I was an artist who became a fashion designer, living in Paris for 12 years and then working in New York as a design consultant for industry giants like Calvin Klein, Saks and Barneys.
I come from a family of foodies and world travelers. I first traveled abroad at age 8 and began cooking at 12, learning Italian specialties from my Mom and sturdy British classics from my Dad. My work allowed me to eat my way around the world!
In the early 90s, many in fashion were lost to AIDS. I cooked and cared for a designer friend during the last six months of his life. This experience taught me not to be afraid, and I was grateful for that when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2001. I had surgery and life went back to normal. I was lucky.
Not so with my second diagnosis, an unrelated breast cancer that required surgery, chemo and radiation. I took time from work to get through my treatment.
This decision changed my life. I began to understand that my cooking skills enabled me to cope with treatment side effects in ways my fellow travelers in cancer couldn’t. Listening to a friend one day at Gilda’s Club describe her problems with taste, I knew I could use my own experiences of cancer treatment to help others like her.
When my treatment ended, I made my decision to leave fashion and start Cook for Your Life in 2007. CFYL’s mission is to give the cancer community the practical knowledge, tools and inspiration to cook their way into a healthy survivorship. To date, our free classes and programs in the New York City area have served over 3,000 in person, and on our free website, some 400,000 unique visitors from 10 countries.
Looking back, there were signposts that pointed the way that I didn’t immediately see. I believe it is important to stay flexible and be inquisitive, because the doors that open in life may not lead to where you first thought of going. Trust where the path takes you. You’ll know when it’s right.
(Ann Ogden was honored as an Encore.org Purpose Prize Fellow in 2014.)