When CNN’s Sanjay Gupta interviewed Hans Rueffert last year, he introduced him as “a chef without a stomach, or much of an esophagus.” It’s true: Shortly after Rueffert became famous as a finalist in the Next Food Network Star TV series in 2005, he was diagnosed with stage three stomach cancer.
After 11 surgeries, chemo and radiation, Rueffert was cancer-free. Now, he says, “My health is the best it’s been in seven years.”
Rueffert is now spending much of his time advising other patients with gastric cancer. Rueffert joined the GCF board shortly after its inception, and he serves as a volunteer for the cancer-support group Imerman Angels, and for Anderson Network, the support program offered by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where Rueffert had his surgeries.
Rueffert is the author of the cookbook Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow and the producer of several TV cooking shows. He is currently taping 13 episodes of a show based on his book for Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Considering Rueffert’s lifelong passion for cooking, it’s no surprise that patients often consult him on matters of nutrition, especially if they’ve undergone stomach surgery. “It’s amazing how many doctors release patients into the wild without any plan towards nutrition,” Rueffert says. “They just don’t understand the physical changes this severe surgery causes for the body. So I tell people they have to eat as if they have diabetes—no sugar, no fat.” Rueffert also teaches patients how to eat six small, healthy meals a day.
Most recently, Rueffert started working with Home Depot and Aetna to produce a series of videos on healthy cooking, which are being posted on Home Depot’s employee website. “They wanted to be able to provide something positive to employees who have been diagnosed with cancer,” Rueffert says. Initially, the videos will only appear on the company’s internal website, though Home Depot intends to make them available to the public, Rueffert says. “They want this to be part of Home Depot’s image. I applaud that.”
The chef has faced a bit of an obstacle recently with his reconstructed digestive system. “I’ve had difficulty swallowing,” he says. “It’s already a challenge to work with food every day. Now sometimes I physically can’t eat it.” Rueffert says his surgeons are considering whether they need to re-do his most recent surgery, in which a piece of his intestine was used to reconstruct his esophagus. But for now, he says, they’re waiting to see if the issue resolves itself.
Rueffert doesn’t let his health get in the way of his advocacy work on behalf of gastric cancer patients. For GCF, he says he acts as a mentor for patients who contact the organization, as well as a media liaison. “I’m trying to make sure we’re getting national media attention,” he says. “I’m pushing for a big presence for the organization.”