NEW YORK—When someone is forced to face their own mortality, they often discover what they care about most in life. For one woman, the traumatic experience of fighting breast cancer reignited her passion for food, and motivated her to start her own culinary school.
In April 2018 Mia Russo Stern launched Brooklyn Culinary Arts, an online cooking school focusing on nutritious and cancer-fighting cuisine. Since then, she’s taught over 50 video lessons to bridge the gap between health coaches, dietitians, medical doctors, and patients.
She had a desire to develop simple, healthy meals in which each recipe had a specific purpose. The results have had a positive impact on both wellness professionals and cancer patients. Most importantly, it was her own battle with breast cancer that drove Stern to embark on this mission.
Stern was on vacation in Puerto Rico about five years ago with her family when she knew something was seriously wrong.
“I was getting these bizarre feelings in my breast actually, and they usually say that cancer does not have any pain, so it wasn’t really pain but it was a sensation that I have never had before. It was like an electrical current sort of moving through my right breast,” Stern told Humanity.
Stern performed a self exam, and discovered something disconcerting: a marble-like lump.
She called her doctor from Puerto Rico to set up an appointment. However, after the 41-year-old mother of two returned to the U.S., she discovered that certain people were on vacation, and the process wasn’t moving quickly enough.
Stern contacted a friend who put her in touch with Dr. Elisa Port, chief of the Dubin Breast Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and went in for an appointment the next morning. The doctors performed a biopsy, and then Stern was faced with the misery of uncertainty.
“Just waiting for those results were horrifying. I remember feeling as if it like was almost falling of a cliff,” Stern said.
Beating Breast Cancer
Two days later she got the pathology report back from her biopsy. She couldn’t believe that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. However, there came a point at which she decided to plow ahead.
“I got through it. There just was this point where I knew it would be OK,” Stern said.
“I had this connection to nature when I was initially diagnosed, and I had to always sleep with my window open just to hear the animals and the birds, and there was something tranquil about feeling that I was part of this larger ecosystem.”
Port and Dr. Adam Kolker performed the double mastectomy surgery on Stern. The recovery was difficult, but she kept empowering herself. She was working with a nutritionist to incorporate healthy foods as a part of her recovery, and continued to see her oncologist Dr. Cliff Hudis.
Her nutritionist suggested a course she had taken at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York.
“Here I am, I’m only maybe a month out of surgery, I decided to enroll in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and it was the greatest thing that I ever could have done because it was such a distraction,” Stern said.
Participating in the classes made Stern feel like she had agency in her own healing process. She learned how to incorporate foods that had cancer-fighting properties into her diet.
Stern has always loved cooking, and food has always been a large part of her life. With her new knowledge, she decided to pursue it further as a career.
“My motivation for wanting to be a chef was really because I loved the way that these foods were making me feel. And I love food, I love being around food, and there was just such a natural synergy between what I was learning in the nutrition world and then trying to understand all these amazing ingredients and bringing them together in a way that was delicious, artful … and nutritious,” Stern said.
A year after Stern’s diagnosis, she earned her certificate as a wellness and health coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She also received a number of other certifications in health and wellness before she began her own business.
Feeling Good Eating Good
Stern’s mission for Brooklyn Culinary Arts is to remove the fear people experience in the kitchen—she wants to teach people that it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to make a healthy meal.
Furthermore, she wants people to have a familial, communal experience that comes with sharing a meal together.
To be able to do that through her business is a dream come true.
“It feels amazing. It’s just so rewarding. I cannot say it enough. … I just love to connect with people, I love to help people, I can’t stand to see people sick and not well. I feel it personally, so if I could help anybody and let them see what it’s like just to have two days in a row of clean eating, you won’t believe the difference,” Stern said.
Mia recommends the following ingredients and dishes for their healthy and cancer-fighting properties:
- Kale Pineapple Smoothie with Coconut Water, Hemp Seeds, Spirulina, and ice (kale contains sulfur compounds that attack cancer cells)
- Chia Pudding (chia seeds contain large quantities of protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, and heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids)
- Mushroom Soup (mushrooms are good for the immune system, and some have shown the ability to shrink tumors)
- Collard Green Wraps (collard greens are rich in vitamins and minerals, and contain sulfur compounds that attack cancer cells)
- Cruciferous vegetables such as Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Kale (these vegetables contain sulfur compounds that attack cancer cells)
- Sprouts, which can be up to 50 times stronger in sulfur compounds than the full grown plant (broccoli sprouts can be sprinkled on soups or salads, for example)
- Phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables such as Carrots, Beets, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Cherries (phytonutrients may protect cells from damage that can lead to cancer)
If you have an uplifting story you’d like to share, write to Andrew Thomas at [email protected]