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Living Life One Meal at a Time

I love food. If I had to rank my favorite things in life, there’s a fairly high probability that food would outrank my friends and family (and quite frankly, none of them would be surprised). I would venture to say that 99% of the time, I am thinking about what my next meal will be.

And it’s not just eating that I love, but cooking too. In fact, after eight years of living in NYC in my 20’s and eating at the wondrous array of restaurants that make the city great, I decided to follow my dream and attend culinary school. So, at 31 years of age, I enrolled in the French Culinary Institute.

Unfortunately, nine months into an 11-month program, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Needless to say, my life was turned upside down. Culinary school was put on hold and instead of trying delicious new recipes in a kitchen classroom, my life was filled with doctor’s appointments, surgery and four months of chemo.

Prior to starting my treatment, I was warned that one of the side effects of my chemo regimen was a potential change in taste buds. A good friend of mine said that everything she ate tasted like oats for five months – and while I love a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with some maple syrup and fresh berries, I certainly didn’t want everything that I eat to taste like that. So despite being impacted by hair loss, mouth sores, hot flashes, chemo brain and bone pain, I was thrilled that I never lost my taste buds (thank goodness for small favors).

However, for at least four days after each treatment, I was unbelievably nauseous. As a true omnivore that appreciates every bite that I send to my stomach, it was devastating that eating became strictly an activity of survival. On those post-treatment days, my diet consisted primarily of Gatorade, matzo ball soup, grilled cheese and chewy ginger candies. Anything that didn’t make the nausea worse.

However, as the days passed, my appetite would return…with a vengeance – and of course, my biggest craving was comfort food: spaghetti and meatballs, creamy potato soup with bacon, and chocolate (of course!). These three foods were at the top of my list (I was also going through treatment during the winter, so it’s fairly likely that I would’ve been craving these foods regardless of the chemo).

So on those good days, I would be back in the kitchen. Given my French culinary training, I was used to cooking everything with at least a half stick of butter and copious amounts of salt. However, I realized that for my long-term future, I would need to change the way that I cooked for my long-term health.

Would I be able to give up all those meats, fats and chocolate? Absolutely not. But I realized that there are simple ways to adjust some of my favorite dishes – boosting up the health factor without sacrificing any of that comforting taste. And doing what I love (cooking) and eating what I love (food) is always a good day for me.

Aimee, Ford Warriors in Pink/Model of Courage