The power of food: 14-year-old cancer survivor attends culinary arts program
As a young child, Anaya Green enjoyed watching cooking competitions on television.
“Watching shows on Food Network sort of made me forget about being sick,” said Green, who was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma when she was just 2½ years old and given only a 4% chance of surviving.
“A 4% chance of survival is not a good thing to hear,” said Anaya’s mother, Amanda Green.
But Green now sits next to her daughter, an outgoing 14-year-old who is in her first year of the culinary arts program at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana.
“I am most happy about having friends that share a love of cooking,” said Anaya.
Food has always played a large role in the family. When Anaya was 3 years old, she was receiving treatment at an outpatient center, where she met Max and his mother, Audra DiPadova.
“We would have to be there for infusions, so normally we were there for quite a few hours,” said Green.
Max was receiving treatment along with Anaya, and Green said she started to not feel so alone.
“Up until that point, it had always been scary and I didn’t plan on making connections,” said Green. “You are singularly focused on your kid and possibly losing your kid. It was the first time I had the ability to sit and talk with a mom and realize I wasn’t the only one feeling like that.”
At the same time, DiPadova was using her chef background to help parents use nutrition and integrative medicine to help their children thrive in treatment and beyond.
While Max was still in chemotherapy treatment, DiPadova started the MaxLove Project, a nonprofit with a mission to increase quality of life and reduce health risks for families surviving childhood cancer. Nutrition is crucial for children who need strength to endure multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
Green and Anaya found themselves in the MaxLove community, and Anaya fell in love with the organization’s various programs, like the Fierce Food Academy program.
“At the cooking classes they would teach us how to cook. We were not able to eat out, so they would find ways to teach us how to make food but keep it healthy so we weren’t harming ourselves,” said Anaya. “We were still able to have fun.”
The Fierce Food Academy is a family-focused culinary medicine program that offers cooking classes and nutrition support. The program teaches families to incorporate nutrient-dense foods into their everyday lives and teach them how to use real food to restore health, reduce side effects of conventional treatments and improve long-term quality of life. Green said it is just one of the ways MaxLove Project helps families feel like they can regain some control.
“It gives us a lot of hope,” Green said. “That is something that I can control and Anaya can control, the ability to learn about the power that food has … Getting lost in food and learning about food and having that community to empower you ... is just fun for the kids. It allows us to feel like that is something we have control over.”
Learning to make guacamole was a favorite for Anaya, especially since avocados fit within the ketogenic diet many children battling cancer find can be helpful.
Then when Anaya and her mother attended a MaxLove fundraising event, Anaya saw kids like her serving the food.
OCSA’s Culinary program founder and director, Chef Daniel Mattos, is passionate about MaxLove Program’s mission and encourages his students to participate in the group’s events.
“Audra introduced me to Chef Mattos, and at that point, I thought my daughter is so excited about these kids cooking for the event, let me pick his brain,” said Green.
Green said it opened a door for her daughter, and now as a freshman in the program, Anaya is excited to hone her skills.
“It is my first year and I am exploring everything,” said Anaya.
One particular triumph for Anaya was being able to serve guests at MaxLove’s Farm to Fork event this year with her OCSA classmates. It was an experience she said she enjoyed even more than being a guest.
“I feel like doing the service is more satisfying,” said Anaya. “When people say, ‘Oh wow this is really good,’ it stays with me longer than if I just ate the food.”
Green, who lives with her daughter in Mission Viejo, said she sometimes worries about her working in the culinary field, but Anaya is quick to remind her of her strength.
“As a mom, you are like, ‘Oh my god, you are going to work with knives, you are going to cut a finger off,’” said Green. “But she reminds me, ‘Mommy, I have been through worse than that, I think I got it.’”
For now, Anaya is excited to see where her culinary career will take her. She has an interest in learning pastry but also wants to share the food of her culture with others.
“We are from Trinidad, so anything Caribbean,” Green said of the food Anaya likes to make.
“I want to make people happy with my food,” Anaya added.
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