Here is one of our many treasured stories submitted thought our project, UNTOLD. 

My mother was a foodie. It didn’t matter what she prepared it was always amazing. Her cooking was simply delicious, always creative, and I can taste and smell certain dishes through my memories and the love they delivered. She could feed 200, 500 or 1000 without hesitation. She was admired for her talent in the kitchen and her ability to always find the time and energy to prepare and bless others in need, even with six of us at home, 5 sons and me!

When I was 15, my Mother went to the hospital for surgery on her breast. The word cancer was never mentioned and I never asked any questions because no one seemed alarmed. That’s what they did back then, ”keep it quiet and don’t tell the kids!”

One day she called me into her bedroom for help, I was shocked! Her left breast was gone. I was devastated. Not only from what I saw, but what they didn’t tell us she’d been through.

One year later cancer was back and her other breast was removed. The following year, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She went through 5 tough years and at age 50; she laid in my arms as she took her last breath.

With mother gone, I tried to fill her shoes. I was a mom for my younger brothers, then 8, 11 and 13. I went to college, developed a corporate career, yet the call of the kitchen tugged on my heart. I kept my spoon in the bowl.

I catered on weekends, taught cooking classes in my home, and dreamed of writing my cookbook.

At 45, I left the corporate world and headed to culinary school in Arizona. Though I didn’t know it then, my life was following a very guided plan. After finishing school fateful call had me packing to Nashville to don my chef hat as the director for a new culinary arts school. So my ten-year-old daughter and I headed east.

You can imagine how hectic it was getting settled with everything new. A new community, a new job, a new school for my daughter, and trying to make friends.

Gratefully my friend in Scottsdale had a friend for me to meet, and we put dinner on the calendar. Instead of an appetite, I came to dinner with a full plate. While arranging new doctors, there was a possible new prognosis – Cancer. Breast cancer.

I now see God’s hand in my journey. You see, my first angels were my friend and the woman she introduced me to – she was a nurse.

As I shared my story with her, it turned out the surgeon I was referred to, lived down the street from her. I learned he was a general surgeon, not a breast surgeon. Big difference! Immediately she sent me to her specialist.

Unlike the old saying about too many chefs in the kitchen, with any major issue, get a bunch of chefs together and see who can get you out of the hot water! Get second opinions, third opinions and get your kitchen cooking with the right staff. Then choose the ingredients you need for you to heal and move on.

My recipe for healing included a bi-lateral mastectomy and tram flap procedure. It wasn’t the gentlest operation. With slow recovery and chemo shredding my strength, a neighbor, my second angel, came over to check on me, She asked if we could pray. No one had ever prayed for me this way. I realized I was missing a major part of my life. The migraines, the throwing up, my unhealed and scarred body, this too shall pass!

With all the challenges I’d been facing; the sun came up and the message in my heart was, “Put your big girl panties on and let’s get this show on the road.” I felt hope, and life and a future come into focus. I could physically and mentally feel the strength coming back into my body. My 2nd Act began evolving. My beliefs and thoughts, my core values, my friendships, all imbued my strength and commitment to fight and give back. Today my faith is stronger than ever. I can’t imagine living life without the Lord.

I moved onward and upward and developed my company “Chef Mary ~ Simply Delicious,” just like my mother’s cooking. For the past 12 years, I’ve focused on creating healthy family dinners delivered to the home, so that parents would stay home and enjoy the sanctity of the dinner table. I cater and focus on helping families suffering through cancer.

My life is full and I do my best to live every day reflecting upon my favorite adapted scripture from Ecclesiastes 3:13 –  “Everyone should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labors; it’s a gift of God.”