Anyone who doubts that food is love hasn't met Lucy Bernas. "I don't use a recipe, I use my heart," Lucy tells us of the meals and treats she makes for family and friends, including the many (many) new friends she's made at Hope Lodge in Rochester, where she stays while undergoing treatment at Mayo Clinic. "Cooking is my therapy," she tells us. "To see people eating my food lifts me up." It has that effect on others as well.
Back in 2014, what Lucy thought was a sinus infection turned out to be stage 3 sinus cancer. Doctors near her home in North Dakota told Lucy her treatment would include radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. And that it would forever alter her face. After four surgeries, the treatment did that and more, leaving Lucy with a tracheostomy to help her breathe and a feeding tube to provide nutrition. She could no longer eat or speak. That was particularly difficult for Lucy, who attended culinary arts school and has, she tells us, "the gift of gab." So in early 2015, Lucy decided to seek a second opinion at Mayo Clinic.
At Mayo, a team of surgeons came up with a plan to reconstruct Lucy's face using bone from her hip and a blood vessel from her arm. It would be a slow and complicated process, they told her. And it would require Lucy to spend a lot of time in Rochester. She decided to move forward with the plan, even though it meant being away from her family and home.
Soon, Lucy would find new versions of both at Hope Lodge. "It was a godsend for me," Lucy says of the place she now calls her second home. She tells us she and the other residents, all receiving cancer treatment themselves, shared their joys and concerns, often over the breakfast or dinner table. And often over food Lucy had prepared.
When she was anxious or unable to sleep, Lucy would head to one of eight kitchens in Hope Lodge. Sometimes, she tells us, she'd "go to town" organizing the pantries or cupboards. Other times, she'd make cinnamon rolls or invite others to join her in an eggroll wrapping session. And always, Lucy put her heart into everything she did. "She wasn't only healing herself with her cooking skills, she was healing others," Jammie McGuire, senior manager at Hope Lodge, tells us.
Lucy's healing touch worked in other ways as well. When someone at the lodge needed cheering up, it was often Lucy who stepped in. And when one of her new friends rang the bell to signal the end of radiation treatment, Lucy was there to help celebrate. "I can't even guess at how many [bell ringings] she attended," Nancy Heinzelman, patient experience coordinator in Radiation Oncology at Mayo Clinic, tells us.
There's been plenty of celebrating for Lucy, too. Since beginning treatment at Mayo Clinic, she's regained the ability to speak and can now eat soft foods. She tells us there are more treatments ahead in what she calls her "beautification journey." Which means there will be more bell ringings, more cinnamon rolls, and more Lucy around Rochester. And that is a beautiful thing for her new friends and family.
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Tags: Patient Stories, Radiation Oncology, Reconstructive Surgery, Sinus Cancer
Lucy is an AMAZING woman with a huge heart. She is an inspiration! Thank you for doing this story on an incredible person who has touched so many of our lives !
I had the privilege of getting to know Lucy while living at Hope Lodge when having radiation for head/neck cancer last September. What an inspiration she was to all of us at the Lodge. You have been a blessing to many Lucy! Hugs and prayers for your continued “beautification ” journey. You are already beautiful, inside and out!
We had the privilege of sharing 7 weeks of our life with Lucy at Hope Lodge last fall. Lucy’s amazing attitude and prayerful zest for life, without regard to the challenges encountered, will continue to encourage and lift up all those who come in contact with her. That is truly “who she is” ~ A loving, beautiful, capable and unstoppable woman that we will never forget ~ Sharon (and David)
I’ve known Lucy since I was a child myself. She is one of the most generous, kind-hearted, beautiful human beings I have ever met. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that she would be such an inspiration and a help to her fellow patients. She has always enjoyed cooking and I hope that she will be around for many many years to come to share that wonderful gift with as many people as possible. I love you Lucy ~Jen
I have had the privilege to work with Lucy back here in ND and she is amazing.
I’ve known Lucy since 1987. She’s a dear friend to me! Even though I live in Virginia, my heart is with her…always. Lucy, I don’t know how you do it…I would have thrown the towel in long ago. Keep your chin up. Never give up. Never give in. Keep the faith. I LOVE YOU! #LUCYSTRONG Love, Mandy (and your guardian angel Rick)
Lucy has been struggling to maintain her weight. We have never seen anyone eat sweets as she does. Sweets for the sweet.