By Regina Nuzzo
Kara in the Kitchen
Six years ago, Kara Amey couldn’t eat a bite during treatment for brain cancer, but now she’s cooking up a storm
By Regina Nuzzo
Photographs by Lucian Perkins
When 16-year-old Kara Amey returned from an international cooking camp at L’Academie de Cuisine last year, she had a few more recipes under her tiny belt, including moussaka, warmed fruit biscotti, and chocolate lava cake. “I love to cook. It’s one of my favorite hobbies,” Kara says. “My mom tells me I’m really good. I hope she’s not just trying to make me happy. But I make a lot of stuff.”
Kara’s signature dishes, which she prepares in the large, cheerful kitchen in her family’s northern Virginia home, include cheese fondue—which she has made so many times she can rattle off its recipe without thought—and a concoction of spinach empanadas that, she says, will “crackle in your mouth.”
Even her family is in awe. “She’ll take on a three-page recipe and stay with it for hours and hours. She enjoys the challenge,” says her mother, Deborah Amey. Kara’s nurturing streak runs strong, too: Every morning Kara makes breakfast for her father, Scott.
Yet cooking has not always seemed a natural fit for Kara. “At one point,” her mother recalls, “I thought I’d never see that child eat another bite of food in her life.”
In December 2002, Kara was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer more common in kids than adults. She was 10 years old, a fifth-grader and an avid soccer player. Two days later, during a six-hour surgery, doctors removed an egg-sized tumor from her cerebellum at the base of her skull. Because that brain region controls digestion, Kara was wracked with nausea after the surgery.
Next came six weeks of radiation to her brain and spine. The treatment nauseated Kara more and made swallowing painful, so she was fed through a chest catheter and a stomach tube. Still, it was tough for her to keep down even liquid food. Then she received seven rounds of chemotherapy but had a painfully toxic reaction to one of the drugs. At one point, Kara lost a quarter of her already-meager body weight, dropping from 82 pounds to 62. “I looked like a living skeleton,” Kara tells people now.