Holly Clegg shares new mission inspired by terminal diagnosis

Updated: Aug. 1, 2019 at 2:55 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - If you’ve ever picked up one of Holly Clegg’s cookbooks, her passion for food, for making it good and making it good for you, shines through every recipe and notation.

Writing 17 cookbooks over 25 years, Clegg prides herself on being one of the first to tap into the idea that the food you love to eat can be healthy too. She embraced the idea that food can help change your health by partnering with local doctors to develop recipes and cookbooks specifically for people dealing with cancer, diabetes, and even arthritis.

With health and food as her life’s work, it was a cruel twist of fate when Clegg learned she had gastric cancer, and a rare form the disease at that.

(The Healthy Cooking Blog)

"I had five days of symptoms, literally. I felt a distended stomach and then I had this belching that smelled like rotten eggs,” she said.

Clegg immediately started treatment at MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston. She was enrolled in a clinical trial, then underwent surgery and chemotherapy. However, nearly a year of fighting will not be enough to beat back the disease.

Her surgeon, Dr. Brian Badgewell, says even if every treatment goes well, gastric cancer patients still only have about a 50/50 chance for a cure. Badgewell explains there’s not a reliable screening technique to help prevent the cancer and symptoms are subtle, which means the disease has usually advanced by the time it’s diagnosed. He also says it’s very rare. Most people have only a 1 to 2 percent chance of developing it.

"It’s one of those cancers where it doesn’t cause a big problem until it hits a blood vessel and it bleeds or a nerve where it causes pain. That’s just one of the big risk factors, it’s subtle," said Badgewell.

Clegg is now in hospice care at home and surrounded by family in Texas, but she’s not sitting still. She’s taking that same passion for changing lives through food and using it to just maybe save some lives. Her family started the Holly Clegg Gastric Cancer Research Fund at MD Anderson.

(The Healthy Cooking Blog)

"I hope it will raise awareness, because it’s out there and nobody knows about it,” said Clegg. “Maybe people will understand and be able to get more research and be able to save more lives.”

The fund will help raise awareness about the disease, which affects 20,000 people every year and provide doctors what they need for more research. They’ve already raised $50,000 in just ten days.

“It helps just drawing more attention to it so people when they are diagnosed can form advocacy groups and they can work together,” said Badgewell. “It helps research ways to help improve the survival rates.”

Clegg says the journey hasn’t been an easy one, but as she approaches its end, she may have developed one last recipe, one for the soul. She’s cherishing each day she has left, spending it with loved ones and family.

(The Healthy Cooking Blog)

“A lot of people die of a heart attack and they don’t get the opportunity to live each day and see what I’m seeing. That’s the route that I choose. It’s not a good deal, it doesn’t have a happy ending, but if you mope around, what are you going to get? I encourage everyone out there, if you get a diagnosis of some kind, to keep living and not to start dying,” said Clegg.

If you’d like to donate to Clegg’s fund, you can mail a check payable to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and write Holly Clegg Gastric Cancer Research Fund in the memo line. Mail it to:

  • MD Anderson
  • P.O. Box 4486
  • Houston, TX
  • 77210-4486

You can also donate online, and follow Clegg’s cancer journey through her blog.

A fundraiser to support the fund is being planned at the Varsity Theatre on August 1 at 7 pm.

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