By Hans Rueffert
In July 2005, just two weeks after taping the finale for "Next Food Network Star," I was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The irony that a chef would contract stomach cancer was not lost on my physicians or me. The cancer was diagnosed as stage III and I ended up having half of my stomach and half of my esophagus removed.
Though I wouldn't wish the disease on anyone, I will say that my experience with it has heightened my appreciation of life, love, family and, of course, food. If I can offer one piece of advice, it would simply be this: Never take anything for granted. Never.
With the Dow Jones average recently crossing the 13,000 threshold, people are beginning to talk about investing again. Rather than blaming "the economy" for the woes of the world, folks are once again starting to actually participate in the financial world rather than just watching the peaks and valleys of the stock market.
As a gastric cancer survivor, I've chosen to invest my energies into a much more certain endeavor than gold or bonds: mentoring.
"Hans? You don't know me, but my name is Jim and I survived what you're going through right now. Can we talk? I think you'll want to hear what I have to say."
I may have been a little cold at the start, having been inundated by the masses of goji and noni juice predators/salesmen that somehow suddenly "care" when the "C" word is tossed about. But once Jim began to tell his story, I began to open up and listen with my whole body.
To be honest, I was a little intimidated. Losing my sister to breast cancer was less than a year fresh and my diagnosis was only settling in.
We talked for more than an hour about the challenges that Jim faced before, during, and even after the grueling rigors of chemo, radiation and surgery. He said, "I'm not trying to scare you Hans, but I wish someone had given me a little insight on the journey I've been on."
Over the next several weeks (then months, and now years), Jim became our Wikipedia as we learned the lexicon of cancer. As I navigated my own cancer journey, he was always just a phone call away whenever a new challenge presented itself.
There's simply no substitute for good old-fashioned "been there, done that!"
As soon as I was stable enough to do so, I signed up with the Anderson Network to become a mentor. I wanted to be someone's Jim as they looked forward to the twisty, rocky road ahead. My wife, Amy, even offers her support to other cancer patient spouses or partners on their new role as a caregiver.
Being a mentor is such a natural thing. And as soon as you throw your name in the hat (and I hope that you do), you'll be surprised at the return on your investment.
You inspire hope by simply listening to the patient's situation, sharing your story (the ups and the downs), and just being there for someone in need. It's an amazing experience, and one that often inspires lifelong friendships.
The Internet is a great research tool, but it can be an overwhelmingly negative experience if you're not careful. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of success stories out there, and I hope that mine remains one of them. But the Internet is no substitute for the compassionate and empathetic voice of someone who actually cares.
I urge you to be that voice. Call the Anderson Network.
Eat well, be well ... gesundheit!