Skip to content

Healing Through Food

Ethan Watters | October 22, 2018

Food | Inspired Fans

Lucy inspires us

Watching Lucy Bernas cook for fellow cancer patients at the Hope Lodge in Rochester, Minnesota is like watching a dancer. She moves with grace and practiced skill, all the while keeping up a fast-paced conversation. She never refers to a recipe and seldom employs a measuring cup.

“I cook with love and my heart,” she says. “If you cook with your heart it always tastes better.”

Lucy Bernas

The food that she eventually serves up is delicious, and she beams as patients and family members gather. They are all here in Rochester facing the realities of a difficult medical procedure: radiation, chemotherapy, surgery. But Bernas knows that healing requires less invasive interventions as well. A simple meal with new friends feeds the body and the soul.

A Minor Complaint

Like many cancer stories, Bernas’ started with a minor complaint. In summer 2014, what she thought was a persistent sinus infection turned out to be stage three squamous cell carcinoma that had invaded her entire left cheek, the roof of her mouth, and went deep behind the orbit of her left eye. The first surgeries were conducted at a hospital in South Dakota and successfully removed the cancer. Unfortunately, the attempt to reconstruct her face did not go well. The bone and skin transplanted from her leg and femur to her face wouldn’t take.

After a total of five unsuccessful surgeries, she was unrecognizable. She was left with a tracheostomy and feeding tube.

For those who knew Bernas before the surgeries, this outcome seemed particularly cruel. For her whole life to that point, Bernas had been a generous hostess who loved nothing more than to share stories and a meal with friends and neighbors. After the surgeries, she couldn’t speak or swallow or taste food.

Once she felt strong enough to endure another set of surgeries, Bernas turned to the Rochester’s world-renowned Mayo Clinic. In early 2015, Mayo Clinic doctors there explained the series of complicated operations she would need to rebuild her face and mouth. It would take over three years and more than a dozen separate surgeries.