The Real Reason Why I Started Cook Smarts

  • By Jess Dang
  • October 1, 2013

Today I turn 32!

I know most folks stop looking forward to their birthdays after turning 30, but I still get excited every October 1st because there was a time when I wasn’t sure if I would make it to age 30. Every year that I get to add to my age is a win and a privilege.

When I was 17, I was 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 a school blood drive, it was tested. As a result, I found out I had the virus in a letter from the organization that ran the blood drive.

Up until that point, life had been going pretty well for me. I was a good student, decent-enough athlete, and had a lot of great friends. I was applying for college and was determined to go places. But that letter changed my life. Instead of finishing up high school like a normal senior, I began a series of unending doctor’s visits and tests.

I know it’s silly, but till this day I’m bummed I missed out on a Tom Petty concert with friends because I was home recovering from a liver biopsy. That wasn’t exactly how I thought Friday nights were going to look like at 17.

Each test result came back with not-so-good news. The virus had progressed, and my doctors determined that I should start a year long course of treatment sooner rather than later to prevent liver failure or cancer. I made the decision to start treatment the summer after my freshmen year of college. I thought 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 terrible – hair loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, depression, anxiety – and I had to take time off of school, test results showed that the treatment was working. If results continued to be good, my doctors said I had a good chance of leading a normal and healthy life.

But 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 somewhat unsettled. 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 just how much it sucked to not feel healthy.

Until 30, I would try to live life as normally as I could. Every year, I anxiously went to my medical check-up; luckily results remained positive (minus one scary false alarm). One year after I finished treatment, I ran my first (and only) marathon to prove to myself that my body wasn’t broken. Birthdays were celebrated, and then I turned 30 in 2011. I had made it. To keep the promise I made to myself, I resigned from Visa one month later to start Cook Smarts.

Today, I’ve made it 2 years past 30 and Cook Smarts is about to turn 2 in a few months. To 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.

Thank you for being part of this daily reminder and for the privilege to play a part in your health (and your dinners). I never imagined that Cook Smarts would become such an amazing community of home cooks like you, all hoping to achieve a healthier balance. It’s honestly the best birthday gift a 32 year old gal could ever ask for.

Today, I’m healthier and happier than I could ever imagine (even with this whole entrepreneur stress and craziness), and I’m incredibly excited to see 40. If I make it there, maybe I’ll try to become Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Dangerous Minds, but who knows where this crazy life will take me? I guess that’s part of the fun.

Thank you again for being part of 32.

Your newly 32-year old kitchen cheerleader,

Celebrating 32 and the real reason why I started Cook Smarts

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