A cancer survivor is changing the way we think about food and healing
Cheryl Hoover feels closest to God when she lifts the lid from a pot of boiling vegetables and adds just the right mix of seasoning and prayer.
This is where Cheryl experiences powerful moments of reflection: standing in front of the stove, measuring out herbs and spices and asking for blessings for a person or family she may never meet.
Two years ago, doctors told Cheryl she had breast cancer, a diagnosis that led to a lumpectomy, six weeks of daily radiation and 10 years of taking a pill to keep the cancer cells from coming back.
Cheryl felt lucky. Not long after she completed her last round of treatments, she began wondering what she could do to help others facing their own cancer diagnoses.
At home in the kitchen
Step inside the kitchen on a typical morning, and you’ll find the answer in the form of dinosaur kale atop a cutting board and granola baking in the oven.
Cheryl prepares high-nutrition meals for cancer survivors as part of a ministry she calls Pray Eat Heal. The inspiration comes from her journey as well as her training as a pharmacist. And, to top it off, two years of study in hotel/restaurant management during college.
“It’s interesting how God prepared me,” Cheryl says.
Cheryl chooses ingredients suited to the treatment stage and side effects that a survivor is experiencing. She shops for organic whole foods and prays for the person while she chops, stirs and assembles.
A cooler on the porch makes a convenient pick-up spot for Parish Nurse Mary Mattiacci, who delivers the meals and responds to the web of health and spiritual needs that arise during a fear-filled time.
“I remember the day I went to talk to Mary wondering, ‘is she going to think this is a good idea’?” Cheryl recalls. “She was like, ‘This is so Covenant.’ We’re all about the care of the whole person. She immediately embraced it.”
Keeping our bodies healthy and strong
Cheryl is gently trying to change the model of food ministry, nudging us past the days of casseroles that offer plenty of love but not as much in restorative nourishment. She hopes families will incorporate nutrient-rich cooking into their own practices.
“There is power in the food,” Cheryl says. “God created these nutrients to keep our bodies healthy and strong. They’re out there. We’ve just forgotten.”
The ministry is taking root. Cheryl’s kitchen has become a place of learning for caregivers and friends of cancer survivors. “I have them come over and I talk to them about using ancient grains, eating the rainbow. There’s nothing magic about the recipes. It’s just a philosophy.”
They might learn, for example, that walnuts have been shown to block estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells, possibly slowing the cells' growth.
When the stove is off, Cheryl co-leads a weekly women’s Bible study and plays bass guitar with the worship arts team. Most readily, though, she connects with God when it’s just her and the quiet of the kitchen.
“I feel so blessed to be in this place,” she said. “It’s what I can do to give back for people who aren’t there yet.”