through class I begin to struggle. I walk away from
the ballet barre and sit down in the corner, no longer
able to ignore the unease and discomfort in my stomach.
My Advanced Ballet III professor approaches me after
class, concerned about my behavior. "This might
sound weird," I say to him, "but I feel like
I can't feel my stomach, like it's numb." With
a look of skepticism and obvious condescendence he replies
with minimal sensitivity. "Well, I just think you
have a weak center."
That memory has always stuck with me; my professor,
even with his hint of arrogance, was correct about my
weak center. I was a 19-year-old college student, training
to become a professional dancer, when I was diagnosed
with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I wasn't aware of
it at the time, but the numbness I had been feeling
was the beginnings of severe inflammation of the colon.
I have actually been told I'm lucky. It only took two
colonoscopies for my doctor to say, "Good news!
You don't have Crohn's Disease, it's only Ulcerative
Colitis." If that's "luck," I wonder
what winning the lottery is like. Having never heard
of either disease, at that time I couldn't understand
how my life would never be the same.
It's been a seven year journey of struggles and success,
but today I finally understand that my health was not
a matter of "luck"- it was a matter of choice.
I was fortunate enough to have learned about macrobiotics;
to have the option to choose an alternative healing
path, I chose to heal.
After my diagnosis I suffered immensely for several
years. Flare-ups would come and go monthly and I'd find
myself in the hospital for weeks at a time. Severe diarrhea
and vomiting caused me to loose so much weight and muscle
mass. I had difficulty walking, let alone dancing. I
never knew what to eat and I was always in pain. My
doctors would treat me with powerful, harsh anti-inflammatory
drugs to ease my bouts of illness.
I wouldn't offer a dose of prednisone to even my worst
enemy. The side effects are torturous. I sacrificed
whatever healthy organs I had left to prednisone. One
year after my diagnosis I learned, in addition to the
ulcerative colitis, I was one the 5% of all IBD patients
in the world to develop a secondary reaction to the
disease called Poderma Gangrenosum. In this rare instance,
inflammation is no longer contained in the colon; it
Ulcers can begin to develop on the limbs. If ulceration
grows into the bones, the doctors have no choice but
to amputate that limb. Being that my case was so rare,
my doctor had never treated or met a patient with these
conditions. Confused, he believed that I was the worst
case of Ulcerative Colitis he had ever seen.
Extreme high dosages of prednisone seemed to be necessary
to put me into a temporary remission. Because I had
a strong, dancer's body, I survived the first huge flare
with all my limbs and no surgery. However, a few months
after I was off the drug, I would relapse into the same
cycle and find myself back in the hospital.
I feared that this drug-dependant life was the only
choice I had.
Surgery was never an option for me. Call me superficial,
but I wasn't willing to part with any of my body parts.
Drugs were not the answer; they would only weaken my
immune system and that's not something I'm willing to
sacrifice. And, who wants to take 20 pills a day for
the rest of their life? Doctors could not offer me any
other hope, so I began to look for alternative options.
Macrobiotics was my answer.
My friend, who also suffered
with ulcerative colitis, gave me "Controlling Crohn's
Disease The Natural Way." The book is written by
Virginia Harper, a woman who healed her Crohn's disease
through a macrobiotic-based diet and lifestyle. I read
the book, cover to cover, in 2 days. "This makes
sense," I thought. "I have nothing left to
loose, so I might as well give it a try." I never
imagined my body being "off balance." Can
sea vegetables and brown rice really make a difference
to my body? I found Virginia's Web site and contacted
her for a consultation as soon as possible. Macrobiotics
provided a new hope for me, and a new life.
Nobody says change is easy.
Being from a first-generation Italian family, food is
a huge part of our culture. We love it and can't get
enough of it. Pasta, cheese, and tomato sauce were my
main food groups. If you didn't lick your plate clean,
Nonna (or "grandmother," in Italian) would
chase you around the kitchen with that last bite on
her spoon. I never thought about how food affected my
body because I was always very thin and fit. When I
told my family I was changing my diet drastically, they
had no idea how big of change I intended.
With family and friends,
I suddenly became the "weird girl" who didn't
eat meat or dairy. For someone who didn't want to change
her diet in the first place, it was very difficult to
find motivation to keep on this path. Not only were
the comments, and sometimes jokes, hurtful; I didn't
know how to cook! The first time I had to make brown
rice I asked my mom, "How does it cook?" I
couldn't pronounce any of the foreign foods, or find
them at my local supermarket. An ume-what plum? But
the biggest boost of confidence and motivation was that
Within the first month of becoming macro my symptoms
were gone. After a few more, I saw a huge difference
in myself; more energy, calmer moods, better sleep and
I was happy! I was able to return to dance and enjoy
it more than ever.
My story doesn't end there.
Making the change to a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle
was, and still is, one of the hardest things I've done
in my life. Even after five years there are continuous
ups and downs. Thankfully, however, it gets easier.
The great new is, I have the rest of my life ahead of
me to live fully. There was a time of my life where
I thought life wasn't worth living if you couldn't enjoy
some macaroni and cheese; I was wrong. Honestly, today,
I can say I don't miss it.
The rewards of eating good food push me through the
hardest of times. Don't forget your support group. People
come in (and leave) your life for a reason. I have learned
to take every experience for what it is, and then let
go. Stay close to those that are truly supportive. Family
is forever, but it's okay to disagree when it comes
to what's best for you.
It's during the most challenging
parts of life that a person needs to be the strongest
and make the wisest, and often most difficult, of choices.
I chose to be thankful for my disease. I wanted to heal
myself: mind, body and soul. I made the decision to
do whatever it took to find a way to heal myself because
I was not going to spend any more of my life being ill.
I was, and still am, a young adult. My body was weak;
my will power was not.
I've witness many people face a serious health issue
and turn away from hope. "This isn't an option
for me" or "It's too hard." We all have
a choice in our life to create our own destiny and it's
up to us to decide what we want that to be.
I've made the choice to heal and hope to inspire others
to do the same. I've chosen food and life over doctors,
drugs and surgeries. I've learned at a young age that
if you don't have your health, you really don't have
anything at all.
To those who are lucky enough to come across my story,
please know for life and health, you always have a choice.
Marisa has jumped on board with the macrobiotic community.
She's began studying at the Kushi Institute, attending
numerous workshops and conferences, and spent three
months interning with Virginia Harper in Franklin, TN.
It's only the beginning for her as she continues her
path to becoming a macrobiotic counselor. She currently
coaches on a 101 level for those who need inspiration
and guidance to get on a healthy track.
Through her own experiences with healing, she has been
inspired to help others embrace their health and abilities
to heal. Marisa has held two local titles in the Miss
America Organization (Miss Spirit of New York 2006 and
Miss Jubilee 2007) and has placed Top Ten in the Miss
New York State Pageant for two consecutive years. Through
her involvement with this organization, she was able
to continue to advocate her platform, Understanding
Crohn's Disease Through Lifestyle and Diet.
Be sure to follow her blog Cooking
Macro The Italiano Way, as she cooks her way through
Christina Pirello's cookbooks, an Italian/macro chef
and inspiration to Marisa. She has learned a great deal
about food preparation and menu planning, which she
shares through small and private cooking classes. She's
created the NYC Macrobiotics community on Facebook where
she hosts and organizes local pot-luck dinners and introductory
lectures on macrobiotics and regaining your health.