I started Cook Smarts in early 2012, but its history goes back to 1998; I was 17 and was just diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

For those of you who don’t know what Hep-C is, it’s a virus that attacks the liver and in some cases can be life threatening. I got it through a blood transfusion I received when I was born, and back in 1981, donated blood wasn’t yet tested for the virus. By 1998 when I was giving blood at my high school’s blood drive, donations were testing for the virus. As a result, I found out that I could have a life-threatening virus in a generic form letter from the organization that ran the blood drive.

Up until that point, I was just like any other teenager. I was in the middle of applying for college and determined to go places, but that letter made my future incredibly uncertain. Instead of finishing up high school like a normal senior, I began a series of unending doctor’s visits and tests. Till this day, I resent missing a Tom Petty concert because I was recovering from a liver biopsy. It’s not exactly how I thought Friday nights were going to go at 17.

Each test result came back with not-so-good news. The virus had progressed. I was at high risk for cirrhosis or cancer, and my doctors determined that I should start a year long course of medical treatment that some liken to chemotherapy. I made the decision to start treatment the summer after my freshmen year. I thought, “Hey, if life was going to get cut short, I deserved to have at least 1 year of college fun.”

Fortunately treatment went well for me. While the side effects were pretty standard and terrible – hair loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, cognition loss – my test results were good. If they continued to be good, my doctors said I had a good chance of leading a normal and healthy life.

Even with the good news, I wasn’t quite ready to believe that everything was going to be okay. Not surprisingly, my faith in life had been shaken up. Instead, I promised myself that if I lived to see 30, I would do something to help others lead a healthier life because I knew how much it sucked to feel unhealthy and helpless.

Until 30, I would try to live life as normally as I could. Every year, I anxiously went to my medical check-ups, but luckily my results remained positive. Birthdays were celebrated, and then I turned 30 in 2011. I had made it. To keep my promise, I resigned from my job at Visa one month later to start Cook Smarts.

Today, I’m healthier and happier than I could ever imagine. I’m now 2+ years past 30 and Cook Smarts has turned 2. I never imagined that it would become such an amazing community of home cooks like you, all hoping to achieve a healthier life.

For me, Cook Smarts is more than just a project or a company. It’s a testament that great things can grow out of difficult experiences. It’s a daily reminder of what health means and the joy that health can create.

I am truly grateful for this opportunity and the privilege to play a part in the health and home-cooked meals of tens of thousands kitchen heroes all around the world. I promise to always remember and honor the real reason why I started this community. I hope you’ll become a part of it, because I look forward to creating a future of continuing health and delicious meals together!

Always your kitchen cheerleader,

Jess

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