This is a post I originally wrote 2 years ago this week, sharing my experience of pain and healing from Rheumatoid Arthritis. Even more has changed in my life since this posting. Among other things, I went back to school to become a Certified Holistic Health Coach, launched my new business A Well-Nourished Life, and wrote my first cookbook (Ten Speed Press, out next year!!). I no longer accept cake orders, but I do teach cake baking and decorating in addition to my classes that focus on wellness, gluten free, vegan, and raw foods. I often stop and reflect on the way my life has shifted in recent years, doing so helps me stay grounded and grateful. The only time I look back is to be reminded how far I've come, and today, as I review my cookbook manuscript before sending it to my publisher this afternoon, I can see that I've come a long, long, long way.
If you're struggling with pain, whether it's physical or emotional, know that you can get to the other side of it. Be patient with yourself, lean on those who offer to help, and have faith. You are stronger than you know.
Originally posted August 27, 2011:
This is a story of pain and healing, of despair and hope. I promise a happy ending.
Imagine you are a bakery owner, cake designer, mother and wife. You are at the top of your game, highly sought after for your custom cakes, a regular competitor on Food Network Challenge, working on multiple book and TV projects, featured frequently in the press. Your children are happy and healthy, your marriage strong and loving. You are essentially living your life beyond your wildest dreams. Imagine then that you become quite ill, quite suddenly. Your once limber, strong, and capable body is wracked with pain, your joints stiff and rigid. Imagine feeling betrayed by your own body, unable to do the most mundane daily tasks much less work 60-90 hours a week to create the magnificent tiered and 3-dimensional cakes you've become known for. Imagine feeling that everything you had worked so hard for is slipping away, that your life as you know it, is over. Imagine the frustration, anger, and hopelessness. Imagine being told your illness is incurable. Imagine hearing from your doctor that the "good news" is that there will be periods of remission from the pain, and that the new drugs you'll take for the rest of your life are vastly improved over the drugs of old. Never mind that these drugs will sometimes make you even sicker than you are now, or that some could kill you. The good news is you're less likely to become crippled, or die, than persons diagnosed 20 years ago.
Imagine you are me.
Nine months ago this week my body began to fail me. On November 19, 2010 as I stood in the High Noon studios in Denver, preparing to film my fourth Food Network Challenge of the year, I knew something was not right. As I assembled my T-Rex armature during "mise en place" my hands didn't want to work, they were stiff, tight and tingly. I shrugged it off and quietly berated myself for accepting two Challenge castings in one 30 day period, a decision I knew would likely lead to sore muscles, achy bones, and the requisite post-Challenge sinus infection or strep throat. But wasn't all that pain was supposed to come AFTER the Challenge? AFTER I carved a 5 foot dinosaur out of cake, not before? I didn't give it any thought until the next week, the week of Thanksgiving, when instead of getting better, it got worse. I didn't give it much thought until I realized that the pain was equally bad in the joints on both sides of my body, not just the right side as I would expect from overuse. I didn't give it much thought until I was much, much worse. Until the week before Christmas when I nearly lost my mind from the pain. Until I had to go to the doctor begging for pain meds so that I could enjoy a pain-free Christmas day with my family.
Bet you're wondering where that happy ending is, huh? Let's fast forward 5 months. It's spring, I'm still in physical and emotional hell, and I've finally gotten all my tests back. The Dr. confirms my diagnosis as Rheumatoid Arthritis. At the age of 42. RA is an autoimmune disease, it's basically a malfunctioning immune system. My immune system was attacking my own body. That's obviously not the happy ending, so hold on. She laid out my treatment options and wrote me several scripts. I asked about dietary changes I should make. She looked me in the eye and told me that "diet has nothing to do with it". I walked out of her office and began to cry. And that's when I knew. I knew right then and there that this doctor, no, NO doctor would give me a viable solution for fixing my immune system. I would have to find another way. If my immune system was broken, I figured, why not just fix the damn thing?
Now for the happy ending... Fast forward another 3 months and I'm in my 7th week of freedom from the pain, swelling and stiffness without taking ANY medications. Not only that, but I feel better than I have in 20 years! I have tons of energy, my mind is clear, those cruddy chronic "issues" we all deal with are gone, my adult acne has even disappeared. My immune system is happy, happy, happy! After seven and a half straight months of absolute hell, I AM WELL. Am I cured? Nope. It doesn't work that way unfortunately, but I have found a natural approach that keeps my immune system in check. I radically changed my diet, I do regular acupuncture and saunas, I take loads of Chinese herbs and supplements, I juice daily. I've made changes to keep my life in better balance. I closed my bakery storefront to relieve the stress that comes with running a retail business- full time employees, massive overhead, inflexible work hours. I spend more time with friends. I enjoy my kids more. I worry less. I remember to slow down and take time for myself. I work with the clients I want to work with and say no to the freakin' Bridezillas.
This natural, or "alternative", approach is more work than popping a few pills every day, but the side effects are all positive and they definitely won't kill me. I've been so amazed by what I've learned about wellness and diet in these past few months. I've always had a healthy approach to food but this experience has taken it to a whole new level. Food, the "right" food, is nurturing, it's healing, it's life-changing. I'm working on launching a new business so I can share what I've learned, share recipes and resources, and hopefully offer a little inspiration to others who have been told "diet has nothing to do with it". It seems that almost every day lately I meet people who are struggling with their health, looking for better answers than those they've been given in the doctor's office. Today I met two of those people in the produce section of Central Market. One lady couldn't wait to share my story (and my email address) with her aunt who also suffers from RA and has been frustrated with her "nasty" medications that make her so sick. These are the folks I hope to reach with A Well-Nourished Life.
So that's the story, or at least the first chapter anyway, we'll see what comes next. For some of my friends and cake world peers this probably answers some questions you were afraid to ask about why I didn't seem myself for a while, or why I closed my Sublime Bakery retail location so suddenly. I couldn't "go public" right away, it took some time to get to where I am, but boy am I glad I'm here now!
In closing, I owe a HUGE thank you to my husband Van, and my son Cade, both of whom had to use every last ounce of patience and love at their disposal to help me through those tough months of hell. I couldn't have done it without you and you both continue to be a huge inspiration on those days when I feel like complaining about what I can't eat anymore.
As for what the future holds? I'm still doing cakes, I'm just a bit more "selective" about my commissions now. I'm also working on a book and teaching classes. I'm still doing all the things I did before, just in a more moderate and sane fashion. Will I go back to Challenge? Hell yes I will, I wouldn't miss it for the world!