For the Love of Cooking – Honorable Mention, 9th Annual Essay Contest

By Versie McCullough

for the love of cooking - 2011 essay

Chronic kidney disease – I knew my kidneys were failing. The discovery was apparent several years before my doctor informed me I would need dialysis treatments or die. That was one of the worst days of my life. I was devastated. I thought to myself – go to the same place, three days a week, four hours a days, needles stuck in me, a machine acting as an artificial kidney, I might as well be dead ! What kind of quality life could I live?

After a few months of having “pity parties”, I examined all aspects of my life, not just the kidney disease. I decided – “I have so much to live for!” I am the parent of three children and two granddaughters (now I have four granddaughters). While they are enough to live for, I begin to ask myself what do I love to do that would improve my quality of life and help me forget the many challenges kidney disease is about to present for me. I decided to put all my energy into what I enjoy doing most – COOKING.Over the years, I’ve collected over twenty cookbooks and subscribed to many magazines with recipes. I like to watch the Cooking Channel, which is my Saturday pastime during treatment.

Why cooking? The challenges during and after treatment such as cramping, dizziness, nausea, weakness, lack of energy can quickly change my outlook. Cooking helps keep my mind focused. While dialyzing, I think about the food I can provide to tickle my family’s taste buds.  I make the best of the treatment time. My memory is not as sharp as it once was, so I try to commit recipes to memory or think of new ways I can improve the recipes I already know. Cooking allows me to cook different foods for others, foods I can no longer enjoy because of the disease.

I like introducing my grandchildren to foods my mother cooked when I was young. As I reminisce, I remember getting off the bus, smelling freshly baked tea cake from my mother’s kitchen. Fond memories helps forget the challenges. Today, tea cakes are one of my favorite items to make for family and friends. Cooking is a great opportunity to teach history and heritage. My granddaughters had no idea what tea cakes were. One thought it was a cake you eat with tea. My mother gave me her recipe years ago. My girls will not allow me to share it with anyone (very selfish, don’t you think).

People are always requesting teacakes. To uplift my friends at dialysis, I often cook my tea cakes to bring to them. One of the patients thinks I buy them at the bakery. However, I reassure everyone the tea cakes are my own.

Recently,  faced a problem with circulation in my hand and began experiencing extreme hypotension (low blood pressure). This is common with people on dialysis. Several times I’ve passed out because of hypotension. Did it stop me from cooking? No it did not. I was blessed with a walker, the type with a seat attached. When I am lightheaded, I take the walker to the kitchen, sit on the seat and go for it.

I continue to face more challenges. Within the last year, a cancerous kidney was removed. I continue to cook. My stand mixer broke, now I rely on my hand mixer. I am hoping to receive a stand mixer this Christmas from Santa.

I’ve learned dialysis is not a death sentence. I spend my 12 hours a week contemplating what I can cook, forgetting the challenges kidney disease presents.  I will continue cooking as long as I have life.

It has been over a 12 year journey with kidney disease. I started this dialysis journey March 1999. Now, it has been 12 ¼ years, 148 months, 640 weeks, 1,920 days, 7,680 hours and lots of friends lost along this journey. In spite of the challenges, I choose to cook and I choose to live.

So if you are shopping in the grocery store one day, and see a delightful dessert that says “Vee’s Teacakes”, make sure you try them – that might be me.