Cancer, Cooking, and Courage

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This article is more than 9 years old.

Like many modern friendships that are born in our era of social networking, I first "met" Ezra Caldwell online in 2006. I discovered his Flickr account through mutual contacts and was drawn to his extraordinary images of dancers, his beautiful wife Hillary and photogenic pooch Putney. We also happen share a deep devotion to bicycles and food, and he regularly chronicled his endeavors in frame building and cooking.

Ezra shared his thoughts with me about cooking via email: "I think it's important that people eat at home a certain amount of the time. For us it's pretty much every night. We eat out about once every three weeks. There's something about the time spent in the kitchen in the evening that is a real relaxer for me. A meditation. I often drag out food preparation just because I enjoy that time of day."

ezra caldwell

While I had lived in Ezra's hometown of New York City for 13 years, it wasn't until I moved all the way across the country to San Francisco that I finally met Ezra in real life. In the spring of 2007, he and another Flickr friend, Yohei Morita, embarked on a trip throughout the U.S. to share bicycle adventures and meet other Flickr comrades. They met me and a mutual Flickr friend, Judah, during their visit to the Bay Area.

And like many modern time-pressed friendships, we stayed in touch in the virtual realm. And so it was through Flickr that I learned in August of 2008, Ezra was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In true Ezra fashion, who has never shied away from baring it all, he started a blog, "Teaching Cancer to Cry," as a "a way to keep people up-to-date as treatment progresses, and a way for me to look back when all this is over and reminisce."


Six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments began. Ezra wrote about the tough days, yet still managed to make us laugh, too. He even got married along the way.

When he went into remission, he started posting recipes for spinach salad, sudado de pescado, and stewed chicken with olives. His lush images of his elaborate meals mirrored his renewed energy.

Then in September of 2010, the cancer returned. He resumed his documentation of the grim realities of his second round with the disease.

Through all of this, Ezra still found time and the desire to cook.

"Over the last bunch of months, I was really laid low. I was in a lot of pain, a lot of the time. Having to take pain killers. Spending a lot of time in bed. Happily, though, this time around we found an anti-emetic (anti-nausea) drug that worked! So for most of the winter I would just save up my energy during the day to be able to get out of bed and cook some evening. It meant a lot to me to be able to continue to contribute to the household. I've always done nearly all the cooking, and didn't want treatment to interrupt that. Just about everything else went on the back burner."

Cooking also ignited yet another creative project.

"I started making videos, partly because I was getting back into making video and needed a subject, and here was this thing that I was doing every day anyway! I like to encourage people to cook. I think it's a little strange when people don't know how, or believe they can't. Cooking is easy! It's not hard to make yourself really good food.

So I started putting instructions for cooking on the blog, and later the videos with the instructions. I think it's sort of a great way to learn. See something done REALLY fast, and then read some instructions for it. You've still got an image in your head of what it looked like, and the instructions can be pretty bare bones.

I don't like the word "recipe." I feel as though there's an implication with "recipes" that makes people believe that there's a RIGHT way to cook a certain dish. That sort of takes the fun out of it. Instead I try to write instructions for dishes that maybe include some useful technique, like braising, or using an ice bath, that people will be able to include in their arsenal of approaches in the future. I love it when people write to me and say, "I tried that dish, but I changed it in this way and that, and it came out great!"'ve been bitten."

Here's his artful visual rendition of "Braised Lamb Shanks" that will make your mouth water.

Braised Lamb Shanks from Fast Boy.

You can find his complete archive of instructions and food videos on his blog. He's since finished up his latest round of treatment and recently prepared a sumptuous lobster dinner with a friend who's battling breast cancer. May the cooking and celebrations continue for a long, long time.