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The City Journals

Service, cooking and healthy eating keep cancer fighter going

Dec 03, 2018 01:57PM ● By Alisha Soeken

Eunice Chen cooks over 250 meals for people who donate to her fundraiser for cancer research.

By Alisha Soeken | [email protected]

Born in Shanghai and separated from her parents at eight months old, Eunice Chen began acquiring qualities early on that would ultimately aid her in a brave, trying and wonderful life where she was diagnosed with cancer three separate times. 

Chen was raised by her step-grandmother in China. “While under her care I was spoiled and was told that I had a mind of my own. When I was about six or seven, my step-grandmother would not give me money for candy so I somehow convinced the store owner that I would peel beans for candies,” Chen said.

That enterprising ingenuity helped Chen build resilience as she moved four times, attended four different schools and learned two new languages by the age of 10. 

“With all the changes that took place in my early years, I learned to be flexible, accommodating, and grateful for when I have a roof over my head and food on the table to eat,” Chen said. 

When Chen was eight years old she left China.

“God orchestrated an amazing opportunity for me to escape out of the bamboo curtained China,” Chen said. 

That move eventually lead Chen to Sugar House in 1977 to a home she now shares with her husband Al Chen. 

“We love this area so much and we love the house, the only problem is the kitchen is way too small for a person who likes to cook and especially when I need to cook over 250 meals for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation fundraising,” Chen said. 

Chen’s heart, unlike her kitchen, is extremely large and she spends much of her time serving those who, like herself, battle cancer. Chen was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1993 when she was undergoing fertility treatment with Dr. Harry Hatasaka. Hatasaka referred Chen to oncologist Dr. Mark Dobsen. 

“I went to the appointment with Dr. Dobsen and I was in surgery two days later. Surgery confirmed the bad news, I had advanced stage uterine cancer. All of my female organs were removed along with my dream of becoming pregnant,” Chen said. 

Chen lived cancer-free for eight years but in 2001 after finding blood in her stool Chen went back to the doctor to be re-diagnosed, this time with colon cancer. 

“One foot of my colon was removed but I did not need further treatment because it had not spread. I was so thankful to God. I resumed working as soon as the surgeon allowed,” Chen said. 

Once again Chen lived cancer-free, but like ill-fated clockwork, eight years later again faced cancer. 

“I was fortunate to have Dr. Teresa Werner from the Huntsman Cancer hospital as my oncologist. She and her team were determined to find out the type of cancer I had. Was it a new one or was it from the metastasis process from my uterine or colon cancer? Ultimately they decided that it was probably from my uterine cancer 16 years prior and I received a new diagnosis of stage four terminal cancer,” Chen said. 

Chen began chemotherapy in November of 2009, which shrunk her cancerous mass about 50 percent, but several months later the cancer was again growing. 

“Our options were minimal. It was either more chemo or do nothing. I chose to do nothing and let God take control of my life. Of course, that decision put my husband Al between a rock and a hard place. Al prayed hard and God inspired him with three simple things to implement in our life: consume a whole-grain plant-based diet, maintain a healthy pH balance, and ensure inclusion of vitamin B17,” Chen said.

After implementing these changes plus the exercise program learned at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Chen began living what her husband called, “a peaceful coexistence with cancer.”

In that time Chen began in earnest her community and volunteer service. It started with her first attempt at a 5K run in partnership with the Salt Lake Marathon to raise money for Huntsman Cancer Foundation. 

“Since I am not athletically blessed, I thought I would attempt to do it with my peer survivors.  We called ourselves Huntsman Hometown Heroes. That was the beginning. I have done this event every year since,” Chen said. 

In 2017, Chen was invited by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation to participate in their annual 5K. Chen now participates in two fundraising events per year. In appreciation to their donors Chen and her husband looked for ways to say thank you.

“We decided to thank donors by giving them a healthy Oriental dinner because we know healthy eating is one important way to fight cancer and also because I was trained by my late mother how to cook. She was a chef and owned her own restaurant in Japan,” Chen said.

Chen plans, shops for, chops and cooks over 250 meals a year in her small Sugar House kitchen.

“The greatest challenge is doing all this in our little one-buttock-kitchen. Both Al and I work long hours to achieve this big task,” Chen said.

Chen raised over $5,000 this year but recognizes her help in this accomplishment. 

“Starting in 2013, I was brave enough to reach out to our local businesses to be our partners. Many said no, but that yes list has grown longer each year. Although it still cannot cover the total cost of the raw materials needed to make all the thank-you meals, it all helps,” Chen said.

Local businesses which continue to support Chen are Costco SLC, Costco Murray, Harmons Brickyard, Sprouts Farmer’s Market and Smith's.

Perhaps even more worthy than the completion of this task is the way in which Chen chooses to preform it. 

“When I am working hard and losing rest, my husband will say, ‘Why don't you take extra shifts at the hospital instead? You will make more money with less work than trying to get people to donate.’  Nevertheless, I like the idea of having over 100 donors in recent years instead of a dozen or so. It is definitely more work but it’s also very exciting to share the opportunity with our friends, neighbors, business associates, co-workers, and their friends,” Chen said. 

To this day Chen battles with cancer. In 2013, cancer in her liver caused an infection that became septic and almost killed her. But resilience learned in her youth continues to carry her though as well as her adherence to good nutrition and faith.

“God watches over the wildflowers and the sparrows, and He truly watched over me in that death and life junction,” Chen said.

Chen continues to live and chooses to serve as long as she’s able. Leaving her wisdom with those who will listen.

“I have learned that life is fragile and unpredictable. Health is the most valuable possession we have and without it we cannot enjoy life fully. Cancer is a dreaded diagnosis but it doesn’t have to equal a death sentence unless you choose to surrender to it. Do not give into cancer. Fight with all your might as long as you can. Cancer is not an easy battle to fight, equip yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically,” Chen said.