Audra's Story - the MaxLove Project
(Photo by Alex Frankel)
I’ve always loved cooking. I was classically trained in the culinary arts in Scottsdale, AZ and became a skilled cook at four-star restaurants before I was 20 years old. In Arizona and also in Maine, I worked several positions from grill to sauté to saucier and discovered my passion for food went beyond the kitchen. I jumped to the “front of the house” and became both a server and bartender while finishing my college degree with a focus on political science, public policy, and health disparities.
After finishing college, I went to graduate school, earning a degree in philosophy and education from Columbia University with the goal of becoming an educator. I moved into leadership training in higher education, but my passion for food never waned. Instead of cooking for hundreds of people a night, my focus turned to cooking alongside Justin for our two children.
Then, in August 2011, our son, Max, was diagnosed with brain cancer. At just four years-old he was rushed by ambulance to the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) and into emergency brain surgery the next morning.
Max was diagnosed with a rare and unusually aggressive form of a fairly common brain cancer. After two previous diagnoses, Max was last diagnosed with a mixed-grade Glioma in the brainstem and cerebellum. More than three weeks later, he was released from the hospital and began what would be 18 months of chemotherapy. After five brain surgeries and two chemotherapy protocols, Max also completed 30 radiation treatments in the spring of 2014 and Gamma Knife radiation treatment in 2016.
Along with surgery and chemotherapy, Max benefited from a full regimen of comprehensive integrative therapies. He has been fortunate to receive care at CHOC Children’s where an integrative approach to cancer treatment, including inpatient acupuncture, is embraced and taken seriously. Justin and I credit Max’s superior quality of life and continued health to this innovative approach.
After Max’s diagnosis, I reflexively fell back on my culinary training and turned to food as medicine, using the kitchen as my tool to help Max thrive in the face of cancer. As I met other moms with children in cancer treatment, I heard the consistent need for culinary education, nutrition science education, and integrative medicine resources.
I wanted to answer these needs. So, while Max was undergoing his chemotherapy treatment, I started the MaxLove Project, a nonprofit designed to help parents use nutrition and integrative medicine to help their children thrive in treatment and beyond.
Today, MLP serves thousands of childhood cancer families across the US, providing them with wellness packages, cooking classes, hospital “Thrive Parties,” professional nutritional consultations, educational materials from top cancer researchers, and much more.
MLP also funds and conducts cutting-edge integrative medicine research. MLP’s programs and resources support families in the key areas of survivorship health. Each program focuses on several “super actions” for lifelong healthy survivorship.
In 2019, Max survived a risky brainstem biopsy and started a targeted inhibitor therapy. Max has thrived on a therapeutic, super-boosted ketogenic diet, and today he's still thriving against the odds, inspiring his community to give nothing but Maximum Love.
MaxLove Project is inspired by Max's cancer journey, by all of the tremendous benefits he gained from this holistic “whole kid” approach to healing. I am proud of the MLP community of dedicated change-makers who believe in the power of high-quality integrative health care for all children and that SuperKids deserve every possible opportunity to thrive against cancer.