Who am I? And Does it Matter?

Who am I? And Does it Matter?

A week or so ago our backyard was in its fairy garden phase.


I’ve been musing about the many disparate truths I am holding, the seeming paradoxes of my life at the moment. I’m really sick. I actually feel good. The tumors will never go away. There are lots of stories of miraculous healing. There is so much we don’t understand about our bodies, cancer. . . . Ever since I was 18 and my brother introduced me to the Tao te Ching, I’ve turned to it in difficult times.


Verse #13 has been my rock, particularly the last few lines:


“Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?


See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”


The Tao is full of seeming contradictions and they no longer perplex me. But real life does perplex me, a lot some days. I’m so tired of thinking about myself, my treatments, my many appointments, my symptoms–are they improving, changing? I re-read this magnificent text and have a moment’s peace.


And then I struggle again with not knowing what my future holds and looking inward again because so much of my outward life has changed. Where do I find meaning and joy and connection? Where can I be of service, contribute, be of use? I think humans are hard-wired to want to serve and find meaning in caring for or participating in something other than just ourselves. I’ve recently had the privilege of helping a friend start a new business. I managed a quick Tuesday Tip video last week. I make meals for my beloved son and husband. We have conversations about the world, that are not about cancer. These things are life-giving!


How do I find moments of meaning on the weeks where I can’t muster the strength for things like this? On days where everyone else seems to going about their day (and their own struggles, I know!) and the world is passing me by?


I don’t have an answer but this morning’s meditation from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening includes this line: “This is the work of compassion: to embrace everything clearly without imposing who you are and without losing who you are”


Thanks for reading, dear ones!






45 thoughts on “Who am I? And Does it Matter?”

  • Oh Katherine, I am so sorry you are struggling. You have inherent value, regardless of what you are capable of doing from time to time. You needn’t do anything but exist to be deserving of love & honor. And I am certain you mean more than anything in this world to your husband & son. It has been such a joy to get glimpses into your life & philosophies about food & love over the years. I am holding space for your healing and sending so much love to you & yours.

    • cookwithwhatyouhave says:

      Thanks, Erin! And my question in the title was rather existential. A reflection of that line from the Tao about not thinking of the self as self. I so appreciate your love and good wishes.

  • You are you and you do matter. Have you read Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild geese”? I look to her sometimes. Good luck and best wishes. Paula

    • cookwithwhatyouhave says:

      Oh I love that poem! And I need to change the title of this post since I really wasn’t questioning it in a literal way, but in an existential question about how much time we think about “self” and what that does or does not do for us.

  • I’m thinking of you often, Kathryn, and sending lots of love. Thank you for sharing this touching post, and for continuing to share your love of food and cooking. You are inspiring and life giving in so many ways! May those of us who are your friends and fans reflect and amplify your gift!

  • Jayne Cronlund says:

    Thanks for allowing us to “see” your struggle. I often find that so many of us, myself included, want to put a good “face” and be positive. And, that seems to deny the actual experience that you might be having…. Uncertainty, unsure of continued existence in this physical world, pain, suffering. Thanks for making that transparent.

    There is a great poem by Clarissa Pinkola Estes called Abre La Puerta. It is about opening the door to pain and suffering because that is the work we came here for…. It is the door, open it and then we can embrace whatever it is that comes next.

    Thinking of you. Thanks for opening the door for us all!

  • Lori Lynn Godfrey says:

    Hi katherine-
    Such a tough time–thank you for sharing your very personal thoughts about your journey-
    One of the tools that I have relied on are logging into breastcancer.org–the online forum is a great way to connect with other breast cancer folks that are in all stages of DX and treatments. I find it to be a safe environment and it is available around the clock–

    I also wanted to recommend the organization breast friends https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/breast+friends/FMfcgxwLtZsLLGcsGrgwtGWsxQkZXxGg–they have a group dedicated to metastatic breast cancer that can offer such a unique insights…everybodys journey is different but having more support is better than none. I personally have friends that have been stage 4 and in clinical trials for many, many years and are living their best lives…there are others that have not been as fortunate, of course but there are so many women that would love to be there for you…

    • cookwithwhatyouhave says:

      Thank you so much, Lori. I very much look forward to living my best life! I will look into some of these recs. I have some great support but sometimes struggle with the groups because while I want to be supportive of all I see there I can get knocked off of my positive narrative by some of the harder situations.

  • Nancy Becker says:

    Katherine, this is really beautiful. And more than beautiful it is so wise. You are giving so much to the community. I think of you often and am definitely sending hugs and healing vibes to you and your dear family.

  • Kathryn Fitch says:

    Oh Katherine, I love not thinking of the self as self. Thinking of the world as self! Thank you for that teaching passed along through you. I feel such strength and love passing from you to us and back. Glory be. Bless this day that we have together.❤️

  • Kirk Walsh says:

    Dear Katherine,

    Thank you for this. I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I’m glad that you are finding light amid the hardship and the struggle, and seeing how all of these contradictions can exist easily at once. You are an amazing person, and I imagine a teacher to many as you live with your illness. I miss you. And I love you. xo, Kirk

    ps another poem, for now or later… I have found much comfort in it over recent years: “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye: https://poets.org/poem/kindness

    • cookwithwhatyouhave says:

      Thanks dear, Kirk! I miss you too. And I’ve loved seeing all the press around your new novel. I can’t wait to read it. And i LOVE that poem! Thanks for reminding me of it.

      • Kirk Walsh says:

        Can you email me your mailing address again? ([email protected]) I would love to send you a signed copy of the novel. And no pressure to read. Only when you feel up to it.

        One other thing: My good friends, Steve and Shirley, had a teenage son diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He is doing well now, but it was a long road of treatment. Shirley did this interview with a friend of hers about going through… and it reminded me what you wrote, being present for what is it, whatever it might be, making space for it. She talked about how that allowed her to be present for the grace, when it arrived at unexpected moments. If you ever want to listen to it, here’s the link: https://storiesfromthebrink.podbean.com/e/stories-from-the-brink-with-shirley-thompson-marshall-episode-7/

        Now, that I’m with you in spirit. xo

  • Jennifer gilstrap says:

    I think of you nearly every day. Earlier this week I managed to ruin a pot of rice and it got repurposed into breakfast rice pudding. Last night I was making a “recipe” for some peanut noodles and basically had nothing that was called for…so I threw together a few shrimp hidden in the back of the freezer, a collection of herbs in place of the cilantro, gathered a few bibs and bobs of veggies and tossed it all together and called it a night. So that’s at least part of who you are and it matters to me 🙂

  • Carol Hickman says:

    Katherine – This poem always grounds me, and when I think of you that last line rings true with clarion beauty. Big love to you and your family.

    Well Water
    (Randall Jarrell)

    What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
    (Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
    “Since you’re up . . .” Making you a means to
    A means to a means to) is well water
    Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
    The pump you pump the water from is rusty
    And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
    A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
    Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
    The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
    Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
    Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
    And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

  • Susan Fierman says:

    Your questions are inspiring and humbling for those of us that have the luxury of being unconscious a lot because we are not pushed now. One thing I am sure of, we serve with our vibration. It’s the frequency that we hold. When you connect with me I am lifted in frequency, always. It is who you are. You hold and share a high vibration. I know you suffer and you also have a remarkable intention to serve with love. You are us, we are you. Thank you for your service, thank you for sharing your journey, it’s priceless. You remind me to be present and love life, love you. Your life matters!!!!!!!!

  • Brian Gabbard says:

    I thought of you as Jean and I walked in the Channeled Scablands this weekend, seeing these unfathomably massive scrapes in the land made by water. This piece of the Tao te Ching may connect somehow to why I keep circling to this extraordinary external event when I think my thoughts of you these days. I love you so.

  • Danica Fierman says:

    Katherine, Thank you again for bringing us along on your journey. That has real meaning and feels like a gift. I appreciated how you describe the sort of waves of being in it and then musing about it or getting hooked by the question of finding meaning. I was struck by the thought of you on days when you don’t have the energy to engage – and your gaze out into the world of people going about their business and struggles. Thank you for sharing that moment with us as well as the moments of peace or presence you find in reading, learning, giving. Your very being has meaning. Thank you for translating your presentness here. Love you.

  • Jennifer Sprague says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I think of you often and send positive healing thoughts/energy. I immediately related to the desire to think of something other than my illness. It’s just one part of me, not who I am. Thanks for reminding us. Namaste.

  • …and isn’t our ultimate goal to acknowledge the joy of a life well lived, the love that is your Husband, the love that is your Son, the love that is your Life?

  • Renee Niquette says:

    Katherine you have an amazing strength and your thoughts on life are powerful. I pray for miracles all the time and include prayers for you and your family.
    I understand your struggles having a son with Leukemia at a young age, a relapse at 8. Then some good years until young adult years. Where seizures surfaced as a result of brain radiation as a child. Then Liver transplant due Hep C, as blood was not checked in the 70s for Hep C. He has lived his entire life with OHSU. He has been a survivor even though many days do not seem fair. He has missed so many of his younger years and activities that his peers take for granted.
    We do not know what God’s plans are for us. You however have to be proud of all you have done for others, all the knowledge you have shared through cooking and foods. I love this about you.
    Take care, be a fighter and know many people are holding you up even though we are not close by.

  • Jane Pellicciotto says:

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this again. Thanks for reminding us all about the importance of being able to accept contradictions. I think Jung said something to the effect that it’s a sign of positive mental health to hold opposing ideas in your head.

    Thanks also for the reminder about Mark Nepo. I have that book and dip into it every so often. It’s so dog-eared. It never fails to deliver something wise on that day you need it.

    We are all so fortunate you’re here, and that you put so much love and pragmatism into helping us nourish ourselves.

    By the way, that rhubarb yogurt cake was awesome. Big hugs.

  • Harriet Fasenfest says:

    Your words speak of the unfathomable challenge of letting go in the face of all we are given to hold fast to. That, I’m sure, is the meaning of grace. Thank you Katherine and much love.

  • Lynn Eve Komaromi says:

    Katherine, I do appreciate you sharing your struggle and allowing your friends to sit with you, virtually at least. Continue to lean in to those texts and poems…I have always found that the words of artists to be the most fortifying. Their words plumb straight to our humanity. Indeed, it is all so paradoxical. Sending you love.

  • Deborah Wise says:

    Dear Katherine,

    I’m so sorry that I missed your post last month. Over the years, I have appreciated your words about finding meaning, joy and connection in the moment, in relationships, and in sharing nutritious food. Please know that we are sending loving and healing thoughts to you, Brian and Ellis.


  • Hi Katherine- thinking of you. Thanks for sharing. I can relate to these musings and paradoxes. I wish you all the best as you navigate everything right now.

  • Amy K Drew says:

    Hi Katherine – I just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you and sending good thoughts your way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and story, and for shining your light and kindness on the world.


  • Jessica Alsberg says:

    Oh Katherine,
    I’ve been thinking s much about you. Thank you for sharing where you are.
    A thought: Humans (or, at least, good people like you) are motivated by service, but we also serve each other by accepting help – by having the humility to be the object of care, appreciation and love. If being of service brings me joy, I have to keep in mind that those who love me are feeling better and more alive when they have the opportunity to do the same for me. However, I find, it is often harder to be the served, rather than of-service. It challenges my sense of worth and triggers guilt.
    Perhaps that is what meditation is for? What a gratitude practice is for? To prepare us for time when we don’t have the energy to be of service, and to give us tools to find beauty, gratitude and even joy from what comes to us or simply is?
    I don’t know, really. No one does. But you made me think.
    I miss you.

    • cookwithwhatyouhave says:

      Thanks for your sweet note. I am much more at ease accepting help these days (and have a lots of practice from round 1 a few years ago) and yes you are right, gratitude for what simply is the ticket–easier said than done sometimes. . . .

  • Ashley Henry says:

    You have been on my mind a lot lately. Today I visited our mutual friend Cynthia. I am sending you lots of love right now

  • Katherine:

    I just stumbled across your website today, and I’m a bit at loss for words. Let me just say, thank you so much for sharing! Your effort is much appreciated.

  • I took a couple of cooking classes from you about 10 or 11 years ago in your home. All these years later, the packets of tips, resources, and recipes you sent home with me are what I use every single week. You were ahead of your time, teaching the importance of balancing acids long before Samin Nosrat taught us about salt, fat, acid and heat. You were showing us how to make things like salsa verde, green pancakes, and quinoa patties long before they became popularized like they are today. You gave me confidence and inspiration and I still think of you often. I am a praying person and I will be praying for you.

    • cookwithwhatyouhave says:

      Hi Lynette! Thank you so much for your note. I remember you well and am so happy to hear that those classes were/are so useful. It is a fun and delicious way to cook. I really appreciate your prayers! Keep ’em coming! xoxo

  • Martha Wagner says:

    Katherine, I so appreciate your open sharing of thoughts. In these times when so many people are focused on how the pandemic is affecting oneself and our families, it’s a breath of fresh air to drop into stillness and contemplation as I read the posts. FYI, my passion for vegetables in season and the cook-with-what-you-have approach remain as strong as ever— thank you so much! I’m sending healing energy to you and your wonderful family.

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