the specifically prescribed macrobiotic regime. By January 1995 I noticed that my digestion had improved and a slow weight gain was noticed. My energy began to flow more profusely again and I could begin to live a new life!
Recalling those days as I write both this testimony and the aforementioned book which will complete this story, I remember how it felt to be in the dark waters of those early months. I am reminded of a scripture in Isaiah 43:2, which says, “When you pass through raging waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you…Do not be afraid – I am with you!”
It was a verse that bore fruit for me. I certainly “had major troubles,” yet never felt daunted by them. I felt closer to my “Higher Power,” whom I choose to call God, than I ever had in my entire life. Every step was a test of my perseverance, integrity and faith, which required much bearing down and grinning through gritted teeth. Making life easier were Lino, Jane and Brenda, my nutritionist, Carol Hopkins, and my doctors, Kirby Hotchner, D.O., and Jeffrey Rubin, MD. All of these people, along with Serge Ernandez and Sandra Kaplan, both acupuncturists and doctors of Oriental Medicine, were the angelic tools sent to lead me out of the darkness of those turbulent “raging” waters into the placid, yet exciting, brightness of good health.
For the first six years of my recovery, after the hepatitis-A ordeal, I adhered strictly to the macrobiotic teachings for a person in healing – maybe especially because of that experience. If I didn’t have organic food in the house, I didn’t eat that day until we went grocery shopping. For the last ten years, I have become what one doctor calls, “a laid-back macrobiotic,” which includes a broader spectrum of foods and recipes many of which were created by Jane Quincannon Stanchich.
I was sixty-one years old when “Tillie the Tumor” entered my life so abruptly. Today, in my late seventies, I am thankful for the things she came to teach me. I can now still declare that aside from walking a slower pace, I feel better than I did at any other period of my life.
Michio Kushi was honored by the United States Congress in June 1999, with the opening of a display about Macrobiotics in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Gradually, other movements have evolved to include things that have been proven beneficial to our health by the macrobiotic researchers and teachers. I feel honored to know Lino and Jane, who are among those macrobiotic teachers, and who have helped me feel confident about my chosen path of recovery which now, in 2009, is beginning its seventeenth year.
Margaret Lee Lyles is a Florida Licensed Massage Therapist (#8199) and a Reiki Master. Known to most as “Marge,” she claims that along with macrobiotics, Reiki was, and is, a large part of the reason for her wellness today. Since 1995, she has traveled to the states of North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Titusville, Florida to teach Reiki. Her book about Reiki has been sold over the Internet on six continents. Marge taught Reiki classes at Within Wellness Center, in South Miami, for six years prior to its closing. She currently tutors people privately who call or e-mail to learn about Reiki and her healing from cancer.
For more about Marge Lyles, see her website, listed below, where you may find “Happy Health Hints” and be led to preview her first book, entitled:
Reiki and You: Awakening the Healer Within (An Ecumenical Guide to Energy Healing.) This book is available directly from the publisher, www.xlibris.com, or from Amazon. On the publisher’s bookstore site you will find the first chapter of this book along with other excerpts and endorsements. Xlibris offers a discount making the cost of the book equal to Amazon. The author contributes ten percent of profits from books purchased through Xlibris to “Food For The Poor,” a non-profit, ecumenical organization that sends life-saving provisions to third world countries as well as to the impoverished in the United States of America.
The full details of Marge’s journey through cancer will be told in her forthcoming book, now in progress:
- A Breast Cancer Story of Natural Healing: In the Belly of the Whale!
- Its debut will be announced on her website, as well as on www.greatlifeglobal.com.
- To contact Marge leave a message for her to call back: Cell: 305-885-3785.