Creating a Supportive Community: Emily (Baab) Fisher

Guest columnist Emily (Baab) Fisher is the executive director of the Joe Baab Culinary Fights Cancer Foundation.

In the fall of 2018, my brother, Joe Baab, then 36 years old, was diagnosed with stage 3c colon cancer.

This was not his first challenge. Joe was born with cerebral palsy. Doctors told him he would never hold a pencil properly, let alone swing a baseball bat, race friends to the bus stop or throw a football.

Growing up, I remember going to physical therapy and watching him struggle to do things that many of us take for granted every day.

Against all odds, my brother made the team for one of the top high school basketball programs in Ohio. What Joe lacked in physical ability, he made up for in heart and character.

Jo Baab with her sister Emily Fisher and her son Theo. (Photo courtesy of Emily Fisher)

These were the same tools—along with an unwavering positive attitude and sharp sense of humor—that Joe brought to his battle with cancer.

As anyone whose life has been touched by cancer knows, diet is an extremely important part of treatment and recovery.

When Joe was first diagnosed, our family had no idea about healthy eating. We didn’t have the benefit of cooking skills or a dietary regimen to support him through treatment. This was just one blemish among the many challenges that overwhelmed our family in those early days of Joe’s fight.

As we began meeting other family members, cancer patients, and survivors, we recognized a common theme—we were not alone in our struggle to understand the meaning of creating a healthy eating pattern for ourselves.

Chef Douglas Katz orders slices of cake

Chef Douglas Katz prepares a treat during a family gathering hosted by the Joe Baab Culinary Fights Cancer Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Varney)

Many families and individuals we met did not have the knowledge, cooking skills and resources to support the ones we love.

For anyone helping a loved one fight cancer, finding community support is extremely important. After experiencing the overwhelming confusion of finding reliable, helpful, and actionable guidance firsthand—and witnessing other families dealing with the same struggle—we decided to tackle the issue head-on.

this is how Joe Baab’s culinary fight against cancer was born. The foundation is a free, accessible resource dedicated to supporting both patients and family members through cooking.

What started as dinners with my brother’s support network grew into partnerships with some of the best restaurants and chefs in Northeast Ohio. Chefs collaborate with our in-house nutritionist to develop menus, and meals are often served at the respective chef/owner’s restaurant.

For 90 minutes, patients and family members have a reprieve from treatment in a fun and friendly atmosphere.

Soon after Kulinaria fought cancer started in 2022, classes have started to sell out. We attribute this to attendees posting about their experiences at these events in local restaurants on Facebook and cross-posting in neighborhood Facebook groups.

Our Culinary Fights Cancer community has gone beyond what any of us could have imagined when we first started down this path.

Our community is open to anyone who faces the same challenges our family struggles with – no family or individual should have to fight their battle alone.

While Joe is no longer with us, his passion for helping others is present in every new connection made through Culinary Fights Cancer. The strength of community, the experience of building new skills, and the ritual bond of sharing food together bring hope and optimism to an often bleak struggle.

My brother would be proud to know that his story is empowering others to fight.

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